Handling a brand new piece of gaming hardware never ceases to be a magical experience, especially when the system is great. Even better is when you have an incredible piece of software to go along with it. Nintendo’s new portable/home console hybrid system, the Nintendo Switch, is all of the above. So far, it has the potential to be the comeback that Nintendo badly needs.
So, full disclosure, I have owned every single Nintendo system, both portable and home console, since the Super Nintendo and the original Game Boy. That said, I do have plenty of experience with PlayStation consoles (and portables) as well,and I am the proud owner of a PS4 and a Vita. I also do a fair amount of gaming on my PC.
The Nintendo Switch is, right out of the gate, Nintendo’s best system in many years. In many ways, it contains DNA from all of their previous systems. It enables off-TV play, the Wii U’s best feature. The Joycon controllers enable Wii-style motion controls. The touch screen enables the style of gaming seen on the DS and 3DS. The Switch’s list of features just feels like it was curated to play to Nintendo’s strengths.
The Switch system itself is the sleekest, sexiest piece of hardware Nintendo has ever produced. Putting it next to the bulky, oversized Wii U gamepad is almost comical. Unlike the Wii U pad, which felt hollow and light, the Switch has a nice weightyness to it, and you can sense that there is no wasted space on the device itself. The system has most of what you’d expect for it to have, as a portable device. It has a headphone jack, a USB-type C port for charging, a Micro SD port to expand the tiny 32 GB on-board storage, and a game card slot for the system’s game cartridges.
Pro: The Joycons Are Amazing
The new detachable controllers for the Switch, the two Joycon controllers, are perhaps the system’s best feature. They are the heart and soul of the system, enabling it to transform from a home console into a portable gaming device. While attached to the system, the Joycons feel sturdy, and they don’t wobble in any way, even after attaching and removing them countless times. The buttons are similar in size and feel to the 3DS XL’s buttons, which means they have a nice clicky feedback to them.The control sticks are much smaller than a typical stick, but they are slightly larger than the PlayStation Vita’s sticks. You will get accustomed to the smaller size though, and playing a game like Breath of the Wild works very well with them. However, I think it’s worth investing on a pro controller for a more competitive game such as Splatoon, since the extra space for the control stick would surely help in accuracy.
The strangest thing that you will have to get used to is the left Joycon’s “control pad,” which is actually four separate buttons. This is to enable the controller to serve as a standalone pad for multiplayer games. I actually didn’t find this to be as terrible as I pictured it, and playing Puyo Puyo Tetris with this configuration actually felt fine. However, I can still see it being a problem with side scrollers, since the multiple buttons make it awkward to do some motions that true control pads enable, such as diagonal presses.
The Joycons come with a “Grip” attachment, which allows them to function as a traditional controller. This actually works really well, and is serviceable for playing on your TV. However, the smaller buttons and sticks definitely take a lot of getting used to. The true magic of the Joycons comes in playing them outside of the grip, with one in each hand. The small size of the Joycons makes them kind of melt into your hand, and this configuration is insanely comfortable. I had no problems with reaching any of the buttons or sticks in this configuration, and this is currently my preferred way to play.
I would liken this configuration to playing with the Wii Remote and its Nunchuk attachment, with some significant differences. Most obviously, there is no cord joining them together, so you can play in whatever position you want to sit in. Most importantly, you still have full access to all the imputs that a traditional game requires, so you are not limited in any way. The soft plastic material on the Joycons feels much more comfortable than the Wii’s remote, and the smaller size helps the overall comfort. Finally, the included strap attachments for the Joycons help give you a little something extra to grab if you’ve got longer fingers, but I didn’t find them to be required.
The final configuration I want to go over is the “sideways” configuration, where the Joycons turn into two separate controllers. I found this to be great for simple games such as Puyo Puyo Tetris, and it’s actually my preferred way of playing that game’s demo, with one small caveat. The left Joycon’s stick and buttons are closer to the left side of the controller, which is very comfortable. However, the right Joycon’s sticks and buttons are closer to the right, which is fine for the buttons, but I felt like I was reaching a little bit for the stick. It works fine, but player 1 will have a slightly better experience than player 2. The inner shoulder buttons in this configuration are a little tiny and too squishy to use for something like Mario Kart, but the included strap attachment makes these buttons much bigger and easier to use.
Con: Light on Features & Games
Calling a console “light on games” right at its launch is a little stupid, but it is something to consider if you are a potential buyer. Of course, Breath of the Wild is a must-buy, but what is there besides that? Snipperclips is a pretty entertaining game, but its single player mode is not as strong as its wonderful multiplayer mode. I have yet to try Fast RMX, but that game seems pretty good as well. Besides this, the other current offerings vary from offensively overpriced (1 2 Switch, Super Bomberman R) to potentially good purchases if you haven’t already played the games on other systems (I Am Setsuna, Shovel Knight).
