For about as long as Nintendo has been making home consoles, they’ve also always had a separate handheld system to accompany it. During the days of the NES, SNES, and N64, Nintendo fans also had the GameBoy (Original, Pocket, Color, etc). The Gamecube had the Gameboy Advance as a partner, the Wii had the DS, and the WII U was buddies with 3DS. This longstanding dynamic will change with the launch of the Nintendo Switch Lite though. For the very first time, Nintendo’s home system is going to have to stand on its own.
I wrote an article a couple years ago arguing that there was still a place for the 3DS even after the launch of the Switch. The older handheld system has a few features that I absolutely love and am sorry to see go away with the system’s impending retirement. Taking the 3DS on the go yielded so many fun possibilities thanks to the way Miis were integrated into it. Seeing other people’s Miis show up in games, fill in a world map and just stopping by to great yours created a feeling of being connected to other fans. Switch doesn’t do that. Even so, small features like the one I just described aren’t enough to overcome the reality that the Switch is a perfectly capable handheld system, and it’s definitely good enough to rule the space on its own.
Capabilities aside, I still think this is a development that both Nintendo and their fans are going to need some time to get used to. For their part, Nintendo still insists that the 3DS isn’t dead. There’s nothing significant coming to the system anymore, and they didn’t mention it at all during E3 2019, but they’re still saying that it’s alive and well. It’s an understandable thing though, Nintendo is used to having two main product lines going at a time; it’s a model that’s served them quite well over all the years they’ve been in the console business, especially when their stationary consoles weren’t doing so well. When the Gamecube and Wii U were struggling, Nintendo had the GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS and 3DS to keep them in the black. Now, Nintendo has to rely on the Switch alone and they’re nervous.
As for fans, I suppose we’ll just have to get used to following on one console. It’ll certainly be more convenient since everything will be in one place now that the Switch is Nintendo’s one and only system, but it’s still weird. It’s always been the case that if something exciting wasn’t coming out on the main console for a while, you could bet that something cool was right around the corner for the handheld system. This worked in part because the handheld systems required less production value in their games. Now that everything is going to be on the Switch though, I wonder if Nintendo is going to feel pressured to make everything into a big-budget, showstopper kind of game. I don’t think that’s what many fans want, but the company will likely feel pressured to make full use out of their hardware. The possible result: fewer games.
That last bit is just speculation of course, but it’s hard not to offer it as we enter these uncharted waters. Maybe it’ll be for the better, maybe it’ll be for the worse. No matter how you slice it though, it’s definitely a significant change (that was probably inevitable). Hopefully Nintendo can maintain the Switch’s powerhouse status and learn what they need to before the next cycle and they have to put all their eggs in an untested basket.
What’s your take on this new, Switch-only, turn Nintendo is taking? Do you think it was inevitable? Is it for the best? Do you think they’ll be able to keep going as the Switch grows older?
Lede image by Flickr user: MIKI Yoshihito (cc)