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Nintendo’s upcoming video game system is about to hit the market, and it’s breaking new ground by combining console and handheld features. While the Switch is not meant to compete directly with the outgoing Wii U or even the New 3DS XL, these are options you’ll have if you’re looking to buy a new Nintendo console this year.
Before the Wii U reaches its fifth birthday, it’s important to compare it to the Switch and see how Nintendo’s newest system stacks up against its last home console effort. The 3DS family of systems will be six years old later this month, and it seems that it will coexist with the Nintendo Switch, meaning that for portable play, there will be two viable options.
Let’s delve into the most crucial features of these three systems to determine if the Switch is a step in the right direction for Nintendo.
There are distinct visual similarities among all three platforms when held in your hands, but there are also notable differences.
Physically, the Nintendo Switch resembles a premium version of the Wii U gamepad, with a sturdy frame similar to that of the 3DS. The Switch is also significantly thinner than the Wii U gamepad. In terms of screen size, the Switch is just slightly larger than the Wii U, while the 3DS actually has more screen space if you consider both of its screens.
Weighing 398 grams, the Switch is lighter than the Wii U gamepad, even with the Joy-Cons attached, but heavier than the New 3DS XL. All three systems are relatively lightweight for their size.
The clamshell design of the 3DS protects its screens from scratches during travel, a feature that can only be achieved on the Wii U and Switch if you purchase a separate case.
Comfort is subjective and depends on your hands and personal preference, but many find the 3DS shape and button layout more comfortable than the Wii U gamepad. As for the Switch, it’s still uncertain how it will feel during long gaming sessions, but early impressions suggest that it’s as comfortable as the Wii U.
The Wii U has a front camera, while the 3DS has cameras on both the front and back of the top plate. Interestingly, the Switch does not have a camera. All three systems support near-field communication, which Nintendo primarily uses to sync the consoles with its data-enhanced Amiibo figures.
In terms of sound, all three systems support stereo output through their speakers and standard headphone jacks. The Switch also adds Bluetooth support for communication. Additionally, the Switch replaces the proprietary charging ports of the Wii U and 3DS with USB Type-C.
While the Switch will support newer routers with AC Wi-Fi, it remains compatible with legacy Wi-Fi types. The Wii U uses N Wi-Fi, and the 3DS is type G, which doesn’t affect its performance as a handheld gaming device.
Each system has a gyroscope, and both the Wii U and Switch have an accelerometer. In addition, the Wii U has a geomagnetic sensor, while the Switch Joy-Con controllers have an HD Rumble feature, and the right Joy-Con has an IR sensor.
The Switch has a variety of components packed into a compact design. All of its internal components are stored beneath its screen, whereas the Wii U has a separate unit that it draws power from. The 3DS is the most economical in terms of design as a pure handheld, but the Switch takes sleek and stylish to new heights.
From built-in features to its elegant layout, the Switch certainly improves on the Wii U and 3DS. However, it’s hard to say if it’s designed better for portable play than the 3DS. This largely comes down to personal preference, but for now, we give the edge to the Nintendo Switch.
While great games are the most important aspect of a console, performance quality greatly enhances gameplay. Although Nintendo’s active and future consoles do not directly compete with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in terms of performance, the 3DS and Wii U perform well with what they have under the hood. From early impressions, it appears that the Switch will achieve similar performance levels as well.
Nintendo typically keeps official CPU/GPU specifications under wraps, especially for handhelds. However, thanks to 3DS homebrew enthusiasts, we have some knowledge about its processing power. As expected, first-party Nintendo games tend to perform the best. The upgraded power from the original 3DS to the New 3DS XL allows it to handle massive games like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and run titles like Super Smash Bros. more smoothly than its predecessor.
When it comes to object rendering and textures, the 3DS falls within the range between Nintendo 64 and Nintendo Gamecube performance. While many smartphone games may look better than the 3DS, this dedicated handheld gaming system excels at running games without a hitch. However, it naturally lags behind its console counterparts.
