OPINION: The immediate success of the Breath of the Wild sequel has helped hammer home that power isn’t necessarily what handhelds need to be popular.
Handheld gaming systems are becoming more popular every year. While Nintendo has been launching handheld consoles for a very long time now, the Switch family has seemingly seen interest in portables reach new heights. More brands are jumping on the bandwagon, with Valve’s Steam Deck and Asus’s ROG Ally making appearances in 2022 and 2023 respectively.
Despite all these devices being handhelds, they have very different use cases. The main selling point of the ROG Ally and Steam Deck is that they are basically handheld PCs, powered by graphics chips with enough power to run modern AAA games such as Cyberpunk 2077. Such a high performance comes with a premium price tag, but all in all, this current era of handheld gaming seems marked by the improvement of hardware.
That’s why the continued success of the Switch is such a confusing phenomenon. The Switch was likely always going to be a victorious endeavour, and once the pandemic hit and Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched, it was clear that this device was going to hold a very special place in people’s hearts for years to come.
But now, six years after its official release, it’s safe to say that the Switch hasn’t aged that gracefully. In this new contemporary handheld market, the Switch’s specs are lacklustre, with a performance that struggles to push many games over the 30fps mark and a screen (at least in handheld mode) restricted to a 720p resolution.
Nintendo has made up for this with an excellent game library. It doesn’t always knock it out of the park, but Nintendo owns some of the most iconic franchises in the world. Mario, Kirby, Metroid and obviously, Zelda, are all owned by Nintendo and the company has done a very good job in packing out the Switch with these legendary characters. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe and Metroid Prime Remastered were both well received in 2023, but I wouldn’t say that they helped keep the Switch relevant.
That’s where The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom comes in. This game has only been available for less than a week and it’s already the second best-selling Nintendo release in the UK by revenue, with digital copies of the game selling out within 24 hours. It received a perfect five-star rating from us and has garnered an immense amount of praise during its launch.
With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom in a very strong position to be named as the best game of 2023, it just goes to show that the quality of a game will always be more important than the power of the hardware. The Xbox Series X may be able to offer 4K gaming with support for ray tracing, but it doesn’t have an exclusive game anywhere near the quality of Tears of the Kingdom, especially in 2023 with Redfall seeing major criticism.
That’s not to say we wouldn’t all prefer to be gaming on a Nintendo Switch that could handle Full HD in portable mode and up to 4K when docked. And I don’t doubt that many gamers are overjoyed at the concept of playing Elden Ring and Cyberpunk 2077 on the go with devices such as the ROG Ally and Steam Deck.
But ultimately, one of the biggest advantages of the Nintendo Switch is that if you want to play these new games, you need to buy the console. Nintendo’s biggest skill is building up iconic franchises and getting people to buy the games from childhood well into adulthood. Since the ROG Ally and Steam Deck are actually PCs, and so can’t offer games exclusive to their own platform, they’re unable to replicate Nintendo’s greatest asset.
And so for all the power on offer from the ROG Ally and Steam Deck, they’ll never be able to knock the Nintendo Switch off its pedestal as the true portable king.