Switch concept.png

Over the years we've had some quirky exchanges with Nintendo's PR department, but one of the best related to a light-hearted article about Yoshi. It turned out that an official Nintendo Character Guide from 1993 had said that Yoshi is "properly known as T. Yoshisaur Munchakoopas" and is a 'young dinosaur', which seemed about as definitive as anything would get around that silly but fun topic; as for what the T stands for, it's the 'greatest mystery of our times' according to votes in our poll from the time.

In any case, we're not sure whether we asked as a joke or Nintendo's team randomly decided to address the article, but we got an email on the matter. Without giving any evidence to counter what was an official Nintendo guide from the early '90s, we were simply told that Yoshi is not a dinosaur, "it's a Yoshi". In other words, the upright and strange-looking creature with a shell on its back couldn't be categorised as a dinosaur.

Fair enough.

Categorising things and putting them in a neat box is human nature, and we've seen a lot of it with the Nintendo Switch over the past 10 days. From broadsheet newspapers to blog posts and tweets, we've seen people debating whether the Switch is a portable of a home console, and where it fits in the broader gaming market. 'Both' or 'whatever you want it to be' don't seem to be satisfying answers for everyone.

Nintendo is partly responsible for this, as its promotional messaging has described it as a home gaming system, and it continues to push the perspective that Switch is primarily a console with the bonus of 'switching' to portable play when necessary. There are multiple reasons the company's doing this, with not all being the result of some kind of conceptual dogma.

Breath of the Wild will keep Switch and Wii U owners busy
Breath of the Wild will keep Switch and Wii U owners busy

With the Wii U pretty much finished, by Nintendo's own admission, it's trying to position the Switch as the replacement. That makes some sense, as well, with the dual release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the updated Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 as a sequel to one of the Wii U's biggest and most surprising hits. All of that plays into the perspective that Nintendo wants Wii U owners to upgrade to Switch, and that it is a console with the home in mind.

Of course, on top of this Nintendo is still keen to promote the 3DS and keep it in rude health, pulling out surprise recent announcements such as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and news that Fire Emblem Warriors will also come to the New 3DS. That, on top of announcements in the second half of last year and potentially more to come, shows that Nintendo is keen to keep the portable in active service. If there isn't a New 3DS price cut at some point to accompany a major title such as Pikmin on the system, we'd be surprised. Ultimately, Nintendo clearly doesn't want to be 'seen' to be replacing a system it insists is still a major player for 2017; it may well succeed, too, we'll see how sales of upcoming 3DS releases stack up.

When it comes to the home console or portable element with Switch, the arguments for either side largely boil down to simple points of view. Some look at the game library and Nintendo's messaging and say that, despite the 'console' essentially being a tablet, it's clearly a new spin on home console gaming. Others take that point about the console's form factor and, not unreasonably, say that it's really a spruced up and powerful portable that happens to have a dock to output to TV. Some ask why, rather than try to pitch a home console that's underpowered compared to some current and upcoming rival systems, Nintendo doesn't advertise the world's most capable handheld?

Those perspectives are valid, and Nintendo's self-sabotage in its messaging isn't helping matters. Quite why it feels the need to separate Switch and 3DS in the home / portable stakes is a tad baffling - the whole world knows the 3DS has been around for a while, and it's still performing reasonably. If a new system 'replaces' it even partially, what's the problem? Some people were still buying leftover and cheap DS units when the 3DS was already out, and the universe didn't detect a paradox and implode on itself.

Frankly, the Switch is a Switch. Like Yoshi, it has similarities to existing ideas and things, but it's also its own weird individual self - it's typical of the isolated bubble in which Nintendo exists, competing for an audience in a space on its own. The big N isn't going head to head with Sony and Microsoft in a conventional sense (and hasn't since it brought out the Wii), nor is it fighting smartphones and tablets directly; that's what's so scary and also exciting every time the company releases hardware, and why success is hard to predict.

When Nintendo merged its development divisions a few years ago, knocking down the self-imposed wall between portables and home consoles, it was clear that the distinction was no longer quite the right fit. The company may have recently pitched the Switch as the evolution of its home console strategy over 30-35 years, but the portable blueprints are also there. Back to the single screen of Game Boy and the Game Boy Advance, but with the touch screen and motion controls found in DS and 3DS. All blended with those home console ideas, making the Switch tough to categorise.

This crude graphic from Nintendo ensured no clues were given about Fire Emblem's Switch game due in 2018
This crude graphic from Nintendo ensured no clues were given about Fire Emblem's Switch game due in 2018

That's fine, though. In fact, it's going to be fascinating to see how it evolves. A number of the confirmed releases are certainly home console-style experiences, but as the 3DS gradually fades out will we see more portable-friendly titles? There'll be a Fire Emblem game in 2018, so we'll see whether it follows the Awakening / Fates template. Animal Crossing will surely come, too, a franchise that may have originated on home consoles but felt very much at home on the 3DS with Animal Crossing: New Leaf. We've seen the boundaries between portable and home console gaming styles blur, already, so that will surely only continue.

Of course, rumours and talk will persist that Nintendo will release another dedicated handheld to replace 3DS, but even if accurate will it be a conventional machine, or something more catered to a budget crowd? Nintendo's struggled so much to keep both Wii U and 3DS active with first-party games, would it willingly reintroduce that strain on its resources? Frankly, if a portable-only iteration of Switch (with the necessary brand tweak) was released in a couple of years that costs less (minus the dock, HDMI cable etc) but has a better battery, would that not do the job? The launch Switch, after all, has a battery seemingly as limited in life - when playing a demanding game like Breath of the Wild - as the original 3DS.

Maybe the Switch, quite simply, is both a handheld and a home console, as its hybrid format makes clear. Maybe it's neither in a 'traditional' sense. It's a Switch; comparisons should focus on whether it's fun to play and worth owning. Aside from that, comparing it to other devices that have different approaches and priorities is rather like comparing apples to oranges, or Yoshi to a Velociraptor.