We’ve heard crazy rumors about the “Nintendo NX” over the past year, and their reveal trailer confirms most of em’, including the release window of March 2017. While the form factor and various use cases were shown, that confirmation and the lack of really any in-depth explanation not only leaves tons of questions unanswered, but creates ground for even more. Watch the reveal, and then we’ll get into all the details and concerns, for what will easily be the most extensive analysis you’ll find online… [Last Update – 2016/10/21]
To supplement PC gaming, I chose the 3DS because I thought it offered the largest set of experiences that were different from the ones I already had access to. While partly there, in the end it fell flat because of multiple factors all stemming from one main issue, the hardware. The 3DS has some great titles, but so many genres and opportunities are held back by the incredibly lacking controls (single uncomfortable analog nub, no analog triggers), and the horrid performance (even for the ~$140-200 price tag) made worse by one of the system’s namesake selling point (3D). The Nintendo Switch sets out to complete change that, and I’m just hoping they made the proper considerations to really make this thing shine.
Similarly, I never invested in a Wii U even though I had great interest in many of the titles, again because of the hardware. Less on the control side as the pro-controllers were largely there (minus the lack of analog triggers), but the hardware came in at a cost near the other modern platforms, with the performance of their decade-old ancestors; it just didn’t seem like a great value proposition at all.
While the Nintendo Switch unfortunately doesn’t directly solve this problem (unless there’s a secondary chip in the base station we don’t know about, there’s no way this thing can muster anywhere near the 4-6 Tflops of the PS4 Pro / Microsoft Scorpio), it does in another sense… Assuming there is no secondary chip, this is Nintendo essentially abandoning the home console race as it was fought in the past. They won’t be developing low-fidelity console titles at all any more, but rather focusing exclusively on high-fidelity handheld titles instead. On one hand it’s a shame that we still won’t get to see top end titles from the developers they own (whether that be on their own hardware or published to other platforms), if they’re going to stick to their guns and remain in the hardware market, it’s pleasing to imagine ALL of their primary titles being available on ONE (seemingly very) competent mobile platform, rather than fragmented across two lackluster ones like they’ve done for over a decade now.
Needless to say, I am very hopeful about this platform and their new approach, but there are tons of small factors that have yet to be clarified that could make it massively impressive, or frustratingly disappointing. To make this easier to digest, I’m going to list the various features and unknowns as bullet points, and I’ll keep this updated as we get more information. [Last Update – 2016/10/21]
- Hardware & Peripherals
- Technical Hardware Specs
- Games & 3rd Party Support
- Extra Info & Concerns
- Completely colorless materials, excluding LEDs.
- Fully matte/semi-matte finish, except for the glass screen.
- Pro Controller – Semi-translucent plastic used on what looks like a replaceable faceplate.
- System UI/Menus – Absolutely nothing has been shown, not even in-game menus.
- Purely red branding, likely to contrast with the Xbox green and Sony blue, as the Wii U’s cyan didn’t do that all that well.
- Overall a very modern, adult-oriented build, most alike the Black New 3DS (that has yet to come to the US).
Hardware & Peripherals
- Nintendo Switch
- Top features a power button, volume rocker, large exhaust vents, a 3.5mm audio jack (no pole info), and a covered game card slot.
- Game card slot covering flap might make it a pain to swap games, especially while docked. Carts very similar to 3DS (used to be 8GB max, no info an increase but it’s very likely) but black with far fewer metal contact points (likely just a mock-up); potentially thicker with different notches.
No word on if the slot supports 3DS/DS carts[No physical backwards compatibility confirmed by Famitsu interview].
- Bottom docking ports (and likely speakers) and controller mounting rails not shown.
- Rear features a kickstand. Beneath and besides that are two openings. The one beneath looks wide enough to be a microSD slot, and the other looks like either a stylus holder or something the dock uses to help with alignment.
- Camera and microphone were not pictured, and it was rumored that the devices will not feature them at all.
- Nintendo Switch Dock
- Nintendo say it’s primary function is to provide power/charging to the device, while sending the video to a connected display, with the main draw being that the mode switch should happen in only a few seconds.
- System is flush with the dock without the Joy-Con Controllers attached.
- No ports or I/O shown, except for two identical slots on the left side, which could be any number of things. It would be foolish to put HDMI there, and they seem too thick for the game carts, so I’m thinking USB or proprietary controller ports.
- The DevKit image features wired Ethernet (hopefully that stays), HDMI, Power, and a port that looks like the controller ports on Wii Remotes and the NES Classic Edition.
