I will be for ever grateful to the Nintendo Switch for saving my sanity during the two most trying periods of my life: my first year of parenthood, during which I learned to breastfeed lying down so that I could sneak extra hours of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule; and basically all of 2020, during which I was dealing with a pandemic, a six-month-old baby and a three-year-old, and Animal Crossing was the only thing that kept me from losing my entire mind.
After four and a half years, though, the brilliant hybrid on-the-go-and-living-room console is getting long in the tooth. The Switch Lite, released in September 2019, wasn’t so much an upgrade as a stripped-down redesign: lighter, simpler, made for playing on the bus or in bed. And it lacked the Switch’s two most elegant features: you couldn’t play it on a TV, and you couldn’t snap off a controller to hand to a friend for a pub round of Mario Kart.
The new OLED Switch, out this week, really is an upgrade. The screen is slightly bigger and much brighter, making the Switch’s more visually impressive games – Zelda, Mario Odyssey, Metroid Dread – look vivid and fresh. (On a TV you won’t see much of a difference, as the innards of this model aren’t any more powerful, and it cannot upscale for 4K TVs.) The console’s black-and-white colour scheme and robust construction make it feel premium and slightly futuristic.
The kickstand – annoyingly fragile on the original Switch – is now good enough to give you confidence that your console won’t tip over into your lap if you play it on a train. The sound from the built-in speakers is better, though this doesn’t massively matter to me because I usually play with headphones on as I do not want to subject the people around me to Mario’s hoots and yelps, and I want to really hear the creepy space robots pursuing me in Metroid. And now that Nintendo has caught up with the technology featured in cheap Android phones, we can use Bluetooth headphones, too.
Like most people, according to Nintendo’s statistics, I mostly (almost exclusively, actually) play my Switch in handheld mode, primarily because my kids are constantly watching Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures on my expensive TV, so these upgrades feel significant. If you play a lot of Smash Bros online, however, you’ll be grateful for the new LAN port on the OLED Switch’s TV dock, enabling a stable internet connection for multiplayer use. I freely admit that I will never use this, but I know that Smash people care about it A LOT.
I like everything about this premium upgrade to what is probably my favourite games console, even though part of me is disappointed not to have heard any hint of a new machine from Nintendo.
But then, we don’t actually need something new. The past four years have proved that the Switch’s lack of power next to the wildly expensive PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X is no impediment to its success; Nintendo has sold nearly 90m of these things already, more than the PlayStation 3 sold in its lifetime (and much, much more than Nintendo’s previous console, the Wii U), and the library of excellent games continues to grow. It’s the Switch’s ease of use, for players and developers, that is its secret sauce. Until game developers’ creativity is impeded by the Switch’s ageing tech, it doesn’t need to be more powerful.
There’s no real need to buy a new OLED Switch if you’re happy with the one you’ve got. You don’t need it to play new games. But you might very well want it, because it’s gorgeous, and perhaps most of your gaming hours are now spent looking at the Switch’s screen rather than a TV. At more than £300, it’s an expensive luxury for people who already own a Switch (even if you sell your old one to offset the cost), but a no-brainer for anyone who’s been waiting until now to try out one of Nintendo’s cleverest and most popular consoles.