Last week Nintendo officially announced the Nintendo Switch Lite. For several months we’ve heard rumors of two supposed new Switch models. In true Nintendo style, the one people were most looking forward too, the beefed up pro version, wasn’t announced or even hinted at. What we got was the official reveal of the budget model, which was also floating around the rumor mill as well. So let’s talk about this new lighter, cheaper, limited function budget model Switch.
Rather than take the time to specifically go over every detail of the differences between the original Switch and the Switch Lite, I’ll just include Nintendo’s convenient comparison tables across the post. The highlights are the Lite is smaller, exactly $100 cheaper, doesn’t have detachable joy-cons, and can’t be hooked to a TV. There are other differences, but these are the ones that are most noteworthy in the discussion of whether or not it’s worth actually buying one. It also comes in three less than ideal colors with the bonus option of getting the Pokémon Sword + Shield edition at surprisingly no additional cost. But the real question is, colors aside, is it worth buying one?
I love my Nintendo Switch. I’ve had it for about two years and really I have no serious complaints. It’s by no means a perfect console. But other than the lackluster Nintendo Switch Online service, I really couldn’t ask for anything else. There are no region locks or content walls between accounts. Physical cartridges are easy to use, easy to store, and more durable than discs. The ability to instantly transition between TV and handheld play is phenomenal and a feature I use more often than I thought I would. The expandable hard drive space with a microSD card is limited compared to the PS4 and XB1 but quite nice and much easier to swap out than either of the two other consoles. And I can even use controllers from other consoles, including that of competitors, with the help of a fairly affordable adapter. The accessories are way too expensive, but that’s the case for all consoles at this point. In general it’s a great console with an ever expanding library of games, many of which I’m shocked to see available on a Nintendo system in 2019 such as Skyrim and The Witcher 3. And still Nintendo continues to lead the market in both touchscreen and motion controls as it has for the last two or more generations if we’re including handhelds, in terms of both performance and game options. It’s a great console with a high amount of accessibility. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Nintendo wants to expand the Switch’s already respectable market penetration by offering a cheaper option.
There has been a lot of negativity in response to the Nintendo Switch Lite since the announcement. As with all things in 2019, some of the criticisms are legitimate, while most of them are unfounded and show a general lack of understanding about things like target audience and business in general. The Switch Lite is not a debut or flagship product. When judging the Lite there is a correct way to look at it and an incorrect way. First, we need to be brutally honest and acknowledge that this product is not an alternative to the Switch. It’s not replacing it and it’s not circumventing it as a practical budget solution. That’s not what it is and that’s not what it’s meant to be. If you want a Nintendo home console, go out and buy a standard Switch. I suggest a Black Friday bundle if you can wait four months. The Lite is a replacement for the 3DS. And it’s a great replacement at that. And that is how we should be thinking about it. After all these years, Nintendo has finally done what gamers, both console and handheld, have always dreamed of. They closed the gap between home and handheld hardware/software.
As a boy I owned a GameBoy and SNES concurrently. I upgraded to an N64 and a GameBoy Color. Then again to a GameCube and a Gameboy Advance. Then I finally said enough is enough. I’m a home console gamer. I’ve owned many handhelds including the Game Gear, PSP, and Vita. But I’ve always preferred gaming at home. When I look back at all the games I’ve played on home consoles over the years, I literally can’t begin to try to settle on a total number of games I’ve beaten, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the games I’ve played for at least an hour. I’ve owned consoles since the NES. In fact, to date the only mainline home consoles I haven’t owned since the NES are the Sega Saturn and the XB1, not counting half console iterations like the PS4 Pro, of course. I even own a Panasonic 3DO. Console gaming is in my blood. When I look back at all the handheld games I’ve played over the generations, it’s actually not too long of a list. I can’t recall all of them, but the number of total games is so short that I distinctly remember playing Tennis (GB), Mr. Game & Watch Manhole (GBA e-Reader), Pokémon Red & Blue (GB), Kirby’s Tilt & Tumble (GBC), Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku (GBA), and Pokémon Trading Card Game (GBC). These are all different games from different platforms in no particular order. But with the exception of Pokémon Red & Blue and possibly Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku, none of them were particularly spectacular or fairly memorable games in the grand history of handheld titles.
