This morning Nintendo pulled back the curtain on its long-awaited and much-talked about upcoming new video game console. Instead of waiting for a major tech or gaming conference to announce the device, such as E3, TGS, or something similar, the gaming giant instead decided to announce it on their own terms.
In the announcement, we learned that the 7th home gaming console from the Japanese powerhouse is officially called the Nintendo Switch.
As you can see in the first look video above, the console is quite unique, which is par for the course for Nintendo. The core device itself is actually an LCD screen, which slides into a dock that plugs into your TV at home. But the hook is that, as its name indicates, you can switch the device to a portable console at any time.
Two small units slide onto either side of the screen, turning it into a handheld device similar to the existing Wii U tablet.
From there, you can prop the tablet up on a table and detach the controllers again, or just use it as an entirely self-contained console in and of itself. NVIDIA is powering the unit, which is a divergence from the AMD architectures of the PS4 and Xbox One. Whether or not that will impact third-party developer support remains to be seen.
In general, the console itself appears to be a move by Nintendo to merge their lackluster home console offerings via the Wii U and the explosive popularity of their handheld Nintendo 3DS.
It’s unclear whether or not the console will support 3DS or Wii U games, but it is confirmed that Switch games will be cartridge based. The design and implementation is certainly interesting and opens up a special market within the existing console gaming scene. Stylistically it looks awfully similar to a Gamevice for tablets, combined with the premise behind NVIDIA’s Shield line.
But What About VR and AR?
You might recall we reported on some rumors about potential VR or AR support coming to the Nintendo NX (now known as the Nintendo Switch.) The console’s production and launch were reportedly delayed to include VR support. Based on the teaser trailer released today, that may not actually be the case at all, unless future features and peripherals are revealed at a later date.
Lending further credence to the rumors, a developer claimed to be working on a VR game for the NX platform, although that could have been a miscommunication of some kind. Ultimately, Nintendo has maintained a rather coy disposition with regard to the VR hype train. Nintendo of America President, Reggie Fils-Aimé doesn’t want to support VR until it “can be mainstream,” while legendary Zelda, Mario, and Donkey Kong creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, wants to wait until parents “feel at ease” with VR technology.
All this being said, it certainly seems like Nintendo could be in a position to add VR or AR functionality at a later date. Since all of the guts of the device are contained within the portable tablet controller interface, it would be relatively easy to release a lightweight HMD that plugs directly into the unit. Stick it in a backpack for tetherless VR, then just detach the controllers for control inputs. It’s a long shot, but it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
Nintendo has always been about adapting and pivoting for future trends and they have a history of building in future support into base console releases. The expansion pack and rumble pack on the N64 come to mind, as well as the online modem adapter for the Nintendo Gamecube. The portable nature of the unit lends itself to VR compatibility.
The big question at this point is just how powerful is it going to be? The teaser shows it running games like Skyrim, Zelda, and NBA 2K on the device while detached, but can it support high-quality VR experiences? My gut says no.
It would likely be on par with the Gear VR in terms of visual fidelity, but that wouldn’t be enough to give the Switch a major selling point. For example, Sony’s recently released PlayStation VR is a wired, dedicated headset that is closer to the quality found on the Rift and Vive. Whereas Nintendo’s hybrid console that can play on your TV, on the go in your hands, and in VR all in one single device would be build upon flexibility and diverse options.
Until we know more, this is all just speculation. As it stands now, the Nintendo Switch has zero hints of VR or AR support. There are certainly enough great franchises from the Big N we would pay good money to see in VR if it ever happens. I want a proper Metroid VR game so badly it hurts.
It also feels like a major missed opportunity if the Pokemon GO AR experience isn’t ported over to the tablet interface, as the portable nature would be perfect — although that begs the question of whether or not data connections are included with the Switch, or just WiFi. And we still don’t really know which games will be on the device other than those shown, how the online infrastructure works, if there is backwards compatibility, and much more.
Ultimately though, hopefully the Switch can succeed where the Wii U and PlayStation Vita failed by combining the two concepts into a single console.