We debate Nintendo's latest hardware
Yesterday was a big day for Nintendo, which revealed the successor to its struggling Wii U console – the Nintendo Switch. As predicted, it's another innovative piece of hardware, this time blurring the lines between a TV console and a portable gaming device. Following the three-minute video trailer, the Kyoto-based Nintendo went characteristically radio silent on the tech specs, price point and connectivity to its existing ecosystem of 3DS portables and established game libraries, though it did tease a number of titles, including Mario Kart, a Super Mario game and Splatoon.
While the world waits for more info, we assembled our writers to break down their first impressions, questions and whether the Switch could succeed where the Wii U failed.
First impressions of the hardware
Simon Cox, Content Director: It's no accident that Nintendo chose to introduce the Switch not as mobile device that you can plug into your TV, but the other way around – a console that can do stuff the other consoles can't. The opening scene of the video is of a guy sat on his couch, not kids playing with the tablet part at school. So right away the message is: this is a console for grown ups, for the very people we know we lost when we made the Wii U and to a certain extent the Wii. It's made of dark plastic and you play it in dark rooms alone – until your long-suffering dog gets you off your butt to take it to the park – where you ignore it and continue playing the game on the tablet.
John Davison, GM: It's absolutely the smartest thing Nintendo has done since the Wii. Honestly, it's what I thought Microsoft was going to do with the Xbox One originally – make it a docked, gaming-focused Surface tablet. My problem with the video though was it just seemed so contrived and completely out of touch with reality. It's like they put together a trailer made of wishes and denial where people exist in some kind of alternate reality where they don't spend their entire life permanently glued to a big-ass phone screen. The Switch isn't a phone, and ultimately that's Nintendo's biggest hurdle.
Rachel Weber, News Editor: First impression? Don't get a dog if you're not going to care for it properly. I loved that this felt like a return to the hardcore for Nintendo. This isn't about kiddie friendly touchscreens or brain exercises for you mom, it's purely about gaming. It's taking the success of the 3DS and baking it into a console. My only worry is if I have room in my life for it, I bought a Wii U and it sat attracting dust like some sort of dirt Joe Jonas until it went back in it's box where it's lived for the past two years. Even if this has a stronger line-up of games and can go with me on vacation I'm not sure it can compete with my PlayStation, my Xbox, my iPad, my smartphone…
Miguel Lopez, Senior Editor: It's for sure competing for bag space with a bunch of other devices that I already choose to not carry around, so my first impression is mostly one of wonder – that is, I wonder whether I'd ever actually detach it from the dock. My favorite tweet yesterday was from a friend who proposed a cheaper version of the Switch that's just a regular console, but that would require changing the name, right? Brand nightmare! In all seriousness, I can't help but think back to this Summer, when I – a lifelong Pokémon denier – was caught in the grips of Pokémon Go. I was laughing at myself half the time, but yet there I was, hitting up PokéStops for the split second they were active as my bus zipped past them. Though Nintendo seems like it was only marginally responsible for Pokémon Go, this is the closest the company has felt to being vital in a very long time. Considered in this light, the Switch makes perfect sense, and is quite possibly a stroke of genius.
Can the Nintendo Switch succeed where the Wii U failed?
Simon: It has a shot because it acknowledges the way we play now. In a way it's an evolution of Nintendo's "play anywhere, any way" philosophy – the tablet with controller attached is basically the same gaming experience as the current Wii U – except you can take it with you when you leave the house – but it’s also as if the company has awoken from stasis and suddenly realized that while it was lying frozen in a Mario-themed cryo-tube the world had moved on. Tablets and phones were now a pretty big deal for gaming, people actually like to play with controllers that look like the Xbox controller as opposed to an Etch A Sketch, proper grown-up role playing games like Skyrim are kind of a big deal now and esports are totally a thing.
Rachel: Yes, provided that shot of all the game developers supporting it doesn't turn out to be just some sort of Nintendo middle management fantasy. Nintendo has one of the most dedicated fan bases in games, they're desperate to throw their money at a new Mario machine, and they think Zelda is a minor deity. I don't think it's going to propel Nintendo into the world of esports (Splatoon LOL) or really compete with the PS4 or Xbox but it'll hold it's own as a second console for that Nintendo hardcore.
John: The teams sitting around scrawling arrows on a sheet of paper to communicate their pro-level Splatoon strategies seemed a little insincere. Some guy in a marketing meeting obviously said "esports" a bunch and wouldn't shut up until someone said they'd include it. The most important thing is going to be making recognizable console experiences easily transferable from big screen to little screen and back again. It's what we always wanted the PSP or the Vita to be, but never really got the way we hoped. This isn't chopped down versions, or streamed content – it's the same games, and that's all we've ever wanted.
Miguel: It's more or less the Wii U done right, isn't it? As I said, I'm not 100 percent convinced I'd tote around my Switch, but the Wii U's portability was basically limited to your bedroom or toilet. And unless you count Destiny Item Manager – which is more of a tool to patch a hole in a game's functionality than something that actually supplements a game experience – I've never really gotten much use out of the "second screen experience." So yeah, the fact that you can use the Switch in a manner resembling how real people actually use mobile devices is encouraging. But this is Nintendo we're talking about, right? Ever since the Wii era, I mainly went to Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games, whizz-bang gimmicks be damned. I suspect I'm not alone. So if the Switch has legit Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games, I'm in.
John: So many questions. Does it have a touchscreen? A stylus? Motion sensors? Camera for AR games or chat? How good is the battery life, particularly when we're playing stuff that sucks a lot of power like Skyrim? Have you ever played a 3D RPG on an iPhone? The device gets super hot, and you kill the battery in about 30 minutes. How much storage does it have? Is it backwards compatible? If Switch ends up becoming the ultimate manifestation of Virtual Console where we can play just about every Nintendo game ever released on the go or on the TV, then I am totally, totally sold. I don't need another thing that can play Netflix, but I'll happily take a consistent game experience that works everywhere.
Simon: What does this mean for the DS? The tablet part of the Switch is pretty big – too big to slip easily into your pockets unless cargo shorts make a sudden comeback – so at first glance it seems the DS is safe for now. Unlike Sony, which for years took every chance it could to remind us that the brilliant-but-unloved PlayStation Vita handheld was a natural extension of its popular big brother, the PS4, Nintendo chose to not muddy the waters by even acknowledging it has this whole other handheld gaming device ecosystem happening just outside that couch-guy's window. Will there be integration with the DS? Will the next generation of DS use the same tech that drives the Switch? I have questions!
Rachel: Right now my main question is what games will it launch with, and will one of them be Skyrim? Sure, we saw some version of Skyrim in the trailer but Bethesda are being damn coy about it, which is the equivalent of flashing your underpants and then refusing to confirm that yes, you do wear underwear. What the hell kind of battery life will the thing have if I'm supposed to be able to take it one a plane? I mean is it going to get me to Hawaii or only manage an hour to LA? Also, my main concern – am I going to have to go back to blowing into cartridges every time a game crashes?
Miguel: The obvious one: Can you play phone games on it? The Wall Street Journal's tech reporter in Japan tweeted a Famitsu story today in which Nintendo declines to comment when posed the question. So that probably means the answer isn't no, right? It's an intriguing question because Nintendo is probably the best positioned company out there to draw meaningful ties between a mobile game and something more substantial. Imagine a Pokémon game on the Switch that "talks" to Pokémon Go, that acknowledges your progress and achievement in the mobile game, and makes it relevant in a whole other context? That's what I'd like to see. I might even play it!