Does Nintendo's Next Console Have To Be 'Another' Switch?
Image: Nintendo Life

Let’s talk about comeback stories. The Mighty Ducks. Robert Downey Jr. Rocky. Nintendo in 2017. Yep, after the launch of the Wii U, many may have thought that the Big N was out for the count (well, not completely, but certainly left licking its proverbial wounds), but did this come to pass? You bet your chunky GamePad it didn’t.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Nintendo knuckled down and used the Wii U's failure as a learning experience, addressing each imperfection and fashioning a little device with a clear, easy-to-understand, and appealing proposition for players who had found its predecessor's asymmetric gameplay confusing or underwhelming. It was called the 'Switch', you might have heard of it.

Yes, you could say that there is a lot of the Wii U in the Switch — most of its games, for instance — but the Switch was, importantly, not a ‘Wii U Pro’. There's an argument that Wii U ended up as a 'Wii Pro' of sorts, but let's not muddy the waters just yet. Our point is, who's to say that Nintendo's next console has to revolve around the same hybrid concept? Who’s to say Nintendo won't shake things up again?

Switch and Switch Lite
Another one of these? — Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Well, most of us, if we're honest — anyone who's got a Switch and can't imagine their gaming life without the option to throw their handheld on the TV or take their home console games with them when they leave the house. But this is Nintendo that we are dealing with here, and if there’s one thing that this games company loves, it’s a bit of the ol’ innovation to spice up our dreary lives with a little of its patented 'surprise and delight'.

The Nintendo Innovation Model

one of the things that makes Nintendo Nintendo is the company’s willingness to try something new

Putting the failures of the Wii U aside (and the successes, too — there's a reason Nintendo pilfered most of its library to flesh out its first-party release lineup on Switch!), let’s remember that, historically, Nintendo has not been one for playing it safe. Consider the GameCube, a perfectly capable console with a great set of games that sold reasonably well in the face of strong competition. Given that Nintendo's strength has always been its exclusive first-party output, conventional thinking for its successor might have been to stick to what you know, develop a more powerful machine with the same controller layout, and rely on the fact that players buy Nintendo systems for Nintendo games. Throw in a different novelty system shape or some trademark marketing gimmick and you're sorted. Introducing the GameRhombus, coming Fall 2006 — check out the new diamond buzzer button in the centre for all your party games!

What did Nintendo do? That’s right. Release the Wii – a game-changing leap for motion controls which was all about a new style of play and bore very little resemblance to its predecessor, even if "a couple of GameCubes duct-taped together" wasn't the most inaccurate descriptor of the system in pure spec terms. Nintendo took familiar tech and built something wholly unexpected with it.

You see this time and again with Nintendo. The Game Boy Advance evolved into the SP (“look guys, it folds!”), which evolved into the 'third pillar' DS (“two screens?! What will they think of next?!”), which got an upgrade with glasses-free 3D functionality, an analogue nub, and more interactive features like StreetPass in the 3DS. Each of these consoles was successful in its own right, but one of the things that makes Nintendo Nintendo is the company’s willingness to try something new.

It's a process of constant iteration within each console branch, too. The GBA got the gorgeous (and impractically tiny) Micro variant, and the DS got the Lite, DSi, and DSi XL under its belt before any rumblings from the 3DS came along, each one changing just a little about that which came before. It's not just the handhelds, either. Wii saw two revisions in its lifetime, albeit with the Wii Mini not being available in every territory. The Switch has been on a similarly iterative path for a while now, with its Lite and OLED variants complementing the OG 'vanilla' system. Talk of 'Switch Pro' flared up again recently, with reports that at one point it did exist in some form at Nintendo HQ, but was cancelled.

Is a hybrid console the only way to go?

