I’ve had my Nintendo Switch for a little over a week now, and I’ve spent nearly every ounce of my free time putting it through its paces. I’ve played single-player games offline and spent a few hours online splatting the world with ink during the Splatoon 2 testfire event. I’ve used my Switch docked in TV mode, un-docked in portable mode during car trips, and propped up with a kickstand during marathon sessions of Breath of the Wild from the comfort of my bed.
So, what do I think?
For starters, it feels like a quality piece of kit. The JoyCon are sturdy, and the console (in portable mode) has a nice weight to it. It’s not too heavy, but not light enough to feel cheaply made. The 720p display screen is crisp and responsive to tablet-style touch controls. Some games, like Snake Pass, run at a noticeably lower resolution in portable mode, but others, like Zelda, seem a bit more vibrant with little to no differences elsewhere.
Then there’s the dock.
The dock itself, which purely exists to transfer the console’s display from the accompanying screen directly to your HDTV, needs an immediate overhaul on behalf of Nintendo. Users have reported that the dock’s snug fit has already caused some wear and tear on their Switch’s screen, and I can confirm this be 100% fact.
I’ve only had my Switch for 8 days, and already the bottom left and right of the screen’s border has noticeable scuff marks from simply docking and un-docking the console–an advertised feature and major selling point. None of the scuffs bleed over to the display screen, but they’re noticeable, annoying, and a clear sign of a major design flaw.
I’ve taken to draping a microfiber cloth (the ones used to clean my glasses) over the front half to hopefully prevent it from worsening, but I’ve seen folks on Twitter buying dock sleeves from websites like Etsy. Thankfully, my girlfriend is pretty crafty. We went to Joann Fabrics where I picked up some Super Mario Bros.-themed cloth and she’s going to whip me up one of those fancy dock sleeves. Sure, there’s a cute fix that isn’t an eyesore, but this needs to be addressed by Nintendo as soon as possible.
The JoyCon controllers are a fantastic innovation from Nintendo, acting as both a cohesive unit for single-player gaming or independently for local multi-player sessions. They’re a bit on the small side when used on their own, but still generously provide all of the basic functionality you’d need for friendly games of Snipperclips or Super Bomberman R.
Having the ability to undock my Switch, take it outside during a family cook-out, and immediately have two controllers to show my mom Snipperclips was really, really awesome and I can see the JoyCon being a huge hit with the social gaming crowd. The battery life is also a strong feature.
That being said, the JoyCon aren’t particularly perfect. The right analog stick is in an awkward position that requires some getting used to. Even then, it still proves to be an issue in certain games.
While playing the Switch in portable mode, the right analog’s position makes it somewhat uncomfortable to hold the console for prolonged periods of time. It becomes even more painstaking in a game like Breath of the Wild that heavily relies on a near constant use of the right stick for camera control. Not having your right thumb to balance the console’s weight distribution just feels awkward at times.
Attaching both JoyCon to the Switch’s Grip shell does make for a comfortable experience, though I wasn’t too thrilled with it early on. My first few hours using the JoyCon Grip felt awkward, not only because I was struggling to familiarize myself with Breath of the Wild’s questionable button placement, but also adapting to a foreign controller design. However, by day 2, I was kind of in love with it.
I did have a pair of synching issues with my right JoyCon during the first day, but I’ve yet to experience anything similar since then.
The Nintendo Switch is absent a traditional d-pad, in favor of four independent face buttons housed on the left JoyCon (essentially a d-pad broken into four pieces). Since each half of the JoyCon doubles as its own controller, this allows each of the analog sticks to be used in place of a d-pad. The broken-up d-pad on the left JoyCon then become standard face buttons, similar to a smaller scale SNES controller (complete with L and R shoulder buttons).
The lack of a d-pad is a non-issue in Breath of the Wild, but I bet it would be sorely missed in 2D games like Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove and Blaster Master Zero. A few days into my Switch ownership it became annoying having to detach and reattach the JoyCon from the display screen to the Grip shell. This, along with the competitive Splatoon 2 testfire, solidified my purchase of a Pro Controller. It’s a bit more comfortable and familiar feeling, has a traditional d-pad, and feels similar to the weight and quality of the Xbox One controller. If you have $70 USD to spend, I can’t recommend this thing enough.
Moving on, the Switch’s user interface is fast and clean. Gone are the menus that clutter the PS4 or the clunky home screen of the Xbox One. In its place is a simple row of icons for each game installed on your console. Beneath those lie smaller icons for standard features like console settings and photo sharing, along with a shortcut to the eShop for digital purchases. Your profile icon is housed in the upper-left of the screen, which can be selected (or tapped) to access the social menu. Here you can add new contacts via friend codes (far less annoying than it sounds, I assure you), or see what your online friends are up to.
The Nintendo Switch’s UI is nothing more than it needs to be. It’s basic, but not having to shuffle through tiles or uninteresting apps makes the Switch feel like a console that exists solely to play video games. I’m sure once Nintendo implements streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu things will begin to clutter, but the obscenely meager 32gb storage is already concerning on its own.
In an age where more consumers are purchasing games through a digital storefront, it’s baffling that the Switch shipped with just 32gb (25 of which are usable). I get that cartridges offer developers more storage than their disc-based counterparts, but that’s largely dependent on the game’s publisher. The larger the cartridge, the more expensive it is for the publisher to manufacture.
A realistic situation that we may run into are money-hungry publishers looking to cut costs by putting only a portion of their game on to the smallest cartridge available, and then require the rest be downloaded digitally onto your console’s hard drive (as many expected was the case with LEGO City Undercover, before Warner Bros. clarified it as a simple printing error).
The console’s storage can be expanded with an affordable microSD card, so at least we’re not dealing with the proprietary nonsense that plagued the PlayStation Vita. I mostly buy my Nintendo games physically since I like to display them, but I grab smaller indie titles digitally through the eShop. As of now I only have 3 digital games and I’m in no danger of filling up my hard drive anytime soon. However, there’s already a game available in Japan that’s larger than the stock hard drive (Dragon Quest Heroes I + II). It’ll only get worse from here.
Another issue worth mentioning is that, as of this time, Nintendo does not offer any sort of cloud storage for game saves. Not only that, but there’s currently no way to move your save data from the Switch’s internal memory to a microSD card. Basically, if your Switch dies then all of your Zelda data goes along with it. That’s just bad design and hopefully, cloud storage is a thing that happens when Nintendo’s online component rolls out later this fall.
Overall, I think the strongest feature in the Switch’s arsenal is its mobility. It’s clearly not as powerful as the PS4 and Xbox One (despite both turning four in 2017), but it offers two things the competition does not: mobility and Nintendo’s brilliant exclusives.
In the week I’ve had my Switch I’ve taken it on car trips, outside on the porch, and propped up in my bed, in addition to playing it in a traditional sense on my HDTV. Having the ability to pause Zelda and then undock my console to resume gaming immediately on a portable platform is fucking awesome. I will happily purchase a cross-platform title on the Switch for the sole fact that I’ll have access to it anytime, anywhere, in exchange for looking a bit under par.
The functionality of the Switch is very promising. Having access to quality games on a console that doesn’t care if I’m at home in front of my TV or sitting in the passenger seat during a 9-hour road trip is exhilarating. It helps, of course, that consumers have access to the absolutely phenomenal Breath of the Wild at launch. It’s not only a strong contender for the best game in the series but possibly one of the single greatest games of all time. I couldn’t think of a better game to show what the Switch is capable of in its infancy.
I haven’t been this excited about a Nintendo home console since the GameCube, and so far it’s completely exceeded my expectations. Of course, it’s not without its problems. What new console isn’t?