The Nintendo Switch is one of the most exciting pieces of gaming hardware that I’ve ever handled. The console represents a watershed moment for the over 100 year old company, bridging the gap between their home console and handheld divisions, while still delivering top of the line gaming experiences in either configuration.
It’s a marvel of engineering, and finally getting to use it in your home will immediately give you that giddy feeling that you experienced with the Wii, or other newly released consoles. However, it also represents a lot of what Nintendo does wrong so often, causing it to not be as stellar as it should be. Thankfully most of these problems can be fixed in the future.
The Nintendo Switch is an exceptionally made piece of gaming hardware. It is far from the most powerful home console out there, resting somewhere just above the Wii U in terms of graphical prowess. But as a handheld it is easily the best we’ve ever seen. And not just in the chips inside, but in how it has been engineered and manufactured.
Not too heavy, not too light… the Nintendo Switch feels just right
The Switch, despite being hefty by handheld standards, feels great in the hand. In terms of size, it’s pretty much a Gamepad that has been trimmed down, making it bigger than even the 3DS XL, but still small enough to be transportable, as long as you have a case. It has a weight to it that is just right, not so heavy as to cause strain, but not light enough to feel cheap or easily breakable. Holding it by the two Joy-Con sides feels similar to holding the Wii U Gamepad, only better thanks to the thinner and sturdier design.
Speaking of the Joy-Con, let’s dive into these tiny little controllers. Nintendo just loves making unique controllers, and the Joy-Con are no exception. Working as either handheld attachments or standalone controllers, they are extremely interesting to look at from a design perspective. The marginally smaller analog sticks make for easy transport, without bulking up the system too much. They work only slightly less effectively than a normal analog stick too, making for a nice bit of compromise.
Compromise is sort of the theme of the Joy-Con. Having to serve so many purposes leaves them feeling like a jack of all trades, but master of none. This is especially true when you shift the Nintendo Switch into its home configuration, docking it and sending the signal to the TV. Now the Joy-Con become either like tiny Wiimotes, or you attach them to the Grip accessory, making them just a somewhat less enjoyable standard controller.
They work perfectly fine in either mode, but they will never feel like they were absolutely designed to do whatever you’re doing with them, except perhaps when attached to the Switch to turn it into a handheld. The problem seems to be one of space, with each controller having to fit a joystick and four buttons into a relatively tiny area. When used standalone, perhaps with another player, things get pretty cramped. If you have larger hands you will want a Pro controller right away, while those with normal or smaller hands will likely be alright, but will definitely prefer the Pro when playing at home.
Slipping on or off the Joy-Con is surprisingly satisfying
And now we get to the other side of the Switch equation. Playing at home. The console promises full blown home gaming experiences, and here it largely delivers. Again, it will never be as powerful as its predecessors, and so far the dock doesn’t seem to be adding enough power to compensate for the higher resolution in Zelda, but being able to play on the big screen is the best way to play.
And there’s a lot to be said about how this whole experience is designed. Slipping on or off the Joy-Con is surprisingly satisfying. The solid, mechanical click that they give when inserted correctly is expertly designed. They also feel exceptionally solid on the console, despite what I’ve seen some other outlets report.
There really is a little bit of magic happening when you take your Switch and pop it into the dock. It’s so seemingly simple, but the simplicity of it, of playing a game, walking up to your TV, dropping the console in the dock, then playing like a regular console game is something that will likely never get old. Is it a gimmick? Maybe. If it is, then it’s the type of gimmick that I want more of. The kind that adds to the experience, giving me something that I didn’t really know that I wanted.
As I said, the Nintendo Switch won’t fight head-to-head with PS4, Xbox One, or a decently powered PC. We don’t have the full, official spec list, but it’s clear that the size constraint and the considerations that are necessary for handheld gaming keeps the system a bit underpowered when compared to other current consoles. However, the power here is right at that point where it can handle some pretty fantastic gaming experiences.
Less powerful than the competition, Nintendo Switch games still look great
Not to go too in-depth on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since the review will be out later on, but any system that can run that game is strong enough to deliver some great games. You won’t get top of the line textures or high-res visuals running at a solid 60 FPS, but you will get good games that look somewhere between good to great depending on the art and design skills of the team.
Further than that, with the Switch you also have a screen and battery to worry about. The battery has performed exactly as expected from Nintendo’s early specifications. For Zelda I’ve been getting over two full hours of gameplay, sometimes up to three or more depending on other factors. Turning on Airplane Mode and turning down the brightness, both options are just a few button presses away, will help, allowing for a lot of gaming time away from the house.
While the battery is as expected, the built-in touchscreen is a big surprise in just how wonderful it looks. Few games use the touchscreen for gaming purposes yet, but it could result in some fun and unique gaming in the future. Coming in at 6.2 inches and 720p resolution, it felt like it’d just be a minor upgrades from the Wii U Gamepad. This is not the case. Instead the Switch has a beautiful, colorful, bright screen that makes handheld gaming feel just as immersive as playing on my 55 inch TV. Well, maybe not quite that immersive, but it’s enough that if I have to play away from the TV, I’m not feeling disappointed in my experience.
