Saturday, January 25, 2020

Nintendo Switch Lite

By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

In 1983 the video game industry crashed. In 1985 Nintnedo was practically giving the NES to retailers. In order to get customers to even consider buying the NES it was marketed not as a video game console but as a toy. As a result of this marketing the widely accepted perception was that while yes video games were making a bit of a comeback they were really only for kids. As the story goes in 1979 Gunpei Yokoi saw a businessman on a train playing with an LCD calculator to pass the time, this observation birthed the game and watch series of products. In 1989 the natural evolution of the game and watch came to fruition: the Gameboy, a handheld portable console with the capability to play interchangeable cartridges. Suddenly video games were still for kids but with more and more adults from all walks of life playing they were more for the kid within us all. The Switch Lite iterates on and better realizes Nintendo's concept of a home console on the go than its predecessor, despite its reduced feature set the Switch Lite offers up a handheld experience that is so far superior to its larger counterpart that it has me and I'm sure thousands of other people experiencing that reconnection with yesteryear in a way not seen since 1989.

Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Earlier this year I got what is the most Gameboy like successor to the Gameboy that there has been since the original Gameboy Advance and in a way that I was absolutely not expecting it's so much better than I ever could have hoped. So lets talk about the Nintendo Switch Lite.

In the mid aughts companies that were making personal electronics made a huge leap in industrial design turning those products we remember as gigantic hunks of plastic into the sleek aesthetically pleasing handhelds we know today. Granted the transition from something like the Gamegear to the Galaxy Note 10 didn’t happen over night. The two products that I personally credit as being the catalyst for the shift in design are the iPod and the Gameboy Advance SP. These two products changed portable devices from toys into consumer electronics. The sleek form factor, high quality build materials, and muted more mature colors proved to be trend setters that still dictate design choices in the products we use most today. The Gameboy Advance SP served as a precursor to the DS and more importantly the DS Lite which is the era in which Nintendo handheld's started to feel more grown up and adult, a stark contrast to the bright colors and child like wonder brought on by the software they ran.

In a way the DS serves as the point of separation for Nintendo handhelds. Design emphasis' shifted from fun and exciting to focused and refined. To be clear Neither of these are a bad choice just radically different. Gone were the default fun and wild colors and in their stead was the standard silver, black, and white. Gone was the slab design proudly displaying the pinkish buttons and the words "Nintendo Game Boy" below the screen for everyone to see, Nintendo instead opting for a sleek clamshell design with a subtle DS logo made up of two rectangles being the only visible branding when closed. Our world was more on the move than ever with new technologies allowing people to be constantly working from anywhere they chose. Times had changed and Nintendo was changing with them.

So for the last 14 years we've dealt with business Nintendo. The GBA SP and original DS were both introduced to the world in silver, the standard DS Lite was a bright white very reminiscent of apple, and since then there have been different more varied colors presented as the default but nothing even close to the days of the atomic purple Gameboy Color, Indigo Gameboy Advance, and Spice Orange Gamecube. While there was a hint of those bright colors at the launch of the original switch with the neon joycon they were still attached to the drab black system. The Switch Lite harkens back to the Gameboy in so many ways. A slab design with controls on either side of the screen reminiscent of the Gameboy Advance, unapologetically in your face color options like those of the Gameboy Color, and contrasting bright white buttons and control sticks all make the Switch Lite almost more of a successor to the original GBA than it is to the Switch.

For a long time now personal electronics have been about getting work done and have been designed in a way that communicates that. For an even longer time Nintendo has been a company focused on making games and creating fun but with the acceleration of mobile work being done I think they felt pressure to disguise their gaming devices as something that at a glance could be some sort of productivity tool. Well I am happy to say the Switch Lite took that design mentality and threw it out the window. The Switch Lite is shamelessly a toy. It comes it two bright colors and one more muted boring one, the rugged plastic features a nice matte finish that is resistant to scratches and scuffs but when it does get them wears them like a badge of honor rather than a blemish to be hidden away. The Switch Lite is tough, where I would always put my standard Switch in a case when leaving the house I didn’t even bother to buy a case for my Switch Lite. And doing away with the hinge from the DS family makes it feel less sophisticated and infinitely less delicate than any of those except of course the 2DS.

