Nintendo has officially announced the Switch Lite, a smaller and cheaper model of the Switch. As is customary with models such as this, it removes several features the standard model has. There is no HD rumble, the screen is smaller and it can only be played in handheld mode, among other things. However, one change could be seen as a positive.
The original Nintendo Switch does not have a traditional directional pad. This was so each of the detachable controllers from either side of the screen, the Joy-Cons, would have the same four face buttons for each person who used it. The Nintendo Switch Lite doesn’t have detachable controllers, replaced with built-in inputs similar to the Wii U gamepad. Because of this, the four buttons that previously were on the left Joy-Con have been replaced with a traditional D-pad. This could be beneficial in a few ways.
Switch owners do currently have access to a D-pad if they want one. Nintendo has a more modern controller, similar to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, called the Switch Pro Controller. This controller has a traditional D-pad to the lower right of the left thumbstick, not unlike the Xbox One controller. However, considering the price of a Pro controller is currently $70 USD, this isn’t an inexpensive solution.
The Nintendo Switch Lite has a traditional D-pad right out of the box. No extra purchase needed. It may not replace the comfortable form factor of the Pro controller. Also, we do not yet know the quality of the D-pad being included. Whether or not it is the same as the D-pad on the Pro controller is still unknown. However, regardless of that, this extra feature may be all that many will need.
As soon as it was revealed that the Switch Lite would have a standard D-pad, people asked if Joy-Cons with D-pads replacing the four buttons on the left Joy-Con would be available for purchase. Currently, Nintendo has stated that they do not have any plans to sell this style of Joy-Con controllers. The current Joy-Cons with the matching four buttons on each will remain the standard. This means that the only way to have a D-pad on the Switch besides the Pro controller is this specific model. More importantly, the only way to have a D-pad with the Switch while maintaining its portability is through the Switch Lite.
With the standard Switch, you would need to carry around a Pro controller with you if you wanted a D-pad on the go. You would also have to place the Switch on a table or some flat surface, as you can’t hold the screen and play with the Pro controller at the same time. With the Switch Lite, you won’t have to do that anymore.
In a lot of ways, the Switch Lite, in terms of inputs, is feature complete. Although you miss out on some features, you actually gain in terms of control. Sure, you’ll miss out on motion controls, but that’s not something you can do while on the go. This is a huge positive for those who use the Switch mainly while traveling. This will benefit a lot of the games people will play, which brings us to the next point.
The Switch has a wide variety of games. One of the bigger category of titles is retro titles; games inspired by previous generations, many of which are 2D. Fans of 2D games will tell you that analog sticks are not the preferred way to play these games. Analog sticks often lack the precision digital inputs from a D-pad.
There are a lot of 2D games on the Switch, as Nintendo has been inviting to independent developers. However, it can be assumed that a lot of these games have been played under non-ideal conditions. The four individual buttons on the left Joy-Con can be used in place of a D-pad. It can be argued that these four digital buttons are better than the analog stick. However, there is no replacing a traditional D-pad, as it helps you feel where and what you are pressing.
2D games aren’t the only style of game that benefits from a D-pad. Fighting games are vastly more playable with a D-pad. Arcade sticks are always preferred, but a D-pad is much more comfortable than a thumbstick. Some players may also like the D-pad, as the layout will remind them of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This could help Nintendo ease in new customers who have only played their competition, as the controls will feel familiar.
Finally, Nintendo has an online service that gives players old Nintendo Entertainment System games for free. All of these games, 2D or not, play better with a D-pad, as that is what they were intended for. I’m sure there are also other games on the Switch that I’m unaware of that will benefit from a D-pad. More importantly, there’s few games that will suffer from this change.
If you compare the two different models and their features, the original model is clearly superior. The Nintendo Switch Lite removes a lot of small features while adding very little. However, the addition of a traditional directional pad is no small feature. There are groups of gamers for whom this will be a deciding factor. There are a lot of older gamers whose primary way of playing video games is with a D-pad.
Nintendo typically appeals to a lot of older gamers, as well as children, due to the company’s history. This new model will appeal to older gamers who have held out on buying a Switch. Not only because of the D-pad, but older gamers are comfortable with the idea of a handheld only Nintendo device. This is also the case for gamers who have an affinity for older looking and designed games.
Nintendo is no stranger to releasing new models of their handheld consoles. The 3DS had the XL, New, 2DS, New XL and New 2DS models alone. Also, there are many customers who will buy multiple models of the same console due to their loyalty to the company. However, in this case, the Switch Lite has more of an advantage over the base model than just in price.
Sure, there are plenty who will say the Switch Lite is an inferior model. But depending on your point of view, the Switch Lite might be the better choice. If you want a cheaper Switch for your young child, the Switch Lite may be the better choice. If you don’t want to play these 720p resolution games on a TV screen upscaled to 1080p, get the Switch Lite. Most importantly, if you plan to play a lot of games on the go that play best with a directional pad, the Switch Lite is for you.