Video Games

Why Nintendo’s New Switch Could Be 2021’s Biggest Gaming Disappointment

A pair of hands hold a Nintendo Switch console. On the screen is a boy wearing a red beret throwing a red-and-white ball across green grass.
Nintendo via YouTube

Nintendo’s announcement that it will release a new model of the Switch later this year is not, on its own, surprising. For months, Nintendo fans and so-called “industry insiders” have speculated that the company was readying a hardware refresh of the popular console, which frequently sold out during the pandemic. But months after the initial rumors began to percolate, Nintendo offered little more than pithy nonanswers on the matter.

Until today, that is. Nintendo dropped a two-minute commercial for what it’s calling the Nintendo Switch OLED, referring to its primary selling point: a brighter, more vibrant, slightly larger screen. Starting Oct. 8, buyers who pony up $349.99 will receive a slightly heavier Switch that also boasts better sound than the currently available model. The console dock—which allows the device to connect to a television—comes with a built-in ethernet cable. And it will offer twice as much onboard internal storage as previous editions of the Switch, at 64GB by default.

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This all sounds well and good, if irrelevant to most of us who already own a functioning Nintendo Switch. These improvements are not particularly exciting to anyone but the most completist of Nintendo hardware lovers, given that, as Nintendo confirmed to the Verge, the system itself has no other spec changes. A Switch is a Switch is a Switch—even when it’s a slightly bigger, slightly brighter one.

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Then why are so many people disappointed by this announcement? The tepid, if not outright annoyed, response to the OLED model is the result of months of hype and gossip compounded by increasing levels of anticipation from a notoriously impatient group, ending in a whimper of a conclusion. Reports about an impending revision of the Nintendo Switch have swirled for the majority of the console’s lifespan, including in reputable business outlets like Bloomberg, which suggested that Nintendo was readying a new Switch model with an improved screen, one with smaller bezels to allow for more visual real estate.

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But Bloomberg also reported in March that Nintendo would begin selling a 4K-capable Switch model this fall, perhaps the most emphatically believable of the numerous reports and rumors over the years. (For those less in the know, 4K resolution is the next step up from the 1080p HD resolution you are most used to watching your content in, meaning it gives you a much nicer, very high-def picture.) This convinced Nintendo-heads that the company would at some point release a Switch that wasn’t just a bit nicer than the ones they already have, but an essential purchase. This imagined new Switch could potentially have faster load times and, more intriguingly, output 4K resolution. And while this report ended up being half right—the OLED model has a better onboard display, as stated—the Switch remains the only current-generation console on the market that does not offer 4K resolution.

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That’s a disappointment in and of itself, although Nintendo has long lagged behind competitors Microsoft and Sony when it comes to graphical capabilities. (We play Nintendo games because they are fun, not because they are sleek and fancy-looking.) In 2021, the ability to play or watch content in 4K is becoming more of an expectation from dedicated consumers and standard in most new TV sets. The issue, though, is maybe less that Nintendo is so behind when it comes to the tech and more that so many fans and buyers felt credibly convinced that the company was about to finally do so. There was so much confidence that Nintendo was going to release a new, overall better version of the Switch this year that some folks had even come up with a colloquial name for it: the Switch Pro.

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The vaunted Switch Pro continues not to be, although Nintendo, of course, reserves the right to release one in the future. So too do fans reserve the right to complain and complain and complain in the meantime. Internet forums and Twitter are both rife today with cries of wasted time, unconsummated hype, and feeling intensely betrayed. “Nintendo owes us a better console,” they yell, “after all that time we spent believing the media’s promises that we would get one.” In the words of Philip J. Fry, “Shut up and take my money!”

That’s not how the video game industry works, though there is at least a smidge of legitimacy to these widespread feelings of disappointment, it must be said. During a terribly hard year, it was fun to get psyched up about new hardware to check out and a letdown that the result is pretty uninteresting to anyone but a non-owner. (At least it comes in some sexy new colors!) But the fact of the matter is that our current Nintendo Switch consoles still work perfectly fine, and we don’t have to spend any money for that to continue to be true. We still have new games to look forward to. No one has robbed anything from us. Press A to continue.

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