Review: Nintendo Switch
An impressive and modern hybrid portable console
The Nintendo Switch is a really curious little system. In an age where graphical fidelity is always being pushed to its limit, Nintendo once again opts for a gimmick rather than true horsepower. However, in this case, it's a gimmick that I can totally get behind.
I'm a portable guy. Whenever I leave my house for any extended period, the first thing I make sure to do is to fully charge my 3DS and Vita, so I have enough entertainment while I'm on the road. Naturally, the Switch then spoke to me on every level. A Nintendo console that I can simply undock and take with me and continue the very same experience on the go? Sign me up! The Switch is indeed impressive in that regard, and no matter how many times I dock and undock the little console, I'm always surprised just how seamlessly it "switches."
However, with a week and a half under my belt and using the system pretty much on the regular, whether it's in the portable mode while I'm at work our out and about, or docked so I can play on my 55 inch TV, I can say that the system isn't without faults. Some I could explain, others not so much.
The Switch Build
The console itself is no bigger than a DVD case. I still remember when the Wii was being compared to three DVD cases stacked next to each other. This thing is even smaller but certainly more powerful.
Without the Joy-Con, all you're looking at is basically a tablet, but one that feels sturdy. It's certainly bigger than, say an iPhone 6+ for example, but still small enough to fit into some larger pockets, if that's how you choose to transport it. All of the buttons are easily accessible, such as the volume rockers at the top, or the power button to put the console to sleep right next to it.
The top of the console has a heat exhaust vent that you'd imagine could get loud considering the games this little console can play, but surprisingly enough, it's completely silent. The only time I ever hear it make any sort of noise is when I pull it out of the dock, but even then it's only for a few seconds. The heat exhaust must be doing its job well because the Switch never gets unbearable to hold. It certainly can get a bit warm, but never to the point of it being too hot.
The back of the Switch has the flimsy-by-design kickstand, which can be pulled out so you can play your Switch on a table with either the Joy-con or a Pro controller. Just don't let CNET's ridiculous kickstand fail video fool you into thinking the kickstand isn't functional. No one, and I mean no one, should ever be handling their Switch in the manner shown in that video.
Underneath the kickstand lies a tiny slot for a MicroSD card, which I believe currently has a max capacity of 256GB. Historically Nintendo games were never that large, so perhaps you could get away with a 128GB card for the time being, but know that if you do plan on having an extensive digital library, the 32GB of storage that comes standard with the console won't be enough.
One of the bigger missteps seems to be the placement of the USB-C charging port, or more specifically, the fact that it isn't slightly recessed into the Switch's body. That means if you plan on playing the Switch in tabletop mode with the kickstand out, there is no way you can also charge the device unless you buy one of these Hori Playstands.
The joy of Joy-con
First and foremost, I want to make it known that I absolutely adore the Joy-con. They're comfortable and all of the buttons are easy to reach. Out of all the configurations, either in the grip, attached to the Switch, my favorite is easily the Wii-like free hand, with each Joy-con separately in each hand. If you've never lounged with the Wii remote and nunchuck then you haven't experienced true comfort while gaming.
Oh, and attaching and detaching the Joy-con from the Switch is mildly addicting. There's a satisfying click you hear when you fully attach them, followed by the now signature Switch "snap" sound. Just as well, detaching them is easy enough once you press the detach button on the back of the Joy-con.
Like I've stated in my preview, taking screenshots with the Joy-con is also satisfying. There's an immediacy to it that's perhaps lacking on the PS4 since as soon as you press that button, you get a notification while simultaneously hearing a camera shutter. There's no delay which could have potentially led to a second guess if that screenshot was even taken. I'm curious to see how capturing video will work once that gets introduced later this year (potentially).
It's also interesting to note that the Switch basically comes with two controllers right out of the box, and it's as easy as flipping the Joy-con on their sides and holding them like you would a standard controller. Sure, it's slightly awkward and it probably won't be comfortable for extended periods, but if you have a multiplayer game (for me that's Just Dance 2017 and Super Bomberman R at the moment) then you can simply hand one of the Joy-con to a friend, and you instantly have a second controller handy. The included Joy-con covers that slip on the top proved a better grip and give the L and R button some more bulk making them easier to press. Taking these things off, on the other hand, is always scary, since it requires some force, always making me think something's going to snap.
