Just as was the case in the build-up to the Wii U's launch, plenty are debating the graphical grunt of the Nintendo Switch; it's a valid thing to argue about, in a sense, as a system's capabilities play a key part in the kinds of games it can deliver.
The debate has centred on two sets of information, both actually riffing on older leaks that were so random - when they originally surfaced - that we doubted their initial providence. Eurogamer's Digital Foundry team weighed in with a substantial set of clock speeds and so on, also asserting performance differences when undocked, something that had done the rounds from generally solid sources before. My initial reaction was "ah, so we're going 'budget' are we, Nintendo?".
Then we had an alternate set of information in tweeted form, with respected Wall Street Journal writer Takashi Mochizuki sharing insights from an Ace Research Institute analyst; his comments were less detailed, but did suggest that the console in portable and docked form would be pumping out higher resolutions than reported by various others, including Eurogamer. The EG side (and others) says 720p on the portable and 1080p on TV, Mochizuki is reporting 1080p in portable and TV form (with the system capable of WQHD, 1440p in theory); as mentioned above, both sides have their roots in older reports that had circulated (without much back-up as sources) earlier in the year. On both sides, too, there'll be updated sources feeding information. We share the likes of these reporters as we know (and in some cases have seen evidence) that they generally seek sources to backup their remarks.
Which is right? Well, no-one knows, as even when trusted sources are providing information you can't be sure how right they actually are, or if they're delivering out-dated details. Personally, I'm leaning heavily towards the specs outlined by Eurogamer, as it matches up better with comments I've heard from multiple people and seems more feasible - to me. Others back the opposite side in the spec battle, though, and that's fine. What all this proves is that, until January or possibly March when systems are in our hands without PR reps looking over our shoulders, full confirmation and details will have to wait.
But here's the key point, Nintendo's not in the console arms race, and it's unlikely to be for quite some time - if ever. The Switch will live or die based on its opening year games, the concept catching on, and whether it presents good value. It's unlikely that all of those games will also be the latest big-budget open-world titles that'll be duking it out on PS4 / Xbox One.
Third Party Support May Not Be 'Worse', But Will Likely Be Different
An understandable obsession with any new Nintendo system is third-party support, which with a home console (or 'home gaming system', to use Nintendo's phrase for Switch) really means big-name triple-A games. Now, Switch will likely get a few, because there are often studios happy to take a punt on Nintendo hardware, while franchises like LEGO etc are always a safe bet. That said, the trends of the last two generations will likely be followed.
There's encouragement to be found in the list of studios willing to publicly back the Switch, but it's also clear that some are actually waiting to see how the Switch performs, and in other cases we may see a few cross-platform (and possibly late) ports. That's understandable, as these are businesses - they'll want confidence that the userbase and enthusiasm is there for a game project to recoup its costs, as a minimum. It'll be up to Nintendo (and those third-parties that do jump in early) to help sell systems, and plenty more will likely commit if it proves to be a success.
Wherever you stand in the power rumours, its also worth remembering that the Switch 'console' is in the tablet form, which Nintendo has emphasized multiple times. It may run quicker when docked in order to facilitate its best performance on the TV, but games will also need to work on the go. Whatever the reality of what the system can do on a technical level, that portable aspect is an inevitable factor.
Yet that need not be considered a negative. I think anyone wanting all of the highest-profile triple-A multiplatform titles over the next few years will struggle to get that fix on Switch, that's just logic and looking at recent history. As the Wii and - to a degree - the Wii U have shown, however, Nintendo is capable of fostering relationships for some tasty third-party exclusives or interesting spins on ports. Then we have the 3DS, which has continued to deliver a solid slate of third-party games.
What's key to the 3DS line-up, and what we saw on Wii and to a limited degree on Wii U, is that publishers target the Nintendo audience in a distinct way, and that can mean a diverse and alternative line-up to that seen on PS4 and Xbox One. As I've argued before, Nintendo is now in its own bubble, which it's created itself by ducking out of the tit-for-tat battle waged between Sony and Microsoft - the big N has gone its own way. As a result, it represents another area of the market and a different opportunity for developers and publishers. After early 2015 (arguably sooner) third-party interest dropped from Wii U, and they moved away from Wii in its latter years, but early periods for those systems and the 3DS show that companies see potential to target different markets - including many reading this page - that are less of a factor on other systems.
