Nintendo Switch: Our 21 top unanswered questions

We're about to hear more about Nintendo's upcoming game system. Here's what we still want to know.

The Nintendo Switch is Nintendo's next game system, a tablet-meets-console hybrid that's arriving March 2017. Earlier this year, Nintendo revealed the Switch in a teaser video, showing bits of information about how it looks, and how it can play games -- but left us with a host of burning questions unanswered.

On Thursday, January 12 at 8:00p.m. PT, Nintendo will unveil the system in all its glory (you can watch right here) and hopefully put those questions to rest. CNET will be playing the Switch extensively during sessions in London and New York, too. But if you're tuning in ahead of the reveal, here are the things we're still dying to know about Switch.

How much does it cost?

Nintendo hasn't said anything yet. The Wii U cost $300 in the US when it debuted in 2012, and the Nintendo 3DS cost $250 when it debuted in 2011. Target and Toys R' Us leaks have also suggested it could be one of those two prices, but we don't know for sure.

What comes bundled with it, and what will be sold separately?

We're not sure! Nintendo could open up a whole sliding scale of bundles with the Switch: maybe there's a core tablet, separately-sold controllers and a dock. Or maybe they come bundled for a slight discount. That could be where the Nintendo Switch rides a sliding scale from affordable to expensive.

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How large is that display, and what's the resolution?

Nintendo's official answer to CNET: "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." But reports say the Switch tablet has a 6.2 inch, 720p display.

In the video, the Switch looks slightly larger than a PlayStation Vita, which has a 5-inch, 960x544-pixel resolution screen. The Wii U GamePad has a 6.2-inch, 854x480 screen. The Switch could ride somewhere in between -- but we'd expect 1,280x720 (720p) or 1,920x1,080 (1080p) resolution since the Switch also outputs to a TV, where those resolutions are standard.

Does it have a touchscreen?

Nintendo's official answer to us was the same as the last question. We sure hope so, but the Switch video and Nintendo's press release oddly omit any mention of touch -- and, likewise, any sort of stylus like the one found on the 3DS (see below). The Switch couldn't possibly avoid having a touchscreen...or could it? (Our bet is that it is touch-enabled, but it's not necessary to use it...and reports suggest it's got touch.)

What about the battery life? In the video, that one guy takes it on a plane.

See above.

OK, what games can you play on it?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first official Nintendo game for the Switch, and we know Just Dance 2017 and Project Sonic 2017 (yes, Sonic the Hedgehog) are coming as well. Plus, the trailer shows Super Mario, Mario Kart, Splatoon, a basketball game/ and a sprawling adventure title that could be Elder Scrolls (think Skyrim).

Does that sizable dock have any extra graphics processors hidden inside?

Oooh, now there's an idea. If we recall correctly, Nvidia once showed off a reference board that paired a Tegra mobile processor with a GeForce desktop graphics chip. These days, Tegra processors use the same GeForce graphics cores, and graphics docks definitely exist, so it's not a stretch to think that Nintendo might split some of them off into the docking station.

That said, Nintendo has since confirmed to IGN that the dock's only purpose is to charge the main tablet unit and output a signal to a TV. We may not know all the deep technical details, even after Nintendo's live-streamed event.

Perhaps games will have more basic graphics on the go, and better ones once you dock it.

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

Three possibilities: 1) Yes, but the graphics aren't great. 2) Yes, but the Switch's processor chews through battery. 3) No.

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

That'd be great, but don't count on it. First off, there's clearly no place for big Wii and Wii U optical discs. Maybe 3DS cartridges would fit -- but Nintendo has telegraphed heavily in interviews that the Switch would be a new platform, something "unique and different" that wouldn't replace Wii U or 3DS.

Plus, recent Nvidia Tegra chips (featured in the Switch) run on a totally different processor architecture than the Wii U and 3DS. It's not impossible to make them work in an emulator, but it might be difficult and costly.

Nintendo's official answer to us (stop us if you've heard this before): "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."

Update: Long-running Japanese game publication Famitsu has the official answer: According to Nintendo, the Switch won't be compatible with Wii U discs or 3DS cartridges, because it's not a Wii U or 3DS successor. (Their words, not ours.) That doesn't completely rule out downloadable content, but it doesn't sound likely.

Do all games work exactly the same in both mobile and docked modes?

Nintendo gave us an answer (!) on whether all games work in both modes: "Yes. By simply lifting Nintendo Switch from the Nintendo Switch Dock, the system can instantly transition to portable mode, and iconic Nintendo franchises, as well as a strong lineup of third-party games, now travel." It wouldn't be Nintendo's style to cordon off some games for one mode or the other. This is the same company that banned games for the 3DS that actually required 3D to play. But will they work exactly the same, all modes and graphics intact? If the system can enable mobile and TV-docked modes to work identically, that would be impressive.

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 PS3 and Xbox 360, less powerful than PS4 and Xbox One. Remember, Nintendo systems don't always push graphics horsepower: the Wii was about as graphically powerful as the GameCube.

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.

Does it have a stylus?

Not that we've seen, but we've only seen the top, left and right edges of the system. Plenty of room for a stylus to be hiding in the bottom of the tablet (likely) or in the controller region (less likely). Still, we'd put our money on a multitouch screen instead of a stylus. Now that Nintendo is embracing the iPhone and iPad, it'd be weird if you couldn't play the company's touchscreen games on its very own tablet. But if there's no stylus, backwards compatibility with 3DS/DS and some Wii U games could be a challenge.

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Can it be used for other tablet-style apps?

Maybe, if it's got a touchscreen or stylus, but Nintendo typically sticks to games. But think: how much success has Microsoft had running Windows apps on the Xbox? Odds are, however, it'll at least run a few. The 3DS and Wii U both have Netflix, for example.

How does it keep the side controllers from falling off?

It looks like you press a button on each side, but it's not clear which one, or how you'd avoid pressing it while playing. Trust Nintendo to figure that stuff out, though. Nintendo has said that the Joy-Con controllers can work when slid into the system, detached and held in both hands wirelessly, slid into a separate Grip accessory, or split between two players wirelessly while playing one game.

What's the wireless range of those side controllers?

We're guessing not very far. Each time they're used, they're really close to the tablet. In the TV setting, it looks like everyone uses a different gamepad, or the full side-controllers-plus-center-dock combo.

Do I have to buy yet another proprietary game cartridge?

Nintendo's official response to this, when asked: "We are calling it a 'Game Card.' We will discuss the specs of Nintendo Switch at a later date." We've only seen one picture so far, and it looks an awful lot like a 3DS cartridge, not a standardized SD card. And since Nintendo always changes up cartridges so you don't accidentally stick them into earlier systems, yep, it's pretty likely to be a new sort. Still, cartridges are way better than discs, and every recent Nintendo system has let you download games to an SD card instead of outright buying them.

Will third-party game 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.

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Some of the partners developing for Nintendo Switch already.

Photo by Nintendo

Will I still need to swap a ridiculous 12-digit code with people in order to play multiplayer games?

There will be rioting in the streets. Even Nintendo can't print that much money.

Will the Switch support Nintendo's Amiibo characters?

According to Nintendo's reply to IGN, the answer is "yes." (Read our feature about Amiibo here.)

Is your body ready?

Always.

Updated January 12 at 10:18a.m. PT ahead of Nintendo's fuller reveal. Original story published October 21.