The Wii U, released a year prior to the Xbox One and PS4, performs similarly to the Xbox 360 and PS3. First-party Nintendo titles like Super Mario 3D World and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Remastered showcase the Wii U’s ability to produce vibrant and colorful visuals. Unfortunately, these captivating visuals have rarely been demonstrated on the console. Nonetheless, the system admirably maintains its performance from console play to tablet mode.
Both the 3DS and Wii U fall short in comparison to the Switch in terms of performance, making the Switch the frontrunner as the most powerful among all Nintendo consoles and handhelds. While precise details about the Switch’s power remain ambiguous, we know it features a custom Nvidia Tegra chipset. Based on this information, we can infer that the Switch will have at least 1 TFLOP of processing power, which still falls short of the Xbox One and PS4. However, compared to other Nintendo consoles, the Switch is a significant upgrade, as the Wii U and 3DS fall well below 1 TFLOP.
Until we spend more time with the Switch, it’s difficult to determine the extent of the difference it will make. However, judging from the improved performance of Breath of the Wild on the Switch compared to the Wii U version, it’s safe to say that the Switch will widen the performance gap as the console matures. Whether the Switch’s performance in portable mode matches up to console play remains uncertain.
With this in mind, it’s evident that the Switch will surpass the power of both the Wii U and 3DS, making it the likely winner in this category.
Styles of Play
Nintendo is renowned for innovating controls and modes of play with its gaming hardware, and all three of these systems feature multiple play styles.
The New Nintendo 3DS XL offers traditional gaming with its circle pad and buttons, as well as touchscreen gameplay with a stylus on its bottom screen. While the 3DS has moved away from touch-centric gameplay, many games still utilize the touchscreen for menus and other systems. The handheld’s accelerometer also allows for motion gameplay, although this feature is rarely utilized. 3D mode sets it apart from its console counterparts, but only a few games, such as Super Mario 3D Land, effectively utilize the 3D feature.
Similar to the 3DS, the Wii U can be played with traditional controls using the analog stick and buttons on the gamepad or Pro controller. Additionally, the gamepad features a touchscreen primarily used with a stylus for menu systems during console play, but it has also been prominently featured in games like Yoshi’s Woolly World. Games can be played directly on the gamepad within range of the console. Following in the footsteps of the Wii, the Wii U features motion gaming with its gamepad’s gyroscope and accelerometer, as well as standard Wii remotes. The added geomagnetic sensor enhances motion gaming by automatically guiding the gamepad back to its original position.
The Switch combines elements from both the Wii U and 3DS, taking the concept to new heights. The hybrid system offers three play modes: console mode, tabletop mode, and handheld mode. In console mode, the Joy-Cons can be attached to the Joy-Con grip for traditional controls or used unattached, similar to Wii remotes. The Joy-Cons provide enhanced motion controls with their HD Rumble feature, creating a more intuitive motion experience than that of the 3DS or Wii U.
In tabletop mode, the Switch can be propped up on its kickstand, and the Joy-Con can be turned on its side to resemble a miniature NES-style controller. When the Joy-Cons are attached, the system becomes a portable powerhouse, with a layout similar to the Wii U. Additionally, the Switch’s touchscreen is capacitive, allowing for multiple finger presses at once, surpassing the single-touch displays of the Wii U and 3DS.
Although all three platforms offer diverse interactions, the Switch clearly reigns supreme in this category.
Resolution is one of the first noticeable aspects when playing a game, and all three of these Nintendo products fare well in this regard, despite falling behind the competition.
Strictly as a handheld unit, the New 3DS XL has the lowest resolution of the three, at 800 x 240. In 3D mode, half of the resolution is allocated to each eye. The New 3DS XL may not immediately catch your eye, but it performs much better than the original 3DS, maintaining a consistent 30fps and even occasionally surpassing 50fps in games like Monster Hunter 4.
