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Game On: Is Nintendo Switch OLED a worthwhile mid-generation upgrade?

UPDATED: Thu., July 8, 2021

The Nintendo Switch OLED model features a larger and crisper 7-inch display, an ethernet port for faster internet speeds and a wider adjustable stand. On Oct. 8, it will launch alongside “Metroid Dread” and retail for $350 compared to the standard Switch cost of $300 and Switch Lite’s $200 price tag.  (Nintendo Co.)
The Nintendo Switch OLED model features a larger and crisper 7-inch display, an ethernet port for faster internet speeds and a wider adjustable stand. On Oct. 8, it will launch alongside “Metroid Dread” and retail for $350 compared to the standard Switch cost of $300 and Switch Lite’s $200 price tag. (Nintendo Co.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

The announcement of the Nintendo Switch OLED model on Tuesday morning was a big surprise for gamers. Although there had been rumors of an upgraded “Switch Pro” for well more than a year, this new model checks almost none of the boxes anyone was hoping for – there are no improved graphical capabilities, no 4K or even 2.5K resolution nor sturdier joycons that don’t suffer from the dreaded “drift” manufacturing defect.

Instead, the Nintendo Switch OLED features a larger and crisper 7-inch display, an ethernet port for faster internet speeds and a wider adjustable stand. The console’s release is slated for Oct. 8 and will cost $350 compared to the regular model’s $300. The price point is certainly reasonable, but is the upgrade really worth it for anyone who already owns a Switch?

I’d argue no – but, in all honesty, the Nintendo Switch OLED is far from the worst mid-generation console upgrade I’ve seen. Most systems that achieve even moderate success end up producing a second model, and in many cases it’s simply a smaller unit – Sony has done this with every single one of its PlayStations.

The likely reason people expected more from the Switch OLED is because despite all its various merits, the system is woefully underpowered in the graphical department. It’s selling like hotcakes regardless with an estimated 84.59 million units shipped as of March 31. But it’s no secret that many cross-platform games never make the jump to Nintendo’s system, or if they do, it’s many months after the game’s initial showing on Microsoft and Sony’s consoles.

In most such cases, the graphics are noticeably downgraded, which is undeniably odd when the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hit shelves in 2013 compared to the Switch’s 2017 release. Because of this, there’s significant pressure on Nintendo for a much bigger upgrade than the Switch OLED will offer.

But, realistically, Nintendo would have to abandon the entire Switch ecosystem to compete with Microsoft and Sony’s latest offerings since the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 are nearly as powerful as cutting-edge gaming PCs. The entire selling point of the Switch is that Nintendo finally married a home console to its renowned portables – gamers can keep the Switch docked at their television or take it on the go like a tablet.

There’s simply no way the company could produce a small, portable unit with anywhere near the graphical fidelity that Microsoft and Sony are currently offering. Although there’s demand for Nintendo to catch up, I doubt the company has any interest in doing so. Historically, Nintendo has almost never released its console around the same time as its competitors, and it’s served the company well enough to stay in the home game system business since 1977.

There’s been bumps in the road – namely the middling sales of the Nintendo 64 and downright poor sales of the Gamecube and Wii U – but Nintendo has stayed afloat regardless. Gamers might’ve been expecting a mid-generation upgrade on the magnitude of the Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro, which improved frame rates and reduced load times.

But in the past, Nintendo has only lost business when it’s copied the moves of its opponents. Today, the company seems to have found its niche competing yet rarely directly competing with Sony and Microsoft. Like most mid-generation console upgrades, I’d argue the Nintendo Switch OLED is only worth the cost if you don’t own a Switch already.

It’s not my primary system, but I can attest to the Switch being a unique and desirable console – I love being able to take it on the road and play party games with friends and family with extreme ease. The platform has a solid collection of cute and cheap indie games.

And while I’m not a huge fan of Nintendo’s first-party offerings, millions of gamers are – and to this day, the likes of renowned IPs such as “Super Mario,” “Metroid,” “The Legend of Zelda” and “Animal Crossing” remain exclusive to Nintendo’s systems. Just don’t expect those titles to ever go on sale – they’ll always be $60.

If the Switch library appeals to you but you’ve been sleeping on acquiring Nintendo’s latest console, maybe the Switch OLED is for you. And if you already have a Switch but can’t resist grabbing the newest model, go for it – I’m not your mom!

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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