The Switch Could Turn You On
Nintendo’s Switch is upon us! The company that loves to try new things is doing exactly that. It’s providing us with a console that actually is also a handheld. It can be played in three different ways, as an actual docked system hooked up to your TV, a portable, and a tabletop stand-alone system. While this is an exciting piece of technology with a lot of potential, there are a few minor issues keeping it from being amazing out of the gate. This, in turn, means it won’t be a turn-on for everyone.
The basic functions of a Switch without a game in it are, at the moment, unimpressive. If you don’t have something loaded into it, you’re limited to browsing the eShop, looking through, editing, and sharing screenshots you’ve taken, going through the informational materials loaded onto the system, and searching through the system’s various menus. It’s hardly thrilling. I’d almost call it half-baked. It’d have been nice if there was some sort of web browser or media viewer. Especially since there are basic tablets with more functionality to them than a Switch without a game in it. At least it does play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild , the game I had available to me during my week and a half with the system, very well. It just didn’t do much else.
Aside from the last of things I could do with it without a game, the other thing that immediately struck me about the Switch was how substantial it is. The unit feels quite sturdy. I wouldn’t say it was as physically impressive as, say, an iPad tablet, but I’d say it feels as well made as a Samsung tablet. I know, it may sound odd to compare the core of this console to a tablet, but that’s essentially what it is. It has a touchscreen, slot for a MicroSD card, and is designed to be taken on the go with you. I would and did feel completely confident putting the core unit in a small pouch in my purse, with the Joy-Cons separately packed in, and heading out into the world with it.
Attaching the Joy-Cons didn’t cause my confidence in the unit to falter. Each one securely snaps into either side of the system. They fit perfectly into the unit and never feel like they’re lose or unsecured. The weight is nicely balanced and distributed, and I had no problem holding it in this handheld mode for an over two hour gaming session with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild . During some particularly harrowing boss fights, I might have appreciated a little more wider grip at the base of the left and right Joy-Cons, as my thumbs began to hurt after one particularly trying boss fight in a dungeon, but the handheld mode is generally a comfortable option for people who want to play portably. It was actually my preferred mode of play, as it allowed me the freedom to play anywhere, hear and see everything perfectly, and really take advantage of all of the Switch’s unique features.
Though, the battery life isn’t all that great. If I turned the volume off and brightness down, I could manage almost three hours of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild play. Which, frankly, is no way to play that game. So, setting the brightness to a reasonable level and putting the sound halfway up led to about two to two-and-a-half hour gaming sessions. It’s rather disappointing for a handheld and really dissuaded me from playing it anywhere I knew I couldn’t plug in and play when I’d get desperate.
This isn’t to say the Switch doesn’t excel in its other modes. It works wonderfully when docked. I was a little concerned at first, as there’s no snap when it is placed in its dock. There’s no satisfaction and security, as there is when locking a Joy-Con into place. Still, it fits quite securely in its hub and displays beautifully on a huge HD screen. It’s compact and just works. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looked equally gorgeous on the system screen and my TV, meaning I didn’t feel like I was missing out if I chose to play it at home or on the go. The experience was totally equal.
Before we move on to the third Switch setup, I have to note my favorite part about the docked console experience. This is a space-saving system. The dock actually has a little cabinet built into it. This hides away the ports for the HDMI cable, USB cable, and power cord. This means you don’t have a tangle of cables coming out of the dock. Everything is initially stowed away, with only the cords peeking out of the back. It allows you to easily find some space for it next to or underneath your TV and quite tidy. As someone who currently has her larger and more unkempt PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, RetroN 5, Saturn, and Dreamcast all also hooked up to her living room TV at this moment, I appreciated having a system that didn’t join in the existing jumble.
The third Switch configuration was my least favorite. This is the one in which you prop up the Switch using its built-in stand, sit or stand in front of it, then play your games. Perhaps its because the game I had at the time, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild , wasn’t exactly conducive to the experience. That’s a game that really requires you to either get in close in handheld mode or have it on a big screen, not tolerating a tabletop experience. You’d really need the right game to make this option worthwhile.
You’d also need the right environment. While the built-in stand isn’t bad, it isn’t all that great. You need an absolutely flat, level surface. If you don’t have that, the Switch can and will fall. (At least the stand snaps easily into place again, should it be pulled off.) You’ll have trouble getting it posed just right. And, even if you do have a hard, stable surface, the angle with the included stand isn’t always ideal. Maybe if the stand had been more in the middle of the unit or had varying degrees to it, I’d have felt differently, but propping it up on a tabletop is my least favorite way to play.
The power cord port works against you in tabletop mode as well. You’d think Nintendo would have allowed you to plug the power cord in a place where you could still have it standing on a surface so you could continue to play in this mode while charging. I mean, you can play it in the handheld mode when it’s plugged in. But, because the plug goes directly into the bottom of the unit, you either have it running on the limited battery power on a table or put it back in its dock to charge.
The Joy-Cons, in general, are far more comfortable than I thought they would be. I was concerned, since they’re similar in size to the controllers attached to the Famicom Mini, Japan’s version of the NES Classic Edition. I can’t play games too often on that plug-and-play due to their size, but size didn’t matter with the Switch’s controllers. While they were most comfortable when plugged into the included Grip, the button layout is mostly accommodating. I would have appreciated a little more space between the analog sticks and D-pad/action buttons, but it’s generally pleasant. Especially with the haptic feedback. I suspect the vibration functions will be most noticeable and appreciated with games like 1-2 Switch , but it definitely worked well with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild .
Now, there has been talk about Joy-Con connectivity issues. I haven’t experienced the drastic issues that some were discussing ahead of launch. That is, that the left Joy-Con seems to lose its signal to the console, leaving Link running in the direction someone last input. I noticed sporadic issues when in the calibration menu and attempting to recreate the problem. But again, it only happened for me when I tried to make the issue happen. Maybe my living room or hands are too small, but I didn’t have any of the obstruction issues that led to others facing problems. This may be an issue where your mileage will vary, depending on the distance between the Switch and the Joy-Cons and your own grip and activity while playing.
I did notice a different Joy-Con issue with the left controller during my week and a half with the Nintendo Switch, though. The left Joy-con battery seemed to drain slightly faster than the right. I suspect this was due to the game I was playing. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild , Link is always moving. There’s rarely a moment where he’s standing completely still. Meanwhile, he isn’t always jumping, attacking, or performing any other activity that would require near constant use of the right Joy-Con controller. It’s a relatively minor issue tied to the games you’re playing.
Generally, I’m happy with the Switch. I’ve enjoyed it most when using it as a handheld and taking advantage of its portability, but it definitely works well as a home console too. The only area in which it’s shaky is in its tabletop mode, as that presentation only works well with very specific games. Even the Joy-Cons work rather nicely, though some may experience some issues with batteries or the signal receiving properly. My only real qualms with the system are its unfortunate battery life and the fact that it can’t do much right now besides play games. It doesn’t offer any other media or internet features. People who are excited about the launch window game lineup, enjoy gaming on the go, and love Nintendo systems will be smitten with the Switch. Others may want to wait a few weeks for the system and its library to grow.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The Switch isn’t the most powerful console on the market, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild certainly looks beautiful running on it. 4.0 Control
The Joy-Cons could be a bit bigger and may have some connection issues for some, but they’re mostly comfortable. The touchscreen works well. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The audio quality is at its best in console mode, but it sounds rather good on the go too. 3.5 Play Value
As long as you have games, the Switch is great. A lack of multimedia and internet features out of the box is rather disappointing. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|