However, one thing to note is: Nintendo has finally listened to fans and made the Switch region-free, even with its eShop. Accessing another region’s eShop is as easy as creating a new Nintendo account for that region. This opens the door to more games, specifically, current Japanese exclusives. If you don’t know Japanese, that will obviously be a barrier, but there are some games that you can play without really knowing the language, such as Puyo Puyo Tetris.
Aside from the game library, the UI is surprisingly understated for a Nintendo console. If you remember, the Wii had a unique menu made up of “channels,” and I really enjoyed its multiple offerings, such as the Everybody Votes Channel, or the News Channel. The Wii U took this a step up, and the UI felt like a living, breathing thing. I loved its integration with Miiverse, and it’s really sad to see that Miiverse did not return for the current iteration of the Switch UI. There is no internet browser, no custom themes, and no real way of organizing your downloaded software. It’s a pretty barebones UI, but one can only imagine that Nintendo will continue to build upon it as time goes on, like with the 3DS’s UI when that first came out.
What the UI does gain from being so light is that it is very, very fast. If you remember, the Wii U’s UI was so slow and sluggish that Nintendo had to patch it later on to be more efficient. The Switch is snappy, responsive, and it rarely, if ever, keeps you waiting in loading screens.
Pro: Portable Home Console Power
While only one game really takes advantage of this so far-Breath of the Wild-you can easily forget that the Switch opens the door for something that no other device has accomplished to this day. That is: taking console games on the go. We have never seen a game as large and expansive as Breath of the Wild on a portable device. Sure, the Vita tried to do this. I remember playing Borderlands 2 on the Vita, and having a terrible experience for a couple of reasons. The system lagged to much to the point where the game was unplayable. The sticks were far too small to be usable in a shooter. There were some vital imputs missing from the Vita, such as triggers and clickable sticks. It was an all around terrible experience.
The Switch on the other hand, has all of the imputs you need for a console game of that caliber. Additionally, it also has the power you need. Sure, you’re not going to get PS4 level graphics here, but as Nintendo has proved in the past, you don’t need to match up in this ground to attract gamers. If the Switch has enough power to run a massive game like Breath of the Wild, then just imagine what else it can do.
Con: Other Assorted Issues
As wonderful as the Switch hardware is, it’s not perfect. I do have some general complaints I’d like to mention.
- The stand is serviceable, but the viewing angle, which cannot be adjusted, is a bit too vertical. I would have liked the option to adjust the angle to allow for more comfort.
- I did experience input issues with the left Joycon at times, which has been widely reported. I sit about 10 feet away from my TV, and the issue is pretty sporadic. When it happens, I just have to move my docked system a little closer to help the connection. I feel like Nintendo should have strengthened the bluetooth signal coming from the Joycon just a little bit.
- The headphone port is on the system itself, which is problematic when playing in console mode. If you want to listen to the game through headphones, this is not an option, since bluetooth headphones are not supported at the moment.
- While not unusually terrible, the battery life on the system is not the best. It does seem to run out pretty quick when playing Zelda.
- Additionally, it charges extremely slowly while playing Zelda as well.
- Additional storage is currently limited to the Micro SD port. Nintendo has said that external USB drives will be supported later on, but not at the moment.
- You can barely feel the rumble from the joycons when using the Grip.
- No virtual console at the moment. What the hell Nintendo?
Pro: Other Assorted Strengths
Here are some additional things I love about the Switch:
- There is a fan to cool the system, but it is basically inaudible.
- Motion controls work extremely well with the Joycons.
- The screen is crisp, and the colors really pop. It looks much, much better than the Wii U gamepad screen.
- The matte finish of the system makes it less of a grime magnet. Hopefully, the Switch won’t look as gross as the gamepad does in a couple of years.
- I love the screenshot button! I’ve been using the heck out of it to document Breath of the Wild. The button is responsive, and I’ve had no issues.
- The Switch’s footprint on your living room is small, especially when compared to the Wii U. The dock only uses a HDMI cable and a power cable, nothing more.
- Removing and attaching the controllers is snappy and easy.
My veredict? It is well worth the asking price right now, especially for a game like Breath of the Wild. This game is the strongest launch title I’ve ever seen. Ever. I would gladly pay $300 again for this game, especially to have it on the go. However, if that game doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, I’d wait until more games are released that interest you. However, as a piece of hardware, the Switch is remarkable, and has the potential to be the best Nintendo system yet, if Nintendo taps that potential.
Stay tuned for more Switch coverage as I get more exposure with the system.