Can the Nintendo Switch Compete?

Alex Lee - 4B Nanotechnology
Posted on: January 30, 2017

Last October, Nintendo announced its next-gen gaming console, the successor to the middling Nintendo Wii U, named the Nintendo Switch. As with previous iterations of Nintendo consoles dating all the way back to the original Nintendo Wii and the handheld Nintendo DS, the Switch attempts to innovate on and revolutionize traditional console designs. In this case, the biggest innovation is the modular Joy-Con controllers. The console is due for release on March 3, 2017. The buzz about the console has been intense and Nintendo reports that preorders have already reached 80% of launch day availability. However, it has significant ground to catch up on the Xbox One S and PS4 Pro, Microsoft and Sony’s iterative improvements to their previous consoles, both of which launched last fall.

Nintendo has had a history of innovation in the console market. In 1983 they were one of the first in the business with the Family Computer, or Famicom, better known as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the west. They also were one of the first in handheld gaming with the iconic Game Boy in 1989. Nintendo also took a stab at virtual reality before it was cool, releasing the Virtual Boy in 1995, which proved to be a failure. In 2004, Nintendo released the dual screen handheld Nintendo DS, and in 2006 they released the Nintendo Wii with its revolutionary motion controls. In 2011, the Nintendo 3DS was released which featured a glasses-free 3D display, and then launched the Wii U, a hybrid handheld/TV console which was financially unsuccessful. This long history of innovation, both successful and not, leads us to the Switch.

Since its announcement, the Switch had generated significant buzz and information has been revealed about it. While primarily designed as a home console, the Switch Console can be used as a handheld device as well. The console comes with a 6.2 inch LCD screen that can support up to 720p resolution, which can be used when the console is disconnected from the dock. When docked, the console supports up to 1080p and 60 frames per second. However, the true innovation the Switch brings to the world is contained in the controllers, collectively known as the Joy-Con. While Nintendo has experimented with controller designs before (see the N64 controller which required three hands), the Joy-Con takes this a step further. The Joy-Con is modular, and can be attached to the console when in handheld mode, used freehand like the Wii remote and Nunchuk extension, or attached onto a frame called the Joy-Con Grip to be used as a gamepad. The Joy-Con consists of left and right controllers which have familiar features such as the ABXY buttons, the D-pad and analog sticks. They also feature gyroscopic motion-sensitive controls which have been touted to be able to provide very detailed, precise tactile feedback. The Joy-Con looks to be truly visionary, allowing players to play however they want.

So how does the Nintendo Switch stack up vs. its competitors, Microsoft’s Xbox One S and Sony’s PS4 Pro? Well, as is typical with Nintendo machines, the Switch does not quite match up specification wise, meaning that the PS4 and Xbox One S will still be able to provide better graphics and games that require more intensive machines. However, it would take a truly ambitious game to make use of the full power that the rival systems have to offer, so the majority of games will run just fine on all three systems. Obviously, the advantages the Switch enjoys are its innovative handheld/console functionality as well as its modular controllers. Pricewise, all three come in around four hundred dollars. This is compared to the Wii and Wii U, which had the advantage of being around 75% of the price of its competitor. However, at the end of the day, the most likely point of divergence is in the exclusive games – the ones that are only on one console and not ported to all of them. As always, the console with the better exclusive games will probably be seen as the most successful in the long run.

Nintendo has generated considerable hype with the Nintendo Switch, but it remains to be seen if it will match the success of its predecessors such as the Wii. A stance of cautious optimism is probably best.