The Nintendo NX is now called the Nintendo Switch, and many of the upcoming game system’s rumored capabilities have been confirmed by way of a peppy reveal video posted this morning. However, while the video showed happy people carrying the new home/portable hybrid system around and playing games on planes, at parties, and with friends, it also failed to show anybody doing something largely expected from a modern, handheld screen: touching it.
Does this mean the system’s primary, portable screen does not support touch? Ars sent that question directly to Nintendo of America and received this statement as a response: “We have nothing to announce on this topic. We will make additional announcements about the Nintendo Switch hardware later, before the launch of the product.”
Peculiar, right? It doesn’t bode well for touch functionality on the Switch, nor does the fact that Nintendo could have easily inserted a half-second moment of its video’s gamers tapping the thing even once. That didn’t happen. Does this mean the Nintendo touch era is over?
Blame the dock
At least in terms of console gaming, the answer appears to be “yes.”
The Nintendo Switch advertisement doesn’t show anybody using touch controls because of one apparent mandate for games on the system: that they function even if the system’s giant screen is docked to a TV.
The system’s main board will reside inside of the screen unit, designed so that people can grab their game in progress and keep playing it on the go, without pausing the action for an instant. As the video demonstrates, one gamer grabs the screen so that he can feed his Zelda habit while walking his dog.
But unlike the DS, 3DS, or Wii U, this isn’t a multiscreen system. In this video, when the Nintendo Switch is attached to a television for bigger-screen play, the portable screen shuts off, and play is redirected to whatever screen is hooked into the Nintendo Switch Dock.
With this use case, every Nintendo Switch game will have to support controls for players who don’t have a screen in their hand. Even if the Nintendo Switch launches with some sort of surprise touchscreen functionality, game makers will have to accommodate players who want to lie back on the couch with either the new Joy-Con pads or the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, which resembles the Wii’s Classic Controller Pro line.
The lack of dual-screen functionality is curious, considering that the Nintendo Switch otherwise resembles a Wii U—as in, a system that revolves around a giant, portable screen surrounded by buttons. The difference, of course, is that the Switch’s controllers pop off for easily sharable gaming on the go or for playing without a screen in hand. Perhaps in Nintendo’s eyes, sharing a relatively small portable screen with a friend is already cramped enough. Having one of those players smother the screen with their fingers wouldn’t help matters.
And if Nintendo really wants this system to be used on the go and shared with friends, it might be silly for games to include touchscreen functions that only work when a second screen is around.
End of the touch-and-waggle era?
Some of Nintendo’s most clever games of the past 12 years have shined specifically because of touchscreen controls. If touchscreen gaming isn’t an option on the Switch, that era will be over for Nintendo, all but ceded to Apple and other smartphone and tablet makers. Based on statements made to shareholders, Nintendo is aiming to direct both its portable and home development efforts toward the Nintendo Switch from here on out. (Meaning, no “4DS” portable hardware appears to be looming.)
The only exception, then, is Nintendo’s choice to finally embrace smartphone platforms, which began with the disappointing Miitomo but should absolutely explode once Super Mario Run launches in December. Touch-friendly series Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem are expected to land on smartphones next year, and the Nintendo Switch’s possible touch abandonment could mean more good, Nintendo-made touchscreen games coming to smartphones.
Some touchscreen functions may very well emerge on Nintendo Switch in the coming weeks or months. After all, every rumor and speculative post about the system seemed to unanimously agree that touch was coming. Capacitive touch sensors can be had for terribly cheap if produced at scale, so the amount of money saved by removing those touch panels doesn’t seem significant, and they might support finger taps to, say, get around the system menus (a la the 3DS and Wii U). Maybe Nintendo will go so far as to advertise mobile-only games and apps for the device, so as not to constrain indies and app makers who rely on touch interfaces.
But the system’s TV dock requirement is pretty telling. This won’t be a giant remote control for your favorite video-streaming apps, for example. What’s more, the big gimmick on display with Nintendo Switch isn’t about how you interact with your games; it’s how you can more easily take, play, and share them wherever, with whomever. No waggle, no touch, no heart-rate sensor, and no other input gimmickry.
Listing image by Nintendo