So now that I've gotten the good out of the way, here's the bad news. Distance as well as which way you're pointing the Joy-con can affect how they're detected. Many other outlets and I have experienced issues where the left Joy-con wasn't being picked up. For instance, I'd press a direction and Link would walk in that direction 5 seconds later, or sometimes not at all. It was certainly frustrating and I'm still hoping that a patch can resolve some of these issues, but it's already a blemish for the otherwise fantastic Switch.
Update: Since the Day One Update, I have experienced fewer issues, though they still persist on very few occasions. I tried to play with the Joy-con behind my back since that seemed to cause it to disconnect entirely, and to my surprise, I was still able to completely move Link without issue.
The simple yet sleek UI
Going for a minimalistic approach, the Switch's UI is comprised of only the most important items right on the front screen. Large game tiles occupy the middle of the screen, while smaller system-level icons can be found on the bottom. These will take you to various portals like News, eShop, Album, controller settings, system settings and a sleep button.
It's certainly less lavish than the Nintendo 3DS, which has a slew of other built-in activities, or even the Wii U. As of right now there doesn't seem to be a way to organize games in folders, nor can you change the size of the big game squares that occupy the home screen, so if you'll have 30 games installed on the thing, it might be somewhat annoying to have to scroll through them without having either of those mentioned features included at some point.
If there's one thing Nintendo nails, whether it comes to the Switch or even its previous systems, it's the system sounds. Simply tapping on the game squares or the menu below produces a satisfying clicking sound that almost makes you feel like you pressed a tactile button. Also, I dare you not to grin when you press the user button on the top left of the UI screen. The only way I can describe that sound is "adorable."
What's the battery life?
Turns out, Nintendo were truthful when they estimated Zelda would last you around 2.5 hours when playing in handheld mode. Playing the game with cranked up brightness and wifi enabled, the game certainly held out for about 2.5 hours. I didn't try it the other way, but I would assume that turning Airplane mode on, which disables wifi and Bluetooth, as well as lowering the screen brightness to a minimum, might bump that up to 3 hours.
Airplane mode, in general, is actually pretty interesting because it's customizable. By default, it turns off all communication to the system, meaning wifi and Bluetooth. That also means that by default, when in Airplane mode, you can't detach the Joy-con from the Switch. However, in the system settings, you can customize this mode by either enabling wifi, or Bluetooth, so you can pick and choose what's essential and what you'd like to hopefully save some battery on.
There is a slightly weird issue happening with the battery that I have since confirmed is happening on other Switch consoles as well. My console refuses to charge past 73% when I'm playing it docked. As soon as it hits 73%, it doesn't charge further no matter how much longer I'm playing. There are two ways I can have it charge further: I can put the system to sleep, or I can disconnect the AC Cable from the Dock and play my Switch in handheld mode while plugged into an outlet. Neither solutions are great since the first relies on me to actually having to stop playing in order to get a full 100% charge, and the other defeats the purpose if I just want to play on my TV. I've reached out to Jason Schreier of Kotaku and Andre from GameXplain, and both told me they have a similar issue, but Jason's reaches 88% and Andre's reaches 90%. That means I certainly seemed to have gotten the faultiest of the press consoles.
Update: The Day One Update fixed this issue and now the Switch charges to a full 100% when docked and playing games.
As for the Joy-con's battery life, it's impressive as hell. I haven't put them through a rigorous test myself, however, word is that they can last up to 20 hours on a single charge and I definitely believe it. Even days that I played for a half a day, I believe my battery indicator was at half, so that's pretty great. It certainly makes the Charge Grip almost unnecessary.
Even though I've had extensive time with the system, I primarily had Zelda to play on it. While Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game that I'll get to talk about more extensively tomorrow, it is still only one game. I had as of yesterday also had a chance to play Super Bomberman R and Just Dance 2017, but the former is a modern take on the retro NES and SNES games that sadly doesn't run in 60fps, and the latter is a port of a game that's already available on other consoles.