- The back side of the dock is thicker than the system itself, and the base beneath is even thicker, so additional cooling and supplemental computing both seem feasible in addition to the I/O.
- Nintendo Switch Joy-Con (L) + (R)
- Each side features 4 face buttons (the “D-pad” is separated, allowing >2 or opposite sides to be pressed at once), a real-ish domed analog stick (way bigger than the Vita’s, and not a sliding nub like the 2DS/3DS), a bumper, a trigger (I hope it’s analog, but it might not be based on footage available), and two auxiliary buttons (- / + / Home / “Share”). In total, it’s only 1 additional button over your average Xbox 360/One controller. The DS4 has the extremely versatile touchpad, but the multi-touch touchscreen would of course trump that while in mobile mode.
- Each supports wireless, has an internal battery, and one would assume charges via the connection to the tablet.
- It is rumored that each also has rumble and some form of motion controls (not demonstrated yet at all, but it’s definitely not IR based like the Wii Remotes).
- The sides can be spit for 2 or 4 players with 1 or 2 sets, and it’s an upgrade over similar functionality on the Wii because each has a real analog stick and 4 separate buttons. Because of the vertical orientation and necessary placement of buttons while attached to the tablet, the buttons and analog do seem cramped together, on top of the halves being a bit small in general.
- These slide in from the top so that they can easily be connected/removed while the system is docked or on it’s kickstand, but that also leaves the possibility of the expensive tablet sliding straight out of your hands and onto the floor. The latching mechanism better be very secure, and it might just be considering the sound it makes is literally part of it’s branding.
- These are smart devices that probably won’t be all that cheap, but assuming there is a physical connection between them and the system (not wireless-only), I could imagine dumber, ‘wired’-only versions with interesting gimmicks for specific use cases, games, or even just preference (a GameCube layout, for example).
- Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Grip
- A controller grip that connects the Joy-Con controllers together in place of the tablet portion. There are clearly electronics inside, as 4 LEDs (on both sides, probably to verify that each is properly connected) display the player number (1-4), but I would imagine this might also double as the NFC reader while the tablet is docked (Amiibo support is confirmed).
- No info on whether or not the grip has a battery to help feed the Joy-Con controllers, or if the grip speaks with the controllers physically and then sends one wireless signal to the system instead of 2. If the grip has a supplemental battery or not, it would be wise of them to include a port on it to charge secondary sets of Joy-Con controllers without purchasing a 1st/3rd party charging base of some sort.
- Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
- A traditional wireless controller with all the same buttons as the Joy-Con controllers, but with a solid D-pad instead of separate buttons, and slightly larger and convex analog sticks. 4 LEDs on the bottom to indicate the player number, with no indication of a speaker/microphone/audio-jack. No info on whether the triggers are analog. The form factor is clearly going for a mix between the Xbox 360 and One designs, and actually looks a lot like some of the 3rd party offerings.
Technical Hardware Specs
- Nintendo Switch
- [Nothing Confirmed] Nvidia Tegra SOC, likely the or a variant of the Tegra X2. 4 core, 64-bit ARM Cortex-A57 CPU, with a Pascal-based 256 CUDA core GPU at 1 Ghz max. 4GB of shared system RAM at ~25 GB/s. 32GB of internal storage (far too small for modern games if SD (rumored support) or external USB HDD expansion aren’t offered) with a transfer rate of ~400 MB/s (along the lines of a decent 2.5″ SSD). Battery life is rumored to not be all that great, and that the cooling system could be noisy, but like with gaming laptops, it’s what you have to expect with such a powerful chip in such a small device, unless of course you want to make it massively thick or let it overheat and throttle into horrible performance. Nvidia has OpenGL and Vulkan running on ARM/Tegra, so that along with their NVN API will hopefully open doors for more substantial 3rd party support.
- The press release and reveal trailer both tout wireless local multi-player, but no word on what standard is being utilized, if that can be done while the systems are docked, if the dock enables wired Ethernet and if that would allow LAN multiplayer (as teased with their mock-up Splatoon eSports footage), or if LTE versions would be available.
- Display rumored/analysed to be ~6.2-6.5″. Sources say that it should be an IPS (great colors and viewing angles) Touchscreen (capacitive 10-point multi-touch), but that Nintendo want to use it for navigation and convenience rather than gimmick-centered gameplay like the past; something I’d greatly appreciate.
