Gaming

Nintendo Switch: Everything we still don't know

Nintendo's next game system arrives in weeks. We've played the Switch, but we still have lots of unanswered questions.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Nintendo Switch is the Japanese giant's next game system, a tablet-meets-console hybrid that's arriving in March. We've played it. We've seen it up close. Nintendo has shared a lot of information about it and its games. And yet, there's still a lot we don't know.

If you want to know about the Switch and everything we do know, read all about it in our hands-on Nintendo Switch preview here.

But in advance of its launch in a handful of weeks, here are the biggest questions we're still curious about. You probably are, too. We've asked Nintendo to help clarify some of the answers, and will update when we hear back.

What will you actually do with the touchscreen?

It's Nintendo's first true touchscreen tablet -- but it's got plenty of buttons. Will there be any apps to make use of the touchscreen? The Wii U, 3DS and DS all used a stylus-based pressure-sensitive touchscreen, while the Switch is going with capacitive multitouch, like a phone. We haven't seen any games that have made serious use of it yet.

Will games look the same on the tablet as on a TV?

We know that the Switch's built-in screen is 720p resolution, but on a TV that resolution goes up to 1080p. So, games should look better in TV mode. But Nintendo also claims that the experience on the Switch or on the TV should feel identical. Will that really be the case, or will some game makers add extra details or UI tweaks in TV-connected mode?

It could make sense, especially since the Switch has touchscreen and could use touch buttons in handheld gaming mode, but that wouldn't be the case in TV mode. But none of the demonstrated games show this. We also know that the dock doesn't have any extra processors in it, but according to a developer at Nintendo's last Switch event, the Switch overclocks in TV-connected mode for an extra processing boost.

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Is it backwards compatible with any Wii, Wii U or 3DS games... or downloadable content?

Short answer: no. Longer answer... maybe? The Switch won't play Wii U games, because it doesn't have a disc drive. It can't play 3DS game cards, either. But it's more murky when it comes to downloadable games. Nintendo has suggested that the Nintendo ID, which previously wasn't capable of cross-platform game downloads, could possibly be used for this purpose on the Switch. But would that apply to only some games, or ones that are triggered for cross-platform?

Nintendo offered some discounts on Wii U downloadable games that you'd already bought on the Wii, and some games like Super Smash Brothers offered bundles of cross-platform DLC content. The Switch is a very different hardware platform than the Wii U or 3DS, and older games would likely need to be ported over.

What about Virtual Console? Will you have to buy Mario 3 again?

Nintendo hasn't hinted at what retro Virtual Console games will be like on the Switch. So far, Nintendo has rebooted the Virtual Console library for each game system platform: The Wii, Wii U and 3DS have different libraries, and buying a game in one won't give it to you in another. But hopefully, maybe, Nintendo will revisit that idea. Or, perhaps, offer a way to get retro games in a bundle or subscription package. After all, the Switch should at least try to satisfy the NES Classic crowd.

Why are there so few launch games?

Nintendo's official list of Switch games is pretty sparse, with about 12 games arriving in the first few months. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the main one, with party game 1-2-Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Arms being the other notables. Nintendo's only other big-name games on the calendar for 2017 are Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey.

Third-party games look like a mixed bag, with a lot of TBD release dates. Developing for the unique controllers and design of the Switch might be something that takes time for developers to get onboard with. Don't expect a flood of classic games... yet.

How powerful is that Nvidia Tegra processor inside, exactly?

Eurogamer -- which totally called that Switch would have detachable controllers and an Nvidia Tegra chip inside -- did a great job explaining just what that Tegra chip could be capable of. TL;DR: More powerful than the PS3 and Xbox 360, less powerful than the PS4 and Xbox One. Remember, Nintendo systems don't always push graphics horsepower: The Wii was about as graphically powerful as the GameCube.

What's the wireless range of those side controllers?

We're guessing not very far. The Switch comes with two tiny button-studded wireless controllers that slide out from the sides of the tablet and detach. Each has motion controls and vibration, and work like tiny Wii remotes. And they charge up with their own internal batteries. But each time they're used, from the demos we've tried, they're relatively close to the tablet, maybe a few feet away.

What will the Switch paid online service be like?

To play Switch online with others, you'll need a paid subscription online service. That's a first for Nintendo. But what does that service offer? We know it will allow voice chat and one free game download per month of a retro SNES or NES game, and that the service will start out free before switching to a paid model later in the year. But we know little else, including price.

Nintendo's official page says the service will be necessary for online gameplay, using the online lobby and voice chat app, will give you "exclusive deals," and that free game download will be a specific rental that expires each month (as opposed to PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold, which let you keep them). Nonsubscribers will still be able to "register and manage friends," share screenshots via social media, and use the eShop.

Will it also stream videos like Netflix and YouTube, or have other tablet-style apps?

Nintendo says there won't be streaming apps at launch, but they're coming. We just don't know which ones. Nintendo won't confirm any other apps or services. Nintendo isn't planning on the Switch being a tablet, but... it is a tablet. And having apps that extend its use beyond games, especially streaming apps, is expected at this point. Even the Wii U had Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.

What is confirmed: Nintendo will have an eShop for the Switch, and an "Album" app will be able to capture game screenshots and share via social networks.

What operating system is it running?

Great question. Nintendo typically rolls its own operating systems, and it probably will again, since purpose-built software is often more reliable and efficient. Or, it could be Android under the hood -- maybe a very, very lean, modified build of Android like the one Amazon uses on its tablets.

The Switch supports microSD cards, but how large are game files?

The Switch has 32GB of internal storage ("a portion of which is reserved for use by the system," Nintendo says), and an extra microSDHC or microSDXC card can be added to expand storage. But we don't know what game file sizes are like. What size will a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild be? The Wii U and 3DS allow games to be deleted and redownloaded as needed from the eShop.

Will third-party developers actually support the Switch? They sorta abandoned the Wii U.

But remember, they didn't abandon the 3DS. Count the number of successful portable game systems where users will pay $30-$40 for a game, and you'll only find Nintendo. That's a revenue stream that's tough for developers to ignore. A Who's Who of major game publishers have already signed up, including Activision, Bandai Namco, Bethesda, Capcom, EA, Konami, Square Enix, Take-Two, Ubisoft and Warner Bros. Of course, that also happened to some degree with the Wii U. But the very short list of launch-window games for the Switch suggests you might have to be patient.

nxpartners.jpg

Some of the partners developing for Nintendo Switch already.

Nintendo

How will Switch work with mobile devices?

Nintendo has promised a "smart device" app coming in summer 2017 that will connect with friends and be part of an online service that will offer voice chat and more. But will that app be necessary to connect to Switch games online, or be a second-screen accessory while using the system, like a mobile dashboard? It would be a smart idea when the Switch system is docked in TV mode, in which case a phone or tablet could maybe become a bit like the second screen of a Wii U GamePad. But Nintendo hasn't offered any further details yet, or what specific devices the app will run on.

Is your body ready?

Always.

Update, January 26: Added new information. The 0riginal story was published October 21.

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