Nintendo’s Switch has been the biggest console success story of the past 12 months, selling an estimated 15.7 million units to date. To put that in perspective, the Xbox One (+X) has sold an estimated 36.8 million units since launching in late 2013. But the Switch has always had a substantial caveat that could come back to bite some users in the keister right about now — you can’t back up or transfer your saved games. That’s always been a potential risk on the platform, but a new issue could exacerbate the problem. Gamers are reporting that after Nintendo’s most recent firmware update, plugging the Switch into a third party dock can brick it — permanently.
That’s the word from Kotaku after speaking to multiple affected gamers. On reddit and other forums, gamers are warning each other of problems with docks manufactured by Nyko and FastSnail. Kotaku doesn’t think the Insignia dock is causing problems, but don’t take a few reports on reddit as evidence of success or failure in this endeavor.
As of this writing, it’s not clear what the culprit is. Users have pointed to Nintendo’s USB-C spec implementation having major problems, more or less from start to finish. The Switch doesn’t properly communicate its own capabilities; it attempts to implement an alternative mode without even querying the dock to see if said mode is supported.
USB-C compatibility tester Nathan K describes this as “strongly hint[ing] the motivation was DRM, vendor-lockout, and shows poor consideration of forwards-compatibility. (Remember, Nintendo may release a different dock in the future… with different USB VID and PID! Hardcoding it is a bad idea, and instead it should rely on USB-PD commands to do it.)” He also notes that certain chargers will crash the Switch outright, and says that “If your Switch bugs out, it will refuse to charge with anything until it is hard-rebooted.”
This behavior, and the sorry state of Nintendo’s USB-C implementation (Nathan K’s article was written nearly a year ago, on May 29, 2017), have led many to conclude Nintendo’s USB-C implementation is at fault. That said, this issue doesn’t cleanly resemble earlier problems — mostly because in the past, devices might get stuck in a boot loop, but only until they were reset again. Now, some products are getting bricked permanently. And while Nintendo has apparently indicated they’ll service machines for affected individuals, provided your machine is under warranty, that probably doesn’t mean you’ll get your saved game data back. Some customers have been told to expect they’ll permanently lose whatever information was saved to their hardware.
All of this leaves customers who purchased third-party peripherals between a rock and a hard place. Nyko has told Kotaku that it is “aware of the issue some Portable Docking Kit owners are facing after updating the firmware on their Nintendo Switch to version 5.0. Though further testing is still required to determine the exact root cause of the problem, we believe it is related to the way the Switch handles AV output for an external TV/monitor while the console is docked on the Portable Docking Kit.”
Bricked consoles aren’t the only potential problem. One Kotaku reader noted he’s used the Nyko dock without issue for months on end, only to find that his Switch will no longer dock or charge while plugged into a dock after the 5.0 update, including the official Nintendo dock. The device, in his words, “is now permanantly [sic] a handheld. And again, this is after using the Nyko dock occassionally [sic] without problems for months. With the one year warranty on the Switch expiring for a lot of early adopters, I strongly suggest anyone using this dock stop doing so.” (Emphasis original)
Nintendo has issued a new firmware update that claims to offer “general system stability improvements,” but its only formal response to the problem has been to recommend consumers only buy Nintendo-brand peripherals and avoid third party products.
Under the circumstances, we’d agree. But once again, this is a problem that could’ve been substantially less painful for many people if Nintendo would offer a method of backing up saved games. Cloud saves tied to an independent account or a method of backing up to microSD would both solve this kind of problem.