I have a switch. And I have a Steam Deck. I’m a classy woman with two consoles designed for the kind of people who really like to be horizontal when playing games, which suits me just fine, as I’m often found horizontal and/or playing at games. But I see a lot of people pitting my two expensive rectangles against each other, and while I can understand why, I disagree that comparisons are the most useful way to look at them.
The Steam Deck and the Switch aren’t exactly apples and oranges, or chalk and chocolate, or whatever your favorite incomparables are. After all, they both have the same shape. They both play games. And Valve’s portable console is clearly modeled after the switch, anyway.
No, it’s more like comparing apples and apple pie. Two similar dishes, united by many elements, but just different enough to have different applications and uses. You wouldn’t bring a lone apple to a bake sale; you wouldn’t eat five apple pies a day to keep the doctor away. Similarly, my Switch and my Steam Deck serve different needs in my life, and, yesI realize I sound a bit like someone talking about the need to have both a party yacht and a business yacht, but hear me out.
It turns out that neither of them is a clear winner in this head-to-head. The Deck may seem to have it all figured out – but I don’t think it has, and I don’t think we should overlook Nintendo’s aging featherweight just because a new upstart welterweight has arrived, borrowing from the book of Nintendo game.
First of all, the Nintendo Switch was already long before the Deck was released, and it has earned its place in my heart. I can’t play God of War Ragnarok on the tiny tablet of a Nintendo console, and I wouldn’t either, because I don’t want to know what Kratos’ face looks like, but Pokemons and Kirbies and Zeldas that I get instead make the Switch fantastically interesting technology to have in my home. It has absolutely paid for itself hundreds of times over, with all the hours I’ve put into Hyrule, Paldea, and Egg (my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island).
Second, I mainly only play vampire survivors on my Deck right now, although it can handle much more hardware-intensive games. The Deck is fantastic for short sessions (as is the Switch), but I’m surprised how much I enjoy casual gaming on this little handheld. I mean, it’s a lot more powerful than the Switch, but I play 100 hour RPGs on the Switch and casual games on the Deck. Savage!
My opinion of the Steam Deck is also heavily influenced by the fact that it’s a big boy – 669 grams in total, compared to the Switch’s svelte 398 grams with Joy-Con attached. On the plus side, I feel like I’m going to have really strong forearms after a three hour session; on the other hand, it is a lot of weight to bear. I can easily play the Switch for extended sessions, switch between playing with the Joy-Con attached, playing with them removed, and playing in docked mode – the versatility is what keeps it with me. But the Steam Deck is locked to itself, with no moving parts, and that automatically limits it to very specific situations where I’m willing to hold more than half a kilo for an hour or two.
But all is not bad, of course. The Steam Deck also improved the Switch formula. The Switch is designed to be a Swiss army knife – an all-purpose jack of all trades – and that’s fine by me, but the Steam Deck is admittedly sleeker and more thoughtful in its design. I mean, it’s not hard – Nintendo has barely iterated on its hybrid console in almost six years, so Valve has half a decade of user feedback rejected by Nintendo that they can use to inform their own planes.
There are buttons on the reverse of the Steam Deck that you can map to any of the front buttons, which made my sore wrists a lot easier. The Hori Split Pad for Switch – which I think should have been on Valve’s mood board – has the same functionality, and it’s invaluable for creating useful quick-access buttons like sprint, interact, or weapon selection. The simple fact that you can remap the buttons at all is something Nintendo has always refused to acknowledge, but the Steam Deck also features community-created controller layouts for each game, so you can leave the armchair experts to do all the thinking.
Additionally, the Steam Deck loads from the High. You’d think that would be an obvious change, considering most people don’t want a charging cable stuck in their stomachs while playing games, but no. I’ll admit that owning a Deck and a Switch means I’m constantly confusing the two charging ports and trying to jam a USB-C cable somewhere where there isn’t a hole, but overall , I enormously prefer the top port of the Deck.
The innovation in the Steam Deck has me wishing for either a more responsive Nintendo or a new Switch Pro that supports a host of user-friendly changes. But ultimately, even with all their differences, I just don’t prefer one over the other, because despite looking like a Switch and a Switch in a trench coat, the two consoles offer two unique experiences.
But I think it’s even a little deeper than that. When the Steam Deck burst onto the scene, the word on the street was “Switch-killer”. How could it be otherwise? This bulky but suave pretender to the throne offered changes that Nintendo was reluctant to make; he proved that power is not synonymous with size; and it even has Switch emulators that you can use to make Nintendo’s console obsolete. And yet, I always come back to the Switch, despite everything.
It’s not that I don’t prefer one over the other, it’s that I don’t prefer the Steam Deck to the Switch, even if it seems obvious.
It’s perhaps less like comparing apples and apple pie, and more like comparing whiskey and Coca-Cola. One is refined, mature and sophisticated, the kind of thing you can order on a date to impress your lover. The other is a sweet brown fizzy drink that tastes like itself and nothing else, that has clung to the soft drink throne for over a century rarely accepting change, even though the market seems to require a new trend. It’s shamelessly itself, and it works. Sure, drinking neat whiskey on ice is cool and trendy in many circumstances, but sometimes you just want Coke, like you’re a five-year-old with simple needs.
The Steam Deck is my whiskey: I feel like an adult playing it, and its uses are vast. I can play eight hours of The Witcher, three hours of Return of the Obra Dinn, or 30 minutes of Vampire Survivors. It’s strong, fast and powerful. I can tell other people about it and they say “ooooh” and think I’m one of those people who owns leather furniture.
The Switch is my Coca-Cola. Everyone might think I’m a bit of a kid to appreciate it, but tell me, who would turn down an ice cold Coke on a hot day? Wants whiskey with their cheeseburger? The Switch is a toy. A real toy, not one of those desktop toys that CEOs have that let you play a little version of golf or watch metal balls slam together. I feel like a kid playing the Switch, and I don’t care.
The video game industry is divided, just like the Steam Deck and the Switch, into GAMES FOR ADULTS and GAMES FOR EVERYONE. That’s why Nintendo continues to be propelled into the ‘Best Family Game’ category at awards shows – we just don’t know how to celebrate games designed for a demographic that includes kids, even if adults enjoy them. too. The Switch is a tough, flexible piece of technology designed for tiny, sticky hands and larger mitts. The Steam Deck is FOR LARGE ADULT HANDS ONLY.
But I am a person who contains multitudes. I’m both childish and adult, laid back and hardcore, fun and serious. I wish there was a console that served both of these sides of me, but right now the industry is severely divided into “fun!” and “all technology should look like military equipment”. The Steam Deck and the Switch (and Xbox Game Pass, but that’s not the point of this soapbox) cover all my bases, and that’s why I like having both. But wouldn’t it be great if the next generation were their child, a hybrid of both hybrids? A whiskey and Coke? We can only dream.
Do you agree with Kate, or do you think a yacht with just coke and apple pies is fine? Are you confused by all these analogies? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!