To understand the Nintendo Switch you first have to understand Nintendo. It’s the culmination of over thirty years of Nintendo’s gaming hardware know-how. Ever since the Nintendo Entertainment System entered Japanese homes in 1983, the aim has been to entertain families, bring people together and show that video games can bring the world happiness.
That idea has been Nintendo’s mantra in everything it’s ever produced. It’s all about creating a sense of joy and wonder; it’s about transporting you back to your youth – or if you’re still youthful – showing you that life isn’t always about being serious. All those feelings have been distilled down into the Nintendo Switch. The moment you hold the it in your hands, turn it on and hear that chime for the first time – and every time – you can’t help but smile.
This is Nintendo at its absolute best.
Nintendo Switch review: Built for fun
Nintendo insists on referring to the Switch a home console, but its latest device is actually incredibly portable. For Nintendo the Switch is a natural homogenisation of its home console knowledge and handheld prowess. It’s also a device designed to be instantly accessible and friendly, much like the Wii, a console so successful it propelled Nintendo back into mainstream consciousness after the GameCube’s rather limp early ’00s run out.
To achieve this phenomenal feat, Nintendo has looked to how we interact with others and how games are played, both on- and off-screen. It’s no coincidence that the Switch is, in basic terms, a tablet flanked by two incredibly simple – in our case also neon-coloured – Wiimote-like controllers. It’s designed so you can look at it and want to play, want to pick it up and soak yourself in its brilliance.
Switch’s big sell is its versatility. As I’ve already stated, it’s both a handheld and a home console. Its innards are powerful enough to deliver better-than-Wii U visuals, no matter where you happen to be. If you want to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the bus, you can. If you’d rather sit in front of your TV and sink your teeth into some competitive online Splatoon 2, you can do that, too. Heck, if you fancy a two-player game of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe while sat in the park, that’s 100% an option I would back.
This is the beauty of Switch. In TV mode it sits snugly in its dock charging both itself and the two Joy-Con controllers, if you have them attached that is. In this mode you can either play by sliding your Joy-Con controllers into the Joy-Con Grip housing, hold the controllers individually in each hand, or make use of Nintendo’s more traditional – and brilliant – Pro Controller.
Taking your Switch out with you on the road is as simple as sliding in both Joy-Con into the grooves either side of the Switch’s main body and lifting it out of the dock. Your game resumes near instantly and you can now take it anywhere with almost exactly the same experience. The console part even has a kickstand built in if you want to sit down and play at the kitchen table. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Nintendo Switch review: Intuitive to the core
As a simple piece of hardware, Switch is an impressive feat of engineering. Its four main parts – the Screen, TV dock and left and right Joy-Cons – work perfectly as both a single unit and when separated constituent parts. The slide mechanism that holds the Joy-Cons onto the main console body is a smoothly confident piece of industrial design, with the grips engaging in a remarkably stiff and solid manner. You can pick this thing up one-handed and it doesn’t wobble around that much.
The tablet-like body of the Switch is also as equally as sleek in appearance. It has a USB Type-C port on its bottom edge for both charging and as an output to the TV via the included dock. It also has three, reasonably discreet, air vents ports to keep the Switch cool while it’s running. The game card slot is covered with a clippy rubberised flap – which looks flimsy but feels sturdy enough – so, unlike the 3DS, you can’t accidentally eject your game while on the move. Even the microSD card slot is tucked behind the kickstand so that won’t be going anywhere accidentally either.
Switch’s real ingenuity, however, is contained within each Joy-Con. These rather unassuming controllers are packed with incredible technology. As a pair they function as a motion-enabled controller that is both light and sturdy in the hand. Each thumbstick still has the same pleasing clicky feel every Nintendo thumbstick has had since the N64. The A, B, Y, and X buttons and directional buttons feel firm and responsive, clearly moulded from the same, slightly grippy plastic as used for the 3DS.
Both Joy-Cons also feature Nintendo’s new “HD Rumble” haptic feedback technology. Aside from the rather stupid name, it’s fitting the company that invented the rumble pack is responsible for rejuvenating it for the modern age. So far, 1-2-Switch is the only title to put it to good use, but it’s truly excellent. In 1-2-Switch‘s hidden ball counting game you can feel balls rolling across your hand when you tilt it, it’s bizarre but wonderful and I’m looking forward to seeing how else developers can put it to use.
