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Forget 4K - the real thing that’s missing from the Switch OLED is a performance boost

Finally, there’s a new model of Nintendo Switch. Except… it isn’t quite what fans wanted.

In classic Nintendo fashion, the announcement of an all-new model of its flagship console wasn’t a major event. Dropped unceremoniously and without warning on a random Tuesday, the Nintendo Switch OLED Model will release on October 8, the same day as Metroid Dread, for $350.

Despite the internet being ablaze with rumour and speculation, including multiple leaks from factories about a new Switch model with an OLED display, this isn’t the Switch Pro that’d been much discussed, however. In truth, it’s an updated version of the main Switch with a better display, stand, and dock - and that’s it.

It’s so similar to the original Switch that it’s still compatible with its dock, in fact (a good thing) - but the biggest change is the screen. Now an OLED, a format beloved by many on the first generation of the PS Vita, it’ll be sharper and better-looking in handheld mode - which should put a real challenge to Switch Lite as the easy best choice for gaming on the go.

Its stand is wider and more adjustable, fixing the single most undeniably crap element of the original Switch. It has 64GB of internal storage, improved on-board audio, and its new dock design adds a LAN port so you can actually enjoy lag-free, wired online play. These are all great changes!

You know what it doesn’t include, though? 4K play, even docked. The OLED screen used for handheld play is also still a 720p display. This is in large part because under the hood, the machine is identical: it has no extra computational power, no extra RAM, and no major technology changes beyond those listed above. It’s a Switch as you know it already, just… tweaked. It’s a facelift. Cosmetic surgery. Skin-deep.

There’s already a whole lot of crying about this not being the rumoured, 4K-capable Switch Pro on social media, and I get it. But, listen for a second: the Switch doesn’t really need 4K. Not necessarily.

One thing about Nintendo’s first-party library - which dominates the platform - is that it scales well and often looks pretty good even when plugged into a 1080p display. There’s a pain in this, too, obviously - anybody who has ever emulated a Wii U game knows just how good Nintendo games can look when you throw more power at them and render them at a higher native resolution - but that isn’t the real disappointment here.

The real killer is that the Switch OLED edition is a more expensive variant of the machine with the same power… when games are already straining the hardware to its limits.

The first game that comes to my mind is Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity - a great game, but also one where the greatest calamity isn’t the narrative one in the title, but the framerate. But, okay - that’s a musou game, and they all run terribly. But then I think about, say, Xenoblade 2, where its sub-HD native resolution is constantly, painfully noticeable, a nasty blemish on a brilliant release. Switch games wouldn’t look so bad at 4K on a large TV if they rendered at 1080p to begin with - but they don’t. Frequently, you’re lucky if they even hit 720p.

This is what I really wanted from a Switch revision. I did, I admit, want an OLED screen - that’ll be a great boon for handheld play. But more important than some magic 4K upscaling solution (potentially powered by Nvidia's DLSS), or exclusive Switch Pro games, I was far more interested in getting a more expensive, more powerful revision that would allow me to play the growing library of excellent games on Switch with better performance.

Too many Switch games run poorly in spite of how good they are when performance is put aside - and while a revision wouldn’t fix that for the millions of existing Switch owners, it would at least offer an upgrade path out of some of the performance problems, like Age of Calamity’s headache-inducing frame rate.

I’m incredibly pumped for the OLED screen. I’m glad of the extra storage. The new kickstand should be great if we’re ever let out of pandemic lockdown and allowed to travel again. And I really love the new, slick white look. But this machine offering no performance uplift for $50 more than the cost of an Xbox Series S is brutal. It’s not a perfect direct comparison, but for $350 you can get a Series S, several months’ subscription to Game Pass Ultimate, and sync a controller to your phone for playing xCloud streamed games on the go. Your phone probably has a better screen, too. It’s a good job Nintendo has such a killer suite of exclusive first-party games and that cloud solutions are still a way off being mainstream.

Basically, it feels like a lot in exchange for a little - but the wrong way around, where the customer gets shafted. Though I hope to be proven wrong when I go hands-on, at this stage it certainly doesn’t feel like a must-own upgrade - but new Switch buyers who plan to use handheld a lot might want to consider this for the OLED screen alone. The real bummer, as I said, is that the Switch’s biggest issue is left entirely untouched by this refresh. Forget 4K - how about letting games run well? Maybe next revision, eh?

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