Opinion: The unspoken success of Nintendo’s game cards

The other day while downloading a digital version of my next game I started thinking about the Nintendo Switch’s game cards – and the fact that nobody is really talking about them. When Nintendo first announced that their new console would have game cards instead of the now traditional Blu-Ray or similar type disks, it raised a few eyebrows. Of course, these types of mini-cartridges do have their benefits. Chief among them is their stability while moving the console around – an essential consideration for any portable system.

Traveling back in time to just over a year ago though, it is important to consider the context around Nintendo’s announcement. Nintendo’s last big console, the WiiU, had been a complete disaster. Then, the technological advancements arising from competitors’ technically superior PS4 Pro and Xbox One X systems made the idea of a game card sound just plain ridiculous to many. I distinctly remember listening to an international gaming podcast that was discussing this very thing; panning Nintendo for their misguided attempt at shaking up the industry’s preferred medium.

However, now, over a year later, massive first-party titles like Breath of the Wild abound, and even technically superior titles like Doom and Wolfenstein II have also found a home on the Nintendo console, even if in slightly modified versions. In fact, now that half the gaming population seems to have a Switch, very little has been said about the game card, and that in my opinion is another feather in Nintendo’s red plumber’s cap.

Now before I get bombarded with links in the comments section below – of course, there are some serious provisos to my opinion above: The technical limitations of the Switch as a whole have been spoken about and even debated a lot. Some of these debates are related to storage and hence also involve the game cards. However, Nintendo gets around these issues due to their serious compressing skills – making even massive games take up only a few GBs. And sure, many third-party games do require a substantial downloaded component before getting started, and recently Resident Evil 7 has been released in Japan as a purely streaming game. However, a quick check through gaming sites and even social media tells you that at least for now the latter option is being heavily criticised and pushed back against.

Plus, even when you consider games that required downloads – these seem to have more to do with publishers’ realising the massive cost savings of using smaller memory based physical disks/cards in combination with a digital download and less to do with the actual memory capabilities of Nintendo’s game cards themselves. Even Resident Evil 7’s download size on PlayStation 4 is 20.7GB and 20.21GB of free space on the Xbox One. Even larger games requiring 40+GB would theoretically not be a problem if you ignore other technical limitations and look at memory only – with 64GB Nintendo game cards due out in 2019.

Both the Xbox and PlayStation’s latest versions are fantastic systems. The technical specs of either of these machines completely outdo the Switch and some of the most graphically beautiful games that are out now on the PS4 or the XBox One will probably never find a true home on the Switch. However, for what the Switch is (a home console/portable hybrid) the fact that we rarely if ever talk about how inferior Nintendo’s game cards are to the disks of Sony and Microsoft while all three consoles exist in the market and compete with each other, is in the very least interesting, and at most another great example of Nintendo’s out-of-the-box thinking that has surprisingly worked better than most would’ve expected it to.

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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