The Nintendo Switch, whichever way you snap it together, remains purely and uniquely Nintendo…with all the perks and flaws that accompany that statement.
Launch Price: $299.99 USD
Release Date: March 3, 2017
What I have always admired most about Nintendo hardware and software development is how willing the company is to take weird-ass risks. They frequently fly in the face of all development and marketing logic to make games, hardware, and accessories that no one ever thought they wanted and can’t get elsewhere. The result is often that Nintendo falls on its face, with the most obvious and recent example being the sad Netflix box in my bedroom that is the Wii U. Conversely, Nintendo has maintained a successful handheld system in a world where phone games are king, even through three similarly-named iterations. Nintendo’s video game history is stuffed with examples of both types of risks.
So what, then, will the Nintendo Switch be? I feel as though in a review like this I ought to be able to come to some definitive conclusion. But the truth is that at this point, even as someone who has had the system for a week and a half, I still have about as many questions as you do. Online capabilities haven’t been available for reviewers, so I can’t see the eShop, play online, use the system’s phone apps, or connect my Nintendo Account. Even in terms of basic knowledge, we still have massive gaps such as how media streaming, Virtual Console, or connectivity between multiple Switches (a feature for which we don’t yet have software lending itself to) will work.
That said, there’s still much that I can say for certain about my time with the Nintendo Switch, beginning with the moment I opened the box.
What’s in the box?
The Nintendo Switch comes neatly packed with the tablet and two Joy-Cons atop, then the cables, charging dock, Grip, and Straps beneath. The tablet screen is surprisingly lightweight (and remains so even when I attach the Joy-Cons) and boasts a 6.2-inch screen with a display resolution of 1280 x 720. Significant care must have been taken when selecting the size, as it neatly toes the line (without crossing it) for an acceptable handheld system size in terms of carrying it around in a purse or backpack, even unprotected by a case. After the god-awful matte finish of the 3DS, the Nintendo Switch’s plastic body and screen are gloriously smear-proof for the most part. Any smudges (infrequent) were easily removed with an eyeglass cleaner cloth.
The design is ergonomic, sleek, and satisfying while remaining easy to switch in and out of its different configurations.
As the meat and potatoes of the system, the screen is the Nintendo Switch itself–the rest is just controllers and accessories. The power button, a volume control, the Game Card slot (tiny, with a protective door), and a cooling vent that audibly works during handheld Breath of the Wild play, all rest on top of the tablet. The bottom of the tablet houses an outlet where it can either sit in the dock or hook up to the AC Adapter to charge on the go. The kickstand on the back of the system feels fragile (though never fear, you can snap it back into place if it comes off), and can be wobbly when deployed if your surface isn’t exactly even. The kickstand hides the microSD port beneath. Mark that spot well, as you’ll need a microSD card once you exhaust the paltry 32GB storage limit.
The charging dock hooks up to the TV neatly with a provided HDMI cable (thank goodness), and to the wall with an AC adapter that also hooks up to the Switch by itself. The dock is mostly unremarkable, though a neat door hiding the plug-ins in the back is a nice touch. There’s a USB outlet as well, intended for charging Joy-Cons or Pro Controllers.
Finally, the Joy-Cons: fascinatingly small controllers that slide into the Switch itself, the Joy-Con Straps, or the Joy-Con Grip with the most satisfying “Snap!” sound imaginable. Never before did I imagine how much I’d love a small controller, but the way the Joy-Con disappears into my hand when held separate from the Switch feels fantastic, especially for someone with regular wrist and hand pain. The new left and right stick configuration did take a bit of getting used to in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but after a few gaming sessions, it began to feel natural.
Attached to the screen or in the Joy-Con Grip, the controller set-up felt worlds away from the bulky Wii U Gamepad I’ve grown used to. Though still not quite as brilliant as the GameCube controller, I have no qualms about any of the controller configurations concerning comfort or ease of play. One note, though–while the Joy-Con straps are neat and help give the Joy-Con some bulk when playing games like 1-2-Switch, be careful how you attach them. If the strap is attached upside down (an easy mistake to make), you may have a hell of a time removing the thing again.
Physically, the Nintendo Switch is brilliant. The design is ergonomic, sleek, and satisfying while remaining easy to switch in and out of its different configurations. It’s also sturdy and scratch/smudge-proof enough that I had no problem stashing it in my bag to take on the go with me, though I’d pick up a carrying case anyway if you intend to travel with it frequently. Of my concerns about the system, none of them involve the physical serviceability of the Nintendo Switch as an easy-to-swap console and handheld hybrid.
The Nintendo Switch system will guide you through a simple tutorial to get started, allowing you to set users (up to eight), connect a Nintendo Account (once a Day 1 patch is downloaded), and teaching you the fundamentals of the controller scheme and TV/handheld use. There are more, optional tutorials available once you reach the home screen if you need a hand, and the mandatory set-up is mercifully short and succinct.
