Last month Nintendo released their latest console, the Nintendo Switch. This new hybrid console allows you to play games on your TV while also giving you the option to easily take it anywhere you want to go. Receiving a worldwide release on the 3rd of March, this is Nintendo's 7th generation of home console following up from the Nintendo Wii U.
SpecsThe console itself is a small 720p tablet screen that measures 6.2" that can function separately from any other peripheral; it even has a kickstand built into its back. While for many the idea of a 720p screen might seem like "slumming it," the resolution on such a small display does a fantastic job of not only keeping everything sharp but full of color. Of course the quality of the view can also be determined by each game itself, but from simple retro games to The Legend of Zelda : Breath of the Wild and recent multi-platform title Snake Pass, the quality is as good as you would expect from other consoles.
Built into the frame of the tablet is the microSD card slot—hidden cleverly underneath the kickstand, providing both protection and easy access—a slot for Nintendo Switch cartridges, 3.5mm headphone jack, two volume buttons, in-built speakers, and the USB-C charging port. The speakers, while they won't blow you away, are able to provide high quality audio and even is loud enough to be able to play games that might require you to be further away from the console. During many of 1-2-Switch's minigames, you might want to set it up on a table and stand away listening to the audio queues; unless you're in an extremely busy environment, you won't have any issue hearing.
For those of you who are not aware, USB-C is the new USB format that is both reversible, no more fumbling with USB ports, and able to deliver more power and data throughput. This USB-C connection is what allows you to plug your Switch into the dock and have it both charge and display 1080p video through an HDMI cable. Unlike the charger for the Wii U's tablet, though, the USB-C charging port is located at the bottom of the Nintendo Switch. While this location is perfect placement when playing in handheld mode or when docking into your TV, there's no way to prop the system on a flat surface while also charging it. This might be a situation that you only rarely find yourself in, but it reduces incentive of playing any game in this mode if you're only able to be in that position for so long.
One aspect of the Nintendo Switch that also had many worried was the "3 1/2 to 6 hours of gameplay" that you would be able to get out of the Switch depending on the title you're playing. While you shouldn't be expecting to not charge it for an entire day the estimate that Nintendo gave seems to have low balled the performance of the included battery. While playing, even titles like Zelda that were warned about, battery performace has always been above the 5 hour mark. One thing to note is that depending on how you charge the system, with your own USB-C cable or the one provided with the dock, it does affect whether you're just reducing the rate the charge falls while playing or charging while you're going.
Out of the box your Nintendo Switch will come with 32GB of storage on-board, which is primarily meant for save games, digital only titles, and screenshots. Some of the full release Switch titles can be upwards of 10GB; because of this, if you plan to purchase digitally, then picking up an additional MicroSD card is highly recommended. The Nintendo Switch can support MicroSD cards up to 2TB, even though you can only purchase 256GB cards currently, and slotting one of these in will automatically add to your total storage space. It's also worth noting that saved data for titles can only be stored on the internal memory and at this time there is no way to move it.
Multiple Ways to PlayTo become this hybrid of both home console and handheld, the Nintendo Switch has had to adopt a modular design resulting in a variety of play modes and controller styles. With the Switch you're able to play games on your TV, in handheld mode, or you can even set it up on a table at the next rooftop party you happen upon.
As with the play styles, there are also a variety of different ways you can control games on the Nintendo Switch. On either side of the tablet screen are grooves that allow you to slide your left and right Joy-Con, each playing the role of half of a controller, into the sides giving the Switch a traditional handheld look. These Joy-Cons are not required to be connected, though, as you are able to place the tablet on a surface and use the Joy-Cons wirelessly. When you don't want to look at the tablet screen, you're able to slide your Switch into the dock that comes included, allowing you to play your games on your TV. The dock itself is mostly plastic with a means to supply power to the device and HDMI output to your screen. While in TV mode, you can use your Joy-Cons as separate controls—think Wiimote and Nunchuck—and you can place them in the Joy-Con grip, which gives you a more traditional controller experience, or for an additional purchase you can pick up a Switch Pro Controller, which like the Wii U Pro Controller gives you the same kind of experience as having an Xbox or PlayStation controller in your hands. While it might also sound like a bad way to describe the ease of swapping from handheld to a big screen, the best way to describe it is that it just works. There's no extra menus or buttons to press before putting your Nintendo Switch into its dock, you just slide it in and continue playing with no delay.
The variety in play styles that is offered to players through not only the ability to have their Switch screen in a variety of places but also the different controller options is a great way that Nintendo has allowed themselves to create new experiences, with the Joy-Con while offering players who want a more traditional experience to get their way too. If you don't like to use the separated Joy-Cons, then you're able to use the grip. Some of the features of the Joy-Con include their accelerometers, an IR sensor, and the new "HD Rumble." While accelerometers in controllers aren't the latest invention on the market, having been used in two previous generations of Nintendo consoles, the "HD Rumble" is one of those features that you will laugh at the name but enjoy the experience of. Similar to the haptic feedback triggers of the Xbox One controller, HD Rumble creates a more precise rumble effect; this isn't best shown off in full force but in the subtlety of some actions. This will most likely be a feature that isn't heavily used going forward but titles that do use it, such as 1-2-Switch and Splatoon 2, show that sometimes more really isn't that much better.
