Nintendo Switch has a performance issue.
This isn’t new to Switch fans. The limitations of its humble Nvidia Tegra X1 chip were visible in early exclusives, like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which ran at 720p in Docked mode but sometimes dropped below 30 frames per second. Even so, problems rarely distracted.
But today, six years after the launch of the Switch, the visible cracks in the release of the games have become deep fissuressometimes literally.
Rebekah Valentine, de IGN, he verified it first hand when analyzing Pokémon Scarlet and Purple. “These games work terribly,” she says. “There are also lots of weird issues where Pokémon can get stuck in walls or underground, or the camera gets stuck at a weird angle and shows a gap in the middle of the screen.”
The issues are too numerous to detail here (read his review to find out all about it), but they’re easy to summarize. Are bad. So bad that they spoil what should be a refreshing open-world spin on Game Freak’s usual Pokémon formula.
It’s not just pokemon
Pokemon Scarlet and Purple are uniquely terrible examples of how modern Switch games work, but they are not the only ones who have a bad time.
Bayonetta 3 has an ambitious 60 FPS target, but falls short, with many drops to 45 FPS or below. The Switch version of Sonic Frontiers has been drastically scaled down, running at or slightly below 30 FPS and also suffering from a major pop-in appearance. Some publishers, like Square Enix, have given up making “real” ports for Switch of graphically demanding games like Kingdom Hearts III, instead releasing cloud versions that stream gameplay from a remote server.
It’s not all bad news. Splatoon 3 hits a stable 60 frames per second in-game (although city sections are 30 FPS) and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 runs at a much more stable 30 FPS than its predecessor.
However, these improvements are little consolation for Switch fans waiting for ports of Elden Ring or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. These games, along with many others released on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, are unlikely to arrive. to Switch. The gap between Switch’s capabilities and those of its competitors it’s too big for most developers to save.
It’s a problem, but not a surprise. Nintendo Switch is six years old. The Nvidia Tegra X1 chip that powers it is even older: it was first released in 2015, which means it was already a bit outdated by the time Nintendo released the Switch. A 2019 chip revision improved efficiency, increasing the battery life of newer Switch consoles, but performance didn’t change.
The mediocre performance of Switch could contribute to slow sales. Although it’s been a success for Nintendo, with more than 114 million consoles sold to date, Switch sales have slowed in the past year, and PlayStation 5 has surpassed Switch in recent months in some territories. Nintendo blames it on production, not demand, but that explanation seems incomplete, since Switch consoles are usually available at major retailers.
What could a Switch Pro do, really?
The decline in sales of Switch hardware contrasts with his continued dominance in software. Pokémon Scarlet and Purple sold 10 million copies in its first days, setting franchise records.
Gamers want to play Switch exclusives. We’d just rather do it on better hardware. What could Switch Pro offer?
The most obvious improvements would be in resolution and frame rate. First, the bad news: a Switch Pro will have trouble handling 4K at 30 FPS, let alone 60 FPS. However, the current Switch is so far behind that even the most insignificant improvements will seem impressive. The more ambitious Switch games run at 720p to 900p resolution in Docked mode, and despite this, many also stick to 30 FPS. A constant 1080p resolution at 60 FPS would be a win.
A Switch Pro could also be compatible with technologies that the current model lackssuch as HDR and Adaptive Sync. The latter could be especially useful if implemented well. Adaptive Sync would smooth out small drifts below 60 FPS, making those dips imperceptible to gamers.
Nvidia DLSS 2 uses neural rendering to enhance games with incredible results. Nvidia DLSS 3 can even insert new AI-generated frames. DLSS 3 performance mode can use AI to render up to seven out of eight pixels viewable in a 4K image, which at best can improve performance by up to 5 times over native rendering. It’s ideal for a device with limited power like the new Nintendo Switch… at least in theory.
The miracle chip does not exist. Yet.
Gamers want an upgrade and Nintendo needs to ramp up low hardware sales. Surely, Switch Pro is about to be announced. TRUE?
Switch fans are all too familiar with the hopeful rumors. The Switch Pro was due to arrive in 2019, then 2020, then 2021. These rumors were put to rest with the Nintendo Switch OLED, which arrived last year with a gorgeous new screen and the same old silicon.
I wasn’t surprised by this move for one simple reason: It was never clear exactly what the so-called Switch Pro was going to power. The Switch’s unique hybrid design forces it to a much lower power target than the hardware in competing consoles, which means that the designs of other consoles, as well as gaming laptops, won’t work on switch.
The situation is complicated by Nvidia’s decision to switch gears with Tegra. It was originally launched to compete in consumer devices with ARM market leaders like Qualcomm (the first product with Tegra was the Microsoft Zune HD), but it stalled. So Nvidia changed tack. The lineage now goes by names like Xavier and Orin and focuses on automotive, industrial and robotics, with an emphasis on machine learning. These new chips, which target a broader range of power consumption and offer significant I/O connectivity, are a less obvious choice for a portable game console.
That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The less powerful Nvidia Jetson Nano and Jetson Orin Nano chips aim for a thermal design power of 5 to 15 watts, which is adequate for the Switch. The Latest Rumors About Switch Pro point to a custom chip, codenamed T239 (the “T” is for Tegra) based on Nvidia’s Orin. This seems plausible: the chip’s cost, die size, and power consumption are all on target. An Orin Nano variant could probably handle 1080p at 60 FPS, albeit in more graphically modest games. It also has the potential to add features that Nintendo fans crave, like HDR, adaptive sync, DLSS, and ray tracing.
However, custom chips take time, and the more customization, the longer. If the rumors surrounding the T239 are true, Nintendo and Nvidia started working on it in mid-2021 (first reference appeared in Twitter in June last year). But these leaks only concern Linux kernel updates and APIs, which is less convincing than leaked hardware prototypes or plans for chip production.
Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa also has left record about what there will be no new hardware in the company’s current fiscal year, which runs through April 2023. Nintendo and Nvidia may be keeping secrets and surprise releasing a Switch Pro in summer 2023, but that would be an aggressive timetable for a Switch sequel that has yet to be officially announced, nor even hinted. Believing in such miracles requires an insane dose of hope.
So fasten your seatbelts, Nintendo fans: it looks like We’re in for at least another year of questionable Switch performance.