Let’s not piss around – the Switch is a handheld

nintendoswitch_hardware-0-0Ever since the late 1980s, when the Game Boy started its global dominance, there has been an overwhelming agreement on the difference between home consoles and handhelds.

A home console is one that, as the name suggests, can be played at home: you plug it into your television, sit back and enjoy all the platform-jumping, goal-scoring, enemy-fragging shindiggery you want from the comfort of your sofa.

A handheld, meanwhile, is a console you can take on the move with you. It has its own screen and, crucially, never needs a TV. You can take it wherever you like and play games on it no matter where you are in the world.

That’s why I’m really bewildered at the way many online are comparing the Switch to other consoles (including the Wii U). Although Nintendo – for some bizarre reason I still can’t comprehend – is adamant that the Switch is a home console, that’s frankly bullshit. It’s a handheld, and anyone saying otherwise is… well, ‘wrong’ sounds harsh. Not right, basically.

Just because you can play it on your TV, that doesn’t make it a home console. Since it meets that crucial handheld criterion – it can be played fully anywhere and never needs a television at any point in its entire life – it’s quite blatantly a handheld.

Sure looks like a handheld to me. And I can tell because I have eyes
Sure looks like a handheld to me. And I can tell because I have eyes

That’s why the handheld bit is called the Switch, and the thing you plug it into so you can play it on the telly is merely called the Switch Dock. Sort of like how you can plug an iPod into an iPod Dock when you’re at home: that doesn’t make it a bloody hi-fi.

It’s clear to see where the ‘handheld vs console’ confusion has come from, though – Nintendo itself. It seems the company’s desperate to get the following message across in no uncertain terms:

nintendo_new3ds_open_• The Wii U is dead
• The Switch is its replacement
• The 3DS is still alive: keep buying it pls thx

On paper it’s a sensible stance to take: the Wii U has been flatlining longer than Rolf Harris’s art career and the 3DS is still making money. Have a look at Pokemon Sun and Moon, the fastest selling games in the series’ history.

Why would Nintendo want you to think it’s replacing its popular handheld with a new one? Even though it’s selling A NEW HANDHELD.

No, the spin being dished out is that going forward (at least this year) it’s going to be Switch and 3DS, home console and handheld. A partnership as perfect as peanut butter and jelly, salt and vinegar, or Joey Barton and literally nobody.

Switching the message

That’s on paper, though. In practice, Nintendo’s decision to market the Switch as a home console is – much as I love Nintendo – fucking bewildering.

I left the UK Switch event last Friday massively excited about this beast of a handheld. It blew my mind that something so small could produce visuals on a par with (and sometimes even better than) the Wii U, and that in just a couple of months I’d be playing the likes of Zelda and a console-perfect Mario Kart 8 on the bus.

When I left the event I enthusiastically went online to see the response. What I mostly saw was people complaining it was less powerful than the Xbox One and PS4.

“Of course it is,” I thought. “It’s a handheld. Look at the size of the thing, and look at the size of Sony and Microsoft’s consoles. How could you possibly expect anything similar?” Because by selling it as a console Nintendo is inviting comparisons, that’s why.

It’s bizarre. If you owned the world’s greatest rally car, you wouldn’t enter it in a Formula 1 race, because you’d get pumped harder than [removed for legal reasons].

No, you’d enter it in rally races, which require a different skill set, and completely dominate in that field. You may not win all the F1 fans over, but maybe some of them like watching rally racing too. Regardless, you’ll certainly earn more money coming in first place all the time rather than being the third place racer nobody remembers.

Admit it: unless you're obsessed with F1 you don't know who this is. You think he looks a bit like the guy from American Pie, but no. That was Jason Biggs. This isn't him
Admit it: unless you’re obsessed with F1 you don’t know who this is. You think he looks a bit like the guy from American Pie, but no. That was Jason Biggs. This isn’t him

What I’m trying to say with this piss-poor metaphor is that by deliberately pretending the Switch is a home console, Nintendo is willingly placing it in a competition (whether it says it is or not) against two systems that outpower it and have a massive headstart over it.

Compared to the Xbox One and PS4, the Switch will always be third place in terms of power and – if Nintendo keep up this nonsense – in sales too.

Hell, even Wii U owners looking at this as Nintendo’s next console may not be convinced it’s enough to shell out £279.99 for. “A system that’s only slightly more powerful than the one I already have and plays the Zelda and Mario Kart games I can already get on it? Shove it in your shitepipe, Nintendo.”

The infuriating thing is that this is entirely down to perception. Pretend the Switch is a console – which Nintendo is happily doing with a message the internet is accepting (especially those looking to criticise Nintendo) – and it looks underpowered.

Treat it as a handheld though – you know, the thing it actually bastarding is – and it’s a completely different situation.

I got 99 problems but the Switch ain’t one

The Switch is far and away the most powerful handheld system I’ve ever played. Mario Kart and Splatoon run at an eye-massagingly smooth 60 frames per second, and having a new open-world Zelda game of that quality on the move is something that almost still seems impossible.

