Alright kids, gather around now. Today we’re going to talk about mid generation upgrades. Why!? Well it’s at the top of my mind because Nintendo finally announced the next mid-gen iteration of the Switch in the Switch OLED. It features a new OLED screen and…yeah…
Rumors, speculation and pie in the sky hopes aside (seriously put all that aside) and in the eyes of this Mega Dad the new SKU is underwhelming (to put it nicely). While Sony and especially Microsoft have continued the tradition of competing to deliver cutting edge hardware Nintendo seems committed to doing the bare minimum.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘well that’s just your opinion man!’, ‘I mean, who set these expectations so high for new mid-gen SKUs anyway!’ well everyone and especially Nintendo actually.
Let’s take a look at some mid-gen offerings that really knocked it out of the park in terms of form factor, power, and price. Maybe then we’ll see if the new Switch model is an overpriced cash grab or not.
5. PS2 Slim
Even though it released way back in the year 2000 the PlayStation 2 remains the best selling console of all time with a whopping 155 million units sold.
You might ask yourself, ‘If the console was so popular throughout its life cycle, why would Sony release a new SKU?.’ ‘What incentive could they possibly have to give their customers a better product!?‘ Well you see kids back in the day even if you had a hit you didn’t rest on your laurels.
Released 4 short years after the original model the PS2 slimline model was half the weight and less than half the thick as the original PS2, it ran much quieter, and even added in an ethernet port. I know shocking right, a built-in networking port!
You just had to own one, I had one, you just couldn’t look at the damn thing without smiling, it was just incredibly thin compared to it’s big brother model, sure it had some heating issues but nobody’s perfect. While the original PS2 launched at $299 by the time the mid-gen slim came around you could pick one up for around $150. That’s right, a price drop on an improved model.
4. New Nintendo 3DS XL
It’s hard to separate the DS and 3DS handhelds in my mind as separate generations. The two lines ran concurrently for years and the 3DS definitely benefited from the success of the DS and backwards compatibility with DS titles. In my opinion they’re part of one long successful generation…but I digress.
In 2004 Nintendo pushed the boundaries of portable hardware further than we ever could have imagined with the Nintendo DS. It was jam packed with experimental features: dual-screens, a clam-shell form factor, a built-in microphone, wireless capabilities, a stylus and touchscreen.
“There’s no greater example of mid-gen hardware iterations run-a-muck than Nintendo’s DS and 3DS handhelds.”
With the DS still going strong, Nintendo pushed boundaries again with the release of the Nintendo 3DS in 2011. The 3DS could produce a stereoscopic 3D effect without any peripherals or 3D glasses. Even now saying it out loud I’m not sure what sorcery this shit was, all I can tell you is I saw it with my own eyes, it worked and miraculously didn’t damage my eyes.
There’s no greater example of mid-gen hardware iterations run-a-muck than Nintendo’s DS and 3DS handhelds. Hardware revisions ranged from minor to game changing with the DS Lite, DSi, DSi X, Nintendo 2DS, New Nintendo 3DS, New Nintendo 2DS XL…that’s not even all of them, factor in new colors and special editions and basically the number of iterations was beyond ridiculous.
After years of incremental improvements the New 3DS XL released in 2014 was by far the best model featuring an analog nub, improved 3D effect, and a huge (for the time) 4.8 inch screen.
3. PS4 Pro
Ok this one is a little weird. The original PS4 released in 2013 for $399 with a 500GB internal hard drive. The PS4 Pro released just three years later in 2016 for $399 without a 4K blu-ray drive but with a 1 terabyte hard drive, ‘double GPU power’, boosted CPU clock speed and of course the promise of HDR and 4K quality gaming.
If you recall, it was right around this time that PlayStation boss Mark Carney started practicing blowing smoke up our collective ass, but of course his marketing speak would reach new deceptive heights one console generation later…but I digress.
“In many ways the PS4 Pro’s half-step toward 4K gaming helped usher in a new era of incremental graphical upgrades and began to blur the lines between console generations.”
The PS4 Pro did not deliver a grand leap in graphical power but it definitely delivered visual improvements with checkerboard 4K rendering and boost mode. Games that could take advantage of the new hardware were labeled as ‘PS4 Pro Enhanced’ and gamers everywhere began to bicker incessantly over the tradeoff choice between better resolution or performance.
In many ways the PS4 Pro’s half-step toward 4K gaming helped usher in a new era of incremental graphical upgrades and began to blur the lines between console generations. The discussion around the importance of backwards compatibility came to the forefront. Gamers started to realize that our console capabilities needed to align with those of our TVs and displays or we would suffer from diminishing returns…and that’s good right?…right?
2. Xbox One X
Speaking of mid-generation half-steps, let’s talk about Xbox, the current reigning champion of releasing confusing hardware SKUs. The Xbox One released in 2013 with a 500 GB hard drive for a hefty $499. Due to a perfect storm of underperforming games, unexpected cancellations, and overall lack of exclusives much of the focus during this generation was keeping the hardware revised and beefy enough to hold consumers’ attention.
The Xbox One S released quickly after the base model with better internal components, a 40% smaller form factor, and…get this…the ability to stand vertically (enter sarcastic slow clap here). Pissing off early adopters, the Xbox One X released just one year after that in 2017 priced at $499 like the original model but this time with a 1TB hard drive.
So what made the Xbox One X a great mid-gen upgrade? Let me throw out some word-salad, let me know if any of this rings a bell. 6 teraflops of graphical computing performance. 2.3 GHz octa-core CPU. 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM. Not impressed, neither was I, still I owned all three iterations of the Xbox One and remarkably the Xbox One X delivered a great all around experience.
All that jargon meant you could enjoy better frame rates, native 4K, HDR and even performance improvements for older existing games. There were no exclusives (sad face), but also there were no exclusives (happy face). Instead Xbox began to solidify its commitment to backwards compatibility on ever more powerful hardware.
I still get chills remembering how amazing Forza Horizon 3 appeared running on the Xbox One X. For a time, it was the most powerful game console ever made.
1. Game Boy Advance SP
Let’s get this out of the way right now. The Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance game libraries contain some of the best video games ever created…moving on. The Nintendo Game Boy originally released in 1989 for $89.99. Fun fact the OG Game Boy was so durable it could survive a thermo-nuclear blast…but I digress.
You see kids, in the early days we were blown away by the most basic of hardware improvements because we were seeing everything for the first time. The Game Boy Pocket offered a smaller and lighter form factor, amazing. The Game Boy Color released in 1998 added…color…amazing and the Game Boy Advance released in 2001 delivered stunning 32-bit gaming on a horizontal screen (shocking yes?).
The one fault of the Game Boy Advance was that it didn’t have an illuminated display. We used to try to play handhelds on the car ride home but if it was dark you could only play in short bursts when the passing street light gave you a glimpse of the screen. Ya’ll don’t know the struggle.
Enter the ultimate mid-generation hardware revision, the Game Boy Advance SP. All the greatness of the original GBA but with front-lit screen, new fold-up form factor, and internal rechargeable battery. Did they remove the headphone jack?…yes. If you purchased and adapter to use headphones would it keep you from charging the unit at the same time?! …again yes. Was it probably severely overpriced at $99… yes probably. But we were happy. Long live the king.
Is the Switch OLED a cash grab?
So what have we learned today kids? New hardware SKUs traditionally offer better specs including improved battery life, screen size, additional features, and even a price drop.
Charging $50 more for a “better’ screen” that is .8 inches larger than the original model with the same 720p resolution that was released 4 years ago is absurd.