Nintendo Switch’s Graphics Might Suck — Here’s Why That Doesn’t Matter

Nintendo Switch feature image

As far as the gaming elite are concerned, the Nintendo Switch’s graphics will be pretty bad. But there are plenty of reasons why that doesn’t matter.

If you’re really into your video games, then terms like “frame rate” and “resolution” will probably matter a great deal to you. For PC gamers, playing in anything less than 1080p and with your games running at fewer than 60 frames per second means that your rig is due for an urgent upgrade. Even those who prefer to play on console but have their fingers firmly on the gaming industry’s pulse will wince whenever they’re forced to switch from a game running at around 60fps to one that jogs along at 30.

And they’re right to do so. Especially when playing fast-paced online games, frame-rates matter tremendously, with more frames per second allowing for improved levels accuracy and better control thanks to the reduced latency. If your games look sharper and more detailed, too, then all the better — developers worked hard to get those beads of sweat on your character’s forehead and strands of hair blowing in the wind, so let’s see ’em.

So when news broke that Nintendo Switch, the soon-to-be-released console from Japanese gaming giant Nintendo, won’t necessarily hit either of these performance benchmarks, it set alarm bells ringing for some.

Not Enough Ps

Nintendo Switch will run games in different resolutions depending on how you’re using the console. When playing games on the go using Switch’s sleek touchscreen and built-in controls, games will be output in 720p in order to reduce the strain on the mobile processor. At home with the console docked and connected to a TV, the resolution will be given a bump, displaying games at up to 1080p. It’s those two little words — “up to” — that are proving to be a sticking point for some.

With competitors Microsoft and Sony already pushing for their respective consoles’ games to run in 4K ultra-high definition, Nintendo announcing that Switch — a console that hasn’t even been released yet — won’t always manage 1080p is concerning on paper at least. The Kyoto-based company also recently confirmed that Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a flagship title for Switch and one that gamers of all ages are looking forward to, will be presented in 900p and run at 30 frames per second even with the console docked. While that’s far from terrible, for many serious gamers, 900p is the kind of resolution that they expect a developer to be targeting only in an effort to keep the frame rate high. 30 frames per second, however, is no one’s definition of high.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gameplay

None of that matters

But here’s the thing, Switch isn’t made for hardcore gamers. Or rather, it wasn’t built to tick every box on their checklist.

Even at this early stage, it’s clear that Nintendo is hoping to replicate the success of the original Wii with its new console. Switch will undoubtedly have plenty of titles that more serious gamers will want to play, the aforementioned Zelda being one of them. But, just like with the Wii, Nintendo’s real target audience is the casual gamer; the average consumer who plays games every so often and probably wouldn’t even notice the difference between a game running in 720p and 1080p. Nintendo has recently discovered the enormous potential of smartphone gaming — a comparatively underpowered platform, but one that is growing at a spectacular rate and worth billions of dollars — and knows that it stands to make more money tapping into a broader market than hoping to please those who take their gaming very seriously and who already have plenty of other options available to them.

History has shown that this audience doesn’t really care about things like frame rates and resolution. The original Wii was released just as high-definition TV sets were becoming the norm, but even so Nintendo chose to ignore the industry data and limit its console’s graphical output to just 480p. The machine didn’t even have an HDMI output port. Compared with today’s crystal-clear visual standards, 480p is positively Vaseline-smeared, but the people who made the Wii such a success (and with an incredible 101 million units sold worldwide, it really was a success) didn’t seem to notice, and they probably won’t care that Nintendo’s next console won’t always hit the 108op mark either.

Nintendo Switch at home and on the go image

Wii U Too?

The jury is still out on whether consumers will take to Switch quite like they did the Wii. Indeed, the Wii U, Nintendo’s ill-fated successor to the original Wii, crashed out with barely 13 million units sold to date (roughly 90 million short of Nintendo’s own expectations). But it’s important to remember that the Wii U didn’t fail because it lacked the big-name franchises that were available on other platforms, nor did it fail because its games didn’t look as pretty. It failed because people didn’t understand what it was.

The original Wii required almost no explanation: here is a remote control; swing it around and things happen on the screen. But, as well as its name making it sound more like an add-on than a new console, the Wii U was an awkward combination of a mobile tablet and a home games console. It often asked players to divide their attention between both the touch-screen and the TV, frequently having to display messages on one to direct the player to look at the other. Even when it did allow them to use just the tablet, players had to remain within about 20 feet of the main console otherwise the signal dropped. It’s true that the Wii U suffered from a lack of third-party support, but this shortage of games wasn’t a result of the console being underpowered (the original Wii was vastly inferior to its competitors at the time, but it had an enormous software library), so technical limitations — things like lower frame rates and resolution — are not factors that will make or break Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo Switch multiplayer image

Make or Break

The biggest battle Nintendo faces with Switch is getting consumers to understand the appeal and functionality of its hardware. If it does that — if people are lured in by the prospect of being able to take their home console games with them wherever they go — then developers will start wanting to make games for it. It’s only then that we’ll have any real indication of whether Nintendo will be able to break the curse of the Wii U and return to its former glory.

While hardcore gamers will understandably be disappointed that Switch won’t always run games in 1080p and at 60 frames per second, these numbers alone will have little bearing on the console’s success. Nintendo, as we all know, marches to a very different beat — whether it’s a catchy one is not determined by tempo alone.

Will you be buying a Nintendo Switch? If so, what is it about the console that appeals to you? Leave us a comment below.

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