(Photo Illustration by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LightRocket via Getty Images
Everyone is talking about nothing but Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 this week, and yet it’s important not to forget that we are still in a three-pronged console ecosystem here, though things are getting…complicated on that front.
While Nintendo used to keep pace with pushing the boundaries of video game graphics and technical capabilities, those years are long past, and when new systems like the Wii, Wii U and Switch debuted, they were all behind the technical prowess of their rivals from Sony and Microsoft.
To an extent, that hasn’t really mattered much at all. The Wii was a massive hit, frontloaded by its motion control gimmick. The Wii U was a disaster, but Nintendo rebounded with the Switch, a colossal success story blending console and handheld gaming in a way where it’s been an essential purchase for every level of gamer (and many non-gamers). Over its total lifespan, it’s possible it outsells all of its competition in the long run.
But now we are entering a weird limbo era for the Switch, and I’m curious what road Nintendo takes here.
When the Switch debuted after the PS4 and Xbox One, it was already behind in power, and rarely is it able to run big third party games outside of very late, very scaled back ports (see Doom Eternal arriving 8+ months late, most recently). Rather, the system mainly relies on Nintendo’s own must-have IPs, with the occasional dip into something smaller and good and perfect for it like Hades.
But now PS5 and Xbox Series X (and S) have jammed down on the accelerator and raced away from the Switch even further in terms of power, and a new, next-gen Nintendo console is still not in sight. Again, the power gap doesn’t matter, to a point, but we are approaching a place where the Switch effectively feels like it’s not just last-gen, but two gens behind.
You can say, “Well, the games!” That’s true, the Switch has continued to produce incredible games over its whole lifespan, and yet many of its “big” generational titles have already come and gone. A main Mario game, a main Zelda game, a main Smash Bros game, a main Animal Crossing game and now that it’s a handheld, a main Pokémon game. From what we can tell, the next big entries in many series will be straight sequels, Odyssey 2, Breath of the Wild 2, while others like Metroid are still years and years away, it seems. The biggest holiday release for the Switch this fall is probably Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
We have heard rumblings, nothing official, that Nintendo is planning an “upgraded” version of the Switch in some capacity at some point soon, likely holiday 2021. What that entails, more power, higher resolution, etc, is unclear, but to me this idea strikes me as not really a new generation, but more what PS4 and Xbox One did with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, mid-generation upgrades. I am wondering how many current Switch owners will want to upgrade for $300 or whatever it will be, when if the main draw is “more power,” that’s not really something Nintendo fans have cared much about for a while now. Though will a new system like this be required for some future games, or restrict features if you don’t have it? Who knows.
This is in no way a “Nintendo is doomed” article. I am just wondering how they’re going to position themselves in a market where their competition is essentially two full generations ahead of them now in terms of power output, and they have already gone through a huge number of their mainline franchise this generation, with the future being somewhat more nebulous for releases. We’ll likely find out a lot more this year. In the meantime, time to boot up Hyrule Warriors shortly.
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