A Brief Look At Nintendo's Obession With Putting Handheld Gaming On Your TV

By all accounts, the Nintendo Switch looks like the sort of portable-console hybrid that many were speculating about ever since initial rumours about the new hardware first started to circulate.

It's weird to think of Nintendo moving forward without releasing a new, strictly stationary console. For many of us, the first time we ever played any video game was on the NES or SNES, so much so that it seemed perfectly normal to say "I'm playing Nintendo."

But in a lot of ways, the Switch seems like the logical end-point to the way Nintendo has approached hardware development ever since it got into the business. Nintendo's first ever video game console was the Colour TV-Game, released in Japan in the late 70s. The device didn't have it's own screen but it did have controls mounted directly on the console.

The extremely literal title of the machine also indicated a certain way of thinking about the dichotomy between screens and computers.

But if you could mount controls directly on the console, why not the screen as well? The Nintendo Game & Watch tried to do just that. Ever since, Nintendo has jumped back and forth with its hardware, producing dedicated gaming handhelds in-between launching more robust home consoles.

Not content to simply produce machines like the Game Boy and SNES in parallel, however, Nintendo came up with a number of work-arounds to try and bring the two things closer together, connecting them with conversion cartridges and special cables.

The Super Game Boy, released in 1994, made it possible to play Game Boy and Game Boy Colour games on the TV. The SNES cartridge had a port where the smaller cartridges of Nintendo's handheld could be mounted. A second CPU in the Super Game Boy itself was what made it possible to output the games through the SNES to the television they were all connected to.

Example of a Wide Boy setup, via Handheld Museum

The Transfer Pak for the N64 continued this trend, driven by the enthusiasm between games like Pokemon on the Game Boy and Pokemon Stadium on the N64. The final Wide Boy, part of a series of add-ons developed by Intelligent Systems that worked similar to the Super Game Boy, even made it possible look at Game Boy Advance games on a TV, acting like an early prototype for what Nintendo would later do with the Wii U and Gamepad.

But the larger-scale commercial solution to this problem didn't come along until the GameCube. On the one-hand, the link cable connected handheld and home console in order to change how local multiplayer worked. Instead of looking at split screens or limiting every player to the same space, games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures took advantage of the second screen provided by the GBA to give something more closely resembling a modern online gaming experience.

The Game Boy Player, another accessory for the GameCube, functioned more or less like a PlayStation TV, letting people play GBA games on their TVs by more or less mounting a GBA to the bottom of the console counterpart.

Since then, Nintendo backed-off its project to combine these two worlds, possibly in part because the technologies themselves had diverged dramatically. The Wii was focusing on motion controls while the DS and 3DS both featured second touch screens. Lately, however, the two have been brought more closely in-line. The 3DS received its own version of the latest Smash Bros. and can be used as a controller while playing the Wii U version. And of course the Wii U itself functions almost like two devices in one, with the Gamepad and Wii U box effectively offering a middle-ground between all of the accessories needed in earlier generations to achieve a similar result.

So after the reveal of the Switch, I can't help but feel like Nintendo was headed here all along. There's still a lot we don't know about the new portable console, including its battery life and whether the docking device provides extra processing power. But based on all of the features showcased in the initial trailer, it seems like the clear successor to every previous effort Nintendo has made to truly fuse a handheld and home console together. Given the company's history, the Switch might be the most obvious thing Nintendo has every made.


Comments

    The industry, nay, the medium, needs Nintendo more than Nintendo needs it.

    Simple as that.

    A 'home gaming system' as the thing was called in the hours between Nintendo's announcement of the announcement, and the actual announcement itself, is itself a throwback.

    The 'console' as we know it has changed. This happened well before last week though. Microsoft and Sony, literally moving the goal-posts to a point other companies couldn't compete any more.

    Technology has improved, so it's a markedly better space for software-minded teams like Take Two or Zenimax, companies like this can dictate the terms, rather than the other way around.

    If the Wii U 'killed' Nintendo, then we wouldn't simply get Nintendo games on non-Nintendo hardware. (Super Mario Run is not the first game to do this either).

    Instead, we'd see a further escalation of the arms race between two or three manufacturers fueled by another entrant to the already crowded premium software brigade (ie the 'Third Parties' as we collectively know them).

    This would mean we the end users lose out, ultimately. The consoles are not shrinking, rather, they are getting larger and more and more PC-like. We're now being forced to buy more of them, as well. More often.

    The PC eco-system has arguably become simpler, for the same reason - you get your software of choice from that developer's shop-front of choice. There's less and less ownership of what you have in PC games library as a trade-off, though.

    The days of simply streaming games to your box are never going to be fully realised, we should accept that.

