Never count Nintendo out. The company has fought off many pretenders to its throne over the years, creating some of the most iconic and successful video game franchises ever. Yet in more recent times, the company has struggled to cement its place in the home console market. Nintendo Wii was hugely successful, but many in the mainstream simply didn’t care about the Nintendo Wii U (Many probably didn’t even know it existed). The failures of that console have haunted Nintendo, forcing it to re-think plans moving forward. With so much riding on its new console, can Nintendo Switch deliver on its big promises?
The main console unit itself is very sturdy, slightly thicker than a traditional tablet but certainly not bulky. It’s more a reassuring thickness that your console isn’t in danger should it take a tumble. There are a fair few vents dotted around the top and bottom of the device – between which are the various ports and slots you’d come to expect – although I did find the location of the SD Card slot to be somewhat perplexing. The kickstand at the back is well supported and showed little sign of flex when I tested it. Rest assured it would take some effort to harm this device in any meaningful way.
Meanwhile the screen on Switch is surprisingly sharp – capturing a lot of the detail and making games pop. The IPS LCD is a capacitive touchscreen – finger registration is on point and does its job admirable. It’s nice to see Nintendo finally ditching the stylus and joining the majority of the worlds touchscreen devices. The brightness settings also offer a good variation – with the top brightness more than suitable for playing outside or in a well-lit environment. You can also opt for responsive brightness, which might save a few minutes on the battery life (And you’ll be wanting to do this as much as possible). Viewing angles are also much better than those found on the Nintendo 3DS – which is a big deal if you plan to show off your new console.
In the box you also get the console dock – which hooks up to a high-definition television (Sorry AV users) and allows you to play the Switch on televisions. In this mode the resolution of the console bumps from 720p (The maximum in handheld mode) to 1080p in-game (Although for the Switch’s UI, it still sticks to 720p). The mechanism for this is simple, allowing you to slide your console into the dock and detach the Joycon’s to enable control remotely. It’s a very seamless experience and for the most part works without fault.
When playing intensive 3D games, there’s barely a frame out-of-place as the console chugs along with little attitude. Breath of the Wild is stunningly captured on the device, playing like a dream, while the likes of Fast RMX soar at an eye scorching 60 frames per second. Sure the detail might not be up to the high-end console market’s watermark – but the portability afforded here can’t be understated. It’s nice to be able to choose how and where to experience these games – and not feel compromised in doing so. As the likes of FIFA and AAA third-party titles arrive, I suspect the console will find itself winning over a lot of fans with its gimmick. It’s a gimmick that works well.
For all this praise though, Switch isn’t without design faults. The decision to stick the USB-C charging cable in the middle at the bottom means you can’t charge your console while it’s sat on the kickstand, a disappointing oversight when that’s one of the consoles biggest selling points. There’s also an odd lack of compatibility with certain devices that are pretty ubiquitous in the mobile space these days. Bluetooth headphones are a huge no-no on the Switch, while the console lacks any compatibility with external storage devices. It means if you want to expand the Switch’s puny 32GB of storage (around 22GB of which is actually usable) you’ll be needing to invest in SD Cards – which are far from optimal for the purpose.
We also can’t escape our hardware breakdown without discussing the battery life. One of the trade-off’s in bringing such GPU intensive titles to the mobile space is the collapse in battery life – with Switch struggling to get to the three-hour mark in these intensive titles. Lesser games might be able to get over that threshold, but Nintendo’s claim of “up to six hours” seems largely optimistic given the reality. It’s not the end of the world but if you’re buying this with the intention of playing for long trips – bring a large battery pack.
The really big surprise in Switch is that its UI is impressively sleek. Compared to the clunky and sometimes bloated Wii U menu’s, the Switch’s minimalist approach is a nice change of pace. All games appear in the centre tiles, which are navigated by moving left and right as needed. I approve of this and think Nintendo’s drive to keep things clean ultimately works to better the experience. The e-Shop though might need a re-think at some stage though, it seems to lack some basic nuances that all but guarantee finding games will become a chore as games are added in.
The big problem though is there’s very little to do on the console outside of the games you’ve purchased. Whereas previous Nintendo consoles usually came bundled with some built-in software to showcase the devices abilities, here the company has elected to forgo this tradition. It means no Streetpass like social features to pass the time and certainly no Miiverse type distractions to help pad out the experience. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the Switch’s rush to market, and I suspect will become a much more notable problem in the months preceding launch when Switch’s sit collecting dust. It wouldn’t be so bad if Nintendo had secured services like Netflix or Youtube – but alas – these are also missing in action.
Perhaps though the biggest disappointment comes in the online service. As it stands, the ability to add friends is purely an arbitrary task of having names on a list. Without the ability to send messages, invite people into lobbies or even interact in any way through the console itself is just beyond reason. In 2006 you could send messages to friends via the Nintendo Wii, a console that was already antiquated compared to the competition. 11 years later it’s just not acceptable.
Most perplexing of all, rather than allowing you to carry over friend lists from Miitomo or Mario Run, the Switch only throws these names in merely as “suggestions” – meaning you’re left to construct yet another Friends List. Without dedicated usernames and the re-emergence of friend codes, this task is more frustrating that really should be. If Nintendo realistically expects people to pay for their online service at the end of 2017 – they have a lot of work to do in convincing me that they have the right ideas to make it work.
Still, if there’s one thing Nintendo can do really well its delivering solid new methods for controlling games – this time in the form of the Joycon’s. Nintendo’s all-in-two controllers come with a stack of built-in features but perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay to them are they just work. Whether being used freestyle or docked in the controller accessory, the devices work admirably across the board. If however you don’t fancy taking the dive on these though, Nintendo has thankfully opted to release a Pro Controller which ejects the novelty all together.
What’s most interesting about the Joycon’s though is that they allow all users access to two controllers out of the box. Using the Joycon’s as individual units during multiplayer wasn’t as horrifying as I imagined, although it depends on how well games adapt to the limited buttons. Playing Shovel Knight in co-op was still highly manageable and, while it certainly didn’t match the feeling of using both Joycon’s or a traditional controller, it was a perfectly serviceable way of enjoying the game with a friend. In games designed for the system, such as Snipperclips, it only improves as the games make clever us of each device.
There is certainly room for improvement in the controllers though. The lack of a dedicated D-Pad on either Joycon is hugely disappointing and limits the appeal of playing 2D games. It’s not a deal breaker but it’s worth considering if you plan on playing the inevitable NES and SNES games when they finally land. It’ll be interesting to see how games like Mario Kart 8: Deluxe plan to work around these limitations.
With all of this being said, do we make of Nintendo Switch overall – and should you buy one now? Certainly I was impressed with the device. Compared to the competition in the mobile gaming space, Switch is a front of class leader. The problem though is its hard to get over the feeling that Nintendo has somewhat rushed the device to market. Without that Nintendo software suite of built-in mini games and apps, without an online service that’s actually worth a damn and with so much work to do – it’s hard to get totally behind the device.
Nintendo needs to iron out these shortcomings and use the Switch as a platform to move forward. It’s a device that’s got heaps of potential, and early impressions are incredibly flattering for the console. But it’s a flawed dream right now, one that needs to make good on the promises it’s making. Because if Nintendo can fix these issues – it might very well be onto a winner here. If you love Legend of Zelda, it might be worth the price of entry. Otherwise I’d advise giving it a few months and waiting to see if Nintendo delivers on the promises of its new console.
The ball is in Nintendo’s court now.