Nintendo, the Japanese giant, follow-up their previous handheld and living room gaming systems with a device that the previous consoles were all seemingly leading up to. The Nintendo Switch is the most obvious lovechild of the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS product lines and looks to deliver quality handheld gaming, whilst allowing you to kick back in your living room and continue the fun. As a gamer who has latterly been more focused on the odd FIFA 17 match and a bit of Battlefield 1, how was the Nintendo Switch to play out for me, and what drove me to it in the first place. Let’s take a look in my review.
The Purchasing Decision – Nintendo Switch
I’m not much of a gamer now, but there was a time when I most certainly was. Back in the early 90’s I was just getting to grips with PC components and the delights of MS-DOS and Windows 3.11 and managed to get into PC gaming. I’ve had my share of consoles too, with my first gaming console after my C64 days being a Sega Master System, through to a PS3, however PC gaming is where I ultimately started to become a little more hardcore. Rise of the Triads along with Operation Body Count were two of my favourites back in the old Wolfenstein 3D days, before graduating through the Quake series and Duke Nukem, through to clan matches with Quake 2 and Quake 3 Arena and more latterly, Counterstrike in its various iterations. However, as I moved into my thirties, I became more content playing the odd game of FIFA and Counterstrike purely for relaxation rather than achievement.
With all that said, just why would I even think about investing in a games console then, especially one without “next gen” graphics like the Xbox One, and with a similar price tag to the aforementioned console. I have always had this nagging feeling that I missed out back in the original Gameboy days, which is what led me to pickup a Nintendo DS, but I didn’t really like the limited screen real estate. So to me, the Nintendo Switch looked like it would give me the flexibility to use as a handheld which would appease that teenager in me, as well as give me the opportunity to pickup, and play an hour, when out and about. given I spend a lot of my time on the road for my day job, sitting in a hotel of an evening can be a tad boring, even with a number of streaming options open to me. Again the Nintendo Switch just seemed, right.
An impulse buy was inevitable.
What Is The Nintendo Switch? – Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch is the latest games console from the Japanese company and delivers a tablet-based console which can be used when mobile or static when in the dock and in a variety of configurations.
But what does the £279 I paid get me then? Well, it got me the console, and that’s that. Another £48 later and I had a game (Zelda: Breath of the Wild) to play on it too! In the box you get a surprising amount though:
- The Nintendo Switch console
- A pair of Joy-Cons
- A Joy-Con Grip controller
- A Nintendo Switch dock
- An HDMI cable
- An AC Adapter
- A user guide
- Joy-Con straps
That’s quite a lot more than you’d expect to see in a standard games console box isn’t it? In terms of the specifications of the unit, see below:
- Display – 1280 x 720 6.2″ capacitive LCD screen.
- Capable of 1080p 60FPS playback when connected to a TV via HDMI/Dock
- CPU/GPU – Nvidia Tegra CPU.
- RAM – 4GB DDR4
- Storage – 32GB (approx 26GB usable) – expandable via microSD card.
- Connectivity – WiFi 802.11/a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, Ethernet via a dongle, USB Type-C, 3.5mm audio jack.
- Weight – 297g (398g with Joy-Cons attached)
- Audio – Dual front facing Stereo speakers
- Battery – 4310mAh
The Tablet portion is very similar to that of a standard Android tablet in terms of look, however it obviously delivers a little more on the GPU end than your standard tablet as well as using a completely different user interface. As soon as the Joy-Cons are slipped down the rails on either side it immediately looks more like a Nintendo DS and a PS Vita had a baby! The Joy-Cons connect satisfyingly with a click and my concerns about causing some strain on the connection pieces when gaming were quickly proved to be unfounded with the device feeling and providing a sturdy experience.
As soon as the Joy-Cons are slipped down the grooves on either side it immediately looks more like a Nintendo DS and a PS Vita had a baby!
The Joy-Cons can be used independently for some games with each player using just one device which adds to the versatility of the device. Equally, if you decide to connect your Joy-Cons to the Grip, the device has a kick stand that can be deployed to allow the unit to stand up whilst you settle down to game.
The Joy-Cons feel sturdy enough to me and have a nice texture which is somewhere between a matte finish and a gloss one. It feels like brushed plastic which certainly isn’t a bad thing. You have a stick on each Joy-Con, along with a – or + key on each, a directional up, down, left right button setup on the left with an X, Y, A, B setup on the right. finally, on the left Joy-Con sits a square button towards the bottom, whereas in the same location on the right sits the Home button. The square button allows you to capture screenshots of your favourite moments; a nice little touch.