Unfortunately, 1-2 Switch was never sent to us so I never got to play that launch title which focuses on showcasing the versatility of the Joy-con, and all the other big titles won't be coming until the end of April, starting with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
What I'm trying to say is that if you're buying a Switch at launch, it's most likely for Zelda, and not much else. With that said, Nintendo's Nindie showcase did promise a slew of fantastic Indie games coming to the system, so in between the big games, you'll have a slew of smaller Indie titles to dive into as well.
The console since the Day One Update
I can now happily proclaim that I no longer feel like I have a faulty Switch. During my two weeks of having it pre-patch, the battery issue coupled with the Joy-con issue had me thinking that I had some sort of faulty Switch. While it turned out that the Joy-con issue was more widespread, it didn't explain my battery cap issue. Now that the patch is installed, the Joy-con are certainly more responsive and my battery now charges to a full 100% when playing in dock mode.
The eShop is barebones, especially when compared to the fun layout the previous eShops had, and it's completely silent. It's a shame, but in no way does it detract from the Switch as a console. Linking my account now allows me to also earn points for My Nintendo which is pretty cool.
Immediately after the patch installed, the MicroSD was recognized and ready to be used for storage. I could then choose to save my pictures to the SD card, or transfer my existing ones to it as well. Every game that I have downloaded off of the eShop was then automatically installed to the SD card. Needless to say, the setup for it was nonexistent and everything just worked. I was also able to set up my Facebook and Twitter accounts within the system settings, so now posting my screenshots to social media is as easy as pressing a button within the Album menu.
The cost of it all
I still believe that $300 for the Switch is a fair price. And sure, you could cry foul because we received one from Nintendo, which automatically makes my belief invalid, but just know that despite receiving one early, I still kept my original pre-order, and gladly. I think as a system and what it does, $300 is fair. However, it's when you add in all the secondary costs that this thing becomes a bit pricey.
First and foremost are the games. Zelda's price is understandable, given that it's a new game. However, Just Dance 2017 retailing for $60 when the game can be bought for $20 on other consoles seems ridiculous. 1-2 Switch, a game I'm definitely interested in playing is simply way too expensive, especially given the nature of the game. It's a pack-in game at best and would have served as the perfect way to showcase the versatility of the Joy-con without asking people to spend another $50.
Then there are the MicroSD cards, which can cost you anywhere up to 80$ if you plan on getting the 200GB model. Accessories like the Pro Controller ($70) which greatly enhance your living room experience or the aforementioned Hori Playstand ($13) if you plan on playing the Switch in tabletop mode while charging it. A case is most certainly recommended, and those can range anywhere from $10 for the very basic to $40 for a backpack or carrying case which will hold the entire console as well as the dock. Throw in a $20 car charger so you can play for hours during long road trips and you can easily end up spending $100-$200 extra just on accessories, and of course more depending on how many games you're picking up.
The Nintendo Switch is a curious system, one that delivers on its promises but not without a few shortcomings. It's always impressive to me that I can be playing the massive Breath of the Wild on my TV, and then in an instant take my console out of the dock and bring that massive game anywhere I want. It's a feeling I slightly got with the Vita when it first launched, promising console-style games on-the-go. With games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, it certainly achieved that to a degree. However, the Nintendo Switch fully delivers on this promise.
Update: I'm happy to report that the Day One Update has fixed most of the issues I had with the system, for the first time making it feel like a non-defective unit. I was a bit worried when my console refused to charge past 73% when playing in dock mode, but now that issue is completely gone. While I can't say the Joy-con issue is completely fixed, it does seem they respond a bit better. I was able to confirm this with a behind-the-back test and Link seemed to respond to all my inputs without any issues.
I'm not sure if it quite has that mass appeal that Nintendo might have been hoping for, but that could change come Holiday season when games like Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be readily available.
As for me personally, I can see myself using the Switch on a much more frequent basis than I've ever used my Wii U. I like the versatility of it. In a household like mine with two kids and a wife who enjoy watching TV, the Switch (much like the Wii U) allows me to continue playing without taking up the TV. Likewise, it's portability allows me to play the Switch during nights out with the in-laws, or during longer road trips to Disney World for example. If you fit into a similar mold like me, then you'll no doubt find a lot of enjoyment out of the Switch.
*The Nintendo Switch console and The Legend of Zelda were provided for us by Nintendo.