For ages now, we’ve been hearing reports of an upgraded “Nintendo Switch Pro” that would, among other things, allegedly display games at 4K resolution. Tuesday morning, Nintendo surprised everyone by finally unveiling their next Nintendo Switch model, and while there are indeed improvements, they aren’t quite what the internet was hoping for. There’s no increased RAM or a new CPU. But it’s worth asking: Does the Switch truly need a high-powered 4K version at the moment?
Now, the existence of the OLED Switch does not preclude the announcement of a future, more powerful Switch. Historically, at least, Nintendo tends to release different versions of its portable hardware, making it likely that in due time, we’ll see something beyond a bigger screen and improved audio.
But looking at that same tried and true product strategy reveals a basic truth: Nintendo can absolutely just sell a bigger version of a handheld and have it do well. Look at the Nintendo 3DS, a successful system that sold millions upon millions of units. Yes, there was the New Nintendo 3DS that was more capable than the base 3DS, but there was also a Nintendo 3DS XL, along with a New 3DS XL. On its face, “here’s a 3DS, but this time screen bigger” sounds stupid, but you know what? I have one. Actually, an New 3DS XL is exactly what I play those games on, whenever I have the itch to pull it back out again.
Before that, there was the first Nintendo DS, the best-selling handheld of all time. That, too, had an XL version which reportedly sold a couple million. So while the OLED Switch might be anticlimactic compared to what prior reporting had claimed was imminent, it shouldn’t be surprising. Nintendo has a playbook, and it largely sticks to it.
And really, what, exactly, would the Switch even use 4K for? Sure, the specs sound nice on paper, but the reality is that Nintendo largely does not produce high-fidelity games that require that kind of resolution. That’s not a dig; Nintendo just tends to make stylized games that do not require intensive graphical output. Yes, some games do push the limit of what the Switch can do, especially when it comes to ports. A more capable system definitely would have been nice. But for the most part? The Switch, as it is right now, works fine.
Nintendo has little incentive to mess with the formula until there’s a danger of dwindling sales, which does not seem to be happening anytime soon. Plus, your average player probably isn’t stuck to their ultra HD TV—they’re likely enjoying the game on the go because that’s the Switch’s biggest appeal right now. Despite having an OG Switch that can output at 1080p, nowadays I mostly play my Lite, which can only output at 720p. Given the option, I willingly go with the less powerful one simply because it’s more convenient. Nintendo knows that its users aren’t looking for power or graphics: if that’s what you want, you’d be playing the Xbox or PS5 instead. If folks are in the market for their first Switch or are considering an upgrade, “larger screen” might be all they need to hear. It’s certainly worked for the cell phone industry.
All that said, I’m still bummed that we’re not even getting better battery life or improved Joy-Cons. Not having to fear perpetual Joy-Con drift would have made the asking price worth it alone. But hey, at least Metroid Dread will apparently sound nice?