Last year, Nintendo did something a lot of people weren’t expecting: It generated genuine widespread excitement around its offbeat, convention-challenging Switch console. After the disastrous launch and troubled life of the Wii U, and the indomitable rise of Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it seemed the prospect of another quaint, idiosyncratic machine from the house of Mario would appeal only to confirmed fanatics. But no – it seems the entire video game community is now waiting on tonight, when we’ll see crucial details revealed in not one but two online broadcasts: a big, early-morning announcement live from Tokyo on Friday (which you can watch online at 11pm Eastern on Thursday January 12) followed later in the day by a live stream from Nintendo’s in-house localization, marketing, and overall special-ops team, Treehouse. Frankly, we can’t wait.
However, to turn that interest and enthusiasm into real success, Nintendo is going to have to satisfy some basic criteria beyond providing a price that makes it a winner, a release date and a few new Zelda videos. Here’s what we think it needs to do.
Nintendo must prove that Switch has power
No one realistically expects the Switch to exceed or even challenge Xbox One and PS4 in terms of power – that’s not how Nintendo works. The company has almost always sought to use cheaper, older components to build its hardware, preferring to concentrate on offering a unique user experience rather than spectacular visuals (“lateral thinking with withered technology” as its old corporate philosophy goes). That’s fine, but if the Switch is to find a role in the multi-platform release schedules of the major publishers, it needs to significantly exceed the capabilities of the Wii U.
So how powerful is it? Well the Switch contains a modified version of Nvidia’s Tegra processor, which – with its low power consumption and decent graphics performance – was designed specifically for high-end smartphones and tablets. It’s a smart choice for a console that’s also intended to be portable. There are, however, complicated questions about which version of the chipset Nintendo is using and whether Switch will be able to handle true HD visuals or not.
It’s likely to sit somewhere between a Samsung Galaxy S7 and the current gen consoles in terms of computing performance, but we need to know roughly where it is on that scale. Will we get a slightly sleeker version of Super Mario 3D World or an ultra-HD Super Mario Universe – and upgrade on Galaxy with a vast open-world Mushroom Kingdom to explore? Tech heads may also want to know why the 6.2” built-in display is 720p rather than 1080p, because we’re getting a really confused picture of Switch’s HD capabilities. While Nintendo’s mainstream audience won’t care about these details, early adopters, developers and publishers certainly will. This confusion needs to disappear on Thursday.