The Switch has been on the market for just nine months, yet it’s already clear that Nintendo has really done a great job with the system so far. Not only has the Switch been successful from a sales perspective, but it’s also managed to succeed in fulfilling a promise that the PS Vita also had but failed to accomplish: providing a portable home console experience.
A big topic of debate surrounding the Switch ever since it was announced last year is properly establishing what category of systems it falls in: home console or handheld. Officially, the Switch is a hybrid system. Nintendo itself has described it as a home console that can be taken on the go. That wording is important because it really brings out how Nintendo has managed to properly realize a vision that was introduced by Sony years ago when the PS Vita was new.
Sony built the PS Vita to be a powerhouse. At the time, it actually was. It was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, the PSP. On top of that, it made the 3DS look incredibly outdated. A lot of the Vita’s early games were visually stunning, especially since they were running on such a small device. Indeed, Sony did a good job at outfitting the Vita with nice specs, but it still wasn’t able to become a true ‘portable home console.’ How come? Well, it was still just a traditional handheld.
The Vita was somewhat close to the PS3 in terms of capabilities. This was good, but it also happened to launch in 2012. You know what came out a year later? The PS4. While the Vita could get close to the PS3’s capabilities; it was in no way shape or form ready to completely complement the PS4. There have been quite a few multiplatform titles that have come to both systems, but the majority of them have been games with very simplistic visuals; JRPGs, indies, visual novels, etc. The little handheld simply does not have the power to handle most big games alongside the PS4 without them chugging at unplayable framerates. This situation is quite similar to just about every other handheld system.
The Vita, like other handhelds, has limitations that come with being a portable machine.
It technically isn’t a new thing to play home console games on a handheld; the Game Boy had NES games, the GBA had SNES games, the DS had N64 games, the PSP had PS2 games, and the 3DS had N64, Wii and even Wii U games. Indeed, all of these handheld systems have a few games in their library that were originally released on their home console counterparts. But, do you notice a pattern with almost all of them? There’s a generational gap.
For instance, it was rather impressive to see PS2 games on the PSP, and N64 titles on the DS, but those games were already quite a few years old when they came to the handheld systems. But what about the games that have come to handhelds alongside home consoles at either the same time or very close to each other? In most cases, the handheld version of the game is either stripped down or completely different. This has been the case right up to the 3DS and Vita. On top of all this, let’s not forget that all of these handhelds have very low native resolutions. So, the main reason why those older home console games have even been able to run on these systems is because the resolution of the handheld versions are lower than the original console versions. Take the PS Vita TV, as an example: do the games look better on a TV screen or the actual handheld? The answer is clear.
The power divide between handhelds and home consoles has always been rather large, hence this situation. This is why the Switch has managed to truly be successful with blurring the lines between the two sides. Thus, it’s fair to say this really is the first true hybrid system. It’s not as simple as being able to play handheld games on a big screen; especially since it’s actually the other way around in the Switch’s case. It allows players to bring their big screen titles down to the smaller one for gaming on-the-go. Not only that, they’re running on a 720p screen (even if the native resolution of the game is downscaled in certain instances.) Let’s not also forget that the Switch has two performance modes. When it’s docked, it’s able to run at full power. When in portable mode, its power is limited to conserve energy, yet, the gameplay experience is preserved.This is what makes the Switch special. It’s basically triggered a ‘disturbance’ in the industry of sorts. How so? Well, consoles now have the opportunity to change.
The Switch has limitations too, but it’s much more versatile than any portable system before it.
Up until the Switch, the gaming world has been split between handheld and home consoles. The Switch is the bridge that has finally connected these two sides seamlessly. Hence, a question is raised: will we ever have traditional home consoles and handhelds ever again? Sony and Microsoft have no doubt been keeping a close eye on Nintendo these past few months. All three of these companies are no doubt working on their future systems, whatever they may be.
I don’t think it’s too far-fetched of an idea to believe that Sony and Microsoft are at the very least conceptualizing hybrid systems of their own, following in the footsteps of the Switch. Whatever the case may truly be, the main point is that Nintendo has really managed to pull off something great.
I’ve discussed this topic before, but I wanted to revisit it once more because some new points occurred to me. So, I wanted to really drive home the fact that the Switch really has done a lot so far. Remember, this is still only the beginning of its lifecycle. As time goes on, developers will get more acquainted with the hardware and will likely be able to pull of even greater feats. A tablet-like system that has enough power to run modern titles without being simplified/totally altered (minus visual downgrades) alongside traditional home consoles. This is an achievement, folks.