The Nintendo Switch is the most versatile home console ever created. To call it a home console even is to do it an injustice, as its battery-powered handheld mode allows it to act as a supercharged portable games machine too.
But its detachable controllers and central tablet-like core processing-and-display unit might make it even more versatile still – the Nintendo Switch could be getting VR support.
It’s a rumor that’s been doing the rounds for few years now. Back in 2016, a patent was uncovered suggesting that the Nintendo Switch could be getting an accessory that would turn it into a mobile VR viewer, in much the same way that the Google Daydream View works. Data miners also discovered a screen splitting mode, ideal for VR, hidden within the Switch’s firmware.
While we’ve been yet to corroborate the report ourselves, Nintendo World Report cites “multiple sources” who claim to have knowledge of soon-to-be-revealed Nintendo Switch VR details – including talk of first party franchises getting a VR mode. Its rumor lands close to news of the formation of a VRM Consortium, which sees 13 Japanese companies teaming up to develop VR business opportunities – and Nintendo acting as an observer.
Pair this with comments from Reggie Fils-Aime, President and COO of Nintendo of America, confirming that Nintendo is tinkering with VR projects, and the stars seems to be aligning for a Nintendo Switch VR mode and accessory.
The perfect VR fit
There’s lots to love about this idea. The Nintendo Switch’s unique form factor, with its detachable central unit, makes it easy to house within a portable, wire-free headset for VR, with the aforementioned VR screen-splitting mode ensuring that you’d get a 3D ‘screen-per-eye’ view of the action.
But what sort of headset would this be? How about a DIY one? Google Cardboard proved years back that a few bits of cardboard and some goggle optics, paired with a mobile screen, was all you needed for convincing VR on the go.
And Nintendo has been planting the seeds for build-your-own toys for close to a year now with its Nintendo Labo sets – pop-out cardboard build kits that have turned the Switch into everything from a fishing game (complete with rod) to a cardboard costume that turns you into a stomping robot – complete with pulleys that help the Switch track your movements.
It’s something that third party manufacturers have already seen the potential for – just take a look at the NS Glasses for instance (pictured up top, and below) – with only middling success, primarily because the software support just isn’t there yet.
Mario World VR
But, though few have tried it outside of Japanese arcades, it wouldn’t even be the first time Nintendo has toyed with VR software. Mario Kart VR has been in arcades for over a year now, co-developed by Namco. And while the experience is limited to a single track, it’s exhilarating to sit right inside the Mario universe, lobbing shells and banana skins at your racing rivals.
The colorful nature of many first party Nintendo titles are perfectly suited to VR too. Just as Switch classics Super Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild lean on a lavish cartoony art style rather than aiming for photo-realism, so too could Switch VR titles, taking the strain off the underpowered hardware. There’s no need for 4K ray-tracing in the Mushroom Kingdom.
And oh boy: can you imagine the Mushroom Kingdom in VR? If any readers have had the joy of trying the superbly inventive Astro Bot: Rescue Mission on the PlayStation 4, you’ll know that VR can be transformative for platformers.
In the PlayStation VR title, the space-bound hero runs all around levels that render all around you, with the game hiding secrets around corners, and room-filling bad guys looking to make mincemeat out of your avatar. Nintendo has a knack for re-inventing the wheel when it tries its hand at a new format or genre, and the mind boggles at what would happen if a mini Mario was running around at my feet, or I was given the opportunity to don Samus Aran’s visor for a Metroid VR title.
That’s not to say Nintendo hasn’t made missteps in a similar arena before – the Virtual Boy is a cautionary tale for anyone considering strapping a gaming device to their faces. But this time around, it feels like all the pieces are in place, as if Nintendo has had a genius plan for unleashing Nintendo Switch VR all along. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to strap myself in.
- Best VR games: the top virtual reality titles, whatever platform you choose