The Nintendo Switch Should Have Shipped With a Stylus

Painting applications have been compatible with Nintendo handhelds for a long time. Sometimes intuitively using the available hardware and other times with a clever workaround.

Allow me to begin by spotlighting a digital notepad present throughout the Splatoon franchise.

Splatoon 2 & 3 Plazas

The overworld hub in Splatoon has a mailbox where players can submit hand drawn artworks. This can be done using a finger on the Nintendo Switch’s touchscreen, or using the Etch-a-Sketch-esqe controls with the Joy Cons, or a stylus meant for touchscreens (the ones with a bubble at the tip). The limitation of tools and color palette (black and white) might remind the player of Miiverse. And these plaza posts are the closest thing these artists can get to it in terms of UI. As such, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that it has attracted some of the same audience. Additionally, I wouldn’t doubt if someone out there has a Splatoon sequel just to check on the plaza from time to time. It’s that fun on its own; on both an interactivity level and a digital notepad level.

The mailbox where players can submit hand drawn posts in Splatoon 2. (Image credit: Nintendo)
The simplified UI that players can use to make posts. (Image credit: Nintendo)

Colors!, Colors3D, and Colors Live

Colors! is a series of a digital painting applications known for its simple UI.

This application is unique because it has so many releases. Colors! started out as a homebrew application for the Nintendo DS that evolved into a legitimate distribution to PlayStation Vita, iOS, and Android via publisher Collecting Smiles. The Switch release (known as Colors Live) is what really captures my attention, though. It was funded by Kickstarters out of the necessity to invent tech for a stylus that was compatible with the Switch. The workaround ended up using the Switch’s AUX port. Physical copies are shipped with styluses packaged in. They are wired styluses that use sonar technology in a tech environment that has already unanimously moved on to wireless styluses.

There’s even a story mode with prompts.

I’ve never used this stylus, but I’d love to test it out someday! (Image Credit: Collecting Smiles)

Art Academy: SketchPad

Developed by Nintendo after the success of Miiverse, Art Academy: SketchPad aimed to add a more colorful and artsy side to the Wii U library. It’s a sequel to Art Academy for the Nintendo DS. Although it is limited by only pencils and pastels (and a shutdown of an eShop), the application still received high praise for its robust nature and realistic feel. While I did make some digital art on my Wii U, I don’t think I used this specific program, so, I can’t really comment on it. That said, it did feel pretty cool to be in the same room with someone watching TV while I could paint on my GamePad.

Image Credit: Nintendo

uDraw Studio

Developed for the Wii by THQ, uDraw Studio featured a full on tablet that was bundled with the software. This game (if you can even call it that) was praised for its robust nature as well. The clean UI and simple design made it widely accessible. I have never used this tablet, but I assume it’s not dissimilar from using something like a Wacom tablet without a digital display. If I ever get the opportunity, I’ll be sure to test it out.

Image Credit: THQ Nordic (via Amazon)

Flipnote Studio

A 2D animation application that saw a release for the Nintendo DSi and the Nintendo 3DS (known as Flipnote Studio 3D). This is an app I have spent a lot of time tinkering with. I found it intuitive and it was a great introduction to 2D animation at the time. It had limited colors and a limited tool set, but it was still a blast. The online counterpart, Flipnote Hatena, was a neat addition to the free app. I have fond memories of Flipnote Hatena, and I think a similar experience absolutely has a place on the Switch.

Image Credit: Nintendo


Included with the Nintendo DS, PictoChat served as a LAN messenger that worked with multiple DS systems to create chatrooms. Users could send one another typed out or hand drawn messages with a limited color palette and tools. My favorite tool was the rainbow pen. I have fond memories of PictoChat as well. I think PictoChat or something offering a similar experience belongs on the Switch.

Well, I guess there’s always that one Smash Bros. stage.

Image Credit: Nintendo

So Why is a Stylus Seemingly Missing From the Switch?

I can’t help but feel like the Switch was rushed in a few aspects. This is especially true when it comes to hardware. This might be twinged with a shade of pink from my rose-tinted glasses, but I’m sure some of you feel the same. There’s not even a microphone!

My theory is that Nintendo followed the trend of touchscreens at the time, opting for a captive touch screen instead of a resistive touch screen. I wonder if they regret that decision in hindsight considering how many games and apps would have benefitted from a resistive touch screen. If they could see the staying power the Switch has had, I think they would have at least considered a resistive touch screen.

Last year, iOS 16 released. It expanded Apple’s controller support to include Joy Cons. This has piqued the interest of the digital art world, especially for those whose art tablet of choice is the iPad. The inspiration for this editorial came from watching a video showing off Joy Con support for the web app version of HeavyPaint. The artist was changing hue on the fly without using a color picker. While this is an extremely cool workaround for someone who might not be able to afford the Bluetooth Shortcut Panel from PenTips (or similar product), it made me extremely frustrated that Nintendo passed up the opportunity to cut out this technological middle man and include a stylus native to the Switch at launch. They wouldn’t even have had to change the design of the stylus from the Wii U if they went with a resistive touch screen.

I can only imagine how a stylus would have shaped the overall launch. Would it have come with Pictochat? What would Flipnote Studio look like? Finished animations could have saved to the gallery! Would there be another Art Academy sequel?

Who knows how far touch screen technology will progress by the next wave of handhelds? Maybe there is a happy medium that Nintendo can achieve with their next gen release. I wonder if there is a way to successfully hybridize the two types of touch screens.

Closing Thoughts

Touch screens and simplified UI inside painting applications have been on my mind as of late. I am an advocate for accessible digital art and I believe in the power of doodling.

That’s going to do it for me today. Keep finding ways to preserve those crispy pixels.

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Featured Image: Collecting Smiles

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