Last night, one of the worst kept secrets in gaming, the Nintendo Switch Pro, was finally revealed. Except it wasn’t, because while we got a new Switch model it wasn’t really much outside of a new OLED screen and some quality of life features.
Naturally, the Internet is taking this well, with the best of the internet making fun of Nintendo, while the worst act like Nintendo betrayed their personal trust by not making an ultra powerful version of the Switch.
Here’s the thing: Nintendo never promised a super powerful Switch. Outside of the Bloomberg report, at no point during the many “leaks” was more powerful hardware ever actually mentioned.
I mean sure, we had a mid-generation upgrade with the New Nintendo 3DS. But otherwise, Nintendo doesn’t have a track record for mid-generation upgrades. (Remember, there’s no performance different between the Gameboy Advance and Gameboy SP, either, or the Nintendo DS and DSi).
No Reason To Upgrade
It’s no secret that the Nintendo Switch is a markedly weaker console compared to the PS4 and Xbox One. People talk about the strength of the Switch in much the same way you praise someone you’re not attracted to- it’s good, for a handheld. It was never going to outpace machines that had the luxury of always being plugged in.
With that in mind, how would you even market the power jump? “Hey it’s more powerful, nowhere near a PS5 and probably still below a PS4, also it weighs three times as more now thanks to the cooling that would require so it sucks to hold”?
Industry analyst Danial Ahmad also weighed in on the matter, saying that the Nintendo Switch OLED was probably never going to be targeted at those who’d already bought the Nintendo Switch, which was one of the most-bought consoles after the start of the pandemic in 2020.
“The Switch OLED edition is primarily designed to increase the appeal of Switch to new buyers, provide an incentive for Switch Lite owners to upgrade, sustain overall demand over the next year and strengthen the pitch for Switch as a premium console worthy of its price point”, he tweets.
In another sense, what Ahmad means is simple- the Nintendo Switch OLED wasn’t supposed to be an upgrade piece for new Switch owners, it’s a refresh to get new buyers (especially ones who’d heard about how much fun the console was in the past year) on board without feeling like tey were buying a 5-year old console.
There’s also the question of what you’d do if the Switch Pro was actually more powerful. Eventually you’d get a game that’s only really recommended for the Switch Pro, rather than the base Switch. After all, it’s the stronger console, why not push it to its limit?
By not adding more power to the Nintendo Switch OLED, sure, they’ve done nothing to improve the framerates on Hyrule Warriors, but at least they’ve made sure that everyone’s going to be stuck with the same poor framerates.
The Switch’s Niche
I think the best way to approach this is to understand what the Switch’s market niche is. Exclusives aside, the Switch plays a role that no other major company is going to even attempt after the PlayStation Vita. Rather than working to be the most powerful console, it’s the most convenient, especially with its dual-modes letting you play it docked or handheld.
Heck, as I’m writing this, I have my Switch right next to me. When docked it’s not exactly my go-to-pick for gaming, since I have other stronger consoles in the house. But when I’m out? It’s always on my person. Waiting in line at a vaccination centre is way more enjoyable if you’re playing Monster Hunter Rise versus just doomscrolling through Twitter, that’s a fact.
To that end, the Nintendo Switch OLED makes sense. It’s got a better screen, which only matters if you’re a handheld user. It’s got better internal storage, which means that the most basic of users can store more games on it. A better kickstand means using it outside more, so once its safe you can totally do things like having mid-convention Smash tournaments without worrying about the console dropping as much.
…And Yet, We’re Still Disappointed
Of course, nothing I’ve written was meant to excuse Nintendo’s decisions as much as it was just an attempt at explaining it. Fans who wanted their favorite games to run better are right to be disappointed, especially if they’d been holding out on getting a Nintendo Switch in hopes that some Pro model would release later.
But as I said at the start of it, a huge part of this is managing your expectations- Nintendo never publicly said they were going to make a Switch Pro, and in hindsight the pushing of the idea came more from all of us misunderstanding what the Nintendo Switch’s place in the current console generation is. There’s a lot more to consoles than the bigger teraflop count, and we’re seeing more and more games show that you don’t need high tech 20K particle rendering to make the next smash hit. And while a lot of people are right to be disappointed, Nintendo has shown that they’re placing their bets on this idea for the next arc of the Switch’s life cycle.
Does that mean a Nintendo Switch Pro is never coming? I wouldn’t say so. But considering how many people just bought a Switch in the past year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the alternate timeline where Nintendo released a better console a year after knowing a lot of people bought their old one would have been way more vitriolic.