On the top of the tablet section is the game cartridge port which is covered, along with some major ventilation, a headphone jack, and volume and power buttons. On the bottom is the solitary USB Type-C port used for charging and to dock. On the backside is the kick stand under which sits the microSD card slot, and around the front you get that large 6.2″ LCD display and front firing speakers.
I’ll go into detail on the what I actually think of the design and the functionality of it as we go deeper into my review.
Gaming Modes – Nintendo Switch
One of the reasons for such a packed box is the fact that the Nintendo Switch is, as the name suggests, a versatile machine. The Joy-Cons can slip onto the sides of the main console and the unit can then act as a standard, but larger, gaming console. Remove the Joy-Cons and attach them to the Joy-Con Grip (included) and you can sit back from the Nintendo Switch itself and game at a distance. Furthermore, slip the Nintendo Switch into the dock provided, connected to a TV via the included HDMI cable, and the gaming can be a little more conventional and leisurely, delivering 1080p resolution graphics rather than the 720p available on the tablet natively.
The amazing part is that these modes are seamless to transition to. Slip from one to the other and just continue gaming. No reloading or rebooting – game on!
Personally, I find gaming in what I’ll call “normal mode” (the Joy-Cons on each side of the tablet unit) quite comfortable, but it’s excellent that there is versatility built in and alternative modes available. I know a few individuals that have purchased the Pro Controller which acts more like a standard Xbox One controller than the included offerings and feels a little more familiar. It might be worth having a look to see if that is something you’d be interested in.
Performance & Use – Nintendo Switch
Let me start this section by saying I’ve so far (touches wood) been unable to get the Nintendo Switch to bog down at all. I’ve only been playing 2-3 games, but I’ve tried jumping out of them, launching others, going into settings, navigating the Nintendo Store, etc and all has been delivered with the speed you’d expect from a 2017 games console.
From a gaming perspective, I have to echo my performance comments in that it’s been great. Whether I’m using the Joy-Con Grip or attaching them to the console itself and playing a few hours, I haven’t felt fatigued in any way and I’ve certainly not felt that the unit is anything but suited for decent length gaming sessions.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. I have read quite a few people state that they aren’t a fan of the Joy-Con layout and I can see why. I’m used to keyboard and mouse gameplay, but when I do venture into a game demanding I use a controller, my Xbox 360 controller is what I pickup. Using the Xbox 360 controller as a comparison, the sticks are a little closer to the buttons and d-pad respectively and they are offset which allows for more natural movement of the thumb when accessing those buttons. On the Nintendo Switch however, if I want to hit the uppermost button on the right Joy-Con (X), it’s a rather large movement which just feels a little strained. Unfortunately during Zelda: Breath of the Wild gameplay, that is a relatively frequent occurrence. I’ve become more proficient in it, but it’s far from natural.
In a similar vein, the Joy-Cons can feel a little tall. I understand why they have been designed as they have, but I’d like them to be a little more squat and perhaps have some aspects sit prouder to provide contrast to the hand when drifting across the controls.
Then there’s the trigger and shoulder buttons. Taking the above into account, utilising these is just as difficult in the heat of the battle. The Grip accessory does make it a little more convenient but I’d perhaps like to have seen paddles a bit further down the Joy-Con to make them more accessible; I’m no designer though.
What is excellent however is the way connection to the tablet is performed. Sliding the Joy-Con down a rail provides stability an repetition in this process. Snapping them off is, thankfully, not a snapping process. Instead the removal is handled by the black button on the rear of the Joy-Con just underneath the ZR/ZL buttons.
Nintendo have made some interesting design choices here and moving on to the kick stand, I’m not sure this particular choice fully works. Whilst I welcome a kick stand on a device like this as there is no doubt there will be games released where cracking open the Grip will feel more natural, but the implementation here is a little lopsided, literally. I refuse to take on board what some other reviewers (and very respectable ones too) have stated, that the kick stand is an excellent piece of design as it snaps off easily to avoid breaking. Whilst I too applaud that particular feature, I’d like the kick stand to be a) a little more rigid and b) duplicated on the other side of the Nintendo Switch for stability. On anything other than a 100% completely flat surface it can be prone to falls because the kick stand shifts the weight of the unit. A second kick stand would resolve this and make me quite the happy bunny. Sadly, I wouldn’t be relying on it in its current state to keep the unit upright on a train journey for example.
Battery life is something I’m of two minds about. On one hand I don’t expect to be able to game half a day on a device that is essentially a tablet. On the other hand, getting only 3 hours out of a Zelda gaming session is a little disappointing. The unit isn’t the fastest to charge either (it’s not that slow either), taking almost 3 hours itself. So far I’ve been accepting of it and a quick charge of an hour can usually get you a “decent” session in game. The battery would be improved by being a little larger however and perhaps this is something that they might look at in a hardware revision.
