Earlier this week Nintendo unveiled the latest addition to the Switch family, the Nintendo Switch (OLED model). For months the gaming community had been speculating about the impending release of a Nintendo Switch Pro. An enhanced version of the console, akin to Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro, offering 4K visuals and other performance improvements.
To say that gamers were disappointed was an understatement. Many felt cheated by Nintendo with the announcement. As with many of their past upgraded handheld systems, this isn’t a new console but merely a few tweaks to the existing system. It’s clear that in time the original Switch was going to be discontinued and replaced with a revised model in the same way that the Gameboy Advance was superceded by the Gameboy Advance SP, the DS was replace with the DSi, the 3DS replaced with the 3DSXL and so on. It’s just that in this instance, Switch fans were anticipating a LOT more…
But what have Nintendo done to the console that has angered so many? The most obvious change (and evident from the name) is the screen. the LCD screen has been replaced with a slightly larger 7″ OLED display, much to the amusement of Vita owners everywhere. This actually got the PS Vita trending on Twitter at one point when it became part of the discussions surrounding the Switch. While many dismissed this as an unimportant change, the reality is that the change from LCD to OLED is a vast improvement.
That’s not the only tweak to the hardware. In addition to the screen upgrade, the console now offers an increased internal storage capacity of 64Gb from the original 32Gb. The storage increase is a welcome boost meaning that first-time owners won’t need that important MicroSD card from the offset for their digital downloads. Also tweaked is a revised tabletop mode allowing for more comfortable use away from the Switch Dock. This makes multiplayer gaming more viable without the need for a TV and has the potential to open up a lot of games away from the traditional living room environment.
One of the more underwhelming features was the fact that the Switch Dock now boasts an integrated ethernet port. It has to be said that adding ethernet is a useful extra although understandably for a console with so many online multiplayer titles it’s strange that this wasn’t a feature from launch. It was also confirmed that this new dock is compatible with older models of the Switch.
No 4K Upgrade?
This is probably the issue that has frustrated gamers the most. What hasn’t helped here are the rumours that have been circulating for months about the release of a Switch Pro, supported by experts who were apparently “in the know” about new hardware on the way. The reality is that a 4K Switch was never going to happen. When Microsoft and Sony upgraded their consoles, it was primarily processing power that was improved along with boosts to storage. With advances in profuction the machines were more efficient and reliable and cheaper to manufacture but the core machines were essentially the same.
Development focus still remained with base consoles and then tweaks were made either through patches or extra code to allow the more powerful models to run games faster, smoother or at higher resolutions. Now we look at the Nintendo Switch. The big difference people forget is that it is a cartridge-based platform. Right now the largest cartridges available for the Switch are 32Gb in size.
There are very few titles that make use of these because of the high costs. Instead, developers try to keep games much smaller for the platform. Bigger games are distributed digitally or alternatively part of the game is stored on the game card and the rest is downloaded. It’s not a perfect system but it helps keep costs down.
The 4K Problem
Now, were a 4K version of the Switch to have been produced higher resolution textures would be needed for ALL of the in-game visuals, pre-rendered cut-scenes and obviously menu screens. All of these take up space and either 4K and HD versions would need to be included so older models would still be supported, or artwork would need to be scaled down to suit (rather than scaled up and creating more frustration from gamers). The result? A need for more storage. Just taking a relatively small game like Animal Crossing that only needs around 8Gb of space and you’d be looking at double that. The physical versions would be instantly more expensive to produce and digital versions would be more demanding when it comes to memory card space.
The Switch is relatively lucky right now as a console compared to its counterparts from Sony and Microsoft. Game sizes are relatively manageable and it’s easy to have a large games collection that is still quite portable. If a move to 4K visuals had happened, then we would have needed to start looking at MicroSD cards of 1Tb or larger as the norm for Switch owners. And the prices for those is still well over £100 quickly making the Switch an unattractive proposal. Certainly a move to 4K would have been a gamble of astronomical proportions for Nintendo – and that’s a risk that they wouldn’t have wanted to take. For us mere mortals wanting to have a flutter with less of a risk, we can just take the safer and more fun option at the best kiwi casinos instead. 4K gaming is almost definitely going to come from their next generation of systems but without more affordable storage and cheaper game production it’s just not commercially viable for them right now.
A Modern PS Vita?
Vita owners, as I touched upon briefly, have been quite amused at all of this. With the Vita having an OLED screen since launch 10 years ago (although sadly removed from the Slim model), we’ve been singing the praises of that screen over the Switch for a long time. And anyone who has seen both side by side will attest to the superiority of the OLED in action.
Having a Switch Lite myself, I’ve seen the same games running on both my Switch and original Vita and despite the Switch’s higher resolution and greater power it’s the Vita’s screen that makes games look better. Astro Aqua Kitty is a prime example. Despite having the lowest screen resolution of all the versions available, the screen allows the Vita to hold its own against its rivals with ease.
The Vita, it has to be said, failed with the increased storage capacity. Adding 1Gb to the Vita Slim made no difference to the console although it was better than having no storage at all. However, at least Nintendo allow gamers to use both the internal and expanded storage simultaneously.
Ethernet – again something Vita owners have had for several years since the release of the PlayStation TV. The same with the HDMI output, something that we’ve made use of to great effect for our game reviews on our YouTube channel. In fact, looking at the new Nintendo Switch (OLED model) it could be argued that Nintendo have final delivered what Sony could have if they were given the chance to do a PS Vita 2. Bringing all the best parts of the PS Vita and PSTV all together in one system. If only they could have sorted out the Joycons while they were at it…