Nintendo Switch is its most traditional console in 15 years -- and that's a brilliant move

Nintendo’s most popular console ever made, to this day, remains the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

You know which one I’m talking about — this adorably anachronistic box right here:

Nintendo Entertainment SystemWikimedia CommonsThis is the original Nintendo Entertainment System, which would look right at home in the original ‘Terminator’ movie.

It isn’t Nintendo’s highest-selling console (that honour belongs to the wildly popular Nintendo DS), but it’s the console that made Nintendo what it is today: the Disney of video games.

NES was the platform where millions of people first experienced “Super Mario,” “The Legend of Zelda,” and countless other gaming classics. It also set the standard for game consoles for years to come: a box that connects to your TV, with a straightforward gamepad attached.

Nintendo’s follow-up, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, took the mould set by the original NES and expanded it: more buttons on the gamepad, prettier graphics, and a slightly different console design. It was a major success, but faced competition from the likes of Sega’s Genesis console. 

Then, with the Nintendo 64 and GameCube, Nintendo started branching out. Rather than traditional gamepads, the N64 added a thumbstick (now a standard) and the GameCube had a bizarre gamepad. It was a the first major console whiff (outside of the Virtual Boy) from the Japanese gaming giant.

Still, the GameCube — released in 2001 — is conceptually the same idea as the original NES: a game console that connects to your TV, that you play using a relatively traditional gamepad. The console still occupies a soft spot in the hearts of millions of people all over the world, despite being a sales failure compared with the competition (Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s first Xbox).

Everything changed with the Wii.

The focus was on intuitive controls, using an ultra-simple motion gamepad. Instead of pushing buttons, you could swing the remote like a tennis racket, or a baseball bat, or… you get the point.

Sure, the Wii remote could also be turned on its side and used (sort of) like a traditional gamepad, but that was far from standard. And sure, there was a separately sold “Classic Controller” that resembled a more normal controller — again, not the standard. Regardless, the Wii was a genuine phenomenon; it’s the third highest-selling game console Nintendo’s ever made, behind the original Game Boy and the Nintendo DS.

Nintendo doubled down on this high risk/high reward approach in its follow-up console, the Wii U. Except this time it didn’t work.

The Wii U’s big selling point was a tablet controller (seen above).

It wasn’t intuitive to use, and it wasn’t a well-designed tablet. It felt downright toy-like compared to stuff like Apple’s iPad, plus it suffered from a terrible battery life. The Wii U also had a tremendously confusing name. “Is this an add-on for the Wii?” was a question on the minds of millions, and Nintendo did a poor job of providing a clear answer.

With Nintendo Switch — the new console from Nintendo that’s set to launch in March 2017 — Nintendo’s making a major return to form. 

Nintendo SwitchNintendoThe Switch is both a home game console (left) and a portable game console (right), all in one!

You see that setup on the left? That’s the home console version of the Nintendo Switch. You see the gamepad next to it? That’s a pretty standard gamepad (even if it looks a bit on the square side). 

Here’s what it looks like to play Nintendo Switch at home:

And here’s what it looks like out in the wild:

No doubt these images look familiar.

That’s because, even though the Switch is a new concept, it’s the closest Nintendo’s gotten to a traditional game console since the Nintendo GameCube. This stuff looks downright normal, even. That concept — “We’re making a normal game console!” — was front-and-center in Nintendo’s debut video.

It highlighted how you could take the console on-the-go, of course, but it showed people doing typical video game stuff: sitting on a couch playing a game on the living room TV, or using the handheld while in a plane.

See for yourself:

You’ll notice that the core concept — play the same games at home and wherever else you want — is simple. No confusing gamepad to explain. No motion gimmicks. No talk of “software partners” or marketing strategy. Just a very straightforward pitch to folks who like Nintendo, who like video games, or both. 

And that’s incredibly smart. Nintendo’s strength isn’t hardware gimmicks, or processing power — it’s creativity. Simply put: People buy Nintendo hardware for Nintendo games. And with Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s demonstrating that it understands its strongest asset. 

We’ll learn a lot more about Nintendo Switch in mid-January, when Nintendo says it will unveil the price, release date, and launch games.

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