Well, here we are, Nintendo fans.
After four years of speculation, countless rumors, and a metric ton of wishful thinking, new Switch hardware is finally upon us and it’s… well, it’s basically exactly what we’ve come to expect from Nintendo. Or, at least, it’s exactly what we should expect from Nintendo at this point, based on its hardware track record.
Nintendo Switch (OLED Model) Images
Firstly, let’s take a look back at where these rumors began. The Switch Pro, or the Super Nintendo Switch for those of us who are truly elevated, has been a major topic of discussion since the Switch launched back in March of 2017. Over the course of the last four years, these whispers have run the full gamut between purely anecdotal optimism to expert rumor-milling.
The general consensus across all these chats has been, of course, upgraded graphical prowess. The focus has long been about whether or not the Switch Pro would introduce a beefier chipset and allow Nintendo to finally (finally!!) make the leap to 4K and bring all of our favorite Nintendo franchises into the same visual league as Uncharted or Gears of War. I’ve been playing through Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and who doesn’t want that but for Mario? So, when Nintendo quietly announced the Nintendo Switch (OLED) via Twitter this morning, fans quickly began asking a new question:
Where’s the Nintendo Switch Pro we were promised?
Here’s the thing though: we weren’t. While fans, reporters, and creators have been fervently championing what is essentially vaporware, Nintendo has been telling us, pretty directly, not to get too excited for any major upgrades. In December of 2020, Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser told Polygon that Nintendo’s focus was on “existing formats”, a statement that was doubled down on in February by Nintendo President Shuntaro Fukuwara when he said that the company would not be announcing an upgraded model anytime soon.
Despite Nintendo’s best efforts at tempering expectations, the rumor mill reached a fever pitch in March when Bloomberg reported that a new 4K model, sporting an upgraded Nvidia chipset and many of the (OLED) model’s trappings would arrive in time for holiday 2021. Naturally, Nintendo fans started looking at E3 as a potential window of confirmation for these rumors, but Nintendo itself s squashed that chatter (or, tried to) by specifically stating that its E3 presentation would be strictly software focused.
Of course, Nintendo clearly explaining this in no uncertain terms is only a part of the puzzle, as iterative hardware is its all-time favorite move. You could ostensibly argue that Nintendo has built its entire business on iteration, making minor tweaks to a formula that works and selling it to the masses as the New Nintendo 3DS XL, or something equally newfangled and wordy.
Let’s go all the way back to the early ‘90s and take a look at the NES-101, also known as the NES2 or the “New NES” as it was called in the October 1993 issue of Nintendo Power. Introduced in October of 1993, this curved, top-loading version of the NES featured a more ergonomic controller and a $49.99 price point. By the time it arrived on the market, the Super Nintendo had already been on store shelves for two years in the US, but this revamped NES re-introduced Nintendo’s most successful console to a new audience at a lower price and with a library of hundreds of already published games. It was only manufactured for about a year (and received at least one upgrade through its lifetime), but it helped further establish a precedent for hardware generations to come.
Over the course of the next several generations, Nintendo would continue to iterate and release newer versions of hardware with minor and major improvements. Systems like the phenomenally successful Game Boy got upgraded to the Game Boy Pocket and eventually the Game Boy Color, which kept the console consistently competitive against a sea of would-be handheld challengers like Bandai’s WonderSwan or the NeoGeo Pocket.
These iterations eventually lead to what many consider to be the pinnacle of The Game Boy, the Game Boy Advance, in 2001, 12 years on from the original’s release. And while that may be true, it too was subsequently iterated on with the Game Boy Advance SP (the SP stands for “Special”, thank you very much) a unit that supported a sleek clamshell design, a rechargeable internal battery, and a larger screen, which eventually got backlit thanks to a second GBA SP model, the AGS-101. This model, introduced in 2003, is probably what you see in your mind’s eye when you hear the words “Game Boy Advance.” Accounting for 55% of overall Game Boy Advance Sales, the improved unit was tremendously successful and borderline ubiquitous in the early aughts. The GBA also got a micro version in 2005 that featured adjustable brightness, improved image sharpness, and swappable faceplates in an extremely portable, and also so tiny, form factor. It was the final iteration in the Game Boy line, which ultimately spanned 16 years and amassed Nintendo a lot of money.
Best Nintendo Switch Accessories
Of course, the pattern continued with the DS, of which there are about 437 different versions (no, not really) including the DS, DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. We should remind our readers that the Nintendo DS is the second highest-selling console of all time, just behind Sony’s PlayStation 2.
This is to say, Nintendo has always taken a less conventional approach to hardware. Prioritizing accessibility over graphical power and introducing minor hardware updates over the course of a given generation has worked for decades. The Switch alone is the perfect example of this. The OLED model is the fourth version of the Switch to hit the market behind the Switch Lite and the red-boxed V2 model introduced in 2019; the latter was obviously not marketed nearly as hard as the Switch Lite, but represents an important update in the Nintendo Switch timeline. A more power-efficient processor resulted in improved battery life, a major gripe with the original Switch model, and ultimately encouraged some fans to trade in their original units for a V2 model.
So, now we get one with a better screen. Makes sense when you remember the GBA did it twenty years ago and that worked out pretty well for Nintendo. I play my Switch mostly docked so this update doesn’t mean a ton to me, but for folks who use their Switch as a traditional handheld this is actually a pretty huge upgrade, and one that will encourage more mid-generation upgrading than the V2 or Switch Lite did.. More, given that V1 versions of the Switch are increasingly rare, it’s not out of the question to think that the Switch (OLED) will quietly become the only “switchable” version of the Switch available, and the Switch Lite will be there for folks who don’t care about playing Nintendo games on a TV and want to save $150.
I think what’s more interesting about the Switch (OLED) is the possibility that Nintendo is backdooring more 3rd party support with the simple inclusion of an ethernet port. Previous models of the Switch required an ethernet adapter if you wanted to hardwire your Switch to play games online instead of relying on the (less than stellar) wifi. This new model, however, has a LAN port built into the dock itself, which makes hardwiring a possibility out of the box. The Switch has seen a number of cloud versions of major third-party games over the last few years like Control, Hitman 3, and Resident Evil 7 to mixed results. In June, it was announced that Eidos Montreal would be bringing a cloud version of Guardians of the Galaxy to Switch, and I can’t help but wonder if this is Nintendo’s answer to its HD problem. These cloud versions are running increasingly more smoothly (assuming you have a great connection) and support from Square, Ubisoft, Capcom, and others would be a huge boon for Nintendo.
Despite all this, I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t a little disappointed by today’s announcement. A fully HD Nintendo console has been something I’ve wanted for a long while, although why I’m not exactly sure. With each generation, I lament Nintendo’s unwillingness to get in league with my Xbox or PlayStation, but every generation I have the same realization that I don’t necessarily need Nintendo games to knock me off my feet graphically because what I’m actually there for is gameplay and Nintendo (mostly) consistently delivers in that department. The upcoming Breath of the Wild sequel would certainly look stunning in 4k with a locked framerate, but would it make it that much better a game? Probably not. Ultimately, Nintendo will likely never need to rely on a chipset to stay competitive because at this point, as the Switch closes in on the Wii’s overall sales numbers and rides into its umpteenth month at the top of the console sales charts, it’s pretty clear that it’s only competing with itself.
Zachary Ryan used to work at IGN. He still does sometimes but he used to, too. Follow him on Twitter @zachariusd.