Why Nintendo Switch won't be replacing your Game Boy

Commentary: The Switch offers portable gaming, but I'm not expecting it to oust Nintendo's other handhelds.

The Game Boy set the stage for Nintendo's handheld gaming dominance.

Photo by Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It was my big question as soon as I learned that the Nintendo Switch isn't just the Japanese gaming giant's new home console. Thanks to some modular wizardry with the Joy-Con controllers and a built-in screen, you can also take it with you and keep playing on the go.

But since the late '80s, the original Game Boy has spelled dominance in handheld gaming for Nintendo. Hundreds of millions of DS devices have been sold. Nintendo's even moving into the mobile space with the explosive Super Mario Run.

But when its shiny new console can also be played away from the couch at home, is that going to cut the legs out from under the other handhelds? My money's on no.

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Price

The Switch is going to cost $300 (£280, AU$470) at launch. Even the top of the 3DS range isn't clocking in that high, and as you move down to the 2DS, you can pick one up for $79. Extra Switch Joy-Con controllers start at that price.

Even with all the Switch's gimmicks shaved off -- and why would you want to shave them off? -- it's incredibly doubtful Nintendo would be able to sell one at anything close to that price, and handheld gaming tends to scream affordable.

Nintendo Switch, are you ready for the world that awaits you?

Photo by Nintendo

Tech

Depending on how you're using the Switch, you'll get between 2.5 and 6 hours of battery life. The top-tier, must-have games (cough cough, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) are rated for around three hours of playtime. In comparison, you'll get six to 10 hours on your Nintendo DS (assuming you're not using the 3D functionality). I'm looking at the Switch more like a laptop. You sure can play games on the go, but you won't want to travel too far from an outlet.

Yeah, the games are going to be far more technically impressive. You get to play Skyrim on the train, after all. But if rumors of the dock boosting graphical performance are true, you'll still be getting the best Switch experience at home in front of the TV.

Games

To follow on from that, I'm not sure I want Skyrim on the go. This might just be personal preference, but I'm a fan of playing different kinds of games on my handhelds. Give me my turn-based Pokemon, my puzzle-solving Professor Layton, my objection-happy attorney Phoenix Wright. I got to play around with the portable screen on my Wii U, and it felt lacking.

Those visually arresting AAA titles warrant a big screen. Breath of the Wild looks spectacular, but I doubt those dizzying landscapes will have the same impact on a 6-inch screen. Give me games designed for the small screen. Give me games designed for the big screen. Just don't shrink something down and tell me it's as good.

Games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild present a test of time for the likes of the Switch.

Photo by Nintendo

Sales

Here's the big one from Nintendo's perspective. Across the full Nintendo DS range, over 154 million devices [PDF] have been sold. That's second only to the PlayStation 2. To compare, the original Wii sold 100 million units and 2012's Wii U sold 13 million units. Based on that alone, it's a fair bet that the DS gets a successor in the next couple of years.

Of course, I could just be clutching at straws. Nintendo has made a habit of porting its old home console games to handhelds, and for the most part those adaptations have been fantastic. But based on its track record, based on Sony and Microsoft still working very hard at keeping console gamers happy, based on the stellar library of handheld games, I expect I'll buy the new DS. And the one after that.