The lights are on
This Thursday night Nintendo is holding a Switch event that promises to reveal details about the upcoming system. While we will no doubt find out some bits of info such as the price of the platform, there are many other issues regarding the system and what it's capable of that will be important at launch and down the road.
Note: Parts of this article originally appeared in Game Informer issue #284.
What's In The Box?
Nintendo has specifically mentioned that the Switch's "product configuration" will be revealed later. We'll have to see if this simply refers to what's in the box (and if you'll have to buy extra components) or if there are bundles with different price points.
Will Nintendo Solve Its Network Problems?
How Nintendo handles the online network infrastructure for Switch – an area the company lags behind its competitors – remains to be seen. This is a big question mark considering it looks to be a critical component of the system's showcased on-the-go multiplayer functionality. Rational speculation says that online play relies on a Wi-Fi connection or data plan like tablets. We can only hope Nintendo's overall online philosophy finds parity with competitors' network services, from overall amenities and connecting with friends (via parties and chat functionality), to supporting online-centric games.
What Is The Battery Life?
Given that Joy-Con controllers can be taken anywhere, it will be vital to understand how long their battery charge lasts (the same goes for the Switch screen), and/or if they can be charged at all or run on independent batteries. There are green indicator lights on both the Switch dock and the Grip accessory housing the Joy-Con controllers, but it's unknown if this simply shows that it's connected or indicates that it's charging.
What About Game Storage?
The video shows a small card being placed in a slot labeled "game card" on the Switch screen unit. Whether the cards used in the slot can carry multiple titles, and the larger issue of how gamers will manage titles (physical and digital) for the system – including how much internal memory the Switch has – is still unknown. Hopefully Nintendo has learned from its early experience with the Wii U, when it expected gamers to curate their game library regularly.
How Powerful Is It?
The Switch is powered by a custom Nvidia Tegra processor, but can it compete or even surpass the current configurations of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? Epic has pledged Unreal Engine 4 support for the system, and games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim were shown in the video, but we don't know whether this was the original title from 2013 on the last-gen consoles or the new, remastered edition. Furthermore, after the event Bethesda said that it hadn't confirmed any specific titles for the system. Interestingly, Skyrim is the same game that Nvidia used to show off its Shield handheld in 2013 – a two-in-one game screen/controller that streamed games from a PC. The Shield line of streaming devices also used the Tegra processor, although they never took off. Perhaps Nvidia's experience with Shield can benefit Switch. Recently, a Venture Beat report from multiple sources said the Switch would be less powerful than the current PS4.
Will Third-Party Software Companies Support The Switch?
Arguably the largest question for the Switch is the same one that has been critically asked of most of Nintendo's home consoles: Will its third-party offerings be on par with those appearing on the other systems, thus making it viable competition? Because with its play-anywhere capabilities, being able to play the most recent triple-A title on the go could be a huge advantage.
What Else Does The Switch Do?
Gaming machines these days are rarely just that. They play movies, host content apps, and more. Nintendo has yet to detail what else the device may do outside of games. It's hard to tell if the Switch dock station or the screen itself has a disc slot, and if the Switch goes all-digital for its outside content playback (as well as any downloadable apps), then the question of internal and/or external storage becomes all the more important.
What About The 3DS?
Switch's melding of the traditional home console and a handheld raises the question of what is going to happen to Nintendo's handheld business. Traditionally the company has always stressed that handhelds and home consoles are two distinct branches, but the Switch clearly tests that divide like never before. Consumers would love having all of Nintendo's software concentrated on one platform, but given how successful Nintendo's handheld side has been it could be too profitable to give up just like that.
Is It Backwards Compatible?
This is unknown at this point. At a minimum, we assume the company will continue to make classic games available through its eShop.
Be sure to return for more features on the Nintendo Switch in advance of Thursday's event, as well as extensive coverage of everything Nintendo shows off.
Email the author Matthew Kato, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.