Who Is The Switch Lite For?
By Phil Myth
After weeks, maybe even months, of rumours and speculation, Nintendo have finally confirmed the existence of a Switch Mini. As it happens, the name for this new system is the Switch Lite, and it’s been stripped back of a number of features in the name of portability.
It’s smaller than the OG Switch, with the screen being shrunk down from 6.2 inches to 5.5. The Joy-Con can’t be removed either, with the left hand one gaining a more traditional D-pad in place of the directional buttons as a result. The battery life has also been increased by about 20-30% thanks to a more efficient processor, according to CNET who broke the story.
Unfortunately the added portability comes at a cost. The Joy-Con can no longer be removed, nor do they feature HD rumble. Or any rumble for that matter. Perhaps most egregiously though is the absence of the ability to dock the thing to play on the TV.
US cost is $200. We’re still waiting on official pricing for other locations such as the UK, Europe and Australia.
All of this has us asking, just who is the Switch Lite designed for?
Docked or Undocked?
Back in October of 2017, Nintendo revealed that 30% of Switch users played predominately in handheld mode (meaning more than 80% of their playtime was away from the TV). That’s a not insignificant chunk of the player base who rarely dock their Switch. Still, NOA President Doug Bowser (then Senior VP of Sales and Marketing) informed Ars Techinca around this time last year that the total time played was “about even—about 50 percent in the dock and 50 percent away from the dock.”
Removing the ability to play the Switch on your TV kinda kneecaps the entire USP of the system. It’s a Switch that doesn’t switch. The detached Joy-Con logo seems kind of odd when assigned to the Lite as well.
The lack of these features also cripples certain titles. While Nintendo have been relatively clear that it will play all games that support handheld mode, you still have to wonder how games that utilise HD rumble will fare. The big N used the example of 1, 2 Switch in the reveal video, saying you’ll have to buy extra Joy-Con if you want to play that type of game. That’s all well and good, but how do they expect you to charge them without a Switch to attach them to? By the time you’ve bought a second pair of Joy-Con and a charge dock you may as well just shell out for the standard system. Not to mention the fact that the Lite doesn’t have a kickstand anyway, so being able to pair extra controllers still poses challenges when it comes to actually playing the games.
But what about software that doesn’t rely on HD rumble, but nevertheless features it in crucial ways? Something like Tumbleseed uses HD rumble to great effect and is a key part of the whole experience. That may only be a smaller indie title, but the AAA releases have similar issues too. Super Mario Odyssey has certain Moons that specifically rely on feeling the HD rumble change as Mario moves around in order to locate them. Without that, the in-game instructions are going to be completely meaningless. And this is on a flagship title. There’s a young audience that’s just going to be completely confused by that.
Switch for Kids?
Because that’s presumably who this new iteration of the hardware is designed for. Younger gamers who are breaking their way into the Nintendo ecosystem. Except the pricing doesn’t really reflect that.
As Nintendo Village co-owner Gary Gray said, it would be an ideal system for his young daughter who loves playing Mario and Pokémon, but it’s too expensive a device to leave in the hands of a child who’s likely to damage it through youthful exuberance.
Moreover, Labo - that excellent creation that has had kids and parents sat around the kitchen table together constructing cardboard wonders for hours on end - is entirely incompatible given the Lite’s smaller form factor. That’s a big loss on the software front for the demographic that this is presumably pitched to.
Nintendo undoubtedly want an entry-level Switch to replace the 2DS/3DS (though interestingly Bowser told CNET that those systems aren’t going anywhere yet), but if you’re a parent of a young child, which is the more attractive proposition? A $200 piece of tech or a $79 door wedge that looks like it could withstand Armageddon?
So perhaps it’s not an entry-level device, but a stepping stone between Timmy’s first 2DS, and a big-boy Switch like Daddy’s. This would certainly feed into the ‘multi-Switch households’ narrative Nintendo have been keen to push.
Which Switch Today?
Multiple Switches could be the Lite’s ace in the hole. In the interview with CNET, Bowser seems to hint at the possibility of managing a single Nintendo account across multiple Switch consoles. Specifically, the quote is: “Yes, you will have the ability to transfer between devices, your gameplay experiences. More to come on there, but that is the intention.”
That’s slightly ambiguous, but it does hint at the possibility of being able to access my games and saves on whichever Switch I fancy. Being able to sit down and play Breath of the Wild on the couch, and then slip a Lite into my jacket pocket as I’m headed out the door to continue on the bus sounds pretty cool. The original Switch isn’t the most pocketable of devices, and the added battery life would be nice when out and about.
Of course, Bowser could have just been referring to the ability to move games you’ve bought on your original Switch onto a shiny new Lite if you decided to buy one. We’ll have to wait for that ‘more to come’ before we make our minds up.
Ultimately, there’s definitely a market for a portable-only Switch. A colleague of mine is already talking about getting one because he doesn’t think he’d ever play docked anyway. Him and around 30% of other Switch players apparently. I’ve got a feeling this thing will absolutely fly off the shelves in Japan too, where portable gaming reigns supreme.
Still, the fact that this is a Switch that doesn’t switch still seems peculiar. Not least because it doesn’t seem to be a direct replacement for the 3DS, either in pricing or positioning. It’ll be a hot-ticket item heading into Christmas for sure, though I do worry slightly about the branding. I can envisage a number of confused parents picking this up thinking they’re buying ‘that Switch thing that can connect to the TV’ for a mere $200.
Bottom line though, a more affordable system that gives more people the opportunity to play incredible games like Breath of the Wild can only be a good thing.
What do you think about the Switch Lite? Will you be picking one up, either for yourself or someone else? Let us know in the comments below.
Phil is the co-founder and editor of Nintendo Village, and also writes, hosts and produces P Myth Gaming. He has been a Nintendo fanboy for as long as he can remember and owns every home console bar the Virtual Boy (one day... one day...). His favourite game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.