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The most exciting rumors we've heard about the future of Nintento Switch

The Nintendo Switch is no longer the hot new thing in gaming — it's been out for a while, and the novelty is gone. Thankfully, the hype isn't. The Switch's March 2017 release date might be disappearing ever further in the rear view mirror, but Nintendo's portable little console remains as hot as ever.

As the freshness succumbs to familiarity, Switch owners are starting to ask one big question: "What's next?" That's hard to answer. More than almost any other gaming company, Nintendo plays things close to its vest. That's where these rumors come in. While nobody outside of Nintendo knows for sure what the Switch's future holds, the internet is full of unsubstantiated reports and speculation — and some of it might even be true.

Let's hope it is. If these rumors pan out, the Switch has a bright few years ahead of it. Go ahead and get excited. From the look of things, the Nintendo Switch is here to stay.

We can rebuild it. We have the technology. Smaller, cheaper, and more portable.

Despite the company's claims to the contrary, the 3DS is on its way out. According to Nintendo's sales numbers, the writing is on the wall. At the end of 2018, the dual-screened handheld accounted for less than four percent of Nintendo's revenue. Combine that with an anemic line-up of upcoming games, and it's hard not to reach the conclusion that the little handheld's days are numbered.

So, what's going to replace it? Why, the Switch, of course. The ability to take a console-quality experience on the go is already the Switch's main marketing hook, and if the rumors are to be believed, new Switch hardware is on the way that'll put the 3DS to bed for good. According to the Japanese newspaper Nikkei, Nintendo is prepping a new, smaller Switch that will emphasize "portability and playing outdoors," with some of the console's standard features removed in order to lower its cost.

Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime previously told Kotaku that the 3DS' main appeal these days is its low cost, child-friendly size, and its ability to "withstand the abuses of small children," and it sounds like the new Switch will do the same. The 3DS debuted way, way back in 2011. It's had a remarkable run, but its time is up. The Switch is where all of the big Nintendo action is, and if there's a model on the way that'll cost less, make commuting a little easier, and won't break, it's hard to imagine anyone will complain.

Now you're playing with power — super power.

The Nintendo Switch's online service is, like Nintendo's previous online offerings, a little lacking, but it does have one cool feature. In the past, if you wanted to play a retro game on a Nintendo console, you had to buy it individually though the Virtual Console service. Not any more. With your Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you get access to an ever-growing library of classic Nintendo Entertainment System games at no extra charge.

Rumors suggest that the NES games are just the beginning: evidence indicates that 16-bit Super Nintendo games are on their way to Switch Online, too. Fans discovered the potential 16-bit additions by digging through the Switch Online files, where they found a list of 22 SNES games ranging from the expected classics (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and so on) to cult favorites (Pop'n TwinBee) to historical curiosities (the previously Super NES Classic-exclusive Star Fox 2).

That's a strong line-up, especially for anyone who didn't manage to snag an SNES Classic, and if your favorite Super Nintendo game isn't listed, don't worry: Nintendo adds a handful of games to Switch Online every month, and there's no reason to expect the SNES collection to be any different. These are all great games, but in all likelihood, they're just the beginning. Expect more to come.

The Virtual Console is dead. Long live the Virtual Console!

If a steady stream of Switch-enabled Super NES games isn't enough to pique your interest, maybe the promise of even more emulated consoles will. Data miners didn't just discover a line-up of SNES titles in the Switch Online files. They also found references to four different emulators hidden in the code, hinting that there might be more than just the NES and SNES on the way.

The emulators code-named Kachikachi and Canoe refer to the NES and Super NES emulators respectively, meaning that two of the emulators are spoken for. The other pair? Not so much. On Twitter, Kotaku's Chris Kohler speculated that the mystery consoles could be the Nintendo 64, the Game Boy, and/or the Game Boy Advance. 

Those make sense — Nintendo representatives confirmed that the company doesn't have aren't any plans to make a Nintendo 64 mini console, and both N64 and Game Boy Advance games have appeared on Nintendo's Virtual Console services in the past. But so have retro consoles like the Sega Genesis, the TurboGrafx-16, the Neo Geo, and even (briefly) old personal computer models like the Commodore 64, and it's not like Nintendo does things by the book. Not that it matters. No matter what the Hiyoko and Count emulators end up referring to, more emulated consoles means more classic games to enjoy, making this one rumor that we'd desperately love to see come true.