3DS? Demolishes it. Vita? Bulldozes it. iPad and Android? Yes, even compared to the most graphically impressive games on those devices, the Switch is a clear winner, with enough space between them to park the entire Mario Kart 8 Deluxe character roster.

If I were in charge of Nintendo, the message to me would be a no-brainer. “The Nintendo Switch is the most powerful handheld gaming system in the world. And when you get home, you can continue to play it on your TV.”

Instead the message is: “The Nintendo Switch is the third most powerful home console in the world. And you can take it with you when you leave the house.”

Both statements are true. But one makes it look like the industry leader, and the other makes it look like portability comes with compromise.

You only need to listen to the second episode of the Tired Old Hack podcast for evidence of how changing this message can help sales. My guest Kate Gray starts the podcast relatively indifferent to the Switch, and after I start discussing its benefits as a handheld she literally says it’s the first time she’s felt excited about it. It can be as simple as that.

For me, Nintendo should stop focusing on the 3DS. I’m not saying it should kill it off, but the DS and GBA continued to do well after their successors launched, especially as they got price drops and parents bought them for their younger children.

Someone at my work today even told me (no word of a lie) that he impulse bought a 3DS yesterday because the Switch stuff reminded him he still had to play the Ocarina Of Time and Majora’s Mask remakes on it.

Not a format you'd expect for a home console. More suited for... HANDHELDS
Not a format you’d expect for a home console. More suited for… HANDHELDS

There can still be a life for the 3DS if the Switch is marketed as a handheld. I really wish Nintendo would change its message and make it clear that we’re not dealing with another gimmick here – “hey guys, it’s a console you can take on the move!” – but a serious, premium, obscenely powerful piece of kit.

There’s absolutely no shame in admitting: “Listen, odd quirks like the Wii aside, we tend to do better with our handhelds than our home consoles.

“So we’re focusing on that side of the business going forward. Here’s an incredible new handheld, and you can plug it into your TV so those of our fans who prefer console gaming won’t miss out.”

I appreciate how this makes me sound. The number of times I’ve been called “Nintendo Defence Force” on Twitter this week has been infuriating (incidentally, if someone says that to you, tell them to fuck off: you’re allowed to be excited about video games).

I know I sound like a lawyer in a courtroom, nudging his defendant after he’s given a dodgy answer and saying “um, what I think my client is trying to say is…”

"And FURTHERMORE your honour, the battery life doesn't even sound that bad compared to previous estimates for other handhelds, such as Sony's 3-5 hours for the Vita. Oh, and my guy isn't guilty either and that"
“And FURTHERMORE your honour, the battery life doesn’t even sound that bad compared to previous estimates for other handhelds, such as Sony’s 3-5 hours for the Vita. Oh, and my guy isn’t guilty either and that”

This is something we should all be concerned about, though. The success of every company – Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and everyone else – is imperative if we want to continue to breed competition and ultimately end up with more fantastic games for everyone. But sometimes these competitions are unbalanced.

The Switch is a powerful handheld which is being marketed as an average home console. Nintendo has two battles to choose from here, and so far it’s picking the wrong one.

Let’s hope it ‘switches’ the message soon and starts to better emphasise the quality of what it’s actually offering here.

I know what you’re thinking. “I like the cut of this guy’s jib. I don’t even know what a jib is but he cuts it like a fucking champ. I want to give him money to ensure he can continue cutting jibs with gusto, and maybe one day he’ll fill me in on what jib-cutting entails.”

If that sounds like you, please consider backing me on Patreon. Not sure you trust me? Then try this on for size: a jib is a triangular sail on the front of a boat. I gave you that shit for free, I’m basically the modern Che Guevara.


  1. I think they are marketing it as an hybrid cause they are targeting a share of the console marketing. They’re also not sure if a portable-only console still has its space on the current mobile-oriented market. So, now they’re just playing safe, walking on the rope without falling to any of those sides, until something happens to make them change how people perceive the Switch:

    1- If NS manage to get its space on the current console market, more ads will be made to emphasise this aspect.

    2- If it does make more success as a portable machine, it will eventually substitute the N3DS officially. That’s also the reason they’re not ditching the old 3ds clamshell right now: they want to mantain their portable moneymaking product line so they can invest on it if the Switch fails.

    1. Even New 3DS is so aged vs. Switch that I don’t understand why they’d start investing it even if Switch fails. Wouldn’t that be a reason to push Switch even harder?

  2. I don’t think it’s that bewildering why Nintendo is marketing the Switch as a home console. I think they are selling the Switch as a home console first is to avoid a stigma that is already attached to a handheld gaming device. Handheld gaming is generally perceived as less capable, smaller scale and not as feature rich compared to a console gaming experience. If Nintendo were to refer to the Switch as a handheld first, then that immediately dampens the value of the product in the consumers eye.

    But even using your example phrases. Say there’s two markets; one for handheld and the other for consoles. Back in 2011 Nintendo tried to release a ‘handheld’ gaming device into market where dedicated handhelds were dying and mobile gaming was on the rise. That didn’t work out well for them. Even coming off the success of the DS, the 3DS messaging was on point and the hardware was solid. The lack of software didn’t help their case, but it was still a very tough sell.

