Nintendo's best hardware has rarely been about pushing technological boundaries; instead the secret usually lies in putting existing pieces together in a unique, fun and family-friendly way. While we've never seen anything exactly like the Nintendo Switch, the writing was already on the wall in these five products that, to varying degrees, pointed to Nintendo's 2017 breakthrough.

Razer Edge gaming tablet

UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS

More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.

UPGRADE

While the products' target audiences couldn't have been more different, the most similar precursor to the Switch was Razer's experimental and expensive Edge tablet. A hyped product out of CES 2012 (known then as Project Fiona), the huge slate combined gaming PC internals with a tablet form factor.

Taking the Switch parallels even further, the Edge's handlebar-style game controls were removable, and there was also an optional dock that you could slide the system into for output to a TV screen. With a few exceptions, it was basically a bigger, clunkier and Windows-based version of the Switch – four years prior.

The biggest difference, however, was price. While everything you need to get going with the Switch costs a family-friendly US$300, the Razer Edge tablet started at $1,000, while its handlebar controls added another $250. The TV Docking Station tagged on another $100.

Let that $1,050 difference serve as fair warning to early adopters: While you'll sometimes get exciting previews of future mainstream tech, it's also an expensive and often fruitless exercise in gathering soon-to-be-obsolete gear.

Nintendo Wii U

You could see the Nintendo Switch as the ultimate fulfillment of the vision that Nintendo's 2012 console was only vaguely hinting at. The Wii U may have confused many customers: not only with its Wii-based branding, which suggested a minor update to the original Wii, but also with its semi-portable GamePad.

While Wii U games were powered by the traditional console that sat under a TV, the system could also stream those games onto the GamePad controller, which had a 6.1-in, 480p screen. Unlike with the Switch, though, the GamePad wouldn't do a thing if you tried to throw it in your backpack and play it on the go.

The Wii U was, by most standards, a flop. The Switch's combination of uncompromised home and portable modes, however, should not only be less confusing to customers; it should also give them what they wished (or thought) they were getting from the Wii U more than four years ago.

Sony PS Vita and PS4 Remote Play

Sony's failed PlayStation Vita was unusually powerful for a portable console (at least at the time of its launch). While that alone gave it some parallels to the Switch, Sony's Remote Play added to the similarities, as you could stream more powerful PS4 games to the mobile system.

The PS Now streaming service added yet another perk, as you could play PS3 classics like the Uncharted series, The Last of Us and God of War 2 on the handheld (though that often required the awkward chore of using the Vita's back touch controls for shoulder buttons).

Like all the items on this list, though, this setup had a few big caveats that separated it from the Switch. First, PS4 Remote Play only worked with select games. Both PS4 and Vita also needed to be connected to fast and stable Wi-Fi networks, as the system's optional 3G connection wouldn't have been fast enough for quality streaming even if it were supported.

While the Vita flopped and Remote Play never became a ubiquitous or killer feature, it added up to another collection of functionality that clumsily grasped at the same vision that is now more elegantly fulfilled in Nintendo's new hybrid.

Nvidia Shield Portable and Shield Tablet

Nvidia's Shield Portable and Shield Tablet were Android-based mobile gaming devices that could also stream games locally or remotely from a Windows-based gaming PC.

That made the Shield duo closer to the Vita or Wii U than the Switch: The biggest difference from the Wii U was, unlike its GamePad, the Shields had some standalone (Android gaming) functionality while offline. But the Windows streaming aspect added another hint of what was to come with the Switch – blending the power of home gaming with the portability of mobile.

iPhone or iPad with physical controls

Modern high-end smartphones and tablets, with their impressive raw gaming power, have the potential to be killer portable gaming consoles. But two things have always stood in their way. The first, a lack of proper physical controls, can be solved with (among other accessories) Gamevice's grip-on controls (above) that make it look and handle a bit like the Switch.

Unfortunately there isn't much you can do about the (by and large) overly-casual, touch-first and freemium nature of App Store games. Sure, you can play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, GTA: San Andreas and the Zelda-esque Oceanhorn, along with a list of other games that allow for physical (MFi) controls, but you aren't likely to find much that approaches a full Nintendo title like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey or port of Skyrim.

While you can also approach the Switch's TV mode with AirPlay streaming to an Apple TV, this entire iOS setup would lack the streamlined integration and simplicity that Apple typically strives for (and that Nintendo better achieved).

But if Apple ever did want to get serious about gaming, perhaps making and promoting physical controls of its own and providing incentives for developers to make more full console-style games that support them, the raw potential is there.

For more on Nintendo's new console, you can read New Atlas' Switch review and our view of the console from a parent's point of view.

View gallery - 9 images