Whether you’ve owned a Nintendo console before or you’re new to their hardware, the important thing to know is that you’re always going to get something a bit different. I was late to the party, boarding the train with the N64 late in 1998 (thank you Factor 5 and Rogue Squadron for forcing my hand), and one thing I’ve learned since then is that you can always count on them to do something different. After the Wii - Nintendo’s most successful home console of all time - I moved to Xbox (for online multiplayer), but since then times have changed and the Switch reveal did enough to grab my attention once more.
Check out our Nintendo Switch video review.
The Switch is a product that has the potential to offer an unmatchably diverse gaming experience.
That’s the dream, and largely the Switch already lives up to that in reality. There have been well-documented hardware issues, from screen scratching when docking to controller connectivity problems, and while I haven’t experienced these specific ones myself (though I know Sam has the latter), I have already had one error screen occur when the console was docked and not in use.
Generally though, the Switch itself is an exceptionally well-built product. The 720p HD screen is clear and crisp, particularly when you put it alongside the 3DS XL (which seems like a fair comparison), the jump from handheld to TV is seamless and the Joy-Con controllers are perfectly suited to what the console is trying to achieve. The contents of the box look smaller than you’d expect when you pull them out, and I don’t think the tabletop mode - utilised by making use of the built-in kickstand - will be much good outside a train or plane seat, as the screen is too small to view from any decent distance. The size does feel right when you hold it in your hands, though.
Overall it's clean and attractive, even premium, but I had worried the machine might falter when using either one of the small Joy-Cons individually. As someone who always had to use the wheel accessory when playing Mario Kart on the Wii (the Wiimote-on-its-side arrangement just didn’t work for me), I approached the endearing launch title Snipperclips with trepidation, knowing the use of individual Joy-Cons was the only way to go. Fortunately, after the usual amount of time spent getting used to something new, the Joy-Con actually responded well. Admittedly, I do still much prefer the traditional D-pad of the Pro Controller, which helped to avoid hitting the wrong buttons at key moments by comparison.
The Pro Controller itself is very light - playing into the portability of the system - and less bulky than an Xbox One controller. It has the right buttons and placement, but it doesn’t feel quite as nice as the Joy-Cons themselves, even down to the oddly squared-off buttons compared to the smooth, sleek finish of the Joy-Cons. It feels like it’s the result of Nintendo updating a design they already had in the works, rather than something tailor-made for the Switch.
The Switch's overall design is clean and attractive; even premium.
Miis of the Wii and Wii U era are mostly forgotten, relegated to a secondary screen on the customisation menu, while you’re asked to choose a local username - which can be anything - and then prompted to sign in to your Nintendo Account - which can’t - to access the eShop and online services. It’s here we reach a bit of a brick wall as far as the in-depth analysis goes, as neither of the games I picked up at launch (the aforementioned Snipperclips and, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) have online multiplayer functionality. It has been reported that Super Bomberman R doesn't fare too well when taken online, however.
One online function everybody has access to is the dedicated screenshot button, which takes instant snaps and stores them in the console's album menu. You can then edit and share these images on social media directly from the Switch, which is neat, I guess?
The games line-up at launch is something of a sticking point for many, with only a dozen games available (which might actually be generous, considering a number of those are old Neo Geo games). For me, two games is enough to keep me going for the time being, especially as Zelda alone is vast - but more of that in the upcoming review. It would have been nice to have the option for some bigger multiplayer-centric titles like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or even Arms to mess around with at this point, but that hasn’t been a deal-breaker.
While buying a console to play two games (or one and a half, sorry Snipperclips) might sound a bit silly, the truth is that the Nintendo Switch serves me (and perhaps serves best) as a second console, offering a refreshing break from the norm now and then, along with the versatility to play when and where I otherwise couldn’t.
Whether it's for you or not largely depends on your circumstances. Perhaps you’re at secondary school, using public transport for 20-30 minutes each way and you have a free period to play in the sixth form common room, or you’re a walking enthusiast looking for something to do while you settle your heart rate before mile 13 of your Sunday ramble. Maybe you just want to keep the kids quiet? The key point is that this is a device for many different sorts of people, but not necessarily the sort of person who is already heavily invested in playing a specific type of “hardcore” game at home.
While the Switch is great for short bursts of gaming, its battery life can necessitate them. Nintendo’s estimate of 2.5 - 6 hours of playtime is fairly accurate based on use so far, and if you’re at home the dock is enough to keep the system charging while you’re hunting Bokoblins in Zelda on the TV, though it would be nice to reliably get over four hours of play in handheld mode. Hopefully that time won’t decline further as the device and its battery age, as can happen with the 3DS and Wii U gamepad (along with many mobile devices).
While the Switch is great for short bursts of gaming, its short battery life can necessitate them.
Is now the time to buy a Switch if you’re interested? Even if you have the cash it’s difficult to insist you need this console today - particularly if you’re already tucking into Zelda on the Wii U in the interim. That’s not to say it isn’t fantastic, in fact the Switch meets my expectations and does everything I expected it to very well.
There’s a few niggles which Nintendo had to throw in as well of course. The online service being paid for later in the year isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the communication about what you get for your money has been shockingly vague. Add to that the re-introduction of fiddly friend codes and you’re going to get some unhappy customers. The biggest sin at this point though is the sheer price of the accessories and, to some extent, games for the system. It’s not as big of a problem if you’re a working adult (and don’t have kids), but if you’re a youngster working hard on a paper round to get a bit of money to spend on yourself, or washing the car for pocket money, it’ll be a while before you can even get another pair of Joy-Cons to play with a few friends at once (or one friend in Arms’ case). Not to mention the pressure it will put on parents to fork out for these add-ons at Christmas and birthdays.
That said, my record of not regretting the purchase of a Nintendo console is safe. The Switch’s premium build quality and accommodating hybrid nature provide a unique and exciting experience that isn’t paralleled elsewhere. Even if the sought-after third-party support drops off, we know it’ll at least produce some future Nintendo classics to enjoy; Zelda puts a very strong foot forward on that front, leaving plenty of reason to be optimistic.