The Nintendo Switch was released world wide on March 3rd, 2017. Due to extenuating circumstances, I wasn’t able to order one until August 17, 2017, over five months later. As I explained in a previous post, having to do without when it comes to my video gaming habit can make me a little manic. My curiosity can override my patience and I have to fill in the experience gap. Fortunately for me, the unique features at the forefront of the Nintendo Switch are much easier to grasp than the more nebulous idea of motion controls. And most of these gaming innovations were available piecemeal through other methods through gaming’s history.
Nintendo describes the Switch as a ‘hybrid’ console. This is meant to describe the nature of the hardware being both a portable and a home system. Obviously, this is not the first time your portable games were playable on your home TV. The Super Game Boy, Game Boy Player, PSP AV Cables, and even the Playstation TV are all examples of this. One of the selling points for the Watara Supervision was an available link cable to hook it up to your TV. Alternatively, the Master Gear Converter, Turbo Express, and Sega Nomad allowed for home console games to be played on the go, the latter even supporting a home television connection via RF or AV cables. I should also mention the PSP and PS Vita’s ability to stream the PS3/PS4 via remote play, with a strong enough internet connection of course.
Another method of achieving dual environment gaming is through Sony’s Cross-Play initiative, especially for titles that support Cross-Save. I’ve played a few titles in this fashion, making some progress on my Vita, and continuing where I left off on my PS4.
When the Switch’s original trailer was released and I had to imagine the implications of having a dedicated ‘hybrid’ console, I was reminded of my experience with Puzzle Quest. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was first released to much public acclaim in 2007. I can’t buy every game that interests me right when it is new, so while I was considering which version to buy in 2013, I was torn. Should I buy one of the portable or home ports? This game seemed to me to be a perfect example of a game that would be great either portable or at home. My ideal situation would be a touch enabled portable version that became a controller driven home version so I could comfortably make game progress wherever I was. If the game had been released a few years later, I’m sure I would have found what I was looking for, but at the time, this theoretical version of the game was not available to me. Or so I thought.
I’m usually late to the technology party, not counting core gaming, so I didn’t get my first ‘smart’ devices until late 2014; my first android tablet in August, and smart phone in November. Both of these devices were compatible with the Onlive game streaming service’s app. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was an available title on Onlive’s PlayPack subscription option, and this was one of the many PC games that Onlive optimized for touch controls. I would have had that game the way I wanted to play it, but it was a year too late.
But Onlive’s service is worth talking about for the moment. The decentralized streaming game model also offered a compelling way to play AAA PC quality games from anywhere. At home on your PC. On your TV with their micro-console. Or away from home with the android app; via touch screen controls, or their universal controller.
I played Darksiders II on my tablet! It was great. You weren’t playing scaled down mobile ports. You didn’t have to worry about syncing save files. These were the exact same games being played wherever you were…as long as you had a sufficiently fast internet connection. This was the main compromise to this ecosystem. I really liked Onlive’s service and I think that they failed because they were ahead of their time. I still see echos of what they promised today; in other game streaming services (like Playstation Now, which once had Vita support), in in-house streaming options (Steam, NVIDIA’s, PS4, and Xbox One all have game streaming options), and in the Nintendo Switch’s hybrid nature.
On to other hardware. That first android tablet I mentioned that I got, it was a Wikipad.
The Wikipad was a full featured Android tablet (Jelly Bean) but with the added benefit of having a detachable physical controller. When it was released, it reminded me of the Wii U’s control pad, but completely portable. And considering the detachable and optional controller dock, conveniently portable as well. This tablet was one of many products trying to fix one of android’s shortcoming in gaming, namely the lack of physical controls. It also has an HDMI mini out, so I certainly checked out some android gaming on my TV. I think this could be considered hybrid. Wikipad, now known as Game Vice, shifted its company to making detachable controllers for Apple products, and has subsequently sued Nintendo for patent infringement.
My next tablet was NVIDIA’s wonderful Shield K1. Keeping on the topic of ‘hybrid’ gaming, this tablet too has HDMI out to allow play on your tv. Plus you can pair it with a wireless controller to game more comfortably. Not to mention that some Android titles have cloud saves and are cross compatible between tablets/phones and Android TV boxes, like the NVIDIA Shield TV.
As you can see, I was able to experience most of the Switch’s innovations years before it was even announced. Due to this, I was already satiated on the promise of the Switch. I did consider having another weekender, but I found it to be unnecessary. But while I was considering it, this is what I would have done.
I first would have played with my two tablets of course, including TV play, but that would just be a warm up. In spite of all of the disparate arrangements I had mentioned, there was always a piece of the puzzle missing. Nintendo caliber quality, both in games and in their typical ease of use experience. To get a taste of this, I would have to refer to the Switch reveal trailer and attempt to mimic some of what was presented.
The best way of doing this? Obviously with the Wii U.
I’d mostly target the Legend of Zelda. TV play turns to tablet play. I can do that with both Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD (I just have to stay home to do it). What else? Tablet play with two detached Joycon. I could approximate that with Twilight Princess Wii, played through the Wii U’s Wii menu on the Gamepad with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Whew. As Nintendo has pointed out, many of the Switch’s hardware features hearken back to their earlier innovations. Playing Wii software through the Wii U’s gamepad screen strongly resembles some of what you can do with the Switch. Motion controls, split controller, shoulder to shoulder multiplayer. Some Wii U software too, but then you are usually using two screens or have to use the Gamepad to control, not just as a passive viewing device.
The Nintendo Switch’s first year has been a huge sales success. This shared positive public sentiment is elusive for every company, with every product or service launch. At any point in the recent past, any one of the forebears I’ve mentioned in this post could have been the one to break in to runaway success. But Nintendo, despite all of it’s flaws and failings to give its adult audience the things it wants, still has a certain cachet. This alone can’t guarantee success, just look at the Wii U. But unlike the other devices, services, and methods mentioned earlier, Nintendo built the Switch to provide experiences both robust and uncompromising. It might not have the internal specs of the PS4 pro or Xbox One X, but it provides its promised hybrid experience better than anyone else has before. This is what I attribute Nintendo’s current success to.
Don’t worry, I don’t expect most of my posts to be this lengthy. If you have any opinions, experience, or memories about anything I talked about here, I’d be happy to read about it in the comments.