Have you wondered why Nintendo still uses cartridges for their games? I have also wondered this so I researched the internet trying to answer the question.
Nintendo uses cartridges as the technology has greatly improved, as read speeds are faster than discs so games don’t need to be installed like Xbox One/PS4 games. Cartridges are harder to pirate and more resistant to damage than Discs, and far more portable.
I will go into a lot more detail in why Nintendo uses cartridges instead of blue-ray discs and the advantages of doing so, also the reasons why cartridges are expensive and how this affects the pricing of Nintendo Switch games.
If your interested in checking out the best Switch accessories you can find them on Amazon here
Why Nintendo Uses Cartridges Explained
The biggest reason Nintendo switched from using discs with the Wii & Wii U to cartridges with the Nintendo Switch is portability. Cartridges are far smaller than Discs and so are the cartridge readers compared to disc readers.
A CD reader would make the Switch far bulkier and sharply reduce its portability. Consider the Switch is actually shorter than a CD/Blue-ray player and since the device will be in motion whilst being played in handheld mode the disc reader would constantly have issues reading the disc; as Discs must constantly be scanned to work.
Whilst there are ways for Nintendo to solve this problem, just look at Sonys PSP using discs in a protective casing, the truth it would just make the console a lot more complicated and wouldn’t suit the Switch.
Since discs have to be constantly read by spinning motors with a laser reader this requires a lot more power from the system since the Switch is in part a handheld system using less battery powder via a cartridge is the far more battery effective solution; also as there are less moving parts Switch components can be damaged.
Improvement In Technology
Now this will get a bit nerdy so bare with me, areal density refers to how much digital information you put into a storage medium and the unit is bit/in2.
Hardrives have historically been worse than optical drives or the drives in computers, this has changed as in 2016 was the first time optical drives(cartridges) surpassed discs with a super 2.8 terabits/in2! Nintendo Switch cartridges can hold up to 32 Gig which isn’t bad at all.
Cartridges are simply faster than discs and have a very fast run speed and this is why unlike with the Xbox One/PS4 needing to install games from blue-ray discs your Switch doesn’t need to play the game; as the cartridge technology is quick enough so that it is not necessary.
Cartridges Are More Resistant To Damage
Unlike blue-ray discs that can easily be scratched or damaged if the console is touched whilst the game is running making them unusable. Whereas cartridges are far more resistant which is ideal for a handheld console.
Also, they cannot easily be bent or broken compared to a blue-ray disc and take up far less space and are very portable.
Cartridges Are More Difficult To Pirate
Since blue-ray discs are very common people understand them so they are very easy to pirate. A disc has all it’s data exposed and is completely readable if you have an appropriate drive, making it far easier to mod and copy.
Whereas even though Switch cartridges are basically SD cards, the cost of the cartridges are decided by Nintendo meaning at the moment if you want to pirate Nintendo cartridges it will be quite expensive.
Also, Nintendo Switch cartridges have a complex encryption system built-in which makes getting unencrypted game data very difficult to get(you need this to mod the game) without having specific highly controlled description keys. Nintendo despises piracy and having cartridges is a strong weapon in the battle against piracy.
Disadvantages Of Nintendo Using Cartridges
Nintendo cartridges are very expensive to produce is a big disadvantage to using cartridges and why Switch games are so expensive, if you want a detailed look into Why Nintendo games are so expensive please click here.
Unlike Nintendos competitors Playstation and Microsoft who use blue-ray discs, Nintendo uses cartridges of between 1- 32 gigabytes. With a disc whether you burn 6GB or 50GB to a blue-ray, the processing costs stay relatively the same. This isn’t the same with Nintendo.
Cartridges get more expensive the higher memory you need for storage and as reported by Polygon Nintendo Switch cartridges can be “around 60% more expensive than Blue-ray discs used by other consoles”. So the higher the storage the higher the production costs and therefore less money to be made.
Third-party games just HAVE to be more expensive on the switch as otherwise, the developers wouldn’t make any money, which makes developing for the Switch quite technical and not for everyone.
Nintendo Switch cartridges can only storage 32 gig which isn’t that much especially since most blue-ray games are double-sided which contain a least 50 gig of data and are far cheaper to produce.
However, developers love a challenge and the fact that Witcher 3 a massive open-world RPG and one of the best games of this generation and has been successfully ported on the Switch on a mini mini 32 gig cartridge; proves to anyone the Switches third party potential and what you can do with that 32 gig cartridge.
To see if Witcher 3 is worth it on the switch please check out my article.
Can you play Nintendo switch games without the cartridge?
If you own a physical game with the cartridge you NEED the cartridge to play the game. However, the Switch has tons of digital games available on the Nintendo E-shop that you can constantly switch out and play without needing to swap out the physical cartridge.
Check out the official Nintendo E-shop here games are constantly on sale so I’m sure you will find out what you’re looking for! To see my post on the discussion between physical and digital games please click here
Do switch cartridges break easily?
Now Switch cartridges are far more durable than blue-ray discs and cannot be scratched or broken easily. However, you need to be very careful whenever you insert a Switch cartridge into your console as if it’s damaged or could damage your Switch card reader making your Switch unable to play physical games!
The issue is the set of ridges on the bottom half of an SD Card/Switch cartridge is any of these strips are broken or cracked enough to move when inserted this could damage your cartridge reader.
This issue was found in this Japanese YouTube video of a repair shop worker notifying people of the issue. So be very careful when inserting a cartridge into your Switch that is second hand or borrowed from a friend.
To see a durability test of the switch check out my post.
Why do switch cartridges taste so bad?
Nintendo Switch cartridges taste so bad because of a bittering agent being added which is a safety measure to prevent children from accidentally swallowing them.
In an interview with Polygon, a Nintendo representative said the following.
“A bittering agent (Denatonium Benzoate) has also been applied to the game card,” the spokesperson said, adding that Nintendo recommends keeping Switch cartridges away from children “to avoid the possibility of accidental ingestion.Nintendo Representative
Please take try the taste at home! Here is a funny video of Youtubers testing the bittering agent so you don’t have to