Because the Wii U failed to catch on, Nintendo decided to cut its losses and shift its attention to the console’s successor, the Nintendo Switch. The Switch isn’t scheduled to launch until March 2017, but we already know quite a bit about this futuristic gaming device. So far, it seems destined to fare better than the Wii U did, thanks to the clearer vision Nintendo has already gotten across for it. So as these pre-Switch months drag on, it seems like a good time to talk about the great and the not-so-great aspects of the Switch. Let’s start with something positive and go from there.
1. Great: Portability
As fun as it is to play games on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, those consoles have one giant limitation: You can’t play them away from your TV. Sure, if you’re tech-savvy, you can stream games to a PC, but the experience is a lot more complicated and limited than just tossing a tablet in your bag.
Meanwhile, the whole concept of the Nintendo Switch is based on it being available to you wherever you go. When you’re at home, you can play the games on your gleaming big-screen TV. When you get off the couch, there’s no need to stop; you can keep playing on the Switch’s built-in screen. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s going to be particularly exciting when we can play epic games like Skyrim and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the go. Previously, no portable games have offered the size, scope, or ambition of those AAA titles.
2. Not great: Performance
While Nintendo has yet to offer details about how powerful the Switch will be, we already have a good idea. First off, the Switch is a thin tablet device, which means it won’t come packing the same high-performance internals of the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Based on specs leaked to Eurogamer, it looks likely that the Switch will run on a modified Tegra X1 chip. To put it bluntly, that’s not very powerful.
To be fair, Nintendo can do wonderful things with underpowered hardware. Just look at Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii or Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, two games that look and play better than they have any right to based on their hardware’s specs. The bigger problem is that third-party developers probably won’t be able to port their groundbreaking AAA games to the Switch, at least not without major concessions. So if you want to be able to play those games the way they’re meant to be played, the Switch almost certainly can’t be your one and only console.
3. Great: Nintendo games
The biggest advantage any Nintendo console has is that it can play games made by Nintendo’s in-house development teams. Nintendo has a reputation for being one of the best game makers around for a reason: Its games really are that good. The Switch will get plenty of Nintendo games, in large part because it will be Nintendo’s sole focus.
In years past, the company has always divided its development teams between a home console and a handheld. The most recent example is the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. But because the Switch will replace both the Wii U and the 3DS, Nintendo can produce a steady stream of Nintendo games for the Switch, giving it a big leg up over the Wii U.
4. Not great: Third parties will bail if it’s not a hit
If the Wii U taught us anything, it’s that third-party developers won’t stick around with an underpowered Nintendo console if it doesn’t sell well. Early in the Wii U’s short life, companies like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft ported some games to it, including Mass Effect 3 and Assassin’s Creed III. But once it became clear the Wii U wasn’t a hit, the companies abandoned the platform, leaving Nintendo and a handful of independent developers to try to keep it afloat (spoilers: They failed).
So unless the Switch finds success right out of the gate, you can probably expect the lineup of third-party partners to dwindle.
5. Great: Design
In the past, most Nintendo products have been designed to look like toys. Colorful, boxy, and plastic, these consoles and handhelds were made to appeal primarily to kids. The Switch is different. It looks just as slick as an iPad or a PS Vita, with a sleek, modern metallic design. It looks like a device adults wouldn’t feel foolish playing in public. That’s a big shift for the company, and one that could really pay off.
6. Not great: Nintendo’s future is on the line
Let’s just come right out and say it: If the Switch fails, Nintendo may be forced out of the hardware business. Making game consoles is a risky business to be in, and Nintendo is just coming off its biggest failure ever with the Wii U. If the Switch is another dud, it’s unlikely investors will give Nintendo another chance at making hardware.
And while a software-only version of Nintendo would have its perks — Mario on PS4, anyone? — it would come at a cost. Having a strong third option for gaming hardware makes for more competition between the players. More competition means better products. Is that something we’re willing to give up?