Long before its official reveal, Nintendo Switch (and before that, Nintendo NX) was leaked and rumored to be something known as a “hybrid console.” This term, as was eventually learned, refers to a device that can be plugged-in and docked to a livingroom setup in the traditional manner, or brought on the go in a way that normally requires an entirely separate device. Taking this line of thought so far as to actually develop a hybrid device is new and novel, but the concept itself is not. And this concept up until very recently had no greater champion than a direct Nintendo competitor: Sony.
The concept for PlayStation Vita was compelling from the beginning; home-console, AAA-calibur gaming on the go. It was a nice idea, and for a while it held up. We got Uncharted, Killzone, and also hard-hitting remakes of PS2 mainstays like Persona 4. Alas, as time wore on Sony abandoned the concept, and this decision was only reinforced by the raging success that is the PlayStation 4. And yet, despite this, the Vita has become even more Nintendo Switch-esque since then, thanks to a largely unsuccessful but quite compelling accessory, the PlayStation TV.
Critically lambasted for its lack of Netflix compatibility and other basic set-top box functions, the PSTV is a device I’ve enjoyed immensely and that has essentially allowed me to McGyver my own “Sony Switch” experience without such a thing actually existing. In fact, the notion of playing Vita games on large televisions appealed to me such that I owned a PSTV before owning an actual Vita. It was far cheaper, oddly more portable, and very easy to bring around between my apartment and the homes of friends or siblings. Once I did finally buy a Vita as well, I simply kept it, the PSTV, my games, and a short HDMI cable all in the same carrying case. A relatively compact collection of gadgets for a genuinely hybrid experience.
Interestingly, it was actually with PSP that Sony’s hybrid mentality was strongest, as the PSP Slim contained within its circuitry the ability to output component video to televisions sans the need for a separate device. PSP’s less graphically advanced games don’t exactly sparkle on 60-inch 4k sets, but the inclusion of the capability certainly laid the groundwork for things to come. If you wanted to really geek out, third-party options were available to extract HDMI signal from your PSP. It required a bulky accessory, but for a certain sort of gadget geek it was a great option to have.
What’s interesting about the Vita, PSTV, and PS4 relationship is the issue of game pricing, and I think it will prove relevant with Nintendo Switch as well. Many titles released on Vita (and especially now that big-budget first party development has ceased) also release on PS4. Titles like Shantae: Half-Genie Hero or Steins;Gate 0 come to mind. In the case of each of these titles, I simply bought the Vita version instead of the PS4 version, because it was substantially cheaper despite being the same game.
With my purchase, I can bring Shantae the genie or Okabe Rintaro on the go at will, or pop them into the PSTV for a home-theater setup just as easily. The visual fidelity isn’t quite as pristine as PS4 would be, but I recently had the chance to plug my PSTV into a 4k set, and Steins;Gate 0’s colorful flair and watercolor artistry looked just as pleasant as I expected. Less cost, more flexibility - for many, that tradeoff is totally worth it.
I won’t give Sony all the credit, as Nintendo are the ones now actually releasing a hybrid. In addition, throughout their history they’ve toyed with concepts like the Game Boy Player and the N64 Transfer Pak that pressurize the boundaries between home and handheld. With Switch, Nintendo will need to master what exactly a game is worth monetarily; the price hike in the case of Vita and PS4 dual releases doesn’t make much sense, and surely some titles released on Switch that would have otherwise come to 3DS aren’t going to be worth $60. Trial and error will surely play a role, as will feedback from the players actually buying.
This also begs questions about the future. Will Sony, previously leaders in this area (and still intrigued when it comes to Remote Play and Now streaming) look into actual hybrids in the future? Will the PlayStation 5 fold up into a tiny cube that can be pocketed, stored, and take on any form factor desired? Sci-fi future-tech or not, the Switch’s success or failure stands to greatly influence where gaming hardware will or won’t go from here. As a longtime gamer and obsessive device buyer, my belief holds strong that the more unification we can get, the better.
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