The last play style that the Nintendo Switch offers using the Joy-Cons is that if you rotate each to their side, then you're able to use each as its own consolidated controller, even offering R and L buttons. While these new controllers only have the same number of buttons as the SNES controller, for multiplayer games it seems this is just the right number. From classic titles like the Neo Geo's Metal Slug 3 to the new racing game Fast RMX, it's easy to pass off half a controller to a friend and get them involved in the action. The Switch's ability to have four complete Joy-Cons, or eight half Joy's, connected to one device at the same time also opens up a variety of possibilities for party games, such as Super Bomberman R's eight player party mode. Don't expect to be doing too much multiplayer while in tablet mode though, as the screen provides the perfect amount of visual retail for playing on your own but crowding another friend around the screen might make things more uncomfortable. In this horizontal mode the controllers do feel quite small, but it's something that isn't too difficult to get used to; for reference, there is probably just a bit less space in between the buttons as there was for the Gameboy Advance SP.
There are two large downsides to the use of the Joy-Cons as controllers, though: the left Joy-Con's sync issue and the way that the joysticks aren't placed in the same locations when in multiplayer modes. This issue with the left Joy-Con is one that some have experienced a lot while others say they've never encountered it, and it's a problem that not only has been acknowledged by Nintendo, but they are now allowing you to send them in for repair. The fix adds a buffer to help the Joy-Con from picking up additional signals, thus providing a more reliable connection to the console, but for a manufacturing issue to go out to all of your release window customers is quite the rough start, especially if the fix is for players to be without their controller for a week. The placement of the joysticks is a more difficult issue as you primarily want the controller to feel good while playing with both Jon-Cons. The trade-off between complete Joy-Con layout and horizontal Joy-Con layout is apparent, with horizontal Joy-Cons losing out in the end; it's not a big enough issue that it would severely impact your enjoyment of a title though. Both positive and negative responses could be expected with either approach.
The final add-on for the Joy-Cons that is included in the box are two wrist straps for the Joy-Cons. Not only do they allow you to ensure you're not about to throw your Joy-Con into your TV, but they have large built in buttons that when attached sit over the smaller R and L buttons. This means you might not have to be as deliberate with your button presses if any game you're playing requires the use of the shoulder buttons. The presentation might not look as sleek as the rest of the system, but it's a system that works nonetheless.
Controllers aside. one of the largest features of the Nintendo Switch is the ability to swap between handheld and console. Between the two there is very little difference. The only noticeable change has been apparent while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; while in handheld mode there are some locations that give framedrops worth noting, while playing on the big screen these issues have an increased effect, and sometimes even going through the open world there can be some issues. Aside from Zelda, though, there are no other games that suffer from any performance issues across docked and portable play. This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with Zelda, as the latest update is said to have fixed a lot of these issues, but that there are also not as many games that push the hardware as much at the moment. Once we see larger titles coming out like Skyrim, Mario Kart 8, or Fire Emblem Warriors later this year, we will then be able to see how the Switch performs under stress in a wider variety of scenarios.
SoftwareMoving on from the hardware to the software on the Nintendo Switch itself, it keeps with the handheld mentality of providing a fast boot up and even faster coming back from sleep, allowing you to get back into your games easily, which is especially useful when using the Switch for short periods of time while travelling. This emphasis on speed also carries across to other aspects of the OS, such as the settings menu, browsing through your snapshots, and even loading up the storefront. Moving from the snail's pace of the 3DS and Wii U to the Switch has been an extremely refreshing change.
The OS itself is very simplistic in design. When turning on the console, you're presented with the main menu including all of your installed games on a horizontal tile list, shortcuts to profiles, news, store, screenshots, and settings. From the moment you turn on the console everything that you might want to do is within two or three button presses or taps on the screen. Everything is laid out to make sense and you're even able to swap your system between a light and a dark mode in case you have your preference. While players who only purchase titles digitally will enjoy Nintendo's new system of pairing your Nintendo ID with your purchases, one aspect that they might not be as much of a fan of would be the inability to save card information. This means that each time you want to purchase a game, you need to enter all of your information again.
While the Nintendo Switch is making couch co-op and local play easier than ever, Nintendo is still falling short of the hurdle when it comes to online play. Online titles, such as the previously mentioned Splatoon 2 and Fast RMX, have you connect to other players and hop into games quickly, but there is no way at the moment to party up with your friends and play games together, unless you're extremely lucky with the online pairing. While not part of the Nintendo Switch's hardware or software, the multiplayer companion app has yet to release, which allows players to be able to communicate with one another via text and voice, group up, and join friends' games. The full multiplayer experience for the Nintendo Switch is launching later this year with the app, most likely to coincide with the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but to release the system with such a large component missing could have really hurt some release window multiplayer titles.
Arguably, though, what hurt the launch of the Nintendo Switch the most though was the number of titles at launch. For many the promise of a new Zelda was more than enough to warrant the purchase, especially with well-known franchises down the road. But for others, the exclusive games—Breath of the Wild, Super Bomberman R, Snipperclips, and 1-2-Switch—just didn't hold much of an appeal, especially when Zelda was also going to be playable on the Wii U. Like with many of Nintendo's previous console generations, the first party platforms have always helped to carry the system, and while the weak launch lineup has been heavily criticized, moving forward it's up to Nintendo to ensure they continue to expand their library as much as possible.
The Switch is a truly Nintendo console, pairing strange controls with a new spin on how we play games through its hybrid nature. While at the moment the system leaves a lot to be desired in the realms of game library, which is already steadily increasing, and multiplayer, another planned feature, what the system already has it absolutely nails. The plug and play functionality makes it easy to play any game how you want to and with more and more titles supporting couch co-op you can simply pass off a controller and have a friend hop into the game. It's up to how Nintendo deals with the next 6-12 months that will really shape where the Nintendo Switch stands in relation to other handhelds and consoles that are currently on the market—they can't just leave it up to Mario this time.