The Nintendo Switch has surpassed all expectations. Outselling the Wii U in less than a year, amassing an impressive games catalog, and for once the hardware is truly versatile and a joy to use! The hype and love for the machine is through the roof. However, it doesn’t mean that the Switch is without its flaws. Flaws that could come back to haunt it later on.
The primary detriment to the Switch is the power, or lack thereof. The system is a step up from the Wii U in terms of power but it’s not as powerful as the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, let alone the Pro and X versions. For a quick rundown, the Switch has lower processor speed, fewer processor cores, fewer GPU shaders, and a lower GPU clock speed, not to mention less than one tenth the internal storage, and no HDR support. And that’s just in comparison to the standard PS4 and Xbox One.
It’s no secret that the Switch is less powerful but those few details should really hammer home just how wide the gap is. The Switch just released, so right now no one really minds the power gap because we’re all just basking in the novelty of its portability, and the amazing exclusives and indies that have released so far. However, scan a few forums and comment sections and you’ll quickly notice some Switch owners requesting ports of games like Fallout 4 and Overwatch, as well holding out hope for Monster Hunter: World, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Metro: Exodus to make their way to the system.
The reality is, it’s unlikely any of those could actually run on a Switch. Just take the recently released Monster Hunter: World for example. That being said, if you’d asked me a year ago if DOOM or Wolfenstein 2 would be on there, I’d have guessed no, so maybe Bethesda could make Fallout 4 work but I’ll eat my red/blue Joy-Cons if Red Dead Redemption 2 ever graces the screen. All of this is to say this: That despite current contentment from Switch owners, it’s clear that expectations are a little too high and that could lead to disappointment down the line when more and more high profile games inevitably don’t come to the Switch.
Like I said, these aren’t really problems yet, but it’s highly likely to become an issue for the console going forward. You see, it won’t be that long before we start hearing rumblings of the next PlayStation and Xbox consoles. Given the fact that the Switch is significantly less powerful than the current Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, it’s going to be a painfully obvious power gap when the next generation consoles are revealed.
The PS4 Pro released in late 2016, and for arguments’ sake, let’s say the PS5 is released in 2020, that’s four more years of technology for Sony to stuff into the box. For clarification, the PS4 Pro has 4.2 teraflops of GPU, whereas the Switch has a mere 1.3 teraflops. Chances are, the next PlayStation’s GPU will have noticeably more than even the PS4 Pro, making the gap between it and the Switch rather massive.
As mentioned previously, games like Red Dead Redemption 2 likely will not ever run on the Switch , and that’s a game that’s releasing just a year after the system launched. With that in mind, you can assume that most major third-party releases going forward won’t be on the Switch, unless serious concessions are made in terms of graphics and scope, something that is a lot to ask for of publishers and developers. We’ve seen what happens already with the Wii. Rather than scale down the PS and Xbox versions, publishers would often green light watered down and feature-light versions for the Wii instead. Even despite how well the Wii sold, that still happened. No one wants a repeat of that history. As for the Wii U, it launched midway through a generation and somehow was less powerful than its older counterparts – just like the Switch and like the Wii, never really had much in the way of proper support from third-parties.
As far as the Switch goes, Nintendo revealed that impressive graphic with all the third-parties that were developing Switch games but many of those were ports of existing games, and watered down versions like FIFA 18 or WWE 2K18. However, after witnessing the success of the system, developers are beginning to get on board, hence L.A Noire, Dark Souls Remastered, and Bethesda’s continued support. However, can those companies continue said support when the next PlayStation and Xbox are revealed? Surely games will simply be too powerful at that point. Just take a look at this interview with Titanfall 2 designer, Mohammed Alavi, in which he states the Switch will be “no different” from Wii U in regards to third-party support.
Nintendo recently stated that it plans for the Switch to have a ten-year lifespan. The Switch already doesn’t get equal treatment from third-party developers; so when you look ahead and consider how much more powerful the next consoles will be, the picture starts looking pretty grim.
Now, I can hear you asking about first-party titles, but if we look at the Wii U again, that system was living proof that Nintendo cannot sustain a console with first-party content alone. Granted the Wii U didn’t have a major title like a standalone Zelda or Mario at launch, and thus it failed to hit the ground running in terms of sales. That being said, it’s something of a chicken/egg situation, so it’s hard to tell if it failed to sell because it was lousy hardware or if it it was the lack of big titles. Regardless, the big exclusives never came and the third-party support never surfaced. Heck, in 2016 the Wii U saw less than 20 retail releases! How does that relate to the Switch? Well, it’s typical in a generation that we only get one mainline Mario and Zelda game, and we had both of those in year one, so more of those is possible but not certain. If Nintendo can’t produce quality exclusives each year, as well as third-party support, it’s very hard to imagine a world in which the Switch is a thriving console a decade from now.
How long will fans be satisfied with ports of older games, simply because it’s a novelty to play them in bed or on the bus? A year from now if one of the big Switch releases is a prettier version of Fallout 3, will you still be excited? It certainly is fun to play titles like that on the go and that’s very much a part of the Switch’s charm, it’s just questionable how long it will last.
Of course, the biggest difference between the Switch and the Wii U is the sales. Already, Switch has sold more units than the Wii U and seen far greater support from Nintendo itself. Even though Nintendo shot its two biggest guns in the form of Mario and Zelda in its first year, to ensure quick success, it’s already announced some first-party titles like Mario Tennis Aces, Metroid Prime 4 and Pokemon, to name a few. If the Switch gets such continued support from the bigger developers, as well as the plethora of incredible indie games, and frequent first-party offerings of high quality, I reckon people will be happy with the Switch for several years to come.
It’s worth mentioning that we have something of a valid comparison to make, in the form of the PlayStation Vita. When the Vita was revealed in 2011 it was touted as a console-like experience on the go; now there are a multitude of factors as to why the Vita never quite realized its potential but I don’t believe one of them is that people didn’t want AAA games on a handheld. In fact, the Vita was actually a fantastic machine and if you played games like Killzone: Mercenary or Uncharted: Golden Abyss you’ll know it was a shockingly powerful handheld. That being said, the Vita failed to be a commercial success, and as a result we quickly saw third-party support dwindle and fade. Thankfully, thus far we’ve had the opposite situation with the Switch; the system has sold incredibly well and players have pumped thousands of hours into AAA games like Breath Of The Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, DOOM, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and Skyrim.
So the Switch has already outsold the Vita and rather than developers turning their backs, they’re beginning to knock on Nintendo’s door. What that means is that we will undoubtedly get more and more indie games, but also potentially some exclusive AAA games and even a few mid-tier games akin to Hellblade. If the install base is astronomical, then developers will flock to the system, perhaps regardless of power. It’s pretty telling that the biggest games development companies create games for the PS4 and Xbox One, as opposed to the more powerful PC because players actually buy games on console. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility, given Nintendo’s handheld history, for them to release a more powerful version in a couple of years time.
All that being said, power matters and it will be particularly important when Sony and Microsoft move forward with their next systems. I just hope Nintendo is wise enough to release a follow-up around the five year mark, otherwise gamers may well be switching to one of the next generation systems.