A hardcore service for hardcore fans

Let's face it: other than the collection of retro games, the Nintendo Switch Online service isn't great. It doesn't cost as much as PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live, but Nintendo used to offer online multiplayer for free. If you want to use voice chat, you have to go through a smartphone app. If you want to add a headset to that, you'll need to resort to a ridiculously convoluted hardware set-up. Cloud-based save file back-ups arrived on the Switch Online a few months after launch, but not every game supports them.

Thankfully, help might be on the way. Nikkei reports (by way of Game Rant) that Nintendo is currently working on a "premium version" of Switch Online with an eye on a 2019 release. The souped-up online service will focus on "Nintendo enthusiasts, core Nintendo Switch online users, and those who are willing to spend more money on games." As the premium label suggests, it'll cost more than the basic Switch Online offerings, but it'll come with a bunch of new features to make up for it.

Nikkei doesn't say exactly what those features will be, of course, or how much more money Nintendo fans are going to have to shell out. And yet, despite the lacking execution, the idea of playing online-focused games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Splatoon 2 on the go is still compelling. If Nintendo can make that experience even a little better, we're willing to pay for it.

The new 3DS: 3D Switch

Over the past 15 years, each new Nintendo console has come with a gimmick that changes the way its games are played. The DS had two screens. The Wii had motion controls. The Wii U shipped with a tablet-like controller, while the Switch bridges the gap between an at-home console and a portable device.

There's one big exception to this rule. While the 3DS was named after its glasses-free 3D capabilities, the stereoscopic display turned out to be little more than a novelty, and users quickly realized that it was easier to play with the 3D slider turned all the way down. Nintendo must've agreed, because just a couple of years later it released the 2DS, a cheaper model of the system that removed the 3D screen but played all the 3DS' games just fine.

Nintendo might not be entirely finished with 3D images, though. In September 2018, Nintendo filed a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a totally different type of 3D system, and rumors indicate that it did so with the Switch in mind. The 3D technology described in the patent isn't as elegant as the 3DS' solution. In order for things to work, users will have to mount a camera on their television and attach some kind of marker to their face. Still, while three-dimensional video gaming might not have hit the first time around, if anyone can make it work going forward, it's going to be Nintendo.

4K, oh yay!

On the other hand, maybe the Switch's future doesn't rest in a smaller, lightweight hardware revision. Maybe it's not a gimmicky 3D display. Maybe — just maybe — we'll see Nintendo finally embrace current technological trends and release a version of the Switch that supports ultra high-resolution 4K displays.

That's what self-proclaimed "industry insider" Marcus Sellars argued, anyway, in a since-deleted tweetstorm reported by Game Rant. On the surface, it makes sense. Analysts predict that almost half of the homes in America will have a 4K TV by 2020. The Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 already support the technology, as does any PC with a graphics card powerful enough to handle it.

Marcus Sellars doesn't have a spotless track record, and historically Nintendo has been slow to join the latest trends. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had traditional HD displays in 2005 and 2006, respectively, while Nintendo didn't get in on the fun until the Wii U launched in 2012. Even with that long wait, however, it was thrilling to finally see Nintendo's iconic characters rendered in stunning HD. With any luck, we won't have to wait quite as long to see Mario and his buddies on a 3840 × 2160 pixel screen. Here's hoping.

Catching Frostbite

As per usual, Nintendo's first-party titles dominate the Switch's sales charts, but don't count other developers out just yet. Bucking years of tradition, major third-party titles like FIFA, Minecraft, DOOM, and Skyrim are all doing quite well on Nintendo's latest platform. For indie developers, the numbers are even better. By this point, it's pretty clear: if you make games, you want to try to get them on the Switch.

The rumor mill suggests that Electronic Arts, the second-biggest game publisher on the planet, is doing just that. While EA Sports wrote special software to get FIFA on Nintendo's latest console, an EA employee's LinkedIn profile hints that the company is working on — or might have already finished — bringing its Frostbite game engine to the Switch hardware. For those of you who don't know, Frostbite is the technology that powers the bulk of EA's blockbuster games. Getting it running on the Switch would be a big, big deal.

A Switch-capable Frostbite engine wouldn't just make it more likely that FIFA on the Switch would be on par with its Xbox One and PlayStation 4 counterparts. It could also pave the way for games like Battlefield and Anthem to arrive on Nintendo's hardware. Will that happen? It's hard to say. Could it? According to this rumor, absolutely.

Netflix on the Switch? Stranger things have happened.

