I was never skeptical of the Nintendo Switch.
The second I saw the glossy commercials showing smiling millennials sharing a pitched game of Mario Kart at their local dive bar, I knew it would be a success. But while I expected it to easily outsell its predecessor, the oft-derided Wii U, I never even considered that it could possibly match the ridiculous sales of the original Wii.
The Switch recently turned five — which is a stunning reminder of our collective mortality — and in many ways, it is the story of the past half-decade of gaming in microcosm. The portable console has not only widened the audience for gaming with the likes of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it's also redefined what the word "portable" means in the first place. In short, the console has changed everything — but it might soon be time for Nintendo to switch it up once more.
Before we get into what Nintendo might do next, let's make one thing clear. As a concept alone, the Switch is here to stay. Though it's only been out for a couple of weeks, the Steam Deck may yet go down in history as the hottest gaming product of 2022, and it's becoming increasingly clear that the Switch has opened a lane for chunky, powerful handhelds to find an enthusiastic audience.
But it might soon be time for Nintendo to switch it up once more.
Unfortunately for Switch fans, however, it seems unlikely that Nintendo will be the company to capitalize on this new market. The iconic developer has usually let its amazing software drive its hardware ambitions, and its consoles have suffered from a deficit of raw horsepower compared to the competition since the mid-'90s. If a hypothetical Switch 2 is indeed in the cards, it's almost certainly going to pale in comparison to the PS5 and the Xbox Series X — and depending on its release date, perhaps even the more expensive version of the Steam Deck.
Usually, when a console ships 100 million units, a straightforward follow-up is all but assured, but Nintendo is an exception. (Remember, this is the company that gave us the Virtual Boy.) It seems unlikely at this juncture that the company will jump from the Switch into some flashy, "innovative" new field akin to VR or motion controls, but you never know.
One of the quietly ironic things about the Switch's success is that the platform arguably makes less sense in 2022 than it did in 2017. Now that so many of us are working from home and traveling less, who wants to squint down at a portable screen when you can dock it to your TV? Obviously, there are situations where the handheld Switch makes sense in a home environment — different work schedules, sleeping kids, etc. — but there are a lot of us who keep the Switch on the dock year-round.
Actually, I have a confession: though I've played my Switch for hundreds of hours, I've never once used it in handheld mode, except for five minutes when I first bought it. The fact that I've worked from home almost my entire adult life is a big reason for this, of course, but my real qualm is with the JoyCons, which are the worst first-party controller this side of the Atari 5600. (No, you can't call 911 on it.) And judging by quite a few online discussions, I don't think I'm the only one who prefers keeping their Switch docked, either.
Given this — and the fact that Nintendo rolled out the handheld-only Switch Lite back in 2019 — I have a modest proposal for the company's next console. Since every other company is doing the multi-version thing these days, Nintendo should release two specs of the console. One can be the Switch 2 that everybody else wants: better horsepower, OLED screen from the get-go, fancy dock, etc. And for people like me, who just really want to play Breath of the Wild 2 at a stable 1080p60, there will be the Switch Home… which doesn't "switch" at all.
Perhaps it sounds goofy, but I do truly think that it would be a good move for Nintendo. We may live in the era of micro-computing, but the hardware that goes into a reduced form factor like the Switch or Steam Deck is still significantly more expensive than huge boxes like the PS5 and Xbox.
The new Switch doesn’t need to switch at all. At least not for me.
This new Switch wouldn't have to deliver a truly next-gen level of hardware, it would just need to play higher-spec indie games and Nintendo's industry-setting first-person fare without dropping frames constantly like my stock Switch. Additionally, when you consider how well devices can stream content these days, I can't help but wonder if Nintendo could sell a cheap tablet that's basically only a gutless screen for those who want a different-room experience in their home without having to move the console.
Now, is Nintendo actually going to roll out a traditional home console as its next venture? It seems quite unlikely, especially given that it cuts against the Switch's entire identity. However, Nintendo has a way of always surprising industry observers, so this sort of unexpected step backward is exactly the sort of thing that the company might do. Regardless, if Nintendo did do it, I would be the first one in line.