From the Home screen, the UI’s simplicity initially struck me as rather dull, but then I looked at my Wii U again and realized how mature the Switch’s UI is. Sans the Day 1 patch, I was able to mess around with System Settings, create Miis, toggle between two different Home menu themes (Dark and Light), and view/edit my Album of screenshots (taken with the screen capture button on the left Joy-Con). News and eShop icons are also on the Home menu, though they were inaccessible for the review.
The Album allows you to move screenshots to a MicroSD card and back again (only one at a time, alas), as well as add text to the screenshot if you feel so inclined. There’s a Post option, too, that will presumably let you share on social media accounts when the system goes online on March 3.
The Mii creation options, while unnecessary, were surprisingly robust as I mentioned in my preview piece. Interestingly, the lack of overt Miis on the home menu gave the entire UI a more sophisticated appearance than past Nintendo systems. You have to delve into the settings to find the cartoon bobble-headed people, though that doesn’t take long.
Navigation between screens is quick, and always accompanied by satisfying clicks and chimes. The sound design of the Switch is ever an ASMR dream, and the sound quality and volume in handheld mode shouldn’t disappoint. The system also graciously mutes your audio when plugging in or unplugging headphones, so you don’t blast your own ears or annoy your neighbors.
While I’ve already hit upon most of the physical aspects of the hardware, it’s worth noting how swift and smooth the transition from handheld mode to TV mode and back again is. It’s almost instantaneous when removing the Switch from the dock, and takes a split second longer going into TV mode while the HDMI registers the new input. Controller swapping registers almost immediately, and while some reviewers have reported issues with their left Joy-Cons disconnecting, I had no such problems my entire review period.
For review, I received The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 1-2-Switch, and Just Dance 2017. I’ll focus on the latter two first, as their local multiplayer and Joy-Con-focused playstyles differed vastly from Breath of the Wild.
Remember pointing your Wiimotes at the TV, flailing around, desperately trying to get your cursor on the screen in a useful place to select an option? Yeah, those days are a distant memory, because boy, can these Joy-Cons track. Just Dance 2017 showcased both the motion sensing abilities via gyroscope and accelerometer, as well as the ability of the controllers to track my rhythm accurately. In 1-2-Switch’s minigames such as Sword Fight and Wizard, the controllers were able to distinguish my different types of motions, their speed, and timing accurately enough to turn an invisible sword or magic fight into a realistic one, complete with counters and blocks. Mighty impressive.
1-2-Switch also put the Joy-Cons through their paces regarding the IR Motion Camera: it’s a touch finicky for minute motions like a mouth opening and closing and does require some accurate distance calibration, but I was impressed nonetheless.
Then there’s the HD Rumble, a brilliant feature that deserves far better than the Wii U’s gimmicks got in terms of games to show it off. You can’t wrap your head around the accuracy of the feeling of marbles rolling in a box or the tiny variations in clicks to open a safe until you’ve felt the tech in 1-2-Switch for yourself. This realism of touch has the potential to enhance gaming experiences in interesting ways, though I have yet to be sold on how it will be used beyond the tech demo of 1-2-Switch. Hopefully, some of the upcoming Nindies will answer that question.
Breath of the Wild proved a serious test of the Nintendo Switch’s rendering capabilities, as I experienced significant framerate drops and at times outright stutters when playing in TV mode, specifically in places with a lot of wind and grass or fire. I’m not surprised, given how Breath of the Wild at least gives the illusion of rendering the entire world at once. Plus, there are no loading screens between map areas–only when entering or leaving a shrine or respawning after death.
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In handheld mode, those framerate drops were gone entirely, as the system runs in 720p instead of 900p. The visual difference is barely noticeable, making the handheld mode experience a more pleasant one when performing certain tasks.
If your preference is on-the-go, I found the promised three hours of battery life for Breath of the Wild to be fairly on the nose, though I’ve not tested the longer promised life on other, less-intense titles. Largely this is because while certainly playable with the kickstand in tabletop mode, games like Just Dance 2017 (where you need to stand a certain distance from the screen to get the full benefit) aren’t as viable on a small screen from a distance.
When and if you purchase the Nintendo Switch, nearly everything you receive out of the box exhibits the level of polish and style that Nintendo is known for. Yet just as we’ve feared in the marketing and previews, the negatives of the Nintendo Switch aren’t attached to what’s there, but rather to what’s not. Miniscule storage, concerns about online play, no media streaming or other known apps at launch, and the price of accessories for future titles spell trouble if Nintendo doesn’t reveal a better hand soon. We’ll have a follow-up to this review after launch discussing what’s added (and what’s not) when the system goes online.
As it is now, the Nintendo Switch is a wonderful machine if you want to play Breath of the Wild. If you trust that the level of quality of what’s available now will hold true going forward, braving the storm and picking one up now to bask in Link’s adventure immediately may not be an awful decision. But if you’re apprehensive about the future or were burnt by the Wii U, you’re not missing out on anything by waiting. As fascinated as I am about what’s here, the missing pieces of the Switch’s puzzle haven’t quite fallen into place for me yet, though I have hope Nintendo can put it all together by the end of 2017.
A Nintendo Switch system, along with copies of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Just Dance 2017, and 1-2-Switch were provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.