With only a few days to go until Nintendo will unveil more about their upcoming Switch console I’d figure I’d have a final look at what might be coming for the console.
Before diving deep into full-speculation-mode I want to go over what we know and the more reliable rumors that have surfaced over the past few months. On the facts side, things remain pretty light. All we have is Nintendo’s reveal video, Nintendo’s list of supporters, the press release from nVidia, the Switch’ appearance on the Tonight Show and some games that have been announced for the console.
Based on these facts we know that nVidia is providing the tech for the Switch, but we don’t know what exact form this will take. Rumors suggest that it might be nVidia’s existing X1 SoC which it currently uses in its own Shield TV console. This would be a bit of a let down as this means the tech is already a year old.
Others rumors say that the screen’s resolution will be 720p. While this may not sound too impressive by today’s mobile device standards it still means a ppi of 244. This is quite a reasonable number and also well above the resolution of the WiiU Gamepad. The upside of this is that the GPU has less pixels to populate which should mean better battery life. Rumors also suggest that this resolution is only used when the device is in “mobile mode” and when the Switch is docked it will churn out a 1080p resolution. This transition (or Switch as it will probably be called in the marketing) also appeared to be seamless on the Tonight Show appearance.
Nintendo has revealed quite a substantial list of developers who will support their new system (at east at launch). This support is becoming more apparent in the games already being announced for the Switch. Notable here is RiME, a game that dropped a reveal trailer after three years of silence. In this reveal, the game was no longer a PS4 exclusive but was coming to the Xbox One, Steam and the Nintendo Switch as well. While the game, with a definite Zelda feel to it, looks very interesting it’s perhaps more interesting to see the Switch listed as a platform between the PS4 and Xbox One for a new and upcoming game.
Those are basically the things we can be fairly certain of to be happening. But what else could Nintendo have in store for us?
My Nintendo saves
Last year Nintendo released its replacement for the Club Nintendo loyalty program. At the time My Nintendo was positioned to do a great many things. Up to know only the Club Nintendo part of it seems to be used. Right now you can earn coins (mostly through Nintendo’s two mobile titles) and ‘buy’ rewards with them. A lot of the other stuff that was promised for My Nintendo hasn’t arrived just yet. Most notably the opportunity to store savegames in your account. At the time I thought maybe they would update the WiiU and 3DS to use this feature but that hasn’t happened. So it’s quite possible that the Switch will be using this feature. If that is the case it immediately raises the question what the Switch’ network connection options will be and if it will be able to use mobile networks?
The screen of the Switch is something interesting. While immediate questions went to whether or not it will have a capacitive touchscreen, as is more common these days, or if Nintendo would stick to a resistive touchscreen (but hopefully a lot more precise like the ones Nokia put in their Lumia phones). While these are all valid and interesting questions the fact of the matter is that it isn’t even confirmed that the screen will be a touchscreen at all. Given that the system already has console controls and switches between your non-touch TV it could very well be possible that the screen won’t be a touchscreen. It would definitely keep the cost down.
For me, backwards compatibility is important, especially with Nintendo games. How this will play out with the Switch is very much unclear. Rumors have suggested that the Switch might be getting a Gamecube virtual console. This would mean that the Switch is able to emulate the Cube’s architecture (and therefore the core of the Wii and WiiU’s) even though its own architecture is different. It also makes sense as the Cube is Nintendo’s last console with “classic” controls (that you might experience fully if the Switch supports the WiiU’s Gamecube adapter). For it to support the Wii and WiiU some additional trickery will be needed apart from the horsepower needed to emulate those systems. This also means that is unclear what will happen to games that were purchased in the eShop. Will they be available on the Switch in any form? Perhaps only the VC titles will make it across? If that is the case don’t sell your old system(s) just yet.
During the Switch’ reveal Nintendo showed that the Switch’ primary controllers are detachable. Given Nintendo’s history with dreaming up all kinds of addons, this has spurred speculation about all kinds of controllers that might be connected to either the main unit or the separate “grip” that was also shown. Personally, I’d really like to see the Gamecube controller button layout make a comeback. But all kinds of things could be possible.
The dock appeared to have USB ports so the WiiU Gamecube controller adapter I mentioned before could be supported (or something similar). But a wholly different type of wireless controller (like a Wiimote) should also be very possible.