- Some official imagery sizes the display (and the game footage within it) to be exactly 1080P, but sources say it’s actually 1280×720. On one hand, that is exactly what you want for mobile 3D gaming, because at that size in your vision and while working with mobile, battery-powered hardware, doubling the resolution is absolutely NOT worth all the concessions you need to make (framerate, rendering quality, effects, etc). On the other hand, not having a high res display for everything else you might want to do on a tablet-like device is a shame. Another solution would’ve been to use a 2560×1440 panel instead, which is clearly overkill, BUT would’ve allowed them to render at 720P, and do a clean 2x upscale with the HUD and menus at full res (most AAA titles do this on the consoles already where they can only muster 720-900P, but output to 1080 or 4K with a native HUD and OS). They could upscale to a 1080 panel too, but it wouldn’t be clean (integer scaling) and could easily mess with pixel art, which should be common on a platform like this.
- Nintendo Switch Dock
- HDMI output is rumored to support 1080P 60Hz or 3840×2160 30Hz, which should mean they’re using the now dated HDMI 1.4 standard, rather than 2.0 or newer.
- Nintendo tried to patent an SCD (“Supplemental Computing Device”), which amounts to an additional processor/RAM/etc that works in conjunction with the mobile hardware. While we can now easily route in the processing of a full-size GPU into various laptops via thunderbolt (see the Razer Core; it’s essentially just a PCI-E connection but through a thin cable), creating two systems that work in tandem is far more complicated. Zero credible information available pointing to whether or not the dock utilizes this in any way, or if it’s just dumb I/O and power interface. It would be a pretty significant achievement that would serve to enhance the rendering fidelity/resolution/framerate far more than just the more robust power source (vs battery) would, but it would also guarantee that the dock itself is far more expensive than you’d expect, potentially as much as the handheld portion. It’s a good idea, but I genuinely don’t see them pulling that off.
- Considering the points above, I question how they’re going to handle the 1080P resolution while docked. Just assuming the only processing is in the handheld, that would mean games developed for the platform could follow multiple possible paths. If they target 1080P for their rendering/effects/geometry quality, then the handheld mode should handle near half the res just fine with less power draw (= more battery life). If they target 720P, do they cut the framerate at 1080, do they create a secondary/lesser profile for the 1080P mode (like devs have to do for the 4K mode of the PS4 Pro), or do they not even mess with 1080P for intensive titles and just upscale to 1080? I’d say the correct answer for intensive games would be to utilize two rendering setting profiles tailored to each resolution/mode, with a baseline bias towards the 1080P side so that the assets/effects/lighting run easily on the lower-powered but half-res mobile mode. A bias towards the 720P res would mean the opposite, where higher-end “graphics” are employed because of how easily they come at 720, but then struggle and start to drop frames when told to render at 1080, even with the greater wattage allowance.
Games & 3rd Party Support
From what I’ve seen, devs seem pretty enthusiastic about the Nintendo Switch. A ton of big-name publishers are already on board as you’ll see from the sizable list below, but others (like Devolver Digital, who just published the excellent Shadow Warrior 2) are chiming in left and right. Now that Nintendo have chosen to go with semi-competent hardware (exceptional for the mobile space), and a platform that while employing an unusual form factor, seems to strongly avoid gimmick-based gameplay (required touch, motion, second-screen, etc… there was absolutely none of it in the reveal video), you can see why they’d be far more willing to adopt it as opposed to platforms like the Wii and Wii U.
|Official Nintendo Switch Software Partners|
|Arc System Works||Grasshopper Manufacture||Silicon Studio Corporation|
|Atlus||Gungho Online Entertainment||Spike Chunsoft|
|Audiokinetic||Hamster Corporation||Square Enix|
|Bandai Namco||Inti Creates||Take-Two Interactive|
|Bethesda||Koei Tecmo||Telltale Games|
|Capcom||Konami Digital Entertainment||THQ Nordic|
|Codemasters||Level-5||Tokyo RPG Factory|
|CRI Middleware||Marvelous||TT Games|
|Electronic Arts||Nippon Ichi Software||Ubitus|
|Epic Games||Parity Bit||Unity Technologies|
|Firelight Technologies||PlatinumGames||Warner Bros. Interactive|
|FromSoftware||RAD Game Tools||Web Technology Corp|
Ignoring Skyrim and the basketball game, three of the five first party titles shown seemed like extensions of current Wii U titles, and Breath of the Wild is coming to both. Interestingly, what looked like Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, and Mario 3D World all had some piece of new content on display. It begs the question, were those just mock-ups that will never exist, are they “lazy sequels” utilizing the same engines and assets, or are they ports with additional content. As someone who owns a 3DS but not a Wii U, and is really looking forward to this as a replacement and bridge into the kind of things the Wii U offered, I’d love for them to be ports.
