The only way the Steam Deck succeeds where the Switch failed

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I’ve recently been on a trip that leaves me with a question every time I don’t spend a few nights in front of my gaming PC: how am I going to play games? For almost five years now, my answer has been packing my Nintendo Switch. This time, however, packing my Switch felt like a compromise I didn’t want to make.

Like many people, I’m eagerly waiting for Valve to reach my Steam Deck reservation. As the clock ticked at the back of my mind, I realized the main flaw of the Nintendo Switch: Cross-save support. Aside from the graphics, battery life, or even comically large size, the Steam Deck succeeds in an area where the Nintendo Switch has never capitalized.

And I’m sure I can say that before my Steam Deck pre-order arrives.

Situational gaming

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

My Steam Deck hasn’t arrived yet, but I had a brief chance to handle and review the system during my recent trip (thanks, Giovanni). I’ve also seen how it performs in a series of tests, talked to several owners of the system, and done enough research that Google autocompletes “Steam Deck” before pulling out my first few characters. I know how the system feels, performs and behaves, despite the fact that mine hasn’t appeared yet.

Handheld gaming is rarely the preferred way to play.

However, none of that is important. The most important thing about the Steam Deck is that I can carry my progress with me. Handhelds have always been platforms of compromise, so while it’s fun to look at benchmarks and talk ergonomics, the fact remains that handheld gaming is rarely the preferred way to play. It’s situational gaming, where you’re willing to make compromises to keep playing.

With my Switch I run into the same problem over and over again. I get ready for a trip, browse the eShop for offers and grab a long RPG to keep my attention. In the end, though, I never make much progress because I’m well aware that when I get back to my PC, I’ll just be playing on it.

There are issues with the Switch, but they don’t bother me. Graphics, frame rate, the Joy-Con’s controls – it doesn’t matter, because I’m willing to make compromises for portability. It’s about starting from scratch, and that’s something the Steam Deck won’t let you do.

Failed cross saves

Reddit user ConnerBartle

The Switch could have ended the Steam Deck before Valve made the first announcement. But Nintendo never took advantage of one of the best features developers pushed for: cross-saves. There’s quite a list of Nintendo Switch games that support cross saves, and they’re the backbone of my handheld experience.

Outside of Switch exclusives, I mostly play games that allow me to bring my progress back to my PC: Hades, The Witcher 3, Divinity Original Sin 2, and even Civilization VI (as problematic as that port is). There’s also the villains’ gallery of cross-progressed live service titles on Switch, such as Rocket League and Fortnite.

Obviously Nintendo has never bothered to do cross saves.

Nintendo didn’t recognize the rising tide and it hasn’t set up systems to make cross-saves between PC and Switch easier. If I could hand over my Dragon Quest XI or Ni No Kuni like I could with Immortals Fenyx Rising, I probably wouldn’t have pre-ordered the Steam Deck. Or at least, I wouldn’t have been so excited.

I don’t want to downplay the effort required to make universal cross-saves work, but it’s clear Nintendo never made that effort. And porting progression is all the more important given the dumping ground of ports and reissues the Switch has become in its late years.

The Switch isn’t a failure by any means, but Nintendo could have given the system a lot more legs this far from release with wider cross-save support. The Steam Deck solves that problem for gamers like me who don’t mind compromising on performance if it means picking up where you left off.

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