Whilst battery life is acceptable, another area I thought I’d have to come to terms with would be the audible cooling from the unit. On the top of the unit is a big ventilation area use to push hot air out from the unit when under load. It is deathly silent for me under load, so much so that I had to put my ear up right to it to check whether it was actually spinning. It brilliant how quiet it is and I’ve never once stopped playing and thought, “oh what’s that noise” and that’s frankly because I don’t hear anything! That’s quite a feat.
Audio is another key element of any gaming console however normally you are constrained by the audio setup that comes along with your TV or Monitor setup. Here you have to think a little wider as handheld use is more often going to be the go to mode for many. It gets loud…too loud for me, and it doesn’t distort. There’s barely any low end to the speakers but what little there is, is coming straight at you thanks to the front facing speakers. I’m happy enough with that if I’m honest. I’m not going to be in the most immersive environment if I’m using a handheld games console so not having the most immersive audio in the world at that point isn’t an issue. Obviously, you can dock the Switch and take advantage of any speaker setup you have and audio is as good as on any other console at that point, at least to my ears. You can always use headphones though thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack, but more on that below!
The Elephants In The Room – Nintendo Switch
It all sounds tickety-boo doesn’t it and that’s because as a piece of technology Nintendo have got a winner here. There is a nice harmony between the various modes and the user interaction of the software which just gets out of the way of players wanting to play games which is what all good consoles should do.
There are some strange aspects to consider as an early adopter though. Let’s dive right in with the games library. At launch, “Zelda: Breath of the Wild” was the flagship title and that cost a pretty penny at around the £48 mark. In terms of triple A titles that was that really. No Mario game. Just read that again. No Mario game at launch! What were they thinking? I’d never played a Zelda game and whilst I know a few Link junkies, they’d still be hard pressed to support the decision to lead with a Zelda game alone at launch. There were other games available though, and one I purchased for £16.99 through the store was “Fast RMX”, a sort of WipEout clone which was surprisingly good. Just Dance 2017 was also available as well as some family based games such as “1-2-Switch” (the Wii Fit of Nintendo Switch), and “Super Bomberman R”, with some Neo-Geo titles making up the bunch at a pricey £4.99 minimum.
Of course at the time of writing “Mario Kart” 8 is just around the corner with “Lego City: Undercover”, “ULTRA STREET FIGHTER II: The Final Challengers”, and “Super Mario Odyssey” all slated for various release dates in the Spring and Autumn respectively. We’d have liked to have seen a few more like that within a week or so of launch.
Another particular annoyance is the limited use of what is obviously a very capable device. Browser use isn’t possible her e(without getting your hack on) and whilst I completely understand Nintendo’s attempt to steer this as a gaming machine entirely, it clearly has the capability to act as a tablet in some scenarios, so why not allow it? Furthermore, if you want to connect headphones to the Nintendo Switch you can, but only through the included 3.5mm headphone jack. No pairing your lovely Bluetooth headphones with the Switch as that’s not available. Will it come in a patch? We’re quite sure it will, but again, a glaring omission.
One final area I actually thought Nintendo would be savvy enough to include would be some form of streaming solution. There is simplistic use of social media account linking to post your captured screenshots, but nothing more. Perhaps the ability to take recordings of a few minutes and upload those, or even a full on streaming solution would be great. Even if this was only accessible when docked and connected to an Ethernet cable. Gaming videos are huge business and the ability to stream your Zelda progress is something I know many people would tune in to on Twitch for example.
Conclusion – Handheld Gaming Grew Up – Nintendo Switch
With the Switch, Nintendo have achieved something it’s clear they have been gearing up to for the last few years. Namely a handheld device that can compete in terms of gameplay with other consoles on the market, and be as versatile as the Wii U. The ability to transition between operation modes is excellent, and aside from my little gripes about the button placement, design-wise I can’t fault the feel of the device or indeed how it all fits together, however you want to achieve that.
A morning commute could be improved by dropping a Switch into your bag, and it is equally at home, docked, awaiting a TV gaming session.
Whether you wish to part with over £300 for a device that has only a small amount of technical proficiency when compared to the other big console players is purely down to your use case. If you’re only ever going to use the Nintendo Switch docked, I’d argue that you should stay well clear and plump for a PS4 or Xbox One. If that is indeed your requirement, you shouldn’t even be looking at the Switch as a viable option!
Those that do part with their cash will, for the majority, be happy with their decision. Just rmember to add a little more for a screen protector and perhaps a carry case too!
It’s clear that the scant gaming library will be rectified in this calendar year, and early adopters will be use to the perils that entails, but for this casual gamer I can do little other than put two thumbs up and attempt to find a way to defeat a raiding party of mounted Blue Bokoblins that seem to be supporting a Guardian Turret!