Examining handheld release dates paints a very different picture from their home console brethren. The Game Boy launched in 1989 and it was seven years until the revised Game Boy Pocket appeared in 1996. While it was smaller and sported a better screen, let’s also remember that the Pocket variant was functionally identical to the OG Game Boy.
Two years later, the Game Boy Color’s full backward compatibility blurred the lines between hardware generations (although it did host GBC-only titles) and would continue to be manufactured until 2003, two years after the launch of Game Boy Advance and just one year before the arrival of the DS. SP and Micro revisions of the GBA meant that production of that particular GB line was halted only in 2008.
Nintendo is likely to channel its more madcap ideas and creativity into contained, Labo-like software experiments while the core console offering remains reassuringly safe and conservative.
And it goes on. Iterations of the DS — the best-selling Nintendo console of all time, remember, with Lite, DSi, and DSi XL variants in addition to the original ‘Phat’ version — were still being manufactured following the launch of 3DS in 2011, which closes the circle on the handheld-only line and brings us back to the intertwining of home and handheld branches with the hybrid Switch.
All of this is to say that, where previous Nintendo home consoles have traditionally enjoyed five-ish years before a successor is launched, the handheld history is far more erratic, with revised models clouding things and a huge amount of overlap between systems. An ‘unopposed’ seven-year run isn’t unprecedented, and Switch’s handheld nature indicates that we should indeed buckle up for a non-conventional handover to a new system, whatever it may be.
There’s also the question of whether Nintendo sticks to the same Switch-style hardware formula for the next generation, though.
Form(ula) and function
Assuming for a moment, then, that the more haphazard history of the handheld line hints at the template Nintendo will follow for Switch’s successor, it is perhaps — perhaps — safe to assume that Nintendo will stick with a console that ‘switches’.
The hybrid concept, and how it differentiates the company’s offering from the powerhouse PlayStations and Xboxes, has proved lucrative and carried the company through trying times for the games industry and the wider consumer electronics sector. Nintendo may have diversified its IP offerings across mobile and other media, with the upcoming Super Mario Movie being the most obvious example of growth outside the field of purely interactive media, but it has still thrown all its hardware eggs in the combined hybrid console basket. The commercial failure of Wii U was mitigated over time by the strong performance of the 3DS line, but that backup doesn’t exist anymore. Simply put, this means Nintendo is likely to channel its more madcap ideas and creativity into contained, Lab-like software experiments while the core console offering remains reassuringly safe and conservative.
Which is fine, if a little unexciting. Part of us really wants Nintendo to do something zany, because that is what sets it apart from other developers. Being able to predict with reasonable accuracy what Nintendo’s next move will be? How incredibly dull!
Still, ask most commentators and gamers — us included — what they want from Nintendo’s next console, and they’ll almost certainly hope for an update that sticks with the essential Switch concept. It fits into our lifestyles, diverse as they are, and it’s difficult to imagine future Nintendo games being chained to a TV like a regular console.
The idea of a simple ‘Switch 2’ is pretty boring and lacks ‘the Nintendo difference’, then, but it makes too much sense to deviate from, even for a company as creatively defiant as Nintendo.
But who can say? Perhaps Switch 2’s Joy-Con will come with vitality sensor holes to slot your fingers in and a holographic projector that will let us play Strategema in tabletop mode, like in that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Despite our love for Switch, we also love a good shot of that patented Nintendo ‘What The—’ from time to time, to help keep things exciting. We hope the next console will have plenty of that, too, even if the base experience itself may be unusually predictable.
When do you think Nintendo will announce its next console? Let us know in the poll below, and leave a comment if you’d like to elaborate.