by Matthew Thompson
The Nintendo Switch looks to offer new possibilities for the gaming public. Is it a true portable/home console hybrid offering gamers the best of both worlds? Or is it a jack of all two trades, master of none? After two weeks with Nintendo’s latest, I’m here with my initial impressions on what the hardware has to offer.
The Switch is a surprisingly slick piece of hardware coming from Nintendo. It is hard not to be impressed with the sleek look of the tablet and its connecting Joy-Con in comparison to some of the Big N’s previous efforts like the bulbous Wii U Gamepad or the poor, low-quality screens of the DS and 3DS. Games look wonderful when transferred from the television to the Switch’s 6.2” tablet screen and the way the Joy-Con slide on and off is just plain cool. Time will tell if repeated removal will cause the connection to loosen, but so far I have no complaints in that regard.
When viewed as a portable, the Joy-Con deliver a robust control suite. The Vita was the previous high water mark for handheld controls, but concessions still had to be made. The Joy-Con add a pair of triggers and clickable sticks making the transition from console experiences more seamless; a necessary but still welcome addition for a system aiming to be a hybrid. The control layout isn’t perfect, but the only major knock against it in handheld form is the lack of a d-pad. While not a big issue with something like killer launch app The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it will be problematic for Nintendo’s typical slew of 2D platformers in the future. This concession was clearly made to make both Joy-Con usable as their own controller giving you local multiplayer out of the box and on the go, but for someone who will largely use the portable aspects for off-TV play around the house, this trade-off wasn’t a worthwhile one for me. On the other hand, the larger size of the tablet plus Joy-Con combo compared to typical handhelds that makes it slightly less friendly to gaming on the go doesn’t bother me much as it works well for my particular portable uses.
Whereas the Joy-Con largely shine for the handheld side of the Switch coin, they disappoint when used as the controller for playing on the big screen. Here I can’t help but compare my experiences to what the PS4 and Xbox One’s more traditional controllers deliver and the Joy-Con simply don’t stack up. Whether free or in the grip that comes with the console, they are simply too small for my hands. The buttons are generally too tiny and the layout gives me some problems as well. The right stick being directly below the face buttons is uncomfortable and reaching over the left stick to hit the minus button isn’t ideal either. It is easier to look the other way when it is all tightened up to work in portable mode, but when playing on the TV, it just isn’t up to snuff. For me, a Pro controller purchase was a must. And I’m not even having issues with the left Joy-Con de-syncing like other Switch players which would make buying a Pro even more of a necessity. This comes back to one of my big fears about the Switch: the mounting cost of accessories. Here I needed a Pro controller. At some point, I’m sure I will need to address the system’s low amount of onboard memory. Nintendo’s accessory pricing just magnifies the issue. And I haven’t even addressed the Dock situation yet.
So, about the Dock. I’m surprised this thing made it to the production phase the way it is. I’m somewhat baffled by its design. Why would you have juts of plastic running along the tablet’s plastic screen to hold it in place when docked? I just can’t wrap my head around it. Making matters worse, some docks are arriving bent (not sure if that is a production issue or what). It is no wonder there are reports of users – even those carefully putting the tablet in – scratching their screens. I feel an open-faced design would have been more appropriate. I imagine Nintendo decided to go the route they did to better sell the hybrid concept. A simple open-faced dock would make it seem more like a handheld with TV out. That isn’t too far from the truth, but perception on the market is obviously important. At the same time, it shouldn’t come at the cost of potential harm to the system itself. And a different style of dock is far from the only solution to this problem. Overall, the Nintendo Switch Dock feels like a very cheap product especially in comparison to the rest of the package and the issues outlined above mean another potential cost outside of the system’s base price for those looking to provide extra protection to solve the potential issue.
The basic OS and software features at launch seem extremely barebones. I’m not going to sit here and complain about the lack of a Netflix app since I have a million devices at my place to fill that function, but along with the OS it further speaks to the system hitting a little before it was ready – though to be fair, that is the case with many gadgets and electronics these days and certainly some gaming systems in the past.
When it comes to Nintendo handhelds, I typically wait for the inevitable revision to come along. The GBA SP. The DS Lite. The 3DS XL. They all offered – in my opinion of course – an upgrade over the original hardware, solving some of the initial issues in the process. That might be the way to go with the Switch given some of the problems I’ve outlined here assuming Nintendo decides they are worth fixing. That doesn’t mean I regret buying mine. I can see the potential in the system. The launch timing (basically in the middle of the PS4 and Xbox One’s life cycles) along with Zelda made it a fairly easy decision to grab one now. As with any launch purchase, it is an investment for the future. I hope Nintendo can iron out some of the system’s issues. And more importantly, I hope its hybrid nature means Nintendo will throw the full power of its internal developers at it – including its handheld teams – giving us more quality software over its lifespan and games that take advantage of both the home console and portable aspects of the Switch’s design.
A few more things:
- Reading this back, I didn’t give enough credit to the screen. It’s quite nice and Zelda looks awesome on it.
- The Pro Controller is great. About as good as the PS4 and Xbox One controllers. It just lacks analog triggers which I think will be missed in some games. Like racers for example.
- Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows how much I love the PS4’s Share button. I’m glad Nintendo followed suit with the Capture button. Looking forward to being able to do video with it in the future, but taking screenshots is nice.
- I’ve mostly played Zelda so far, but I did try the Snipperclips demo and Super Bomberman R which I rented. I have rented 1-2 Switch as well. I wanted to focus on the hardware with this first post, but I will be posting game impressions and reviews starting next week hopefully.