This might be a very important aspect. Not just practically but also for the price. While Nintendo has a knack for keeping their game’s sizes small, today’s games go through gigabytes like crazy. While the reveal video did show some form of game cartridge it’s unlikely that these carts will be able to store the entire game. To support this theory is one of Nintendo’s patents that suggested that the cart would only contain part of the game requiring the rest to be downloaded. Even with the support for cartridges, it’s unlikely that Nintendo will drop fully digital games. All of this means that the Switch will need some form of internal storage to support the option of being taken on the road. Rumors have mentioned a micro-SD card slot, and that seems like a viable alternative because they go up to 256 Gb these days with normal sized SD cards going up to 512Gb. With a few of those, you should be able to manage bringing your games on the go! The alternative is internal storage and while this is good to have it likely to always run short. The WiiU shipped with 32Gb as it’s biggest internal storage option and that was only enough to store just a couple of games at best. So anything below 64Gb doesn’t seem practical but anything above will start driving up the price. My expectation here is that the Switch will ship with some internal storage but have support for some form of portable external storage where (micro) SD seems most likely.
Nintendo rarely talks about the internals of their systems so we’ll have to bet on nVidia for sharing the details on what the Switch’ hardware can do. Again, hopefully, it will be on par with the PS4 & XBox One, which would be a feat on its own.
But a game system isn’t just about the CPU & GPU. There are a lot of other things that are relevant. One I’ve already mentioned; the screen. Whether this is or isn’t a touchscreen will be important, but it doesn’t stop there. Other options are things like accelerometers. Given how Nintendo likes to use it for aiming it makes sense the Switch and it’s controllers will support motion controls, but it’s certainly not a given. I for one hope they do. I like things like movement assisted aim and was surprised the WiiU Pro controller lacked the option.
The options don’t stop there, however. Given that the nVidia hardware is “mobile technology” things like mobile network support I mentioned earlier or a GPS chip all make sense. GPS especially, since Pokemon Go proved to be so popular.
Nintendo also has had a tendency to be skimpy with the more common components. Hopefully they won’t try to do so with the Switch. This means support for 802.11 ac WiFi and USB-C with USB 3.1 speeds. Fortunately, rumors are suggesting that the Switch will sport a USB-C connector for charging so proper USB speeds seem likely.
Finally, and perhaps most unlikely, is the support for a sensor bar. The WiiU gamepad had one built in so the Switch could have something similar. This would allow for Wiimote support and pave the way for Wii backwards-compatibility. In that line of thought, the Switch could also support a WiiU Gamepad to allow WiiU compatibility.
The Launch lineup
Every Nintendo console is really about one thing and that, of course, is its games. Nintendo is seemingly preparing to come out swinging with the reveal video showing flashes of Mario, Mario Kart & Splatoon. Easily three of the best titles of the WiiU. And that’s not even mentioning the already confirmed Zelda game.
The reveal also showed a game that is probably Skyrim. This is a big deal, because third party support isn’t Nintendo’s strong suit for a good while now. Yes, a lot of developers have pledged their commitment but the WiiU has shown that that can easily and quickly change. While the console’s lacking hardware was often given as the reason, perhaps having to compete with Nintendo’s first party titles might have been a reason for third parties to think again. Because of this the Switch’ launch lineup might not be what we might expect. Given that the new Zelda game has already been announced for the Switch many, myself among them, have assumed that the Switch would launch with the new Zelda game, just like the Wii did. But rumors have suggested that Zelda: Breath of the Wild will not be released until the summer of 2017. Unless the switch moves back into the summer as well, that leaves a good few months before the game can be played on the new console. Given how far development for the game seemingly is, this seems strange. But perhaps this is Nintendo’s way to show commitment to the returning third parties and give them more room during the all-important launch window of the new system. Even the WiiU’s initial sales were good and a new console is no fun without some games for it. So, leaving this opportunity to the third parties could Nintendo’s way of showing how committed they are. It may sound risky, but the WiiU has shown that people will still buy their big IP’s and a lot of people have been eagerly awaiting Breath of the Wild. So it could very well be that Nintendo will not be throwing Zelda, Mario, Mario Kart & Splatoon at you right from day one.
The price is perhaps the biggest question. Mainly because Nintendo always tries to keep things affordable without selling anything below what it costs to make. The current nVidia Shield TV (which sports the Tegra X1 chip reportedly used in the Switch devkits) sells for around 200 bucks. But that is without any controllers or screens. Google’s Pixel C tablet perhaps is closer to what the Switch base unit might be. But that sells for 500 bucks. For that money you get a (very) high resolution 10″ display, well above the rumored 6″ 720p screen on the Switch.
Nintendo tends to aim for a pricepoint of around 300 bucks or lower, so that seems likely here as well Very recent rumors even point to a price of 250. I just hope Nintendo will be sensible about the choices they make. As they are known to make odd choices to keep costs down. While a target price of 300 is admirable it should not be their only driver. Perhaps Nintendo will sell a base model for 300 bucks, but have more premium options (perhaps with more internal storage) at higher price points.
To conclude this, there is a lot we don’t know and we can’t be sure of anything until Nintendo tells us. Luckily we should know a lot more very soon and to be honest I can’t wait for the big reveal. Only a day to go, so keep it here to find out when we do