Oct 22 2016

Backwards Compatibility And The Nintendo Switch

So, just as I expected, the Switch is not going to be able to play (at least physically) Wii, WiiU, or 3DS titles. This isn’t surprising, since the console uses a physical cartridge port, rather than an optical drive, for games. What I’m surprised at, although I still expected it, is how upset people are getting over this.

Being able to play old games for systems you already own on your bright and shiny new console is a nice thing: Options existed for this as far back as the Atari 7800 (which natively played Atari 2600 titles), on into the PS2 playing PS1 games without issue, and on ahead to the Wii playing Gamecube games, complete with proper hardware support, and on.

Gamers seem to have been jaded by this somewhat common feature, treating it as something that “has to be” in new consoles, rather than as a bonus. What they seem to forget is implementing such requires quite a bit of engineering  and usually task-dedicated hardware.

Gamecards FTW!

Gamecards FTW!

The Atari 7800 used the TIA chip from the 2600 to play Atari 2600 titles, but also used it for sound in most 7800 games. The Playstation 2 had a dedicated hardware section, combined with built in software, to run Playstation 1 games. The Xbox 360 had a built-in emulator for playing original Xbox software. The Playstation 3 had, originally, playstation 2 support via internal hardware but this proved too expensive to maintain and was actually removed in later revisions of the system, leaving only the software-managed Playstation 1 game capability.

Of course, the Gamecube, the Wii, and the WiiU all had compatibility with their predicessor console (until the later runs of the Wii, where Gamecube support was removed) but this was all thanks primarily to design – the Gamecube hardware directly evolved into the Wii, and the Wii into the WiiU, so the evolution was simple, and the software could easily be made to run on the new hardware with minimal issues.

Such a beloved system, the Gamecube. Funny, I don't recall anyone having complained about it not playing N64 games.

Such a beloved system, the Gamecube. Funny, I don’t recall anyone having complained about it not playing N64 games.

People forget that the previous Nintendo consoles couldn’t play predecessors games – N64 couldn’t play SNES, nor could SNES play NES (without 3rd party hardware, that is). Sure the Game Boy and later DS hardware lines maintained support, but just like the PS3 playing PS2 games that was removed as time went on thanks to cost saving measures, although the Gamecube had a Game Boy player that could play Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games (much like the SNES having the Super Game Boy.)

Nintendo’s stance on this back in the Super Nintendo era was that people who “already owned the original Nintendo Entertainment System already had an adapter, in that they could hook up both systems at the same time and play all NES and Super NES game pak’s.” While it’s convenient, it isn’t the end of the world – if you already own the old system, why not just keep it around and use it to play the games? It makes sense to me, but I can understand people not wanting clutter. You have to pick your battles, I guess.

The WiiU was a nice console, but it still made major use of motion controls and its touch screen.

The WiiU was a nice console, but it still made major use of motion controls and its touch screen.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on what it would take for you to be able to play Wii or WiiU games on the Switch. You would need:

  • A sensor bar for Wiimotes, and some way to attach it to the console.
  • A WiiU Gamepad for WiiU gameplay, or a way to use the Switch console as the game pad (presuming it even has a touch screen, which I think it would) while also somehow having it send a signal to the TV. This may not be required, but it is the “standard” WiiU operating style.
  • Hardware devoted to, or software specially put in place to support these games.
  • Some way to actually get the games on the system (presumed download but, really, is that worth it?)

It just doesn’t seem worth the trouble. While I think the hardware of the Gamecube / Wii / WiiU is great, for what it is, it’s a legacy that Nintendo, sadly, needs to let go of. They focused too much on motion controls and gimmicks than actual, focused core game play experiences.The DS hardware is proof that you can add in a new feature without it dominating your systems games – the touch screen in most DS titles adds to the game, rather than take it over. The end result is a much better experience overall, and I would think most gamers would agree with that.

Want to play NES games on your Super NES? Nintendo's answer was for you to just keep the NES connected to your TV.

Want to play NES games on your Super NES? Nintendo’s answer was for you to just keep the NES connected to your TV.

Nintendo needed to make this switch, no pun intended. There are rumors that the Switch will feature motion controls, but that again, doesn’t seem to set well with the idea of the console, and this wasn’t shown at all in the promotional video for the console.

When it’s all said and done, this will be a solid gaming system, and that alone, to play the games made for it, and maybe some classic via virtual console. That’s as far as I would push it, and I think Nintendo knows what they need to do to get back to where they should be.

Again, I’m looking forward to this beauty of a console for what it will let me do that’s new; not what old games I can play on it.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.xadara.com/backwards-compatibility-and-the-nintendo-switch/

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