Nintendo Switch UI evolution: The history of Nintendo console's operating systems

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This may surprise you, but in the near-40 years of Nintendo being in the gaming-market, the consoles didn’t have an interactive UI until 2001.

But in a sense, it shouldn’t really surprise; Nintendo were all about the games and games only. There was no need for multimedia features; while the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 had their own take with VMU, memory and DVD features, the N64 had a black screen when no game was inserted.

But once the internet was more accessible, with apps and being able to buy games online, the market needed Nintendo to have something more useful.

Table of Contents

With that, here’s a history of the UI from 2001, featuring all the consoles from Nintendo since then.

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GameCube (2001)

Launched in 2001, the Gamecube had some stiff competition. With the PlayStation 2 already becoming a best-seller, with its strong lineup and DVD features, Nintendo did its best by launching with Super Smash Bros. Melee and Wave Race.

But this also marked the start of its UI on the console with no game inserted, and even though it was simple, it still had that Nintendo-spark across the whole UI.

When there’s no disk inserted, you are greeted with a ‘Cube’ UI, similar to the console itself. You’re greeted with four options:

  • Options
  • Game
  • Memory
  • Calendar
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‘Memory’ is self-explanatory, but you can easily move and delete any saves from a Gamecube game here. It’s also useful to make sure that there are relevant saves for Psycho Mantis in ‘Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes’..

A ‘calendar’, while primitive, used the time and date stored in the console to easily show the weeks and months. While it wasn’t an ideal feature, it was welcome, just in case you were counting down the days for ‘Wind Waker’ back in 2003.

READ MORE: GameCube games on the Switch; Could it happen?

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Wii (2006)

Released in 2006, the UI was completely different from what Nintendo had brought out before. It was almost a demo as to how to navigate a menu with the Wii remote and controller.

You would be greeted with a screen that had fifteen blocks, each showing apps, games or just vacant. These could also be managed through the settings, and there would also be a calendar that would track your playtime on each game.

This was a step-up from the Gamecube, especially in its look, as the content as front and centre. It was also because of apps and games being able to be bought from the Wii Shop, so the onboard-storage of 512MB, or ‘2200 blocks’.

But of course, what makes this UI memorable, wasn’t the UI at all, it was the music. In fourteen years since its debut, its been covered relentlessly, by many bands, and on many instruments.

READ MORE: Wii games on the Switch; Could it happen?

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Wii U (2012)

The infamous Wii U; mostly loved and mostly disliked. It's a console that has divided opinions the most to its fans, and we've also talked about what went wrong during its release.

But it had a fantastic library of games, with NintendoLand, Super Mario 3D World, Zombii U and many more. But what also helped it, was its UI.

A further enhancement to the Wii UI, it looked refined across the board, mostly thanks to the move to HD for this console. Using either the Gamepad or when it was docked, it would show your friends online, the apps and games available, and probably the best eShop UI design that’s ever been so far.

With no Wii Remote this time as standard, it would be navigated by the analogue sticks from a GamePad or controller, but what really made it shine, was the integration with Mii’s. The whole UI was integrated with the Nintendo Network and in-turn, the Miivserse. This enabled a world where you could interact with users who were or weren’t friends, sending certain messages or even able to share items in some games through this. It was the UI that really helped push this, and it’s something that many users want to see on their Switch.

READ MORE: Rumour; 'Mario All Stars 2' for Switch could be announced soon.

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Switch (2017)

We are now at the current UI of Nintendo consoles; the Switch. Released in 2017, it seems strange that it’s already three years since its launch, but while the UI is elegant enough and simple to use, it’s barely had a major update since the console’s release.

As the console is used on the go or when docked, the UI needed to scale enough to be used on many different-sized televisions, and it does the job here. Easily accessible for games, apps and friends, you navigate the UI through the DPAD and analogue sticks across the whole UI.

When you switch the console on, you’re brought to a side-bar of latest news, and prompts to press a button three times to resume your session for the console. There’s really not a lot to say here; it’s simple, its to the point, and it badly needs some enhancements.

We are three years into the Nintendo Switch, and there’s only been very minor updates to the UI, and mainly to the eShop. Many fans are waiting to see a ‘shopping cart’, a better way to talk to and join friends when they’re in a game, and lots more. Hopefully we will see improvements next year when the rumoured ‘Switch Pro’ is announced, but for now, it’s a simple UI that does it’s job, and that’s essentially it.

READ MORE: Nintendo Controller History; From NES to the Switch