While ports bridging a gap like this aren’t all that easy to make, you can be sure that it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than completely unique AAA titles, especially those trying out new IP. Their budget can be spread much further taking that route, and it’s a strong driver of outright brand adoption from people like me. If I’ve played almost none of the titles in the past 2-5 years, I’d much rather have 5-10 critically acclaimed games in an even better state because of the vastly faster hardware, vs 1-2 brand new titles. But it’s not a black and white choice either, a few of each should serve them very well no matter how little interest dedicated fans have in replaying past titles.
One thing for their sake that I would strongly advise that Nintendo think about, is carried ownership or at the very least a substantial discount on digital Wii U licences for games that get these ports. Some of these titles will have only been out 2-3 years by the time they’re re-released, and while physical owners can trade/sell away their old copies with relative ease, digital owners are completely boned on top of the fact that Nintendo routinely charges vastly more for their digital releases than their real-world physical counterparts in the first place. After spending so much more in a crummy ecosystem that barely works, to then have no sense of ownership going forward would be infuriating.[No physical backwards compatibility, but digital compatibility might sitll be on the table, confirmed by Famitsu interview.] Speaking of carrying forward, what about all the stellar 3DS games? And with that platforms massive, maintained success, how long would Nintendo be willing to continue support if there’s no backwards compatibility in place? I don’t know about everyone else, but I would absolutely pay extra for 3DS backwards compatibility. You have the cart slot that is similar enough they could support both if they chose to, you have the touch screen, a 720P screen that is enough to fit (conveniently because of the way common resolutions relate) FIVE entire pixel-perfect top and bottom 3DS screens, and a system that is powerful enough for emulation if it came to that.
You see, emulation is very challenging when you’re working from essentially nothing as outsiders that have no connection to the original company, and yet we already have rapidly advancing 3DS/Wii U emulation on the PC that’s starting to produce playable experiences, often even rendered at far higher resolutions. When you’re actually Nintendo with access to everything, pulling that off when it could mean tons more sales/profit, it’s far less challenging while being financially worthwhile. I don’t believe the platform has any streaming video tech like the Wii U did, but man it would’ve been cool to finally have that DS and 3DS dual screen experience with a TV and tablet, the thing we all thought would eventually come from the Wii U.
The reason I see 3DS compatibility as such an important factor, is that not only did the Wii U directly replace the Wii, the Wii the GameCube, and the DS the Gameboy, by adding a substantial, “game changing” gimmick, even they still supported tremendous levels of backwards compatibility, rivaling all but the PC. The Switch hasn’t revealed any form of backwards compatibility other than what looks like manual porting, and it doesn’t have a game-effecting gimmick that would prevent most 3DS titles from being played. Sure you don’t have the 3D display, the cameras, or the microphone, but the vast majority of the best titles didn’t need/utilize those features anyway. It seems so odd to abandon that massive user-base and all that great content, so what, are the 3DS and Switch going to both continue forward together? That just means we’re back to the development fragmentation that happened between the 3DS and Wii U.
Extra Info & Concerns
- Pricing and Availability – Other than the March 2017 launch window, we currently have zero information on the pricing for any component, or how they’ll be bundled together. Assuming the dock does not use supplemental computing or a cooling system to then grant automated overclocking headroom, I’d reckon $350 for a [Tablet + Joy-Con L/R + Grip + Dock + Digital Pack-in Game] package. Nvidia offered their K1 tablet w/ controller and a few accessories for below that mark, and their X1 Shield TV + controller for much less, and both are becoming dated at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised with lower, but this should be a safe expectation. If they were smart they’d sell just the Tablet + Joy-Con L/R alone for the lowest price possible (assuming there’s a cable to charge it, not exclusively the dock which would be absurd), because that’s what wins you comparisons. Oculus pulled the same thing and were seen as more affordable than the HTC Vive, even though the complete package w/ Touch controllers ends up being more expensive.
- I want to reiterate this… for both Nintendo’s own developers and 3rd parties, the combination of two platforms (or rather the elimination of Nintendo’s true/traditional home console presence), means there is no longer a choice and thus less hesitation and fragmentation; meaning more and/or better games per a consumers initial investment.
- Region Free – Confirmed by many sources but not officially. It would be an excellent way to get around Nintendo’s tendency to not contract/allow localizations of various, sometimes very desired titles.
- It is unbelievably unlikely that it supports some sort of android-based operating system that would allow for all sorts of expanded functionality, even though that is exactly what all of the other recent Nvidia Tegra platforms do.
