When the Nintendo Switch launched on March 3, 2017, there was much handwringing and prognosticating about the hybrid machine’s prospects. Before this, the Japanese game developer’s most recent home console was the WiiU, which was an innovative, albeit financially unsuccessful, device. So, perhaps the unease was warranted, but that is not where Nintendo sits today. According to a quarterly report released by the company on November 7, the Switch now boasts 132.46 million units sold, with 2.93 million shipped in their second quarter alone. This gargantuan number places the device as the third-best-selling games console of all time – a position it has only solidified since reaching that benchmark in February.
From nearly the moment the hybrid console launched, though, analysts and fans began speculating on what was next. Rumors and outcry for the elusive “Switch Pro” were in full force as early as 2019, burning many fans as the more powerful mid-gen successor to the Switch never materialized. Though comments from tech outlet Digital Foundry suggest the upgraded console was slated to appear, development shifted late into the process to the Switch’s true successor due to unconfirmed reasons. Nintendo’s coffers may have been sufficiently filled by the success of the console and its software during this generation of gaming, but many feel the Switch is now growing long in the tooth in its seventh year on the market. With the rumor mill in full effect yet again for Nintendo hardware, what factors will play into its release?
The Hybrid Form Factor
One of the more obvious but ultimately important predictions is that the successor to the Switch will be a hybrid console much like its predecessor. Across their decades of selling consoles, Nintendo has shown they are willing to make sequels to their hardware if it is successful enough. After the NES/Famicom sold over 60 million units during a low point for the gaming industry, the Japanese company followed that up with the much-beloved SNES/Super Famicom in 1990. Similarly, the Nintendo DS (Dual Screen) became the second-best-selling gaming machine ever released, with an astronomical 154 million units sold. Nintendo’s encore to the handheld was the 3DS. It initially launched with low sales before it became a relatively successful handheld (75.94 million units) by the Japanese company’s standards. The most recent example of a sequel machine by the gaming giant was the Wii and WiiU. The original became Nintendo’s first home console to eclipse 100 million units sold, but the WiiU faltered to a paltry 13 and a half million sold due to a litany of reasons.
If these examples aren’t sufficient to demonstrate the company’s willingness to release updates to well-liked devices, Video Games Chronicle (VGC) published an article in July of this year stating as much. Being able to function portably or plug into a television-side dock is likely a must, as consumers have clearly shown they are willing to purchase such devices. Other companies have shown their willingness to compete for a slice of that pie as well. With Valve officially releasing its similarly hybrid form-factored Steam Deck in February 2022, it has become clear that there is a growing space for this style of gaming in the industry.
Backward Compatibility and a Seamless Transition
There has been much uncertainty over whether the Switch’s successor will be backward compatible and, if so, what level of backward compatibility will be offered? Recent comments by Nintendo President of America Doug Bowser stated that the company’s creation of the Nintendo Account during the Switch era will “help ease that process or transition” to the next system when it arrives. Considering the Nintendo Account keeps track of the games customers have purchased digitally, a thought among fans is that perhaps the “Switch 2” will be backward compatible for digital games only. While that option cannot be ruled out in its entirety, it would feel like an odd half-measure for a company that has been largely consistent in supporting backward compatibility with their past systems – a notable exception being the Switch. Perhaps the biggest concern among the fanbase behind power specifications, backward compatibility is a must considering the vaunted game library boasted by the original Switch.
This is another obvious point, but it is also the one that likely results in the most contentious debates. The new hardware is guaranteed to be more powerful, as that is the nature of every new console. The question is: how much more powerful? There are new rumors flying around almost daily, but some reports have emerged that may shine a light on a ballpark estimate of the power of the new gaming machine. Andy Robinson’s article from September 7, 2023, states that VGC “can corroborate” Eurogamer’s claim that “Nintendo privately showed invited developers specially prepared tech demos for its next-generation games console,” which included a demo of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild running with improved performance. The Matrix Awakens Unreal Engine 5 tech demo was also supposedly shown. As the current generation consoles (PS5, Xbox Series) are the only ones that can properly run the demo, this would appear to imply quite a jump in performance from the normally power-conservative Nintendo. As reported by IGN in a November 8 article, sentiments by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick in an email released as part of the FTC v. Microsoft trial suggest the new console could perform similarly to an eighth-generation console (PS4, Xbox One).
However, comments by Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa would appear to quash these hopes. As reported by Japanese newspaper Mainichi and other outlets such as IGN in the November article, Furukawa stated that this information “that appear[s] to be based on non-public information” is “inaccurate.” He elaborated that neither the hardware description nor the “demonstration of new hardware at an event outside of Japan in the summer of 2023” was true. When it comes to predicting the gaming giant, erring on the side of a less powerful machine that is used to its maximum capabilities is generally more advisable, regardless. Nintendo tends to price their machines at relatively competitive prices – think $300 for the Switch on launch – while still making a profit on each system sold. For now, it seems fans will have to wait a little longer for official details as the Japanese developer remains tight-lipped about their next console. However, that will not stop those who are ravenous enough from scouring the internet for any morsel they can find.
Days before Furukawa’s statements were made public, Digital Foundry posted a video on their YouTube channel on November 3 presenting the possibility of the “Switch 2” being powered by Nvidia’s new T239 processor. This was inspired by posts on Twitter/X by “kopite7kimi” dating as far back as June 11, 2021, that stated as much. With Digital Foundry’s intimate knowledge of the inner workings of gaming tech, the outlet’s founder, Richard Leadbetter, ventured an educated opinion as to what the console’s SoC (system on chip) might look like: a customized T239 processor with 8 ARM A78C cores, Nvidia Ampere GPU Architecture, 1536 Ampere CUDA cores, a 128-bit memory interface, a file decompression engine (FDE) and a max memory bandwidth of 102.4 GB/s. Leadbetter also stressed that savvy optimization like dynamic resolution scaling can help a console punch above its weight. “That’s a magic ingredient,” said Leadbetter. DLSS (deep learning super sampling) is also a powerful tool that is technically exclusive to the Nvidia platform that uses artificial intelligence to upscale lower-quality images to higher resolutions while putting slightly less strain on the hardware. For more detail on the various terms and intricacies associated with the potential video game hardware, the video posted on Digital Foundry’s YouTube account is titled “Inside Nvidia’s New T239 Processor: The Next-Gen Tegra For Switch 2? “
While these predictions were made in light of recent leaks and rumors, the information presented has not been officially confirmed by Nintendo, and none of these prognostications may come to pass due to any number of reasons. The Sun will return for part two of this series in our next edition as we explore other factors in the inevitable launch of the “Switch 2.”