Assisting with this are some powerful and high quality stereo speakers. I tried the system with both the regular speakers and headphones, and both offered a great gaming experience. Zelda in particular relies on sound for both information and setting a specific mood and feel for the game. The Switch handles this exceptionally well, delivering a delightful audio presentation.
Where the specs completely falter is in the on-board memory. 32GB is simply a minuscule amount in today’s gaming space. By the time the Switch has all of its launch titles out there, someone buying them all would already have to expand this space. Luckily they can do so easily and cheaply with micro-SD cards, but forcing this upon the customer is unfortunate for a system that should have had more from the start.
This is the simultaneously the most important part of any console review, and yet it’s the part that we know the least about. So far we’ve played just three Switch games. Some are just OK, Zelda is an amazing system seller, and the ones that aren’t in our hands look to swing wildly from amusing to downright terrible. We’ll find out more when we have more games in hand.
Zelda is an amazing launch title and a must own for all early adopters
However, a console purchase is less about what’s on it right now and more about what potential it holds for the future. It’s an investment of sorts, and right now the Switch looks like a very solid investment. Zelda alone is worth it, if you don’t have a Wii U already. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon, Super Mario Odyssey, and many more games are coming this year, all of which look very impressive.
It’s tough to predict the future, but so far Nintendo seems to be correcting their software issues with the Switch. We likely won’t see widespread third party support, and the AAA games like Call of Duty might not release on it. Being a handheld console though allows for more support from smaller devs, and more unique experiences, such as those we’ve seen on 3DS. We’ll have to wait and see here, but so far the Switch’s game lineup is solid enough for the Nintendo fan to buy in, and almost there for everyone else.
The Nintendo Switch user interface is blissfully simple. I’ll speak more on the problem with this in the next section, but for how it’s designed, it is a dream. For those who bought a Wii U at launch, you’ve likely had nightmares about how slow and unresponsive that console was. The Nintendo Switch is the exact opposite: fast, responsive, simple to navigate, and great to look at. Getting in and playing a game is quick and easy and offers potential for expansion down the road, even if it feels a little lifeless right now.
I’ve brought up some of the problems with the Nintendo Switch already, but I wanted to take some time to focus on them separately. The Switch, in a lot of ways, is a perfect amalgamation of everything that Nintendo does right, and everything that they do wrong. I’ve listed out all the things that they’re doing right with the console, and so far it’s more than they got right with the Wii U. There are some problems though, and it’s important that potential buyers are aware of them.
The Switch as it has launched is a completely barebones gaming machine
First off is a worrisome issue with the Joy-Con. Essentially they can somewhat lose connection if objects are blocking their line-of-sight to the Switch itself. When playing in handheld mode this is not an issue at all, but when docked it can cause some problems. I’ve died multiple times in Zelda because of this.
I’ve experienced it on my own, and other reviewers have mentioned the issue as well, so I know it’s not just my unit. Thankfully, once you’re aware of it, there’s a lot you can do to mitigate the problem. I just made sure to keep my hands out in front of me, rather than resting to the side where the couch could get in the way. It’s something that players shouldn’t have to worry about, and a Pro Controller will likely resolve immediately, but for those with just the Joy-Con it could get annoying.
The Joy-Con have another issue as well, where some users are already putting the wrist-strap attachment on upside-down. These accessories have a nice little emblem on them, showing exactly how they should be attached, but some people do it incorrectly in haste, and the result is a locked device that requires some real work to get fixed.
The Nintendo Switch kickstand has been a source of controversy for some, and I will admit that it is flimsy, to say the least. However, it does it’s job well enough and shouldn’t be a real problem, unless you’re giving this system to a child.
What is a bit of a problem is the location of the charging port. Putting it on the bottom of the system means players cannot prop the system up and charge at the same time, which is exactly what I’d like to do on my next flight. It also puts it right in toward my body if I’m holding the system, making for an uncomfortable experience in the rare case where I need to charge and play at the same time.
Finally, the Switch as it has launched is a completely barebones gaming machine. “Great!” I hear some of you saying, and sure, the focus on multi-media devices has led to some definite harm in the gaming world. But the Switch has so much potential that is going unused right now. Updates are promised to deliver video playback and other expected features, but there’s no set date on when these will arrive. For now, if you’re buying a Switch it is to play the games that are available on it, and literally nothing else.
The Nintendo Switch is one of Nintendo’s strongest launches both in terms of the hardware and software. The system is extremely well designed for its dual use as a home and handheld console. The Joy-Con require some getting used to, mostly due to their small size, but they serve their many purposes well. The proposed launch year lineup is exceptional, with Zelda headlining the launch as an immediate killer app. Nintendo also learned from their Wii U mistakes in other ways, giving the system a definite theme and setting expectations for what this console is and how it works. It has limited uses right now, so multi-taskers should likely wait. If you’re a Nintendo fan then you should already have your preorder in though, and video game players in general should be taking a very close look at the Nintendo Switch.