- Along with that last point, it’s rumored that Nintendo wants to avoid basically anything that’s not gaming. Yea, a focus on gaming! Well no… all that means to me is that the powerful hardware you buy is useless for anything but the games they decide to allow on their platform. All I’m saying is that if they want to offer essentially zero features beyond running games, their OS navigation, storefront, and account/game-ownership systems better be obscenely polished. The Wii, Wii U, and 3DS were all among the absolute worst in the industry, so I’d hope this narrowed focus comes with a complete 180 on that front.
- The experience presented in the reveal was a faked example of what they hope to achieve, but if graphical settings changes are made as you hot swap between mobile and docked mode, I wonder how quickly (and consistently without crashes) it will actually be. The example in the video shows the TV freezing for a few seconds on the last frame received after the Switch is lifted away. The vast majority of the gameplay footage shown in the reveal is fake, as evidenced by dozens of compositing errors. The combination of medium shutter speed video capture at 24FPS, that then has 60FPS gameplay footage with vastly less inherent motion blur composited onto it, means that even though the final output video is 24FPS, the gameplay footage MUST appear less fluid than the entire frame surrounding it. While a layman’s assumption would be that the gameplay is dipping below 24 FPS, I assure you that is an illusion. DO NOT make a judgement on frame-rate based on the reveal video.
- Almost all of the screen is covered by the docking station, squashing the idea of a second screen for now at least. I notice a strip sticks out above; it would be a genius move for them to display information there during downloads so you can watch the progress while the TV is connected to another device.
- Virtual Reality – Actually using the tablet’s display in a VR setting is absolutely unfathomable considering it’s size/weight/resolution/refreshrate… however, if the ports on the bottom that interface with the dock are competent enough, it wouldn’t be all that unreasonable to use that as I/O to a separate headset comprising only video/audio/sensors, meaning it could be just as light as the existing Vive/Oculus/PSVR sets. Take a slim-fitting backpack with dedicated holds for airflow and I/O, house a dock inside that with a sizable battery, and voila, non-tethered mobile VR. Would they actually do that? I’d say 95% chance the answer is no, but it IS possible if it’s something they’ve planned for.
- Nvidia G-Sync – Nvidia were there first to bring adaptive refresh displays to the modern gaming space, they know what they’re doing, and despite the price premiums seen on G-sync displays, they know how to do it cheaply when they have full control over the entire device (as seen with a number of recent laptops), not just a graphics card. The way I see it, the Nintendo Switch is basically Nvidia’s device; there is clearly so much more involvement here than Nintendo buying their Tegra SOC and calling it done deal. They even made their own post going into specifics right as the reveal trailer went up, while Bethesda couldn’t even confirm that it was Skyrim that was so prominently featured; they are more likely true partners with Nintendo rather than the standard client/vendor relationship of AMD and the other other recent consoles. Nvidia not only made an android-based tablet very similar to the switch a few years ago with the TV-output and everything, but they’ve also iterated on their own NV API (now “NVN API”, NVidia-Nintendo) specifically for this platform. On a platform like this with extremely lofty expectations compared to basically all of Nintendo’s past handheld console releases, trying to maintain a flawless 60 FPS on battery might not be easy for all of the experiences they want to offer. If completely unlike all past consoles, they have the freedom to just not worry about framerate fluctuating throughout the range between 30 and 60, that is absolutely huge. While PC gamers notice tearing and stuttering more often because they actively dislike it having intentionally paid more for a better experience, it still crops in tons of console titles even after specifically targeting and capping at 30 FPS. To be clear, this is only for the device in handheld mode; not only doesn’t G-sync support HDMI yet, but there are no TVs on the market that support it anyway. Assuming the performance is close between the two modes, the added fluidity/consistency of variable refresh might be a damn good reason to use the Switch charging/resting on a table or desk in front of you, rather than fully docking the system with the TV for home use as intended.
- With so many separate bits and (probably) only one being of any substantial cost (the tablet), tons of doors open for future upgrade-ability and customization. Alternate or revamped docks, controllers and grips, even implementing new buttons/features with new firmware if the proper connections are in place from the beginning. And if this whole ecosystem works out for them, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see a more powerful tablet that supports these original controller and docking interfaces in the future, more important now than ever with Microsoft and Sony both taking the route of continued incremental upgrades rather than full 6-10 year console cycles.
- In addition to potential controller alternatives, it might also be possible to utilize the docking port and/or other unknown ports on the bottom to expand functionality in that way. It might be a bit odd, but a thin mic+cameras accessory wouldn’t be out of the question, thus solving the lacking functionality that would hinder backwards compatibility for certain 3DS titles.