With only a few days until the launch of the Nintendo Switch, I find myself joining in the hype and excitement of fellow gamers, despite not really being a Nintendo fan.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my N64 and I was able to enjoy playing my brother’s GameCube. I skipped the Wii though (beyond playing a few games briefly), and I hardly even noticed the launch of the Wii U. So what is the allure of the Switch that pulls me in so?
If you told me a company was going to release an Nvidia Tegra-powered tablet device that slots into a dock with detachable controllers, I would have said, “no thanks, I’ve already seen the Nvidia Shield”. When it transpired it wasn’t just some venture of a random android-loving company but Nintendo, I’ll admit I was pretty shocked. I know the screen/controller combination of the Wii U was a similar concept, but I didn’t expect them to ditch a console unit in the traditional sense and go completely portable!
Nintendo has traditionally alternated between focusing on home console and portable device. The Switch basically throws that all up in the air, and says “Look, you don’t really need to be tied to your living room. Take your console around with you on your commute, and enjoy it away from the sofa in bed, or anywhere else you’d like to use it.” (Toilet.)
Even now after all of the details are out in the wild, with tonnes of video impressions on YouTube and gameplay of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to watch, I still couldn’t tell you why I’m interested in getting one. Maybe after all of these years of considering myself a “hardcore” gamer who loves to play PC games on the highest settings, I’ve finally grown weary of chasing hardware specs, and I miss the calling of a good game (which Nintendo is fantastic at bringing to the table). Over a decade of playing fairly competitively online with people who are either so bad at the game they want to make me cry, or insult and smack-talk me constantly (who also want to make me cry), perhaps I’ve just no longer enjoy the hardcore online gaming scene? Perhaps I just want a good single-player game like Zelda to snuggle up to in bed?
In all seriousness, I think it’s a mixture of both Nintendo doing something quite interesting that shakes up the market, and of me being a bit bored/fed-up of “serious” gaming. However, being a game developer/designer myself, I tend to have a slightly more critical, function-based perspective on something like a major console release. With Phil Spencer and the Microsoft team talking about Project Scorpio being their version of what they see consoles becoming in the future (more like a PC), it’s hard not to see parallels being made with the Nintendo Switch and its approach to modular design philosophies.
An upgradable console isn’t a new idea. It’s likely what Project Scorpio will turn out to be – perhaps some kind of box that you slot boxes in and out of, cloud-processed gaming or equivalent of. And whilst Nintendo might not be the ones who came up with the idea, they’ll most likely be the ones who benefit from it most, with their dock being the feature-piece to my whole prediction. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a 4k compatible dock in the future, that expands the tablet’s VRAM to be able to process that information, or add some kind of attachable horsepower to the main base unit. We had the expansion pack with the N64, and the connection enabling the dock to tablet pathway is capable of a high-bandwidth, so this kind of concept isn’t too far-fetched in the scheme of things. They’ve already mentioned the clock speeds of the tablet are lower when un-docked, which will likely mean lower framerates and graphical options being lowered when making that transition in future titles.
You can already see the potential with its detachable controllers – for instance, you could potentially snap in a purpose-built GameCube controller mod, meaning that you could technically emulate 100% the functionality of any other traditional controller setup. It’s no secret that detachable joy-cons means that anything is possible in terms of input hardware devices. This will be a much affordable option for many developers, as having to construct new hardware standards for things like a guitar controller etc, might not be needed if all you have to do is construct a plastic mould of a guitar body, and attached a joy-con on each end of the body for input. Gyroscopes and accelerometers also pave the possibility for things like Light-Guns and other orientation-based input devices like fishing rods or swords.
Nintendo have always been forward thinkers. They’re able to sell hardware and software well, despite not being the #1 in terms of power, features, or technical prowess. They know better than anyone how to work with and within limitations, and how to draw out the best capability of the hardware and games they design. Some call it the Minimalist Nintendo Design philosophy, of how to extract the most experience out of something without trying to do too much. They’re good at that.
Something about Nintendo always stays relevant, despite never using the newest hardware or making the most technically-impressive games. I think what they manage to capture each and every time is the human element of both making and playing games. Whilst there are those that see Nintendo as their home and have always gone to them as their preferred platform, the rest of us with Sony/Microsoft still end up giving something from Nintendo a try every so often. We never really escape their ability to craft something that is either interesting to discover, or fun to play.
For want of a better explanation, I feel that the Switch communicates the idea of fun to me once more. The Switch has this romantic allure for me. It promises a simpler engagement, and one that I’ll find charming and inviting.
The benchmark has always kind of unofficially been “Can it play an open world game like the Elder Scrolls or GTA?”. If your hardware can manage to run a huge open world game with fairly attractive visuals, I think that’s always going to be the bar of measurement as to whether it’s able to do anything else or not. To run a massive and open game with complex systems in place like a day/night cycle and dynamic A.I routines, that’s about as complex as modern video game development gets in practical terms. The fact that the Switch is able to handle that leaves me not really caring whether or not I have higher resolution textures or a faster framerate somewhere else.
So whether it’s due to my age, gaming’s social landscape, or having reached a point in technology where graphical differences are becoming more minor and less apparent than ever, I’m now more interested in a Nintendo console than I ever have been before. I just want to play good games, and I’ve always admired Nintendo for being a consistent source of that. After months of playing games at their highest settings on a GTX 1080, its finally worn thin and it all comes back to wanting to play good games, regardless of their graphics or technology.