Steam Deck is Switch without the magic

I am a very bad PC gamer. Valve is one of the greatest and most impactful companies in the history of PC games and it’s delivered the long-rumoured handheld Steam Deck at a lower-than-expected price point, and with all sorts of promises about what you can do with it. And the crowd goes wild!

Except me. When I saw the Steam Deck reveal video, the first reaction was obviously: Wow, they really like their Switches in Seattle. Then a slight sense that I’d seen this all before. That’s obviously not literally true, but it was impossible to shake off the sense that Steam Deck is a piece of hardware that fits in the same lineage as Playstation Move and Kinect. Yes, they were controllers, not platforms, but what they all share is that they follow in Nintendo’s wake, without ever quite understanding why the Kyoto magicians were going that way in the first place.

Nintendo is grossly underrated as a hardware design company, primarily because it doesn’t care about what hardware high-enders care about. The guiding philosophy has always been that of the late Gumpei Yokoi, best-known for the Game Boy, who encapsulated it as “lateral thinking with withered technology.” That is, when everyone around you is looking at the bleeding edge of technology, Nintendo is thinking about (broadly speaking) the unexplored potential of older hardware. Trivia: the Wii motion-sensing technology was originally considered for Gamecube, which probably stands as Nintendo’s last ‘traditional’ console.

(Image credit: NINTENDO)

That’s not to say Nintendo always gets it right, but even when it gets things wrong the reasons why are interesting. Wii U was a failure, but the concept behind it was understandable: Nintendo guessed that living rooms were shortly going to become places with multiple screens, and that a console that could switch (thangew) between TV and couch would fit into that ecosystem. In the Wii U’s case the idea makes sense, but the hardware was too withered: the rapid improvement of tablets following the iPad made the Wii U gamepad look like a Tonka toy.

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