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Switch OLED
Come on now, let's not pretend that the OLED isn't a beauty — Image: Gemma Smith / Nintendo Life

Nintendo is constantly experimenting and, inevitably, sometimes a bad idea slips in with the good ones or makes it to market slightly undercooked. It was this model of innovation that fused the home and handheld consoles together with the Switch and it is the same thing that could just as easily split them again. The Switch's USP of "play Skyrim on the big screen or on your toilet!" has undoubtedly been a huge win for Nintendo, but who's to say that the company won't mix things up again the next time around? Who's to say it's definitely a bad idea to deviate from the hybrid formula?

this is a piece of kit that is going to stand the test of time

As improbable as it sounds, it's not inconceivable that a new handheld-only system is on the way, or a home device will have us all playing solely 'docked' to our TVs for years to come. We've already got the Switch Lite, remember — a device known affectionately around these parts as 'The Switch That Doesn't'. Again, conventional wisdom suggests Nintendo is onto a good thing and should stick with it; the follow-up console is likely to be more akin to its predecessor than we are used to from the company. The point is not that Nintendo should do something entirely different, but that it very much could. And you can't say that level of mystery isn't exciting!

If this were to be the case — if Nintendo did announce a whole new console concept with as little resemblance to the Switch as the Wii had to the GameCube — would this really be such a bad thing? One of the brilliant things about having a console as successful as Switch in circulation for so long is that we now have enough games to play on it for a lifetime (and its continued impressive sales suggest this isn't about to change). We don't know about you, but we could do nothing but play video games all day, every day for the next five years, and we would still struggle to make it through our embarrassingly enormous backlogs *shakes fist at eShop sales*. If a new Nintendo system were to be something completely, illogically different, we could all continue to play our Switches for many, many years to come – such is the expanse of its software library. Sure, some ports are better than others, and it is miles away from the sheer processing power of Sony and Microsoft's offerings, but this is a piece of kit that is going to stand the test of time.

What could a not-Switch even be?

Wii 3DS Split
One for the home, one of your own. We love us some II ɿɘnɿυ𐐒 ɿɘtʇA on ƧႧ3. — Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

As for what a 'non-Switch' piece of kit could involve, we can obviously only speculate. As we have noted here, this is Nintendo that we are talking about so nothing is really off the table. We could joke about a console with a 4D scent producer and built-in coffee machine, but for the most part, Nintendo has its collective brains switched on.

What we have previously seen is the company building on the interesting features of its past. Perhaps a Switch successor could draw on some of the console's lesser-used features. Remember the 'Toad's Rec Room' games from Super Mario Party where you could lay multiple Switches on a table and interact between them like one big screen? Perhaps the next console could be all about fostering a "bigger-screen experience" with friends, where everyone gets involved to build some inter-console, screen-connecting community.

How about making better use of the arguably sidelined portrait mode? Some vertical shmups have used Switch's TATE mode well, but what if the next console was a handheld built around conventional play at home, before unclipping the controllers and using the device more like a smartphone when out and about? Perhaps with some new lightly revolutionary controller that doesn't involve conventional button-press inputs?

We can picture the TV ad now. A group of teenagers play their consoles at home, alone. A message comes through and they all unclip their controllers and hit the road, playing their tablet-like devices in portrait and landscape while on the bus. They arrive at a rooftop party/skatepark/flyover (any equally-inconvenient place for gaming will suffice) before slapping their screens down on the table and forming an elongated Mario world between them. And playing through it using, oh, how about their minds via the new Nintendo Bud-Con controller, a wireless earbud that senses impulses from the brain and enables simple directional input through the power of thought itself.

It seems implausible that Nintendo would forgo the TV and easy third-party support for some madcap scheme that makes traditional-style games awkward to play. But it's possible, right?

Remember the feeling when you first watched this?

So where does this leave us? Nintendo has such a rich history of big swings which have either been global hits or universal misses (though, for the most part, there are more of the former than the latter). Admittedly, most of us want to see a beefed-up Switch on the horizon in the coming years because we simply love this little console, but there would be something very un-Nintendo about that. Where's the rug pull in a 'Switch 2'? Where's the Wii-style revolution, the upended tea table of just 'another' Switch?

What's that? What do you mean 'sound business sense'? Quiet, you.

Whether we get the upgrade of our dreams or something that we never could have imagined, the next step for Nintendo is a very exciting one indeed.

What do you think is next for Nintendo? Fill out the following polls — you know, if you like — and then take to the comments to let us know if you think there's even the remotest possibility that 'Switch 2'... er, won't!

Do you think it's possible that Nintendo's next console WON'T be a home/handheld hybrid system?
Would you prefer an updated Switch (or similar) or an entirely new concept?