I’m never doubting the Nintendo Switch again.
Last week, like many Americans, I traveled home for Thanksgiving. I chose not to bring my Switch with me because, well, I’ve sort of moved on. It’s old and underpowered compared to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, and, besides, the last couple years of being a homebody (thanks to lockdowns and remote work) have rendered its portability meaningless to me.
And then I actually caught (a very mild case of) COVID and was stranded in Kansas for an extra week with no video games. Readers, I’ve never appreciated the Switch more than I did when it would have saved me from a week of extreme boredom. After thinking on it, I’ve realized Nintendo’s long-in-the-tooth handheld hybrid still deserves our love, even in a world of Game Pass, PS5s and Steam Decks.
Low on horsepower, high on great exclusives
When the topic of the Switch comes up in enthusiast circles these days, the discussion usually (and quickly) turns to how behind the times it is technologically. But this was always the case. It was already obsolete at launch, given that it’s running on tablet hardware. Now, to be fair, plenty of folks don’t care about this; the Switch has sold 114 million consoles worldwide and, anecdotally, continues to be the console of choice for people who have interests outside of video games. But to those for whom gaming is a passion, the march of progress has left the Switch behind.
One simply has to look at the recently released Pokémon: Scarlet and Violet to see what I mean. They’re very good games that do a lot to revitalize that particular franchise, but they frequently produce ugly visuals and uglier performance. Texture quality is low across the board, Pokémon frequently appear and disappear right in front of the player, and the game straight up runs in slow motion at times. Nintendo even specifically promised to fix these problems, something the company usually doesn’t do. Even more casual players who don’t know the difference between frame rate and resolution can tell that something is off there.
Pokémon may be the most egregious recent example, but other Switch exclusives like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Metroid Dread have had similar issues.
But in discussing problems with Switch exclusives, it’s easy to overlook something important: They’re still Switch exclusives. It’s not like there’s a superior PS5 version of Pokémon out there that smooths out the performance problems. You need Nintendo’s console to play Nintendo’s generally excellent games. Hell, Xenoblade 3 is my favorite game of the year and I played the bejesus out of Elden Ring.
Along similar lines, the Switch is still a great home for pick-up-and-play indie games. It’s still my preferred platform for Stardew Valley, since that’s a game perfectly suited to short play sessions. 2020’s best video game Hades came to Switch before other consoles and that just made sense. You turn it on, play for 20 minutes, and then move on with the rest of your day. Players took a shine to it as well, as Hades dominated the Switch eShop sales charts when it came out.
Oh, and Nintendo’s still not done with its major Switch releases. The Legend of Zelda: Tears to the Kingdom launches in May 2023. Remind me to book a month’s worth of PTO for that.
Credit: Dustin Drankoski / Mashable
Of course, plenty of people like to play games on the go, even if I don’t. I hardly ever pull my Switch out of its dock, but a majority of my friends exclusively play their Switches that way. Broadly, the userbase is split. According to Nintendo’s own stats, about 20 percent of people play mostly docked, 30 percent play mostly handheld, and the rest use a mixture of both.
The only problem with the Switch’s signature portability is that it’s not the only game in town anymore thanks to Valve’s Steam Deck.
And on paper (as well as in practice, in many ways), the Steam Deck is superior to the Switch. It’s much more powerful, allowing users to play newer, more visually complex PC games. Its game library also isn’t restricted to what’s available on Steam, as damn near everyone I know who has a Steam Deck uses it for emulation of other consoles. The Steam Deck is a veritable jack-of-all-trades.
It’s also way more expensive, coming in at $400 for the cheapest model and going all the way up to $650 if you want all the bells and whistles. By comparison, the most expensive OLED Switch model is just $350. Some models of the Steam Deck are also subject to supply constraints and can take weeks (or months) to show up, while the Switch is much easier to find.
Oh, and the Steam Deck’s portability is undercut some by its battery life. PC Gamer’s testing found that you can drain the battery in less than 90 minutes by playing games like Forza Horizon 5, whereas I’ve never gotten fewer than three or four hours (not great, but better) out of a Switch.
The last major thing the Switch has going for it over Xbox, PlayStation, and Steam Deck is its extreme family friendliness. Nintendo’s games are generally cute and colorful, of course, with the likes of Mario and Kirby gracing the Switch while mature games like Call of Duty are relegated to other platforms. However, it’s not just about aesthetics. Nintendo builds most of its games with family play in mind.
Everything from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and even Kirby and the Forgotten Land supports local multiplayer in some form or another, whether it’s competitive or cooperative. You can always just pull the Joy-Cons off the console and instantly have two (tiny, uncomfortable) controllers to use. I gotta be honest: I’m not even sure how to connect multiple controllers to my PS5 because I’ve never played a local multiplayer game on it. In contrast, almost all of the local gaming I’ve done in the last six years has been on Nintendo’s hardware.
Of course, not everything is rainbows and butterflies on the Switch. Xenoblade 3 is about war and propaganda, if you need something a little more serious.
This is all to say that I regret my decision to not bring my Switch with me on a cross-country trip and I won’t make the same mistake again. I’m sorry to the little console that could for overlooking it in favor of more expensive, shinier toys.
I just wanted to fill out my Pokédex while I had COVID.