It's the Console as Concept Era for Nintendo, It's Best to Accept That Fact
Whoever you believe in terms of the 'power' of Switch, it's inevitable that there'll be limitations. Not only is it a portable device, but Nintendo will surely aim for a sensible price; it's worth noting that the big N typically tries to avoid selling hardware at a loss. With PS4 and Xbox One S systems being sold ever more aggressively in generously-priced bundles, and coming off the back of the Wii U's struggles and the back-end of the 3DS lifecycle, Nintendo will surely know that a 'premium' price tag will be a mistake.
As mentioned earlier, every cycle comes with the fantasy that Nintendo will deliver a system that does everything and caters to everyone. The reality is different, for some of the reasons outlined above. What Nintendo does, sometimes with great success and sometimes not, is to focus on delivering a concept and distinct way to play games; content inevitably focuses on that. With Switch it's obvious what the pitch is - a console that you can take with you, and with all sorts of different ways to play with Joy-Con controllers, the Pro controller and so on. The concept video drove home the message that it's a system for enjoying games in a very Nintendo way, and will also have enough grunt to hold its own when enjoying it at home on a big TV. Early signs are good in terms of delivery - although it was brief, I was pleased to see the solid performance of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Jimmy Fallon show.
If Wii U was HD Nintendo with a GamePad concept that failed to take off, Switch should be a slightly beefier HD Nintendo that's also playable on the go. Though some reckon a standalone portable 3DS replacement will also come, I'm a little doubtful on that at this stage. Nintendo has toiled in keeping games flowing to two distinct systems per generation, and it's become harder as games get bigger and more ambitious. With Switch, perhaps as a brand that iterates every 3-4 years (that's just me speculating) it can focus on delivering one set of games. If another portable does come, my current guess would be at a cheap and cheerful retro-style device, perhaps.
It's also worth noting that the recent patent and some more believable rumours point to Switch having tricks up its sleeve. NFC for amiibo was always expected, while a multi-touch screen is now looking pretty much locked in; don't be surprised if we see some crossover from mobile, perhaps with a Super Mario Run+ that also supports physical controls, for example. Utilising Tegra technology from NVIDIA also helps with diversity of content, as shown in what the 'Shield' devices can do - emulation for Virtual Console, likely including GameCube, and also development tools to attract a broad range games.
What the Switch offers is scope for developers to focus on a wide gamut of games, all within one dynamic system. As a single-screen experience some games could be all-touch - like smart device-style games or, to go with a 'console'-level download title, a natural home for the likes of SEVERED - while on the same console experiences can be as detailed as a developer likes. With the Joy-Con controllers and other options there's the full range of inputs to satisfy any game's needs. The patent also suggests motion controls, too, which is to be expected and provides even more options.
I recently said the Switch 'pitch' is that it's a Jack of all trades; that can be a positive or a negative. Focusing on the positive, it can offer an impressive diversity of game types, including those all important first-party releases. If the pricing, bundling and messaging are right, that could be a powerful offering.
Let's See How Powerful the Switch Concept Becomes; That Matters More Than Its Innards
There'll be plenty of talk about the capabilities of the Switch up to and after its launch, and we'll no doubt have to take part in it. Whatever the outcome though, I don't think the Switch's graphical ability will be the crux of whether it succeeds or fails; that didn't affect the 3DS, Wii or DS. What'll matter is whether the public is excited by the concept, whether the games to suit the system deliver enough quality and quantity, and whether it's bundled and priced in a way that tempts a broad spectrum of gamers to buy into it.
After all, Nintendo's been out of the console arms race for at least two generations, but has enjoyed some notable successes (Wii, DS, 3DS). The number of teraflops, gigaflops or whatever-flops are as unlikely to decide the fate of the Switch as they were when the Wii sold over 100 million units.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Also as an extra note, in the coming festive period we'll have our Game of the Year Awards (including the results from your votes), our annual 'Year in Development' series with some familiar eShop names, some memories from 2016 and also some thoughts on the year to come. Have a great Holiday, and we'll share our usual Christmas message on the day itself. Thanks again for reading!