    Within the last few years, several market analysts were saying that console gaming was a dying breed. And with the release of the Xbox One and PS4, both consoles are selling year over year faster than their previous generations dispelling predictions that the console market was defunct. Consoles are now selling better than ever.

    Fast forward to today, and you can see why Nintendo chose the approach of marketing this as a console vs a handheld. The more important task for them is to relay and message the value of that product in a clear and effective way. This is something new, and nothing like this has been done before. The PS4 and Xbox One have an easier sell. People understand what a console is, and have a solid expectation of what it does. You already have a common relation to the consumer right there, giving you an head start to your sell. Nintendo always does things different, so from a marketing perspective that puts them at an immediate disadvantage. They need to make sure their messaging is clear, on point and penetrates the largest audience possible. That’s the part where they definitely need improving.

    As a core gamer, I share the same concern for Nintendo’s messaging and their approach to the Switch. All people see is that it’s less powerful, has less games and still hasn’t let go of concepts and ideas that the hardcore audience doesn’t want. Their biggest lesson learned with the WiiU was going too long a period of time with a lack of software. Well, their approach this time around is less games available at launch, but having a steady stream of games every few months of release. They don’t have the support of third parties to create a robust launch library. In their mind they don’t compete with MS and Sony. They want to stand on their own, with their own ideas. And very stubbornly at times. This will probably never change with Nintendo. I want everyone to enjoy Nintendo hardware and Nintendo games. And not because they need to take a focus on something because an audience and an industry wants them too. I want their creativity and ideas to flourish in their own way. Could they learn a few lessons from the core gamer audience and so called competitors they don’t compete with? Definitely. Are they completely out of touch when it comes to the western market? Probably. I can’t think their THAT dense. But I think it’s Nintendo being Nintendo, and they’ll always want to do their own thing.

  3. To further your point, they were even able to couple the best feature of their home console to the portable. With the motion controls (designing them so advanced that they were able to forego the sensor bar) they are literally able to being the entire experience of their best selling console to a handheld.

  4. So Nintendo is innovating. They’ve always innovated. Sony and Microsoft haven’t named their systems any differently because they are the same at their core. There is a biological limit to how good graphics can get and our eyes tell the difference.

    Nintendo is hoping people see the Switch as something different. It’s more powerful than the Wii U; Yea, that’s not saying much, but the Wii U is undoubtedly a home console. So the Switch beats a current home console in power. I’d say that qualifies it to at least make its claim. I also argue that the relatively small jump forward in the One S and PS4 Pro is a tired trick giving gamers diminishing returns. Nintendo simply needs to win the support of third parties again. The Switch has piqued interest. If it can sell plenty of units this year it will be an insane success, and will show Sony and Microsoft they need to do more than squeeze a few more pixels onto their next console.

  5. So when the Switch was in its early announcements I thought “yeah! merging an already strong handheld market in both Japan and the West, along with its stellar first party console games, is a fantastic idea!” Turns out instead of doing that they would rather push this six year old device that I’m sick of using, with a horrible screen resolution and steadily decreasing frame rate per title.

    I was honestly way more on board with the idea of combining the two aspects of Nintendo, creating a convenient single system to enjoy all they have to offer. As it stands, despite wanting to review the switch and botw at launch, I’m extremely likely to skip out until I’m sure it’s a good investment. I always hope Nintendo does well and I still do, but it’s hard to respect how they’re handling the switch. The Switch is a truly impressive handheld, and if it were to be the new mainline handheld system and console system for Nintendo, I would consider it to be such a desirable product. It seems more like a laptop that wants to sit on your desk rather than go outside and have some adventure in its life. Also honestly why is the typical RRP for the games on Amazon.co.uk £50 please tell me thats not here to stay. Great Article thanks.

  6. The 30 second “elevator pitch” for Switch either leaves out a lot of what makes it appealing or leaves the listener confused as to what it is. And Nintendo using the marketing to prematurely kill the Wii U probably isn’t helping the messaging.

    You have a new tablet, the next handheld, the next home console, a new portable Wii, and a new shared-device local multiplayer concept all rolled into one – and on top of that it’s got virtual ice cubes inside it and a rock-paper-scissors adapter port on the bottom. That’s WAY TOO MANY THINGS to get across when you consider it looks like the majority of people at some point thought the Wii U was some second-screen peripheral to the Wii.

    It’s technically impressive, visually stunning, has innovative design and yet is still intuitive. The Switch would get a Gold medal in four different events. As a home console though? A distant Bronze, bested by competitors who weren’t even involved in state-sponsored doping scandals, but were just born genetically superior. Yet Nintendo enters Switch in the console event hoping to force Wii U into retiring in disgrace. Or something. Yeah I stretched that analogy too far.

    Eventually Nintendo will sell enough of them to start thinking about retiring 3DS. I hope that with so much going for Switch that will be soon. Otherwise 3DS game production will start interfering with Switch game production, defeating the purpose of joining handheld and console in the first place.

  7. it is a fucking handheld and it’s going to replace the 3ds. the sooner these nintemndo fantards realize this the better offr they will be! -END-

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