Amidst the swirl of games industry leaks, anonymous sources and rumours over the past few months, one of the most tantalising ones for Nintendo fans has been those of revised Nintendo Switch consoles. For those who’ve been paying attention and biding their time, the Nintendo Switch Lite might be seen as a disappointment, but that’s really not the point of this console iteration. The Nintendo Switch Lite is actually the right move coming at exactly the right time from the Japanese manufacturer.
In actual fact, not one, but two new versions of Nintendo Switch were mooted. One would drive down the price and make the base hardware more affordable, the other would be more powerful. In the end, only the more affordable of these has now been announced, with the Switch Pro console left in the wind, for the time being at least. Those craving increased visual fidelity, higher resolutions and more stable performance in the most demanding of games will have no desire to pick up the Switch Lite, and that’s fine, because it’s targeting a completely different audience: children.
Pokémon is easily Nintendo’s biggest franchise for reaching the younger generation, a reliable bet for parents to pick up and let their offspring soak up hours and hours of monster battling. Last year’s Pokémon Let’s Go games were already huge hit, revisiting the original Pokémon story and region through the lens of the Pokémon Go era of gameplay, but with Pokémon Sword & Shield coming out this year, they could be an even bigger success.
Of course, the business reason is quite obvious as well. Despite setting records, despite racing through almost 17 million console sales in 2018, Nintendo hasn’t actually been living up to expectations and their own predictions. They need to hit those targets in 2019, and the best way of doing that is to lower the price.
And so, to tip parents over the edge, Nintendo are making the barrier for entry cheaper and redesigning the console better with children in mind. The flexibility of the original Switch hardware was a huge boon for the device, letting people consider it both as a TV-based system and one that you can take on the go, and with the detachable Joy-Con making co-op play as easy as can be. The Switch Lite, on the other hand, is all handheld, all the time. There’s no removable Joy-Con (which means that they’ve been able to swap the individual buttons for a proper D-pad on the left side), there’s no fiddly kickstand, and there’s no support for a dock and TV output.
All of these things were potential areas for kids to get stuck in and break things. While sturdy, the Joy-Con rails are a point of failure, the kickstand can be lost, the Dock can be knocked on the floor and sat on until it snaps. The Switch Lite removes a lot of those areas with a friendlier, brighter coloured design – it comes in turquoise, yellow and grey versions. In a lot of ways, they actually remind me of the PS Vita Slim. It’s that little bit more rounded, the material looks a little bit softer, it’s a bit smaller, a bit lighter. Were it not for the modularity of the original model, this would be seen as a particularly straightforward redesign and hardware shrink.
But beyond kids, the Switch Lite has another purpose as a second console for families or households that already own one. If you already own an original Switch with a dock and a few accessories, getting a second Switch with all those gubbins is excessive and artificially ramps up the price if you only have one TV and have found that the Dock spends 99% of its time purely used for charging. I personally play handheld the vast majority of the time, and I know that there’s a lot of others out there that do so as well. A cheaper second Switch that loses all of the fluff is a much easier pill to swallow.
The $199 (and presumably €199/£179) price point might still feel quite high, but to go any lower would be to devalue the original Switch, which Nintendo have kept at the original $299 price. Clearly they think that the price will feel right to punters.
So no, the Switch Lite won’t give you a better frame rate in Breath of the Wild, it won’t give you higher resolution in Wolfenstein: Youngblood, but it paves the way for Nintendo to sell an awful lot more consoles this Christmas for children and people who want a second handheld.