Just like the original Switch itself, the newly announced Nintendo Switch Lite has proven to be one of the worst-kept secrets in gaming. Rumors surrounding the new model have been swirling around the majority of 2019, and they have now finally culminated in a “surprise” announcement video and press release, which dropped across Nintendo’s social networks this morning. The trailer, in particular, does a relatively good job at showing off what the new Lite model is all about. In summary, it’s a cheaper, smaller, more lightweight Switch that has integrated controls, no HD rumble or IR sensors… and also cannot connect to a TV. That being said, my one real reaction to this entire announcement is summed up in the image above: “Why is this a thing?”
When murmurings about a “Switch Mini” first developed, I already wasn’t pleased. That’s because I really don’t understand the hook of the concept. True, in the couple years that the Switch has been on the market, I have observed many folks expressing disappointment at its size and battery life. To some, the system is too big and the battery life isn’t good enough to provide a truly decent portable experience in the same vein of past handhelds like the 3DS and PS Vita. Thus, the Switch Lite is effectively Nintendo’s answer to those people: “Here’s what you wanted! And, guess what? It’s only $200!”
On paper, that sounds decent. But when I break down this announcement, it still doesn’t move me.
One step forward, two steps back
Yes, the Switch Lite does offer a more portable experience, but how much does that really matter? It’s still not very pocketable due to the analog sticks protruding upwards, so you’d likely be putting it in a case or in your bag—just like the current Switch. I’ve taken my Switch and its TV equipment on various trips at this point, and all of it fits in my backpack. Most of my games are digital, which has made it even more convenient. I see taking it around no differently than the millions of folks who own tablets and laptops. Nobody really complains how “big” those devices are, so what’s the deal with the current Switch?
The improved battery life is really the only high note about the Switch Lite, as literally everything else is a regression. The core features of the Joy-Con have been removed, though that at least is an easier pill to swallow since they can still be used with the new system wirelessly. However, for those entering the Switch market for the very first time with just a Switch Lite, that means they’ll perhaps be spending an additional MSRP $80 (for just one pair), which ironically brings the price from $200 to $280—very close to the price of a regular Switch. But that’s not even my biggest issue with the Lite; really, it’s the handheld-only functionality.
Nintendo made it very clear in the announcement trailer that the Switch Lite is not compatible with the Switch dock. That’s not surprising since the Lite is a smaller unit. Even so, it appears the Lite won’t be able to send an output signal to a TV at all, as it is only compatible with games that support handheld mode. The list of supported titles is massive, almost the entire Switch library at this point. Though, the big caveat is that more technologically demanding games are not best played in handheld mode.
While Nintendo has not outright confirmed this yet, it appears that the Switch Lite will function like a regular Switch in handheld mode. That means the more demanding games will offer a gameplay experience at reduced resolutions and sometimes even performance for Switch Lite owners—and they will be completely locked into this lesser experience. At least with a regular Switch, it’s merely an option. And that’s the key thing—options. Nintendo cheekily stated at the end of the announcement trailer that it’s “fun to have options,” and that’s true. But the Switch Lite seems to have too many cons for me to actually recommend it as a viable option to any Switch newcomers.
Inconvenience in the long run
In my eyes, all Nintendo had to do to target the crowd that wants a handheld-only Switch was release an SKU that includes just a Switch, the Joy-Con, and AC adapter. Interestingly enough, the company already started doing that in Japan some time ago in order to encourage existing Switch owners to have more than one model in a single household. That would effectively be a “Switch Lite,” but it would give you the option to make use of all the Switch features if you choose to do so—especially the ability to “switch” from a handheld to a home console. That makes up such a big part of the Switch name, and it’s arguably one of the reasons why the system has become so popular—because it can do both. Now, however, there’s a model that effectively makes that whole message a moot point. This is a step back. All of the effort Nintendo put into creating the first true hybrid system has been diluted by what is now effectively the 3DS’s true successor (despite Nintendo claiming otherwise).
Now, I know that the original Switch isn’t going anywhere. But again, the existence of the Switch Lite just confuses me. And I do hope Nintendo is prepared to deal with customers who somehow miss all the messaging about how this unit cannot be docked to a TV and will still be confused that it cannot. Ultimately, if someone out there were to ask me which model to buy, I’d tell them to just get a regular Switch. It can do literally everything the Lite can and more, and you have the option to dock it to a TV if you ever see fit. Yes, it’s a $100 more and I can understand being budget-conscious, but it’ll prove to be a much better long-term investment than a Lite.