I have no interest in a new console, Nintendo or otherwise. I only occasionally use my Wii U and I don’t think I’ve used my Xbox One since Rare Replay came out about a year and a half ago. Between my girlfriend and I, the PlayStation 4 sees a lot of use, but even then you can boil the bulk of our playtime to just a few games in the more than three years we’ve owned it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved handheld games, but that love never came at the expense of enjoying console games until recently. Playing on a console is an exception for me at this point in my life. It’s hard for me not to see consoles as hulking anchors, tethering me to my living room and weighing me down with lengthy updates and installations. Given the choice, I’d rather just play a handheld game and enjoy the flexibility it brings.
And hey, Nintendo’s newest thingamabob does give me a choice! The Nintendo Switch is either a console or a handheld. Or both! It’s whatever you’d like it to be in that moment! You’d think I’d be over the moon, but as much as I like the Switch, I’m not over the moon. I’m not so sure I was actually ready for a new handheld.
The 3DS is six years old this month. Its technical capabilities were only modest when it released and so it’s pretty long in the tooth now. But the thing is, good games are still coming out for it. I’ve long lost interested in chasing the best tech specs, so a dumpy handheld with a consistent selection of fun games is just fine by me. If 3DS releases had dried up, it might be a different story.
Nintendo knows this, and they’re not in an enviable marketing position. They can’t market the Switch as a 3DS successor (that also happens to play on the TV) because they still have 3DS games in the pipeline and the 3DS still makes them money. Nintendo has to replace the thing that doesn’t make them money and that’s the Wii U. A console.
Broadly speaking, Nintendo is positioning the Switch as a kind of lifestyle gaming device one might play at home on a big TV or on mass transit or at a rooftop party, which is actually a clever way of skirting the issue. But when faced with an either-or dichotomy, Nintendo refers to the Switch as a console
Which is unfortunate, because when viewed as a handheld, all of Switch’s shortcomings suddenly seem like selling points (or at least, not quite so bad). Its horsepower doesn’t match the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but it’s by far the most powerful handheld gaming device. Handheld gaming devices traditionally come packed with no onboard storage, so while the Switch’s 32 GB is paltry by console standards, it’s a step up from previous handhelds. And the Joy Con controllers aren’t as ergonomic as other console’s controllers, but handheld gamers are used to sacrificing a little comfort for the sake of portability.
The truth is, Nintendo is selling the Switch to the wrong demographic. Console gamers are usually unwilling to concede power or comfort for novelty, but handheld gamers are.
As much as the Switch is the handheld I’ve always wanted, and as much as I really like it, I actually really don’t know how I feel about it, you know? I don’t want to play the console Nintendo is selling and I wasn’t ready for a new handheld. I should be the easy sell on this thing, but I don’t know where it will fit into my life in the near future.
Right now, it’s a Zelda machine, and that’s fine because I actually think The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may just be the greatest video game I’ve ever played.
But I’ll rarely be playing my Switch on the TV and I’ve only been to one rooftop party in my life and I won’t be doing it again. I will be playing the Switch as a handheld, while wearing a sweatshirt and PJ pants lounging on my couch with one leg draped over the side. I don’t really care what Nintendo calls the Switch, or how they market it, and I know it only just launched, but if the direction of the games and features don’t match my kind of usage (especially when the 3DS still does), I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the gaming machine I’ve always wanted.