Each Joy-Con is also a complete controller that can be used for multiplayer gaming. Along the slide rail, SL and SR buttons are nestled, helping to turn each Joy-Con into something resembling a modern-day SNES pad. Each on its own isn’t as fully-featured as a full set of Joy-Con, but they’re good enough to enable Wii-style multiplayer gaming. The right Joy-Con also has an infrared and object detection sensor built in, but this is currently only used for one game on 1-2-Switch, so could easily become as obsolete as the PlayStation 4 DualShock 4’s touchpad.
Nintendo Switch review: Games and performance
Now the gushing hardware overview is done and dusted, it’s time to get onto the not-so-nice segment of this review. The Switch’s games library. By the end of 2017 Switch should be well stocked for the Christmas season with a mix of triple-A titles such as Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe alongside an ever-growing library of excellent indie games.
For now, however, you’re stuck with a smattering of indies launching within the first few weeks of Switch’s release window, along with Just Dance 2017, Skylanders Imaginators, Super Bomberman R, I Am Setsuna, 1-2-Switch and the fantastic The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
That may sound like a reasonably healthy number of titles to launch with but it’s comparatively slim and, beyond Zelda, the games are a harder sell to a “core” audience of gamers.
Thankfully, games on Switch should run like a dream. Having spent hours inside the world of Breath of the Wild, it’s clear that Switch’s semi-custom Nvidia Tegra X1 processor is more than capable of pushing out visuals to Switch’s 6.2in 720p touchscreen or up to 1080p on a TV (although Zelda runs at 720p all the time). Zelda looks absolutely stunning in motion and it’s amazing that a piece of mobile hardware can pump out something as brilliant as this. It may be a worry for some that this Tegra X1 is slightly old for a brand-new console, but Nvidia’s chip has proved that it’s more than powerful enough and straightforward enough for developers in this particular setup.
As this is a portable home console, battery life is also an important consideration. Nintendo states you’ll get around six hours of play out of it with most games and about three with Breath of the Wild. Having used the Switch plenty, those numbers are pretty much spot on – although I’d argue you could play the likes of 1-2-Switch or some other games in Tabletop Mode without draining the battery as much.
In terms of charging, you’ll be looking at a full battery within a couple of hours, provided you use Nintendo’s bundled charger. You can connect a standard USB Type-C 5V charger, instead of the 15V unit supplied by Nintendo, but it takes absolutely ages to charge and it isn’t even fast enough to increase the charge if you play at the same time.
Nintendo Switch review: Applications
For the moment, Nintendo has actually been rather quiet on what we can expect from the Switch outside of games. Its UI is brilliantly sleek and clean with charming chirps, clicks and buzzes that only Nintendo could get away with using. It is, however, alarmingly stark.
A day-one patch for the Switch is on the way so the UI I’ve been using for the review will have a couple of tweaks; even so, this will only open up the eStore and update its “News” feed where Nintendo provides general update information.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like you’ll end up being able to browse the web or use video streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. These features may come later if customers demand them, but the chances are Nintendo wants to avoid any allusions to the Switch being seen as simply a tablet instead of a pure gaming machine.
Nintendo Switch review: Price and verdict
The sticky subject with the Switch is, unfortunately, price. At $469 it’s not actually all that much for a new console. Both the PS4 and Xbox One retailed at far higher prices at launch and were arguably nowhere near as versatile. However, in the current market, those consoles are currently cheaper and, nominally significantly more powerful than the Nintendo Switch. That’s a tough sell for any undecideds who may be considering a console purchase today.
That price also doesn’t include the cost of a game, nor should it by conventional console release standards. But Nintendo did bundle Wii Sports and Nintendo Land with the Wii and Wii U respectively and I think it’s missed a trick in not doing the same with 1-2-Switch.
Extra controllers are also horrendously pricey. And the Switch’s limited 32GB of internal storage means many avid Switch gamers – or anyone purchasing digital titles – will need to invest in a sizeable microSD card, too. When the cost of AAA games are considered, the real cost of buying a Switch quickly adds up.
It’s fantastic fun to play and wondrously addictive. Essentially the Switch is pure joy condensed into handheld form.