Will a New Nintendo Console Meet Fan Expectations?

Your upgrade is in another castle

Key Takeaways

  • A new Nintendo Switch console is almost certainly in the works, but expect a late 2021 release at the soonest.
  • The Nintendo “Switch Pro” may not deliver the major leap in graphics performance that fans are expecting.
  • A new Switch console, when it does arrive, will likely be tied to release of a hot new first-party game like Breath of the Wild 2.
Rick Gonzalez checks out 'Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening' for the Nintendo Switch system during the 2019 E3 Gaming Convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
John Sciulli / Getty Images

Nintendo’s long-rumored Switch Pro didn’t materialize in 2020 despite a constant barrage of rumors, but that hasn’t dampened analyst expectations that a new Nintendo console is on its way.

2020 was an outstanding year for Nintendo. The Switch dominated sales charts throughout the year, driving the company’s stock price up 60 percent by year’s end. Nintendo’s superstar console is closing in on its four year anniversary, however, and is starting to show its age.

"Where we are in the Switch lifecycle—almost 4 years since launch—we are hitting peak sales, and it is a good time to consider releasing an improved version to maintain momentum," Piers Harding-Rolls, Head of Game Research at Ampere Analysis, said in a Twitter DM with Lifewire.

It’s Time for a Refresh, but How?

Dr. Serkan Toto
, CEO of Kantan Games, agreed, saying over LinkedIn that, "I think four years after the launch of the original model, it is now indeed time for a refresh." He added that, "According to the Nintendo president himself, the Switch is in the middle of its life cycle now, so a new model coming soon would make sense from that perspective."

Michael Pachter, a Research Analyst at Wedbush Securities, was more conservative. "It’s a close call," he told Lifewire in an email. "Nintendo doesn’t 'need' a new model, since the current Switch is selling so well." 

Someone playing Fortnite featuring Travis Scott Presents: Astronomical.
Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Pachter thinks a new Switch model is likely to replace the existing Switch, rather than adding a new option above the current model. Assuming that’s true, the strong sales of the current Switch means Nintendo doesn’t have to rush a replacement.

He didn’t completely discount the possibility of a more expensive Switch slotting in above the current model, however, saying "If I’m wrong, they can have three models in 2021."

New Games Will Likely Drive Nintendo’s Plans

It’s tempting to think of Nintendo’s plans as a response to the recent launch of next-generation console hardware from Microsoft and Sony. However, analysts think Nintendo’s decision to release another console will likely be driven more by new games. 

"Upcoming first party big game releases look like a good opportunity to introduce an updated version," said Harding-Rolls. "So if Breath of the Wild 2 hits at the end of 2021 (big if), for example." The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a key launch title for the original Switch. It’d make sense for Nintendo to repeat that trick with the sequel, which was announced at E3 2019.

"Nintendo doesn’t 'need' a new model, since the current Switch is selling so well." 

Dr. Toto, however, thinks third-party game support is likely to drive the launch of a new Switch model. "Nintendo needs third-party support, and needs to make sure the technological gap between the Switch and the next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft doesn't make it too hard to create ports for the Switch."

The Nintendo Switch offers less than a teraflop of raw GPU performance, while Microsoft’s Xbox Series X delivers 12 teraflops. Next-generation consoles also support new graphics features like ray-tracing. 

Improved third-party game support is an important reason for the Switch’s sales success. Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa, in an investor call held November 5, 2020, cited third-party support as an important avenue to provide gamers with "many genres of games that we cannot make on our own."

He went on to say "we want Nintendo Switch to be a platform on which [both first-party and third-party games] can continue to sell well."

A New Nintendo Console Might Not Be a 'Switch Pro'

Fans of Nintendo largely expect the company’s next console will be an upgraded version of the current Switch, but not everyone agrees that will be Nintendo’s direction. 

"It's worth noting that the current flagship Switch has already been improved with a better CPU and battery life (the same that is used in the Lite)," said Harding-Rolls. "I don't think it's a given if something arrives that it will be a replacement for the current flagship."

11-year-old Ansel, the photographer’s son, plays Fortnite featuring Travis Scott Presents: Astronomical on the Nintendo Switch.
Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Pachter is also unsure of Nintendo’s positioning, saying "I expect them to continue to produce both a premium and Lite version, so it’s anyone’s guess if the Pro model is incremental, or if it replaces the core Switch."

This uncertainty translates to a wide range of possibilities. Fans seem focused on a Switch Pro that embraces 4K and significantly increases performance through newer Nvidia hardware, such as the new Nvidia Tegra T194 chip. 

However, no credible rumors have indicated this is true, and strong sales of current Switch models suggest a massive leap in performance isn’t necessary. 

It won’t be difficult for a new model to add "some improved capabilities," said Harding-Rolls, who also noted that "these might not necessarily be related to better graphics—they could be screen related, or something else." 

Fans holding out hope for a new Nintendo console can rest assured that one is in the works and, in all likelihood, will arrive by early 2022 at the latest—but the console might not level up the experience in every way.

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