Sometimes, you don't want to play games. Sometimes, you just want to sit back and enjoy media without pushing any buttons. That's what streaming services are for. Now, the Switch is still a gaming platform first and foremost. It'll never be as fully featured as dedicated media players like your Amazon Fire, your Roku, or your Google Chromecast, but it's shaping up to be a decent back-up. Hulu arrived on the Switch about six months after the console launched. YouTube joined it about a year a later.

There's still one big player missing, though. Fire up the Nintendo eShop, and you'll notice that Netflix is nowhere to be seen. Given just how popular the streaming service was on the Wii — back in the day, 25% of Netflix subscribers accessed content using Nintendo's little white box — that's a surprise. Streaming services closed up shop on the Wii in January 2019, however, and outlets like TechRadar surmise that a Switch app is on the way to fill that void.

By this point, most people probably have other means of watching streaming video, but it would still be nice to use the Switch to catch up on BoJack Horseman and The Crown in airports and coffee shops, and besides, Netflix is slowly becoming a gaming platform of its own. Don't believe us? Black Mirror: Bandersnatch would like to have a word.

Virtual reality for a virtual world

You've heard it a thousand times: virtual reality is the future. And yet, despite the fact that people have been making those claims for years, VR hasn't caught on. Sony found some moderate success with its PlayStation VR platform and Oculus devices did okay in the year-on-year metrics, but customers' overall enthusiasm is flagging. Virtual reality still has tons of promise, but it's not clear if it'll ever reach its full potential.

Nintendo's known this for years. In an uncharacteristically forward-thinking move, the company released its own VR console all the way back in '95. It was called the Virtual Boy, and it was one of the biggest flops in video game history. Ever since, Nintendo executives have been clear: there isn't any VR in the company's immediate future.

And yet, some evidence indicates otherwise. A Switch-related patent includes a Gear VR-like virtual reality headset. Former Nintendo of Japan president Tatsumi Kimishima admitted to Tech Times that the company is researching VR, and noted that the Switch is powerful enough to handle it. Most tellingly, hackers found a secret virtual reality mode hidden in the Switch's operating system. There's no question that Nintendo has VR on their minds — the question is whether or not it'll ever come to anything. We'll just have to wait and see.

So many blasts from the past that you might as well be in a war zone

The Switch isn't just the go-to place to enjoy the newest Nintendo games — it's becoming a great system for rediscovering old ones as well. Near-forgotten Wii U games like New Super Mario Bros. U, Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Hyrule Warriors all got second chances on the Switch, and it's paying off. The Switch makes a fine home for older classics in search of a new audience, like Bayonetta. Games that failed to make their way to Nintendo consoles earlier, like Dark Souls and Skyrim, soar on the console-handheld hybrid.

If the rumors are right, there are even more ports and remakes on the way — and why not? With Metroid Prime 4 on the distant horizon, a revamped Metroid Prime Trilogy would be a great way to get new players up to speed. Persona 5's Joker is on his way to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and a Switch edition of Persona 5 R would be an excellent way to introduce him to Nintendo fans.

Expect many more. Look, Nintendo's already hinted that there's at least one big 2019 title that's still a secret, and promises that fans will be "delighted to know" about it. With Pokémon, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing already slated for 2019, it sure feels like that's going to be some kind of big re-release. What, exactly, remains to be seen.

Star Fox and F-Zero, two sci-fi tastes that go great together

We're only a couple of years into the Switch's run, but the console has already gotten exclusive editions of most of Nintendo's big franchises. Its first year saw new Zelda, Mario, and Splatoon games and a souped up Mario Kart port. A Mario sports title, Kirby, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrived in 2018. Pokémon, Fire Emblem, Yoshi, and Animal Crossing are scheduled for 2019. Metroid Prime 4 is coming — slowly, perhaps, but it's coming.

That's almost all of Nintendo's major series — save two: Star Fox and F-Zero. There's a good reason for that. Purportedly, Retro Studios is working on a new game called Star Fox Grand Prix, which the leaker describes as "Diddy Kong Racing mixed with F-Zero." Eurogamer confirmed that the game will contain a mixture of fast-paced racing action and a story-based adventure mode, complete with boss battles.

That may not be enough for long-suffering F-Zero fans, who haven't gotten a proper sequel since 2004's F-Zero Climax, but in the absence of a real anti-gravity racer, Star Fox Grand Prix will have to do. It should be welcome news for Star Fox aficionados too, given that the Wii U's Star Fox Zero didn't exactly deliver the goods — if it's true, that is. That's the thing about rumors. You can't always trust 'em.