Nintendo's latest handheld console is one of the most popular systems to date. Released in 2017, the console's appeal has since snowballed enough to make major devs scramble to get their games on it. After a lukewarm reception and gradual flop that was its predecessor, the Wii U, Nintendo took a step that was both safe and risky simultaneously.
Safe, because with the Switch, the Japanese publisher essentially merged their handheld and home console sections into one. After all, their latest system is a hybrid meant to serve as both a portable and stationary device. Additionally, their handheld sectors have always done well. But it was also risky, because coming off the Wii U's failure, third-party support for the console was uncertain. Nintendo has certainly corrected many of these past mistakes with the Switch, but is that enough to ensure a stable future?
The Nintendo Switch tech has begun to show its age despite some surprise showcases
Around the platform's launch period, plenty of gamers and even devs hesitated and raised a brow at the tiny console. Doubts were put forth regarding the capabilities of the handheld, with some people suggesting it wasn't even on par with the PS3 or 360. Since then, hardworking Switch developers and the modern nature of the console itself have done a lot in quelling these queries.
Countless ports of games that wouldn't have been feasible on the 7th gen PS and Xbox platforms blew away fans and drew new audiences to the Nintendo portable. At the same time, it has become quite obvious that there's only so much the Tegra X1 device can do. Many current gen ports often operate at lower resolution, with some even hitting the sub 540p mark in docked mode and 360p in handheld. ARK: Survival Evolved, in particular, has been a disaster.
With beefier competition, such as the new-gen PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X aiming for 1440p and above, sub-HD resolutions definitely aren't going to work out, especially as game engine tech evolves even further. Consider the upcoming Hogwarts Legacy, for example.
The upcoming open-world action-RPG set in a fresh take on J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World franchise is also coming to Nintendo's iconic portable. Games of a similar nature, like The Witcher 3 and The Outer Worlds, have very noticeable concessions made in bringing them to the platform. So, it remains to be seen how Avalanche's newest title will perform on the Switch, though it will likely be around the ballpark of existing ports.
The solution? A Switch Pro
Rumors of a Nintendo Switch "Pro" model have been floating around for a few years now. It's not too surprising given the Mario-maker and hardware manufacturer Nvidia had announced at least a decade-long partnership back when the Switch was simply codenamed "NX". They stated that NX would be a family of consoles, which we've already seen with the existence of the Lite, V2 and OLED models.
So, creating an upgraded system to add to the lineup isn't out of the realm of possibility. To further add credibility, fans merely have to consider the fact that Nintendo has churned out a "Pro" model for many previous handhelds, the Game Boy Color, DSi and New 3DS. Therefore, to answer the question posed in the title, Nintendo is quite likely to be working on a Switch Pro.
The multitude of rumors and leaks around the internet also adds fuel to the fire that is the Switch Pro. From YouTubers like NateTheHate and insiders like Jeff Grubb to people downright in-the-know, there's no way it's still a dream at this point. To clarify, OLED was allegedly supposed to be the Pro, but ongoing semiconductor shortages foiled those plans. Of course, the Japanese publisher has done their part in denying these reports, but as history has shown, they're not very good at deception. At the end of the day though, only time will provide answers.
How strong does a hypothetical Switch Pro need to be to sustain future support?
All things considered, it must be at least on par with the PS4. Sony's 2013 console still outputs decent visuals and performance at 900p/1080p resolutions even in current games. This shouldn't be a tall order given the rumors about the Switch Pro using Nvidia's Tegra Orin SoC, which is easily a step above the PS5's predecessor. Even Orin aside, current mobile chipsets should offer performance relative to the PS4 as we've come a long way since 2015, when the Tegra X1 was first brought into the market.
As of now, the Switch's hardware does not run at stock speeds that the Tegra X1 is designed for, primarily done to preserve battery life. The low portable mode GPU clockspeed results in drastic drops to resolutions in handheld relative to the dock mode. Take the recent Assassin's Creed: Ezio Collection, for example. While the 936-1080p dock resolution is good, the jarring dynamic setup dropping to 540p (from 720p) on occasion in handheld mode is surprising, seeing as that's a 25% drop in resolution.
Without going into too much detail, the current Switch setup does cripple many games' visual makeup. Running the Tegra X1 at stock clocks is enough to drastically improve performance. Check out MLB The Show 22 on an overclocked Switch, the faster clockspeeds allow for higher frame rates and more stable resolutions. This should at least enhance the current games, if not allow new ports that may not have been originally possible.
Whether Nintendo goes the New 3DS route with faster clocks or an overhaul like the Tegra Orin rumors suggest, it looks to be an upgrade as a whole. At this point, the question is "when" and not "if". Given that the tech industry is still reeling from the aftermath of pandemic-induced shortages, things look uncertain. Hopefully, things will ease out by the end of this year. But what is for certain is that Nintendo now understands the importance of third-parties. Here's to hoping that they strike while the iron is hot to ensure this streak continues well until the end of the console's lifespan.