The Nintendo Switch has altered my expectations of video games

For most of my childhood, there were two types of video games: those that could be played at home and those that could be played on a handheld device. There was a distinct difference. Even when a powerful gadget, such as the PlayStation Vita with its “console-quality” graphics, came around, you could still notice the difference; games had their unique feel depending on the platform. The GameCube version of Metroid was considerably different from the Game Boy Advance version. However, when the Nintendo Switch was released five years ago, everything changed.

In a unique way, I discovered the power of Nintendo’s tablet. In 2017, I was tasked with evaluating The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a massive open-world game that threw the traditional Zelda concept out the window. I began by playing it in my living room, like I had done with other games in the series. It felt natural. Then there was the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, which required hours spent on aircraft, in hotel rooms, and in long lines inside the Moscone Center. All of those moments were spent exploring Hyrule, and being able to pick up where I left off at home proved to be a game-changing experience.

Obviously, that is not a circumstance in which most people will find themselves. But that only served to emphasize the point: the Switch is a device that is built to fit into your life, even if you have a strange job like I do. This was a significant issue in a world where games are more time-consuming than ever, with daily tasks and vast worlds that can last hundreds of hours. Whenever I played a large game after Breath of the Wild, whether it was Mass Effect or Persona, I wished it was on the Switch. (However, how is it possible that Persona 5 has yet to be ported?)

I’m not the only one that thinks this way. Fans pleading for Switch versions of their favorite games has turned into a meme, and the Switch version of Fortnite — which wasn’t initially compatible with the PS4 version — helped usher in our current era, where cross-platform play is an expected feature for major live-service games, thanks to the outrage.

This is a lengthy way of stating that the Switch’s freedom has radically altered my perspective on video games. My first memories of the medium were framed by the distinction between console and portable. That division no longer existed. When a new game is released, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to play it. If it’s a live-service game like Genshin Impact or Fortnite, I’d like to know if I can carry my progress over to the Switch or my phone. I might just wait for a Switch version if it’s a long role-playing game, even if the graphics suffer. I want my video games to follow me around from device to device in the same way that my Netflix experience does. I regret not playing the wonderful skateboarding game OlliOlli World on the PS5, as it would be ideal for quick Switch sessions.

This need to bring video game worlds with me has now grown beyond Nintendo hardware. There are cross-platform games that support mobile; Xbox games that work across PC, console, and the cloud; subscription services like Apple Arcade and Game Pass that work across multiple devices; and, most exciting of all, a brand-new device in the Steam Deck that expands the concept to all of my unplayed Steam games.

All of this is to say that, as the distinctions between console and portable have blurred, we have lost something significant. It hit me very hard when the Nintendo 3DS was retired: there’s something remarkable about games built around the constraints of a handheld device that no longer exists. Nintendo and its partners were at their most creative during the DS period, with everything from ingenious Zelda remakes to delightful touchscreen oddities like Nintendogs and Electroplankton. Metroid Dread would most likely not exist if it weren’t for its predecessor Samus Returns. Thankfully, that spirit lives on in the form of niche items such as the Analogue Pocket and PlayDate.

Things are often still a muddle when it comes to playing games across many devices. You don’t always have that type of freedom, thanks to platform exclusivities and vexing cross-progression restrictions; things aren’t always as simple as pulling a Switch from its dock and bringing a game with you. The last five years have seen a tremendous advance in how accessible games can be across devices, thanks in part to the Switch. I’m too embarrassed to say how many devices I’ve put Fortnite on, but it’s a lot.

As a result, much like having BOTW on the Switch improved my relationship with the game, this has strengthened my relationship with it. The platform hasn’t just transformed my perspective on games; it’s also given me a new appreciation for them.

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