Already we have looked back on the Switch, post-launch, and discussed some wants and needs. Previously, we talked about how the system struggled to play AAA games at a decent framerate and in anything close to genuine HD, and featured a small and uncomfortable baseline controller setup. A year after it debuted, we noted that the system lacked much in the way of bells and whistles like customizable UI, as well as an online presence worthy of 2007, much less 2017. Some of those problems have been remedied, albeit in half-measures. Two years ago, as the system hit the four-year mark, we couldn’t help but notice the lack of multimedia services, and complain about the lack of depth in the retro game catalogue. Two years later those problems persist, even after the (troublesome) launch of the now-quarter-century-old N64. Last year we put a spotlight on some key franchises that the company has been holding back (2D Metroid, F-Zero, Star Fox, Classic Donkey Kong). One of those was released late last year to critical acclaim. Does that portend good things for the others? We’ll see.
What I know is this: It is 2022 and the Nintendo Switch is five years old. Five years into the lifecycle of the NES (which launched nationwide in the fall of 1986), the SNES was released. Five years after the SNES dropped, so too did the N64. Five years after that, the GameCube hit shelves. Five years later it was time for the Wii to revolutionize things. The cycle was broken five years after the Wii. The system’s remarkable success gave Nintendo the chance to slow things down and delay the release of their next system for a year. When it was finally released, the WiiU was a well-documented failure. Five years after it was released, the Switch came along and reminded everyone that Nintendo still knew what they were doing.
So, but for one time, Nintendo has stuck to a five-year cycle when it comes to console releases. Sure, the NES continued to receive support for a little while into the SNES’ life, as did the SNES during the early N64 days, and so on, but for the most part, Nintendo shifted priorities to their new system as soon as it dropped. In addition, you could count on a sneak peek at the next system a year or two before release. The SNES was first shown two years before it was released in Japan. The N64 was first shown a year before release, as was the GameCube, Wii, and WiiU. The Switch was first shown only a few months before dropping, making it the aberration to the formula.
Nintendo has repeatedly said that they are happy with the sales of the Switch (over 103 million and counting; making it Nintendo’s best home console seller ever) and that the system is only halfway through its lifecycle. If we take that to mean, it still has another five years before its no longer stocked on shelves then, assuming there is overlap with the next system (as there always is) the next system ought to be released sometime in 2024, which means we should be getting hints, sneak peeks, and reveals sometime in 2022 or 2023.
All I’m saying is it’s not too early to talk about it.
So, when thinking about the next system, what needs to be available? I have a laundry list of wants and/or demands, most of which revolve around some variation of “but what about F-Zero? Can we have some of that?” I’ll instead condense things down to a few…
Oh boy, yes. Let’s begin with the lesser of two evils: The Pro Controller. It’s okay, but it’s far from perfect. The biggest flaw is the D-Pad, whose inputs are so slippery it is common to press right and have the controller register a down/right dual input, or left = down/left. The kind of digital crispness that you want in a D-Pad is simply not there. The WiiU Pro Controller was a marvelous piece of design; it was lightweight, functional, and had something like an 80-hour battery life. I didn’t mind the dual sticks sitting above the D-Pad and input buttons; I was just happy that the D-Pad was large and snappy. The Switch’s Pro Controller is not that.
But then there’s the big tuna. The JoyCon. These are overpriced and under-functioning. I’m tempted to say I hate them. There is simply too much tech crammed into too small a package. HD Rumble is a needless gimmick. The IR pointer might as well not be there. The battery life is poor. The stick-drift is inexcusable, absolutely inexcusable. The buttons are small to the point of novelty. I get it: It had to fit the compact form of the system, so I’m willing to deal with the tiny buttons. I am not willing to accept a controller that doesn’t work. If it has to be small to work, then fine. But if it’s small and still doesn’t work…not fine, Nintendo.
The next controllers need to be better.
