Nintendo unveiled its brand new games console, Switch, in a brief video on Friday, and so far the reception from pundits and the internet has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s an early win for a company that’s made a habit of confusing just about everybody with its last few hardware reveals, including the 2DS, New 3DS and Wii U.
The presentation — which introduced the concept of a handheld device that can plug into your TV for a more console-like experience — was quite brief, with more details expected to roll out ahead of the March 2017 launch. By clearly showing the Switch being played like a traditional console, and then showing the little “Joy-Con” controller modules snapping off a controller and onto the machine itself to transform it into a handheld, Nintendo made a coherent pitch for what looks like an awesome device.
Yet if past game console launches have taught us anything, it’s that platform holders need to get out in front any misunderstandings or unsureties as soon as possible. The gaming world seems ready to buy in now, but some unwelcome clarification or hidden caveat revealed near launch could undo months of good will (see Sony’s PlayStation Vita).
With that in mind, here are four questions Nintendo should probably address sooner rather than later.
What’s in the box?
The main thrust of the commercial was that you can play your games anywhere, in a multitude of different ways. Using a combination of the Switch console, Joy-Con controller modules, Joy-Con grip, Switch TV Dock and Switch Pro Controller, the gamers in the footage where ready to go whether they were at home, at the park or at a party with friends.
One question that remains unanswered, however, is how much of that stuff is included as part of the core Switch experience and how much is sold separately.
One has to assume that the Pro Controller is an optional extra, as the Joy-Cons and Joy-Con Grip combine to make a functional controller on their own. But I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it turned out the Grip or even the TV dock were optional extras as well, with only the core handheld-style device included in the box.
Of course whether or not consumers are fine with this will depend largely on the Switch’s price, which is yet to be announced. If the core cost exceeds $400, it may be difficult to sell consumers on paying extra on top to get the full experience promised by the reveal.
Where will I put all my games?
Switch games you buy at brick-and-mortar stores will come on cartridges, which offer plenty of advantages over optical media when it comes to gaming on the go. You can keep carts in your pockets or floating around in your bag, and you don’t have to worry about fragile internal disc trays when the thing’s bouncing around in the backseat of your car.
But with previous leaks indicating that the Switch will only have 32GB of internal storage, there’s a question around where digital games and other non-game data will go.
Modern games have updates and downloadable content that take up space on the system storage, not to mention the fact that many prefer to forego physical media and just buy and download their games from online stores (especially for mobile devices). Given this, a game like Skyrim could easily exhaust 32GB all on its own.
The solution on 3DS, and arguably the best solution for Switch, is an SD card slot. Users who will get most of their games on cartridge and don’t plan to go online much can get a cheap 16GB card, while those who want to fill up on downloads can grab something much bigger.
A less ideal but still totally fine solution would be the ability to plug external storage devices into the TV dock, and just move the games you wanted to play on the go to your Switch before you leave the house.
What’s under the hood, exactly?
The general audience doesn’t care about technical specifications or relative power output. As far back as the Game Boy, engaging devices have consistently flourished despite packing less horsepower than other contemporary devices.
Yet there are technical details that absolutely matter to everybody, especially if they get in the way of Nintendo’s message of being able to play anywhere.
Battery life is the biggest one. If Nintendo comes out and says the Switch will maybe last for two hours on the go, a huge portion of the potential market will think twice before getting one.
Of course all signs point to the company being careful in this regard. Nvidia has confirmed the Switch is running on a custom Tegra chip, which is mobile technology and should offer a good balance of power and efficiency. Meanwhile leaks have suggested the Switch handheld unit displays at 720p, connects to its little controllers using IR instead of Bluetooth, and does not have 4G, 3G or GPS tech built in. To some these will sound like limitations, but if true they will each help offset the battery cost of running the screen and graphics tech non stop.
One thing that caught my eye in the presentation is the small vent at the top of the unit, which is unusual for a handheld device and looks like an exhaust for a fan. It’s entirely possible that the Switch works a bit like a gaming laptop, outputting at a standard resolution and framerate when on the go, only using moderate power for graphics processing and saving on battery. Then when plugged into the dock, the cooling system could turn on, GPU could work at full capacity and you’d get a higher resolution and better framerate on your TV.
But this is all purely speculation, and hopefully more details on the Switch’s guts will come to light sooner rather than later.
So … touchscreen or no?
The Switch is not a phone or a tablet, and that’s actually one of its most attractive features. The main appeal of the machine, as it’s currently understood, is that it provides a way to play the kinds of games you play at home (deep adventures like Skyrim, multiplayer sports games like NBA 2K17, free-roaming Mario platformers) on the go while keeping console staples like physical buttons.
Yet one query I’ve seen dozens of times online today has to do with a very phone-like feature: does the Switch feature a touchscreen?
At no point in the reveal trailer does a user touch the screen, or indeed interact with the games in any way other than with buttons. It’s natural for people to assume a touchscreen would be present, after all both of Nintendo’s current platforms have one the Switch does look a lot like a big phone. But if I had to guess, I’d say you won’t be tapping or dragging on the Switch.
Nintendo wants to make it easy for developers to bring their games to the machine, and wants to make the ‘switch’ between handheld and home console as seamless as possible. Having to implement two separate interfaces for each game — one that can make use of touch and one for the TV that uses buttons only — could be a problem.
Still, it would be best to hear about it officially so people can set their expectations accordingly.