What is the Nintendo Switch?

The big reveal of the Nintendo Switch has come and gone, but it left one question hanging there only semi-answered. What, exactly, is this console for? Is it a tablet? Wii U 2? A sure sign of the impending doom for Nintendo that’s been predicted since the N64 days and has yet to come to pass? Is Nintendo as clueless as ever, throwing ideas at the wall in the hope that something, anything, sticks? As it turns out, the Nintendo Switch is a clever and versatile little console that’s going to take some time to mature, but offers developers a huge array of options to play with. All its bells and whistles aside, though, its primary feature is the one initially shown off and that’s the ability to walk away from the TV and keep playing.

This doesn’t make it a full portable system, although you’ll be able to fake it a bit. With its three-hour battery life (or six hour with the right game and correct astral alignment) and bulky screen, it’s hard to justify taking the Switch out into the world, but it’s perfect for tooling around the house. The system seems designed to take the space between a tablet, console and handheld, with a unique collection of strengths and weaknesses inherited from each. It’s got the multi-touch screen of the tablet, but its games require the Joy-Con controllers.  The controllers can be used independently and include the motion sensitivity of the Wii, but the Switch was initially marketed with them shown as attached to the either the screen or the Grip housing, clearly stating the feature is available but not required.  The system is designed to run full console-style games but it also has a Wii-like collection of minigames being given the same billing as the bigger titles. Multiplayer comes in split-screen, online, and multiple units all connected like a classic LAN party without the wires. Nintendo is doing everything, all at once, and the marketing message is getting spread thin because of this.

The important question then becomes- how do you want to use this? Personally I’m all about playing a giant-sized console quality Zelda in bed, extension cord running to an outlet and headphones jacked in. Or maybe doing the same on the couch while my wife watches TV. From my personal perspective the Switch is a gaming console that’s freed from hogging the tv screen. Which is all sorts of nice for me, but other people want different things such as multiplayer, an online component, a library of indies to match the PS4, etc. Not all of these are going to reach their full potential, of course, and if there’s one thing Nintendo is known for its the company’s ability to corporate-think its way out of a victory. The death of region-locking was a pleasant surprise, though, so maybe there’s hope.

There’s a lot of negativity around the Switch but, as is normal, its the common belief that Nintendo Is Doomed. Super Mario Run only sold a handful of millions of copies? 3DS has sold tens of millions of units instead of the DS’ hundred+ million? Nintendo’s money vault is only 90 cubic feet rather than 100? There’s no way the company can survive, and Switch is just the latest nail in the coffin. Or maybe parents will buy it for kids and adults for themselves, people from different walks of life that don’t identify as core gamers but still love Nintendo will find something for them on it, and it will all work out fine. Nintendo, and this can’t be stressed enough, isn’t competing with Sony or Microsoft, so comparing sales between them doesn’t work either when they’ve got a major hit like the Wii or a less successful console like Wii U. As a company it needs to see success, true, but its success is found in the marketing of the characters with game sales being an aspect of this. Whatever fate awaits the Switch, Nintendo is going to land on its feet cushioned by fat stacks of $100s.

The Switch is a lot of things to various parties. To Nintendo, it’s the current future of the company.  For developers, it’s too early to call, but the system is loaded with features to play with aside from its full support of traditional gameplay.  To users, though, it’s a strange, hybrid beast waiting to fit into their gaming schedule. Nintendo is quick to emphasize the unit’s social aspect and its semi-portability should do nice things for gatherings of friends, but for the most part it will probably still be played in the home. Whether that’s on TV or in bed is up to the user, as is which aspects of its library they choose to take advantage of. Classic gaming, something more modern, single- or multiplayer, casual or hardcore, the Switch is trying to do it all. Like any new console, its library will take time to grow, and the initial launch is basically “Zelda, Zelda, Zelda!!!!”, but like the Wii U, it’s going to have a respectable, quirky, unique lineup given enough time.  So what is the Nintendo Switch?  It’s a new console from Nintendo that evolves the ideas in the Wii (motion controls) and the Wii U (tablet) into a single versatile unit, taking the lessons of the previous two generations and making them options rather than requirements.  Whether that’s enough to trigger a day-1 purchase, put the system on the Wait & See list or write the whole thing off as more Nintendo gimmickry is up the the user, but personally I’m looking forward to kicking back with the system and watching it grow.