Everything we know, don’t know and think we know about the Nintendo Switch

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With a day between us and the unveiling of the Nintendo Switch, we finally have our hands on some solid and not-so-solid information, as well as plenty of questions and theories about what’s left to be announced before the console launches March 2017.

If you’ve been paying attention to rumors, not much in the video should be terribly surprising at first glance. We’ve been expecting a cartridge-based home console that is able to work as a mobile gaming device for a while now. Although this video confirms both of those theories, we still know little about the actual technology behind the device.

We are able to glean a lot of other information about the console and its controllers from the video and subsequent press releases though, so let’s dig into the details.

The controllers

All images courtesy of Nintendo unless otherwise noted.

Images courtesy of Nintendo.

The video showed off two unique controllers, but there are many variations on how they can be used. The console appears to come with two Joy-Con, perhaps short for Joystick-Controller, controllers, which can be used in a number of ways. An individual Joy-Con can be held sideways in order to be used like a singular Wiimote while playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This conveniently allows two people to play together on the same console right out of the box.

It’s worth noting that both controllers are slightly different, however. The most obvious difference is the four arrow buttons on one controller countered by four face buttons on the other. While these buttons are sure to be tethered to the same functions while in this two-person mode, what might give one controller an advantage over the other is the placement of the buttons and joystick.

Original image courtesy of Nintendo. Edited by George Ash.

Original image courtesy of Nintendo. Edited by George Ash.

As you can see in this edited image, the placement of the controls on the face of each controller is different. Even if this doesn’t lead to an inherent advantage, it’s sure to lead to individual preferences of one over the other, especially considering how small they are and that one might cause more hand pain than the other.

Another way to interact with the Switch is to use two Joy-Con (yes, Joy-Con is plural, according to Nintendo), which can be used in conjunction with one another in a Nunchuck-like fashion. While the way these are held is reminiscent of the Wii and Wii U era, Nintendo’s video showed no use of any motion-control technology within the controllers (and thank god for that; can you imagine someone next to you on a plane swinging around their controller for an entire flight?).

SwitchThen there’s the Joy-Con Grip, which is an accessory each Joy-Con connects to (can we just call this the Joy-Connect? Or is that too close to Xbox’s Kinect for comfort?) in order to create a more traditional controller layout. The Grip accessory contains, you guessed it, two grips on the edges to hold onto, as well as some separation between the two Joy-Con. This middle area also contains eight lights, but as Nintendo has remained silent on these, I’ll leave my theory as to what these could be with the rest of the internet’s and my theories at the end of this article.

Finally, two Joy-Con can also be connected to both sides of the Switch, allowing the entire tablet-like portion of the console to be held and played in your hands.

But wait, there’s more! Gamers who want an even more traditional controller than the Grip can use the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller (Nintendo missed another opportunity here by not calling it the Pro-Con). This is the controller all of the e-sports athletes are using during the video’s final scene, which really emphasizes the “pro” in pro-controller. That said, it looks nothing as truly pro-leveled as the Xbox Elite controller, but it’s sure to be much less expensive than that as well.

The console

Like the controllers, there are a number of ways the console itself can be used. The first is to treat it as most other consoles and keep the tablet part inside of its casing on an entertainment center. This moves the gameplay to your television and will almost-certainly charge the device, but the video notably didn’t show the tablet being used in conjunction with the television, a feature that was widely used with the Wii U and its Gamepad.

joycon3As mentioned above, you can also hold the tablet part of the device in your hands with a Joy-Con connected to each side. This is similar to how the Wii U was able to be played, with the major difference being the ability to play anywhere, regardless of where the rest of the console is. While taking the device out and about in this mode, you can also flip up a kickstand on the rear of the device, disconnect the Joy-Con, then sit back and play either by yourself or with a partner.

If your ride is a bit too bumpy for that, Nintendo also showed
off a mount that appeared to connect to a car’s headrest and hold the device. As a kid, I would have killed for this during joy-conslong road trips.

These last three modes are the best time to make use of the console’s integrated 3.5mm headphone jack that iPhones recently did away with.

The device also plays games from cartridges instead of discs, which is what the 3DS uses and what Nintendo’s pre-Gamecube consoles use. The advantage of cartridges for a mobile experience is they hold up better to movement, especially accidental drops, due to the lack of moving parts.

The one thing we know about the internals of the console is that the GPU is being created by Nvidia, though we know nothing about how powerful it will be.