Hardware wise the Switch Lite is almost identical to its older brother to a fault. Internally you'll find the exact silicon, and a similar battery but unfortunately the same joystick module as the joycon which has already led to reports of joycon drift in a device without detachable joycon's. You'll also be hard pressed to find the hardware used to output the image from the Swtich to a TV via a standard docking unit making this particular iteration of the Switch a handheld only device. I'm still holding out hope for some sort of pro dock that implements the docking hardware for the Lite and some sort of upscaler or anti aliasing hardware for all switch models that can be sold in lieu of a switch pro. So in handheld mode the Switch lite performs admirably. Actual game performance is indistinguishable from that of the standard switch and battery life is slightly better than in the original switch, surely a result of the smaller screen). Overall the Switch Lite feels so good to play on and is so much more of an appropriate size for a handheld game system it just makes the form factor of the standard Switch both look and feel like a prototype that should have never come to market whereas the Lite feels like a finished product.

For years Nintendo has had both home console and handheld offerings. In 2017 Nintendo released the Switch and pitched it as the successor to the Wii U saying they would continue to support the 3DS. Two years later the 3DS is all but dead and being replaced by a handheld only Switch. The Switch was never the successor to the Wii U it was just Nintendo finally achieving what they have been working towards for literally decades: having a handheld offering with the capability to play it on the TV.

Since the introduction of the PlayStation in 1994 Nintendo has struggled with the home console market. With the exception of the Wii they haven't been able to come out on top of a home console generation since the SNES but while they've struggled in the living room they've been the undisputed champ of handhelds. So it's only natural that Nintendo tries to prune the branches of their business that are struggling and focus on the one that has always been dominant. First there was the Super Gameboy, then a similar product for the N64, during the GameCube era they sold the Gameboy player to wild success, and the Wii U was arguably a proof of concept for the Switch. Nintendo has slowly been working towards merging the two branches of their business into one and finally achieved it with the Switch. But after the introduction of the Switch the question remained on everyone's mind: is this the start of the ninth generation of consoles nearly four years early or is it the next generation of handheld? In my mind the Switch Lite answers that question.

I have always played my Switch almost exclusively in handheld mode but the complete exclusion of the docked mode from the Switch Lite says to me that Nintendo thinks of the Switch first and foremost as a handheld device. Which makes much more sense if you think about it contextually with regard to the timing of everything else. The 3DS was a massive success selling more than 75 million units worldwide making it a prime candidate for a successor and being released in 2011 was due for one. The Wii U was introduced one year earlier than the Xbox One and the PS4 yet was being replaced four years earlier than those? And for two full console generations now Nintendo has seemed unconcerned with competing in the same way that Sony and Microsoft do. The transition to being a handheld only company has been a long time coming and the Switch Lite solidifies that being one of their best handheld offerings to date.

Switch brought Nintendo back into everyone's mindshare by offering a handheld secondary gaming experience that was marketed at adults as opposed to children. Switch Lite takes the work done by the Switch one step further and not only solidifies Nintendo's existence as a handheld gaming company but also takes cues from the Gameboy family and isn't afraid to present itself as what it is: a toy. Throughout the eighties and nineties and even into the early aughts Nintendo built a reputation as a whimsical toy company on par with Disney, but as they moved along with trends they seemed to, at least on a the hardware side, lose their sense of identity. The Switch Lite is Nintendo in full force embracing their roots and owning who they are: the best god damn toy company in the world.

Did you buy a Switch Lite? If you did let me know what color you chose and why in the comments down below. If you didn’t I'd like to know what's holding you back. If you liked what you heard don’t forget to subscribe while you're down there so you don’t miss any of our video essays or podcasts every week. You can see everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at I'll be back next week talking about the Goose that has taken the gaming world by storm so until then just go play some games.

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