Nintendo has finally announced the long-rumored revision of the Nintendo Switch that seeks to be focused purely on portability, the Switch Lite, and it looks to be a great addition to the Switch family. However, one common theme I continually see across forums and social media is the question, “Why does this exist?” or “Who is this for?” Well, I am here to say that not only should the Nintendo Switch Lite exist, but it also needed to exist for the betterment of both Nintendo and the game industry as a whole.
Now that the 3DS and the PlayStation Vita have both gone to pasture, there is no exclusively portable platform anymore. Yes, there is the Nintendo Switch, but it has and still is positioned as a hybrid console. However, now with the introduction of Nintendo Switch Lite, a truly portable console has returned! But this time, it comes with all the benefits of the titles designed for the original Switch model’s hybrid design, and also, the potential for more portable friendly games as well.
As I argued in my article discussing the 3DS’ death, being a portable-only console brings with it certain game design philosophies you wouldn’t find on a dedicated home console, PC, or even a hybrid console. In short, the games designed for one platform type are not going to be identical to those designed for another due to the differences in the platform itself. Consider a title like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which demands a high amount of skill and awareness to proceed further into the game, and long stretches of time before finding a safe area to save one’s progress. Having such a title in a portable-only setting likely wouldn’t translate well, as the amount of time one can or would spend in one sitting is far shorter. With this in mind, if From Software was to make Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for only the Switch Lite, they would likely adapt the design of the game to match playing habits, perhaps making the distance between save points shorter, but making those sections more difficult to compensate, as one example. It is this change in thinking when it comes to game design for portable systems that is such an overlooked, yet valuable asset.
Consider any Gameboy model for a moment and the games that were available for that platform. I personally, like to think of the Mega Man series and how it evolved on the Gameboy Advance. Here, a series built off of 2D platforming, completely changed and evolved a portion of its series, to better fit the platform that it was creating games on. Instead of quick, flashy, and demanding 2D action-platforming, it now was a slightly-slower paced—but still action—RPG that used a grid and card (called chips in-game) system to control combat. It had a far more developed story that wasn’t always focused on fighting, and even within the combat itself, it had built-in breaks in the form of drawing new chips. Suffice it to say, it was one of the most portable friendly Mega Man titles ever that I highly doubt would have existed the way it did if it weren’t for it being a Gameboy Advance title.
This is why I feel it’s important that the Nintendo Switch Lite exists; it requires game developers to consider that some who own a Switch might be playing on a portable-only version, and this might encourage them to develop additional titles for the Switch, specifically designed for the Lite. Perhaps we will see unique spin-offs of existing franchises like the Mega Man: Battle Network series, or maybe we will see some more smaller-scale games that we have somewhat seen already with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019), or perhaps something else that we haven’t considered. Regardless of what comes out of it, having a portable-only version of the Switch raises the potential for smaller or portable-focused games to be developed that might have otherwise been ignored.
There is another far more practical reason, grounded in economics, for the Switch Lite to exist—price and cost of development. In the current console lineup, the cheapest modern consoles all come in roughly at $200; this applies both to the Xbox One S and the PlayStation 4 Slim. The Nintendo Switch, on the other hand, sits at $300; more expensive than the cheapest consoles from Sony and Microsoft, but cheaper than their higher-end consoles. This prices the Nintendo Switch out of being an affordable console choice, as both Sony and Microsoft have better entry-level console options with a cheaper price. For Nintendo to compete in terms of affordability, they need to provide an entry-level priced option; this is where the Switch Lite fits in. However, this entry-level option also addresses the problem of the next console generation: cost.
As with most new console generations, cost is one of the larger deciding factors in purchasing a console. With the introduction of the next console generation, those prices get reset, as most will only consider the current console generation when looking to purchase. Because of this, a deficit quickly forms and a need for an entry-level price quickly arises. As the Nintendo Switch exists outside of the typical console cycles and competition, the Switch Lite can easily fill the void of a $200 console for those looking not to spend a lot. On the flip side of this, due to the Switch Lite’s portable nature, and lower specs, it also has the ability to creates a great environment for smaller developers. One need only look at the success of the many eShop titles for 3DS to see that a lower spec and portable system can be a fantastic environment for indie developers to thrive with smaller titles that are a bit more bite-size than traditionally expected.
It is for all of these reasons that Nintendo Switch Lite needs to exist for the good of the industry. If you don’t want it or understand it, that’s fine, but just because you don’t understand why it should exist, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. The Switch Lite fills a newly created void in game development, pricing, and portable consoles left behind by the deaths of the 3DS and Vita, along with a new console generation looming right around the corner. This one variant of an incredibly successful console has the ability to provide the interest and restrictions needed to create an inventive and unique game design environment and market that only an exclusively portable console can produce. The Nintendo Switch Lite can be that portable console.