    Look at VR, exciting times yes, but nowhere near ready for prime-time. Enter Nintendo, or a company like NIntendo - one that sees a niche and fills it. You're silly to yourselves if you think it wouldn't be able to do it again.

      Were buying more consoles more often? The ps2 went for 13 years, ps3 9 years. Xbox 8 years, Xbox 360 11 years.
      The snes was 13, the wii 7 years.
      Saying 3rd party developers are bad seems a bit off to me as more competition and more different ways of making games and a larger variety of games is a good thing. We don't just hangout for Mario 37 or Zelda 8.
      I'd say the move to a portable system is because that's where Nintendo has generally thrived. The Gameboy was an absolute genius product and it's spin offs. Then the Ds and variations are still selling reasonably well. Where as the wiiu kinda didn't do to well, so for Nintendo these days portable systems is where it's at, coupled with being able to use it as a home based console it's a smart idea.

        We are now buying consoles more often, the PS4 and XB1 came out, and it has been a short run to the Scorpio and PS4 Pro if you want to keep up. This is more the PC mentality where the core compatibility is the same (Windows) but if you want to keep playing games at good quality, you keep updating the hardware. Day 1 software patches, ongoing updates, the need to be online etc. are all making the console more like the PC.

          Do I need to count all the DS variations then.

    And they still snub those of us that would buy a whole system for Pokemom on the big screen. Hopefully this will be fixed with the Switch, but I'm not holding my breath.

      If the switch IS the distillation of both their handheld and console divisions, then mainline pokemon is guaranteed to work on the big screen.

      But personally, i'm hanging out for monster hunter to come back to the TV. The last couple have been awesome, but are seriously hampered by being stuck on the 3DS.

        I've heard quite a bit about that series, but never played it. I'd give that a crack too.

      They've repeatedly said they think Pokemon works best as a handheld title. If they are indeed going to drop the 3DS which seems unlikely, we may get one in the future. But I don't really see that happening.

        That's great that they think it works best on handheld. They can leave the piles of money on the floor. Like I said I wont hold my breath, it just makes me sad and has for over a decade. Couldn't they port it to the Switch though, it is basically a handheld?

        Last edited 25/10/16 11:27 am

    The Switch is basically a souped-up Vita with an HDMI out and detachable controls. I like it!

    I hope that Nintendo do continue with a DS style line of products alongside the Switch. One of the benefits to having that dual product line has ultimately been more 1st party games. So for example, there's only been a single mario kart game released for each console and heldheld going back to the SNES. Having both a line of consoles and a line of heldhelds has meant we would see a couple of mario kart games released within the space of few years of eachother alternating between console and handheld rather than only getting only getting a single version of the game for a console over a longer period. Anyway, time will tell.

      Or they could put all their staff on developing games for the one system. More games, or bigger games. Maybe even more original ideas!

        Sure, I was very nearly going to mention that but deicded I'd rambled on long enough :) If Nintendo came out and said, hey, this move means we refocus all the dev teams in one direction and produce more content for this single platform (original or franchise), then I'm all for it.

        I used Mario Kart as an example because it was an easy one, but there definitely have been cases where we've seen more than one Metroid / Zelda and Mario game released in the life of a single console or handheld and if this moves pushes that further or as you mentioned, produces original games, great.

      Why release two of essentially the same game across two systems, when you could apply the focus and combine the content into a singlular game, which would be deeper and more robust? Plus you don't need to worry about which console you own.

      Either that or they focus both their console and handheld development teams onto the one console, which conceivably would result in a comparable number of 1st party releases anyway. As you say, time will tell.

        Nintendo has been moving to unify their development divisions for years, including spending big on a new building to house it all under one roof.

        The rumours surrounding this hardware is that it IS the nintendo NeXus, the one device which will receive the full first party output. That should definitely help fill out the release schedule, and finally put a real pokemon game on the TV.

        They might keep their options open at first by having the nx as a complementary platform, but the DS was originally described as not replacing the gameboy, too.

    Very cool article but I'm surprised that Gach didn't mention WiiU to a greater extent.
    Although there wasn't an add on for 3DS/DS games (how I wish there was), you could play DS games from the VC thanks to the gamepad.
    They also had GBA games too which baffled alot of people as to why they did this but in hindsight and from this context it makes sense now.

    The Gamepad was a quasi-handheld where you could play GBA or even full sized home console games on it.
    To me the switch looks like a polished WiiU (with a lack of dual screen) blended in with some 3DS.
    So the WiiU was a home console that played handheld games on the TV but blurred the lines by letting you play home console games on a handheld. Meaning this concept has evolved into the Switch.

    Last edited 25/10/16 8:49 am

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now