It’s fair to say a lot of people were left underwhelmed by Nintendo’s Switch unveiling last Friday. The $299 price tag for the new console was a little heftier than expected, and its launch line-up is sparse, with little else to look forward to in 2017. We were also left disappointed by the reveal thanks to the lack of VR, but one element of the presentation certainly had us intrigued.
No one knows if Switch will ever end up supporting VR. The 720p display fitted to the portable portion of the console suggests it might not, but Nintendo has said it’s looking into VR, and a patent for a Gear VR-style headset from the company was uncovered a few weeks back. Switch might one day be capable of running mobile VR-style experiences. If it does, then Nintendo’s new Joy-Con controllers could be the perfect companion for them.
The main selling points of the Joy-Con are the detachable sides, which break away from the display so that you can use them either with a controller-shaped dock or hold in each hand, a little like you might with current VR controllers. They’ve got an array of buttons so that you can play games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the go, but some of the extra features give us pause for thought about Nintendo’s future VR plans.
Firstly, as seen in the video demonstration above from last week’s show, Joy-Con supports Wii-like motion control, which makes it similar to the Google Daydream remote that is required to access the mobile VR ecosystem, only you’ll have two of them. Far more interesting, however, is the infrared camera inside the top of right Joy-Con controller. According to Nintendo, this camera is able to sense the “shape, motion and distance” of objects such as hands in front of it.
We haven’t really seen this in action yet, other than the two-player minigame compilation, 1-2-Switch. In the video, the company explains the camera is capable of basic gesture recognition like rock, paper and scissors symbols, as well as reading how far away the user’s hand is from the camera. We’d love to go hands-on with the kit and test these features out; Nintendo isn’t presenting it as an inside-out tracking system and we’re skeptical that it could serve as one, but it certainly presents some interesting possibilities for VR. What might be possible if the same camera was fitted to that patented headset?
Finally, there’s some interesting haptics technology in play here. Nintendo calls its new vibration system ‘HD rumble’ and compared its accuracy to being able to feel ice cubes slide around inside a thin glass, though we’re not sure how that would apply to games not about ice cubes. If the company really does have some revolutionary haptics inside its controller, though, we’d love to try it with VR. Both the Vive wands and Touch controllers can create some amazingly realistic sensations like stretching bows; could Joy-Con go a step further?
Like most of our Switch coverage, this is all really just wishful thinking. We have no idea if Nintendo really does plan to implement VR at some stage in the Switch’s life and if those plans are at risk based on the platform’s shaky start. We’ll still keep our fingers crossed though because, y’know, Nintendo.