The Feature I’ll Miss Most on the Switch Lite
How will I feel the marbles?
Yes yes, I know that the marquee “missing” feature of the upcoming $199 Nintendo Switch Lite is the complete lack of TV mode.
“How can they call this thing a Switch if it doesn’t Switch?”
Nintendo’s upcoming budget-friendly portable isn’t made for the home player. It’s a replacement for the 3DS family that’s also the cheapest entry point into the current console generation, and a good second console for crazy people like me who are enticed by its cute design and fun colors.
But losing the ability to Switch into TV mode isn’t the thing that’ll bother me the most.
It’s the loss of HD Rumble.
I’m a big rumble guy. Rumble is Nintendo’s goofy name for force feedback or vibration feedback, and they first introduced their take on it with StarFox 64 and its included Rumble Pak(TM).
As far as I’m concerned, the Rumble Pak was mandatory to the StarFox 64 experience. It was a big plastic thing you had to shove batteries into, and then you’d jam that into the N64 controller.
It made StarFox 64 come to life. You’d feel every laser blast and explosion in your hands like you were actually flying the ship. And when you won the boss fights, they’d explode with massive screen-filling effects, and the Rumble Pak would throw a huge delightful fit of chaos.
It was wonderful.
I’ve finished that game hundreds of times, and playing the immaculate 3DS remake a few years ago was a somewhat hollow and lame experience because it didn’t have rumble.
I know that vibration feedback isn’t for everyone. Some folks find it annoying, or don’t like the drain on controller battery life. And I understand that the Switch Lite is designed to shave as many costly corners as possible.
But Nintendo is a true innovator in the vibration space, and HD rumble is the coolest thing they’ve tried with the feature since the N64.
I suppose you could cynically argue there’s nothing all that “HD” about HD rumble, especially depending on what games you’ve played on the Switch. It’s perfectly capable of replicating the standard vibration motor effects found in games on other platforms, and a lot of the ports on Nintendo’s machine do exactly that.
When developers put the time in, HD rumble comes to life.
The technology uses high end programmable haptic plates, similar to those used in Apple’s phones and laptops. Developers can control intensity, speed, and even precise placement and directionality, delivering a great deal of specific feedback to your hands whether you’re using a Joy-Con or a Pro Controller.
That’s right, the Pro Controller uses the same HD Rumble system as the Joy-Cons, though it’s slightly more buried inside the plastic shell of the bigger controller and not as intense as a result. And it almost never gets mentioned.
All of Nintendo’s games feature a variety of fun HD Rumble effects, with the maligned 1–2 Switch famously using it to make it feel like your controller was full of marbles. Pinball FX3 uses it to replicate the feel of putting your hands a real pinball table and you can feel the ball bouncing around, and it’s quite convincing. LA Noire alternates rumble to each hand as you climb ladders, and simulates every vibration and shudder of driving the old cars.
Even the low-budget port of Blades of Time enhances the sound with HD rumble, adding in additional audio effects layers through your controllers for every special ability and magic spell.
I’m always delighted when HD rumble is used for something more than standard vibration effects, and I’m going to miss having that feedback in the Switch Lite.
Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’ve always enjoyed rumble. I never turn it off in games, and I miss it when it’s not there. Video games are entirely built around player feedback, and the more information a game can give me, the more fun I personally have with it.
Rumble helps gives games that little extra bit of life, and HD rumble is the first new thing to happen in that space since the Rumble Pak made it a standard. For years, vibration feedback has been “Fast motor or slow motor,” and the level of customization in HD Rumble blows that away.
With its removal from the Switch Lite, the Rumble user base (if we can call it that) is now split in two on the Switch, and developers have less reason to include anything beyond the standard vibration effects used on other systems.
We might even see games stop supporting it altogether.
That’s happened in some third party games already. The Titan Quest Port I’ve bashed on numerous occasions features vibration on Xbox and PS4, but on Switch they didn’t bother to port the feature over at all, let alone add HD haptic effects.
The Nintendo Switch is the first portable console to implement rumble, and it went one better and tried to revolutionize the effect.
So no, I won’t miss the TV mode, I can still do that with my regular Switch. I won’t miss the kickstand. It doesn’t have enough angles. I won’t miss the IR camera in the right controller. It’s incredible but sadly unused in games.
But rumble? I’ll miss it every day, and it’ll make all of my Switch games feel a little more empty as a result.
I’m still excited about the new colors, though.