I don’t know if you heard, but the Wii U is dead, and in it’s wake we have the Nintendo Switch. It’s a TV/Mobile hybrid console that Nintendo hopes will re-capture its lost audience and stand on its own next to the PS4 and Xbox One. I’ve had it for a few weeks now, and while it definitely has its fair share of problems, there’s a lot to love about Nintendo’s weirdest console since the Virtual Boy.
So what is it? The Nintendo Switch is essentially a capacitive tablet that plays Nintendo games. It doesn’t run apps yet, it only has a 720p plastic screen, and it doesn’t let you play retro games yet. See the trend? I’m saying yet a lot. Nintendo says a lot of this stuff is coming, but since their goal was to get this thing in our hands as soon as possible, it doesn’t have a lot of the stuff that some people would consider to be standard inclusions in 2017. It doesn’t even have a web browser, but it has a lot of modern touches that are alarmingly un-Nintendo like.
For example, instead of using a proprietary connector so Nintendo can charge you for special cords, it uses the increasingly versatile USB-C. Instead of relying on a proprietary memory card on top of its meager 32 GB of storage, Nintendo decided to go with Micro SD which will realistically net you an extra 128 or so Gigabytes of storage. What I mean by that is it supports up to 2TB of expanded storage, but anything past 128GB isn’t really worth the price tag at this point in time.
The actual console itself is extremely solid. While there’s no excuse for having a plastic screen in 2017, the plastic body of the console is extremely tough. It has a nice, soft finish that makes it feel great in your hands. If you flip the thing around a couple times, you’ll find a slot for the game cards, a volume rocker, the power button, rails for the joy cons, a USB-C port, two front-facing speakers, a headphone jack and a tiny yet extremely quiet exhaust port on top. The SD card slot is hidden under a kickstand that’s light and flimsy and won’t work on surfaces softer than your average table. It also snaps off with too much pressure, but it’s very easy to put back on. I just hope that over time it doesn’t become loose and fall off on its own.
Now let’s talk about how you’ll actually play this thing. The primary controller, or controllers for the Nintendo Switch are called Joy Cons. They’re like Wii-Motes, but they’re smaller and snappier and they feel less like toys. The left one has a makeshift D-pad, a screenshot button and a top-set joystick. The right replaces the screenshot button with a home button and flips the joystick and buttons. The Switch also comes with a grip that the controllers slide into easily. Unfortunately, the included grip doesn’t charge the joy cons, but the batteries in them last about 20 hours, so if you’re playing in handheld mode they could theoretically never die on you.
Even though it looks a little goofy, the Joy Con Grip is totally fine for playing every game the Switch has to offer at this point. The joysticks don’t travel very far, and the buttons are small but I’m not having any trouble using them for “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” or “Shovel Knight.” I’ve seen a ton of sites saying you NEED the obscenely over priced Pro Controller which lands at $70, and while it looks nice I haven’t had a bad enough experience with the Joy Cons to even consider spending that much money on a controller. I have experienced the weird connection issue with the left Joy Con though that causes it to lose sync, but I remedied it by resting the tip my finger on the trigger rather than covering it with the middle section of it. It’s pretty crappy that it’s a problem I have to deal with that seems hardware related, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means.
I actually have the most gripes with the included dock that you’ll use to play the Switch in TV mode. The first big issue is that there’s literally no protection what-so-ever against the screen scratching on the hard plastic cradle as the Switch slides into it. I wasn’t going to get a screen protector because I don’t like the way they look, but now I feel like I need to buy one thanks to Nintendo’s oversight. Also, while it has more than enough USB 3.0 ports in addition to an HDMI out and USB-C port for the AC adapter, there’s some stuff that’s sorely missing. There’s no optical out, so if you want to use a sound bar or any external speakers on a TV without its own optical out port, you’re out of luck. There’s also no ethernet port, and when you couple that with the fact that Nintendo won’t even have its paid online service ready until this Fall, it doesn’t instill a lot of confidence.
Between handheld and TV mode, I actually don’t prefer one over the other. Games run in 720p in handheld mode, and even though that resolution is definitely out-dated it has a ppi of 237 and it looks awesome. Color re-production and viewing angles all check out and the lower resolution is less taxing on the moderately sized 4,310mAh battery. Battery life is good on the Switch. I got about 3 hours of play time with “Zelda,” and much more with “Shovel Knight,” and I love that if it dies while you’re playing it actually shuts off with enough battery so that you won’t lose progress when it turns back on.
Games can run in 1080p when the Switch is docked, but “Zelda” runs at 900p and it has more slowdown than handheld mode in my experience. Oddly, the onboard apps always run at 720p even when you slide it into the dock. While it’s concerning that a launch title is pushing the system past its limits in some places, you have to think that down the line they’ll release a “Pro Dock” or whatever that gives the Switch more power when its docked.
Now let’s move into the OS itself. There’s actually not much to talk about here. It’s very clean and It wakes up from sleep mode really quick, and games launch with no lag at all. The OS isn’t flashy or charming in the way that the 3DS and Wii U are, it relies more on sound to make you feel happy and excited to play some games like all good Nintendo consoles do. The eShop looks great as well, it got a modern overhaul that matches the OS but with so few games to buy, it’s hard to tell if it’ll get cluttered over time or not. I decided to download “Zelda,” and the 16GB file finished in just a few minutes which is great if you ask me.
If you were hoping that Nintendo would move away from friend codes with the Switch, you’re going to be disappointed that they’re still a nuisance you have to put up with. Nintendo hasn’t said whether or not they’ll be phased out when their online network launches later this year, but what we have now sucks and at this point it’s just embarrassing to have to jump through so many hoops to add friends. There’s also other modern mainstays missing like trophies, or game recordings and Nintendo doesn’t seem to have any intentions to add them later.
It feels like for every great thing the Switch does, there’s a whole bunch of bad stuff holding it back, but I have to be honest here I actually love this thing. It just feels good to hold and to play, which is distinctly what sets it apart from the Nvidia Shield which tried and failed to do the same thing multiple times. Being able to play “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” like any other console game on my TV but then to be able to take the exact same experience out with me in a simple, quick way is an incredible feeling and with titles like “Splatoon 2,” “Mario Kart 8,” “Skyrim” and “Super Mario Odyssey” giving the same functionality down the road, I’m even more excited to see where the future takes this thing. I can’t give it a no holds barred recommendation at this point, but if you even have the smallest itch to pick one up eventually, you’re a Nintendo fan that skipped the Wii U or you just love cool tech I can say it’s worth the plunge.