Although we all love Nintendo Switch, Sony and Microsoft have both begun to take the veil off of their upcoming systems: the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett respectively. While we have yet to physically see the designs of the new systems, both companies have talked about what will be on the inside.
I won’t bore you with all the “nerd speak,” but the gist of the situation is that the upcoming consoles are going to be an impressive upgrade from a technical perspective. The existing Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro have both proven to provide remarkable results for being relatively compact machines, and now their true successors will be able to push the envelope even further.
While I highly doubt the graphical quality is going to see a super-massive jump over the best-looking games of today, the technical aspects of games will most certainly advance. Things like world complexity, physics, special effects (lighting, particles, audio, etc.), resolution, frame rate, and loading times will benefit substantially from the new hardware. In short, games will be getting more detailed and complex, yet the new systems will likely allow players to jump into them far quicker than before. With both the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett set to launch towards the end of 2020, it won’t be long before the first set of next-gen titles will be fully revealed running on the new hardware.
Like any console generation transition, these are exciting times for gamers. However, Nintendo really is the odd one out in this situation.
Although some don’t think so, the current generation of consoles really did begin with the 2012 launch of the Wii U. As the successor to the Wii, it is for all intents and purposes an 8th-gen system. The PS4 and Xbox One launched a year later, and we all know how things went from there. The Wii U’s sales dried faster than a puddle in the Sahara, so Nintendo quickly initiated a maneuver to pull away from the platform and create something new. That gave a quick birth to the Nintendo Switch hybrid console.
Unlike the Wii U, the Switch has managed to capture the awe (and bank accounts) of consumers, becoming one of Nintendo’s most successful products to date. And it still hasn’t even turned three years old yet. That is both a good and bad thing. Why? Well, while it’s great that the Switch has been so successful up until this point, the looming arrival of new consoles puts it in quite a bind due to two key factors: its design and its age.
The Switch is the first true hybrid console, and it also happens to be powered by mobile hardware. While Nintendo did listen to developers more closely and equipped the system with modern design architecture, its core power still falls behind even that of the Xbox One. Many modern titles have been successfully ported to the little hybrid anyway, despite concessions needing to be made. Still, the fact of the matter is that this power gap is only going to be exacerbated further when the next-gen consoles arrive. Even if the upgrade won’t be as noticeable as the jump from PS2/Xbox to PS3/360, the aforementioned boost in technical complexity will likely prove to be daunting if not impossible for the Switch to handle in its current form. Not to mention that now that the Switch Lite is a thing, developers have to struggle with the fact that there are Switch owners out there that can’t even tap into the console’s “enhanced” form when in docked mode.
On top of the design limitation, there’s also the system’s age. Again, the Switch still has not been on the market for three years. Meanwhile, the PS4 and Xbox One will soon be turning six years old. By the time their successors hit the market next year, they’ll be seven years old. The Switch is too young to be hastily replaced, but is that what’s going to need to happen in order to deal with the new consoles? This is the decision that Nintendo faces, and it’s not an easy one to make.
On one hand, we have the Switch’s already sizeable install base that’s still steadily growing. But on the other hand, we have developers moving onto bigger and better hardware. Had we gotten the Switch instead of the Wii U, then this situation would be far more balanced. Right now would be a great time to release an all-new system. But alas, this is not reality.
Seeing that Nintendo just launched the Switch Lite a mere few weeks ago, it’s clear that the Switch family is bound to stick around for at least another three years. While the timing clearly does not line up with the rest of the console industry, it’s simply something Nintendo has to deal with for the time being. That said, it’s also clear that Nintendo isn’t overly concerned about what the other platform makers are doing. That’s why a direct response to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Scarlett also remains unlikely.
However, there’s the matter of the heavily rumored Switch Pro too. If it does exist, could it really be what it takes to equalize this current situation? I’ll discuss that further in my next feature.