The fact that I remember playing them shows that I really didn’t play all that much on handheld. I can’t even remember specifically playing anything on my NES other than Super Mario Bros. as a kid but I had lots of cartridges so I know I did. The difference is that I’ve played so many home console games over the years that it’s hard to recall many of them after more than 20 contiguous years of gaming. So then I have to ask why I got all those handheld consoles at all if I wasn’t all that into them? I can’t speak for everyone but I know for me and many others it always came down to flagship software. When I was a kid, even if you didn’t particularly want to play handhelds, you had to play Pokémon. There simply wasn’t a scenario where a gamer in my age group wasn’t going to play Red and/or Blue. Many kids got GameBoys specifically to play Pokémon. And that trend has continued over the generations. Sure you may buy other games once you’ve gotten the handheld, because that’s the sensible thing to do. But we usually bought them to play one or two specific games. I had a Game Gear so I could play Sonic the Hedgehog outside of the house. I had a GameBoy Color so I could play Pokémon Gold & Silver. I bought a GameBoy Advance with my own money to play Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku, still one of my favorite DBZ games of all time by the way. I finally decided to stop playing handheld Pokémon games at that point, never got Ruby & Sapphire, and never bought another handheld console. My PSP was a gift from my father, which I legitimately never used. It sat unopened for a year until I finally sold it to GameStop for way less than I could have gotten on EBAY considering it was still in the box. To this day, it is the only piece of gaming hardware I’ve ever sold. And if I could go back and not sell I would. But I still never would have opened it. My Vita, which I still have and carry to work every day but never use and haven’t since before I bought a Switch, was a gift from my fiancé long before we were engaged.
The truth is that the only reason most of the people in my generation bought handhelds was because there were games we wanted to play that for some stupid reason we weren’t able to play on the more powerful stationary hardware we had already purchased. Buying the next generation home console always made sense. It wasn’t even a question. Gamers want to play new games and eventually new games only appear on new consoles. So you upgrade to the next generation once you’ve exhausted the practical use of the current console you own. The last PS2 game I played was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. This was the game that looked and ran badly enough where I said, it’s finally time to move on to the next generation. The last game I played on PS3 was Dragon Age: Inquisition. Similarly, this was the game that looked and ran badly enough to where I finally said it’s time to move on to the PS4. And I will run my PS4 into the ground, playing every game I can on it until games look and run like absolute trash and then I will get a PS5. This is how console gaming works. Handhelds have spent their history, in my life at least, fleecing me to play a handful of games per a gen. I’ve played more Switch games in the last two years than I think I’ve played on any specific handheld console I’ve ever owned. That’s bad money management on my part but it also shows just how unfair software exclusivity really is. And this is why the Switch Lite is such an important development for the gaming industry as a whole.
As an adult, I’m out of the house all the time compared to when I was a kid. As a person who doesn’t own a vehicle, I’m on public transportation more than I ever was as a kid. So you’d think the prospect of handheld gaming would be more appealing to me now than when I was a kid, and it is. So I play mobile games. As I write this, I’m also causally playing the recently released Dr. Mario World. I do play handhelds more than ever before but I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars just to play one game every 2 – 4 years. Conversely, if you prefer handheld gaming and your handheld console has the specs to run a home console game, having to buy a home console just to play that one game is ridiculous. Finally we don’t have to go through that anymore. Pokemon Sword & Shield comes out this year. For the first time in the history of the series, whether you want to play on the go or at home on your TV you can. Your Nintendo hardware will no longer dictate when, where, and how you choose to play games. In fact, you’ll even be able to switch play styles as you play through the game, if you buy a regular Switch obviously. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. I will never again have to see Nintendo put out a handheld game that I actually do want to play like Mario vs. Donkey Tipping Stars, Game & Watch Gallery, or Paper Mario: Sticker Star and miss out on them. All games I never got to play because I couldn’t be asked to invest in a 3DS. That won’t happen anymore and I love that. That’s the single most important thing about the Nintendo Switch Lite, assuming of course that Nintendo is fully committed to it as the future of handheld gaming.
What’s most important to consider is that current Switch owners are not the target audience for the Nintendo Switch Lite. The Lite is $199.99. When I saw the announcement I immediately wanted one and immediately settled on not being willing to pay more than $100 for one. Why? Because the comparative value just isn’t there. I’m a Switch owner that plays predominantly docked or portable in the home. I paid $300, give or take because it was part of a massive bundle, for my Switch and it came with a dock, a Joy-Con grip, removable Joy-Cons, and the various wires it requires. And because it was a holiday season deal it came bundled with a game. A Switch dock standalone will cost you $75 on Amazon right now. A Joy-Con grip will cost you $10. That’s $85/$100 in hardware right there without taking into account the Lite’s lack of removable Joy-Cons, inability to dock with a TV in any official way, and the requirement to purchase additional Joy-Cons if you want to play games that aren’t available in handheld mode. It’s simply not worth it to buy a Lite as an alternative to the regular Switch at a discount of only 33% and Switch owners are painfully aware of that. But like I said, let’s not compare it to the Switch but to the 3DS. The Nintendo 3DS XL MSRP is $199.99, the exact same price as the Nintendo Switch Lite. If you think that’s a coincidence then you’re laughably ignorant or just down right oblivious. Nintendo isn’t trying to sell Switch owners a downgrade. They’re trying to sell 3DS owners an upgrade at the same price they paid for their last gen hardware. And offering them access to the full current gen Nintendo home console library for an additional $70 (the current price of two Joy-Cons on Amazon). You think those built in Joy-Cons aren’t detachable because of hardware cost? Think again. This is how the game is played.