Both the Wii U and Switch have two resolution options. When connected to a TV, both run at 1080p and 60fps. The difference lies in portable play. The Wii U gamepad displays games at 480p and 60fps, which, while not as impressive as it sounds, is still considered standard definition. On the other hand, the Switch matches the gamepad’s frame rate but offers a more vibrant 720p HD resolution.
In the past, it wouldn’t be fair to compare a console to a handheld in terms of resolution. However, since the Switch is a hybrid, we can compare it to both the Wii U and the 3DS. Although the Switch doesn’t improve on its console performance, it does provide the first high-definition portable experience in Nintendo’s history.
With these factors in mind, the Switch emerges as the winner in terms of resolution.
At the end of the day, game systems are all about the games. Great hardware means nothing without incredible software. These three Nintendo platforms are at different stages in their lifecycles, with the Switch’s life just about to begin. Nonetheless, each system has its own merits.
Over the course of nearly six years, more than 1,000 games have been released for the 3DS family of consoles, including the 3DS, 3DS XL, and New Nintendo 3DS, across retail, eShop, and Virtual Console platforms. While this enormous library includes plenty of shareware, it also boasts dozens of fantastic games. As a portable console, the 3DS offers cheaper software compared to other platforms. Furthermore, since Nintendo has no plans to abandon the 3DS with the launch of the Switch, the number of quality games will only continue to increase. Titles like Mario Sports Superstars, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, and Dragon Quest XI are just a few of the gems on the horizon for the 3DS in the coming months.
In less than five years, the Wii U amassed over 700 games. While its library includes shareware, it also offers some standout titles, such as Super Mario 3D World, Splatoon, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros., Bayonetta 2, and a pair of high-definition Zelda remasters. Despite this, the Wii U had a relatively lackluster lineup of first-party software and lacked significant third-party support. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild marks the final Nintendo title released for the Wii U, effectively closing the chapter on the Wii U era.
In regards to the newcomer, the Switch’s launch lineup has been criticized for being lackluster. Apart from Breath of the Wild and Super Bomberman R, there isn’t much excitement on offer at launch. However, by the end of summer, a definitive version of Mario Kart 8 and a Splatoon sequel will be available for the console, and titles like Sonic Mania and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are sure to provide ample satisfaction later this year. Super Mario Odyssey, the return to the sandbox-style Mario that was sorely missed on the Wii U, hints at a promising future for the Switch. Nintendo claims that over 100 games are in development for the Switch, and with publishers like EA pledging significant support for sports titles, a genre that has been notably absent from recent Nintendo consoles, the Switch may indeed fare better in terms of third-party support.
Even with all the potential and optimism surrounding the Switch, the continued support for the extensive 3DS library ensures that the handheld console will remain at the top in terms of games for the foreseeable future.
Nintendo consistently goes against the grain in many aspects, including storage. All three systems offer minimal built-in storage but can be expanded.
The Wii U comes in two models: an 8GB version and a 32GB version. Both have internal flash storage that can quickly fill up with system updates and game downloads.
Since the 3DS and Switch use game cartridges instead of discs, they have some internal storage. In addition, both consoles support expandable storage using different types of SD cards. The New Nintendo 3DS XL comes with a 4GB microSD card and supports larger microSD and SDHC cards. The Switch, on the other hand, features 32GB of internal storage and supports both microSDHC and SDXC cards.
Out of the box, the Switch takes the lead, slightly surpassing the Wii U in terms of storage, as less space is required for game installs due to the use of game cartridges. However, considering that most users will need to expand the storage of all three systems, the means of expanding storage becomes crucial.
Nintendo 3DS games are smaller in size compared to console games, so upgrading to a 64GB or even 32GB card is likely sufficient for most users. For the Switch, game sizes are currently larger. However, the highest capacity microSDXC card available is 512GB, and Nintendo has stated that the Switch will support upcoming 1TB and 2TB SDXC cards.