Aim for 4K so that, even if you miss the mark, you’ll at least land on the + side of 1K. There’s no reason to be playing a modern game on a modern system in 540p resolution or whatever The Witcher 3 runs in handheld mode. Nintendo has managed to survive on the losing side of the spec war—since the end of the GameCube era—due to their brilliant art designers and gameplay creators. Their games are too creative, too fun, and too charming to look at and play to worry too much about 30FPS or 720p resolution. It’s starting to become a problem though. The recent remake of A Link to the Past looks stunning, but it sometimes plays like it’s being streamed in real-time over a dial-up connection.
It’s no longer a novelty to have 4K resolution as a high-end benchmark; it’s the standard. 1080p ought to be the new baseline, not the “look at what we achieved” gold standard that Nintendo still acts like it is today. I remember one of the defenses the company made in the wake of the Wii U’s failure as to why that system never took off: Nintendo said they had trouble making the jump to HD. That was 2012. That was ten years ago. Surely they’ve learned how to apply their new 1K techniques to the 4K world.
There’s more than a little buzz that developers are already being told to prepare for a 4K-capable system, so I don’t think I’m asking for the impossible by predicting this. Running games in 1080p (or better) in handheld mode needs to be the goal, along with running games in 4K in docked mode. Again, that’s not even asking for innovation; that’s asking for Nintendo to catch up to the rest of the gaming world.
NINTENDO’S VERSION OF GAMEPASS
The first one is a must. The second one feels like a guarantee. The third one is purely a pipe dream. Nintendo has been trying to find the perfect way to profit from their collection of top-quality titles since the Wii and, I would argue, they have yet to improve on their first attempt, flawed though it was. The old Virtual Console on the Wii was excellent in its variety but the pricing was ludicrous (ten dollars for an N64 game). The second attempt on the WiiU was frustrating in that it offered only a fraction of the previous model. The subscription format on the Switch is the right idea but it too suffers from the same problems as before, namely the drip-drip release schedule and the dearth of some games that just seem destined to be forgotten forever (at least in non-emulated mediums).
The way forward is clear, in my opinion, but I don’t know if Nintendo will ever go for it. Microsoft has shown the strategy: Create a storefront that allows the purchase of old and new games alike, mix it with titles that rotate in and out based on licensing, and feature in-house titles for free. You pay for the service so you get the games.
Microsoft, of course, has the cash to burn on such an endeavor. The infamously miserly Nintendo would probably laugh for a week at the mere suggestion that they “give away” the next Mario or Zelda title to customers paying $10-20 a month. Nevertheless, I feel that’s the future, and I think it’s the biggest splash Nintendo can make with their next system. Besides, they can still sell those titles in cartridge form, while also offering the free download to those who have the service, incentivizing consumers to switch to digital and pay the monthly fee.
When was the last time Nintendo released a system that did not have some sort of gimmick? It was the GameCube, whose entire marketing push was built around its shape, its handle, and its purple color. There was no hook. It was just a system, jacked-up with power. When it failed to move systems like expected, they pivoted to the casual audiences with the Wii, found insane success, and never looked back. The WiiU was an attempt to combine a home console experience with the successful dual-screen format of the uber-popular DS. It flopped for a litany of reasons, but the second attempt—the Switch—has been a smash hit.
There is no way Nintendo can go back to a home console without a hybrid/portable feature, but they also can’t market that as a novelty a second time around. They also don’t seem willing to just release a Switch 2 or a Super Switch or something that has no gimmick or novelty attached to it. What will they do? They’ve been tinkering with 3D and VR, but I don’t know if they’re ready to wade back into those waters. If they really want a splash, they should release a system alongside a full subscription service. It feels like the perfect marriage with a system designed to be played either at home or on the road. “Get, not just the best of Nintendo, but ALL of Nintendo, on your couch or the train.”
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I don’t know when the follow-up to the Switch will come, but when it does I hope we get a glimpse of a perfected controller, better visuals, and something radical to compete, not just with the Microsofts and Sonys of the world, but against every form of entertainment, in a world that is rapidly adopting the subscription model as the way of the
Those are my thoughts about Switch 2. What are yours? Let us know your hopes and/or predictions in the comments below!