The games

botw

A console is only as good as the games that come out on it, and Nintendo really needs to recapture third-party developers in order to get as many great games as possible on their console. They proved that they’re trying to do so in the video, showing off The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and an NBA 2K game. It’s important to note that while Bethesda said in a Tweet they’re happy to be a Nintendo Switch publishing partner, they’ve refused to officially announce that Skyrim is coming to the Switch. This is important because during the Wii U reveal, Nintendo showed off games and developers that never actually came to the the console.

skyrimThere are a number of games that have been confirmed as coming to the console, though. The third-party titles include an unnamed Sonic game, Just Dance 2017, Dragon Quest X and Dragon Quest XI. All of the first-party Nintendo games we know are coming to the Switch were shown in the announcement video: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, an untitled Mario game and potentially a new Splatoon and Mario Kart game, though those last two could just be updates to the Wii U versions.

As of now, the Switch has 48 confirmed third-party partners . Nintendo also seems to be starting off on a much better footing this generation, with a whole lot more companies being shown off as partnering with Nintendo as compared to the number shown during the announcement of the Wii U.

What we weren’t shown

There’s only so much a company can pack into a three-and-a-half-minute video, so there are a lot of questions remaining about the console. However, sometimes what we don’t see is just as telling as what we do see.

First and foremost is the lack of motion controls in the video. Nintendo made bank using this feature during the Wii’s reign, so its inclusion in the Switch was certainly expected, but there’s no early indication that it will be part of the Switch design.

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I also expected a touch-screen feature in the tablet mode, but that wasn’t shown, either. The same thing goes for Amiibo support and the inclusion of NFC technology, backward compatibility and the ability to use the tablet while also playing games on your television. Although these features might be part of the Switch experience, Nintendo didn’t show any sign that they’re present in the tech.

At this point, the only one of these features I’m expecting to be included is Amiibo and NFC support. Whether or not any or all of these features make it into the final product, their lack of inclusion in at least the announcement video really shows Nintendo is trying to gain back support from hardcore and competitive gamers.

Amiibo, motion controls and touchscreens have all previously been considered by some as simple gimmicks. The lack of them in the video, alongside the lack of children and the inclusion of a competitive Splatoon scene, show Nintendo is at least trying to market to a hardcore audience as well as a more mature market.

As for backward compatibility, there were no signs of a disc drive located on the system, so even though we haven’t seen it from every angle, it’s another feature I’m no longer expecting Nintendo to include in this console. That’s too bad. Despite its poor sales numbers, the Wii U really does have some excellent games. Hopefully some of them will be ported to cartridges for use on the Switch.

Theories

A lot has been left up in the air by Nintendo, and with no hint at when we can hear more about the console, the internet is being left to its own devices to speculate about what announcements are yet to come. Here are some of my favorites,as well as some of my personal predictions.

Joy-Con Grip lights

One question I have is what the hell those eight lights on the Joy-Con Grip accessory are. There are four on either side of the controller, and throughout the video we’re only shown the top one on each side lit up green. I suspect these are charging indicators, with the Grip also acting as a battery pack and charging the controllers while they’re connected to it. Likewise, I also expect the console itself will charge the controllers while Joy-Con are attached to it.

720p tablet screen

I’ve seen rumors across the web that the console’s screen is only 720p instead of full-HD. Although this may be disappointing to some, it’s also a good way to save battery life, and on a screen that small the difference won’t be as noticeable as on a large TV.

Multiple GPUs

We know the GPU is an Nvidia card, but we know very little else about it, including where it’s located. Some have theorized the card will be in the docking station, making the console more powerful when used on a TV as opposed to being used as a mobile device, as well as ensuring increased battery life. Others believe all of the technology is located within the tablet portion of the console itself. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle (no, not physically between the tablet and docking station).

Nvidia touts the custom Tegra processor used in the Switch as being high-efficiency and scalable. This tells us two things.

  • Nvidia is concerned about power efficiency. The most likely design reason for focusing on efficiency is that the processor is integrated into the tablet portion of the console.
  • The word scalable likely refers to Scalable Link Interface, better known to PC gamers as Nvidia’s SLI technology that allows the connection of multiple graphics cards for increased performance. I suspect the Switch transfers to an SLI configuration when plugged into the docking station, giving the console both increased battery life when unplugged and increased performance when being played on a TV.

I believe this multi-GPU for TV gaming setup is also the reason the announcement video doesn’t show the tablet portion of the console being used alongside a TV. An SLI connection requires just that: a physical connection. In short, you’re not going to be using the Switch’s tablet in all the ways you can use the Wii U’s Gamepad.

But those are just my not-all-that-educated guesses about what may be yet to come. Do you think I’m crazy? Or do you think I’m not going far enough and the Switch is going to be the second coming of Christ for gamers? Most importantly, how excited are you for this newly unveiled console? It’s not every year we get to see a new piece of technology like this. Let me know your feelings in the comments below.

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