The truth is that I don’t need a Nintendo Switch Lite, but I want one. I would actually love to take my Switch with me everywhere, but it’s too big and too valuable for me to want to carry around all the time. I don’t want to take it to other countries or keep it in my work bag for causal use. But a smaller, cheaper unit that would allow me to play all the same games would be ideal because it would be a handheld that allows me to continue my home console gaming while on the go. This was the great selling point of the Vita, but it had too many limitations. It’s the flagship feature of the Switch. It’s just that the hardware is a bit too big for truly casual handheld use. They’ve already said you can have the same account on two Switch devices and download/play that account’s software on both devices (not simultaneously). That’s exactly what I want. A lot of people are complaining about the reduced screen size but really I wish the device was even smaller. If I could play my Switch carts on something that would fit safely in my pocket and let me use a single memory card that I could hot swap between my docked Switch and it seamlessly I’d buy that in a second. Because again, I’m not a handheld gamer. I’m a home console gamer who sometimes has to leave my home. I want my gaming as seamless as possible and my on the go hardware as convenient as possible. I don’t want to have to carry a bag just to play games on the go. That’s the main draw of mobile games. That’s why the GameBoy was so successful. I took IT everywhere because I could just keep it in my pocket. Especially the much sleeker GameBoy Color.
As a Switch owner, once you get past the specs and price, there are definitely some other serious issues that need to be taken into account. Saves is probably my biggest concern right now. Currently Switch memory cards cannot be hot swapped between devices. You are limited to one microSD card per a Switch. This means that, unlike in the good old days, I couldn’t buy a Lite and then quickly move my cart and memory card from my home Switch to the Lite when I’m leaving the house. This sucks cost wise, but I don’t personally have a problem with buying a memory card for both devices. What I do have a problem with is that there is no quick and easy process to transfer saves between the two devices. If you want to transfer a save from one Switch to another, or to a Lite in this case, you have two options: physical copy or cloud saves. The physical copy method sucks. It requires a PC with a microSD card reader/slot and time. Both things are not ideal for the home console to handheld quick transition that makes the Switch so great to begin with. Cloud saves are a better option but in the same vain, they’re slow. You have to upload the save(s) to the cloud from one device and then download them to the other device. And once you have finished uploading your saves you still can’t leave because you have to have Wi-Fi to access the cloud saves on the other device. So the process is going to take you almost as long as the physical copy method and cost you the price of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to make use of the cloud save function. Neither of these methods are an effective use of the convenience that I’d be buying a Lite in addition to my Switch to ultimately get.
What I need to see is some sort of save beaming system. You should be able to link two systems wirelessly and beam saves between consoles fairly quickly when within a certain range. It shouldn’t require the cloud save function because it would all be done locally from device to device. Basically it should work like transferring Pokémon from Pokémon GO in your phone to Pokémon Let’s Go on your Switch. It takes just a few seconds after the initial connection is made. This would be the ideal scenario for owning both a Switch and Switch Lite. I’d be playing a game on my TV, have to leave but not want to pack my full sized Switch, beam the save to my Lite, and be on my way.
The other serious issue with dual wielding a Switch and Lite is the primary console downloadable content limitation. Like with PSN accounts, a single Nintendo account can be accessed on multiple Switch devices. But only one can be the primary console. You can download and play games to other consoles through the same Nintendo account but doing so comes with limitations. The most troublesome of which being that downloaded content can only be accessed with active Wi-Fi. This is trash for on the go players outside of like Tokyo, Apple’s main office, and Wakanda. Everyone does not have constant access to Wi-Fi all the time and yet companies continue to ignore this fact. You can play downloaded content on your non-primary Switch, the Lite in this case, but if connection is lost the software will be instantly paused and not able to restart until a connection to Wi-Fi is reestablished. Meaning in practical terms that your Lite will be limited to physical games if it’s not your primary console. Like with the inability to use a single memory card for both devices, I can live with this, at least while physical games are still readily available, but it’s not ideal. These are the sorts of quality of life issues that Nintendo needs to deal with to sell people who already own a Switch. These issues don’t apply to non-Switch owners and that’s one of the main reasons I’m afraid they won’t get dealt with properly in a timely fashion. But again, Switch owners aren’t the target audience so these problems only kind of matter in the grand scheme of things for Nintendo at this point.
In my opinion, the Nintendo Switch Lite is a great device for a casual user or a handheld gamer looking to move into the next gen of handheld titles. And even as a Switch owner I do want one. But currently it’s just not worth it for Switch owners because of a few glaring quality of life flaws. I think it has the potential to really revolutionize the way we quantify home vs handheld gaming, which in many ways the Switch already has, but Nintendo has to prioritize convenience and practicality in creating a bridge between the two devices for current Switch owners. What are your thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Lite? Do you plan on buying one?