The Wii U, thanks to external hard drive support, can be expanded significantly on a budget. A 1TB external hard drive can be purchased for around $50.
Given the uncertainty about how quickly the Switch will consume storage space and when high-capacity microSD cards will decrease in price, we have to give the nod to the Wii U for now.
Battery life is crucial for portable gaming consoles. There’s nothing worse than running out of juice in the middle of a game while on the go.
As the Wii U cannot be played on the gamepad more than 25 feet or so away from its console, its battery life of three to five hours is less of an issue compared to the 3DS or Switch. Additionally, the Wii U’s small lithium-ion battery can be replaced with a larger one, extending battery life to eight hours. The Wii U gamepad takes approximately 2.5 hours to fully charge.
The Switch boasts a battery life ranging from 2.5 to six hours, with intensive games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild lasting around three hours while on the go. It takes three hours to fully charge the unit when in sleep mode. Surprisingly, considering its more powerful hardware, the Switch’s battery life range is comparable to that of the 3DS.
However, the New Nintendo 3DS XL boasts slightly better battery life, officially ranging from 3.5 to seven hours. The 3DS takes approximately 3.5 hours to fully charge. While external battery packs were available for older 3DS models, there is currently no viable solution to extend the battery life of the latest 3DS model.
The less powerful New Nintendo 3DS XL takes the cake in terms of battery life, with the Switch not far behind.
Price and Availability
Nintendo is known for offering competitively priced hardware, providing value to consumers while remaining at or below the prices of its competitors. In terms of pricing, there isn’t a huge difference among the three consoles, but this may vary depending on your desire for additional accessories.
The New Nintendo 3DS XL retails for $200 and is often sold with a bundled game. If you don’t already own a 3DS charging cable, you will need to purchase one for around $10, as Nintendo decided not to include an AC adapter with the handheld system. However, aside from that, you could reasonably start playing without any additional accessories.
The Wii U has ended production, so whatever is still available in stores is pretty much all that’s left. The suggested retail price ranges from $200 to $300, depending on storage capacity and bundled games. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a new Wii U from authorized sellers.
Priced at $300, the Nintendo Switch offers the versatility of both a home and portable system. However, the limitations of some of the hardware included with the console may push players to purchase additional accessories, which could deter some users. To play with a traditional controller, you’ll need to invest $70 in a Pro controller. An additional pair of Joy-Con controllers will set you back $80, and if you want to charge the Joy-Cons outside of the dock, the Joy-Con grip costs an additional $30. Adding an extra power adapter to charge the unit away from the dock, as well as a USB Type-C cord for portable charging, will increase the cost by another $40. Without spending any money on games, you could easily spend more than $500 before taxes. Furthermore, securing a console through pre-order has been almost impossible, and it remains uncertain how readily available the Switch will be in stores after launch, although it’s expected to be in high demand during the initial months.
If your primary consideration is walking away with a Nintendo console at the lowest price, the New Nintendo 3DS XL is the clear winner. However, if you are looking for a home console experience, the Switch is a better investment compared to the Wii U.
There is still much to learn about the Switch, and it’s too early to determine if it will improve on both home console and handheld experiences. Our initial assessment is that the Switch will invigorate Nintendo’s home console business and become what the Wii U should have been.
As for its portable features, it’s clear that the Switch will outperform its predecessors. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it a better handheld system. The 3DS boasts an extensive library of games and is specifically designed as a portable system. While the Switch offers novel handheld capabilities, it’s difficult to imagine gamers frequently carrying it around in public, as they do with the 3DS.
With victories in four out of seven categories, the Nintendo Switch is winning us over with its incredible potential. With time, the Switch could become the better choice, given its enhanced power and wide array of features. If you don’t already own a Nintendo system and are considering a purchase, the New Nintendo 3DS XL is the best option due to its extensive library of games.
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