The Nintendo Switch (formerly NX) vindicates the Sega Genesis Nomad portable console and Nintendo’s underutilized Gamecube-Game Boy Advance link cable. Nintendo Switch is a cartridge-based home console-mobile hybrid with wireless controllers and local co-op functionality. Watch the embedded announcement trailer and be excited.
Failures by almost any measure, the Nomad and the Gamecube-GBA link cable appear as important moments in console history in light of Nintendo’s latest announcement.
While this article focuses on just two, there are many factors which may have pointed Nintendo in the direction of hybrids: the promise and disappointment of Nokia’s N-Gage, the failure of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, the triumphs of Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, Google and Apple’s relatively new presences in mobile gaming, the Wii’s emphasis on the social aspects of gaming, the dramatic differences between the receptions of the Wii and the Wii U, critical praise for Wii U’s innovative use of multiple screens, Pokemon Go… The list goes on.
Sega Genesis Nomad
What could Sega Genesis Nomad possibly have in common with an upcoming Nintendo console? Upon its release in 1995, Sega’s home console-mobile hybrid revealed what we were all thinking: mobile handhelds are weak substitutes for home consoles. They’re placeholders. Who would play Streets of Rage on Gamegear if they could play it on Genesis?
By any measure, Sega Genesis Nomad was a failure. Its technical specs and poorly timed release made it incompatible with a good portion of the Genesis console’s library as well as existing add-ons like Sega CD and 32X. For the N64 generation, it would be like Nintendo releasing a portable N64, marketing it as such, and forgetting to mention that it couldn’t run anything that required the Expansion Pack, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or Mario Kart. For the current console generation, it would be like, in the era of the PS4, Sony released a portable PS3 which was incompatible with a number of the top PS3 titles. Think PSNow as a handheld cartridge-based console, not a streaming service.
Gamecube-GBA Link Cable
Given that wireless Bluetooth technology was on the market in the mid 1990s, the Gamecube-GBA link cable was a relic of the tech past on the day it launched in 2004. At the same time, it spoke to the potential for kinship between home consoles and handhelds.
The Gamecube-GBA link cable earned notoriety when it was bundled with The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures. The game was typical single-player Zelda fare with an added gimmick: multiplayer functionality accessible only by hooking up Game Boy Advances with The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords cartridges in them. That means to take full advantage of the title, you needed one console, one console disc, four handheld consoles, and four handheld cartridges.
In the Nintendo Switch trailer, four friends use two wirelessly connected consoles to play two-on-two basketball. Here we see Nintendo’s lucrative tradition of superfluous devices, reminiscent of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures’ link-cable enabled multiplayer. (Why not four-player functionality on one Switch, Nintendo?) But it also gives the impression that, for all its missteps in recent memory, Nintendo has been listening. For instance, it appears that Nintendo Switch will be two-player compatible out of the box, without the need for the purchase of an additional controller.
Nintendo Switch appears to be a bridge between home and handheld consoles. Like the Nomad, its mobile games and console games are identical, one and the same, with no need to purchase an additional game. Like the link cable, it offers additional functionality for players who are willing to purchase multiple consoles.