Nintendo’s hardware is always adventurous in nature. From the advent of the d-pad on the NES when most other gaming consoles were using joysticks, to the misguided tablet controller with the Wii U, they always strive to make something unique. The Nintendo Switch is no exception, as its unique sales proposition is a 2-in-1 home and portable gaming console. How does it execute on that vision? And does it truly deliver on the promise of being your all-in-one gaming solution?
When you take the console out of the box, it’s easy to struggle with wrapping your head around what you’re holding. On one hand, it’s bigger than pretty much any portable gaming console you’ve ever owned. On the other hand, compared to the likes of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, this thing is tiny.
For context, with the Joy-Cons attached, the Switch smaller than the Wii U Gamepad. When you consider that the Wii U Gamepad is just a controller and the Switch has all of its processing power inside its handheld form factor, it’s amazing what Nintendo was able to cram in there. Mind you, you’re not getting the handheld equivalent of a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but the Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild demonstrate that it’s a capable console in the right hands.
In the middle of the unit is a capacitive touch screen; a first for Nintendo products. Up until this point, they’ve used resistive touch screens, which feel squishy and don’t look that sharp. The Switch’s screen looks great and feels at least as good as a modern smart phone. While it only maxes out at 720p, the lower resolution is more than serviceable on a screen of that size.
Along the top of the unit are the power button, volume control, headphone jack and cartridge port. Worth noting here is the cartridge door, which doesn’t use hinges to open and close. Instead, it uses two pieces of plastic that bend, sort of like thin zip ties. It does feel a bit cheap, though I don’t think it’ll be a problem in most cases.
At the bottom of the unit is the console’s charging port. Thankfully, it uses a standard USB-C plug, allowing it to be charged with cables you have lying around the house, as well as with the USB battery packs you use for your phone. It works fine when docked, but its positioning becomes problematic if you want to play the console with the kickstand out and your battery is low. Unfortunately, in this position, the port will be obstructed by the table.
Speaking of the kickstand, it’s a great addition in concept, though its execution is lacking. It only opens up to one angle and it feels flimsy in all regards. The plastic is super thin and the hinge doesn’t feel sturdy. If you accidentally put the console into the dock while the kickstand is out, the kickstand is popping off. The official Hori stand should address all of these problems, but it sucks that you have to pay extra to address these oversights.
Inside the box, you’ll also get two Joy-Con controllers. When attached to the unit or grip, they act as one standard controller. Or, separated from the unit, they can be held sideways and used as two unique controllers, or they can be held like wands for Wii Remote style motion controls. There is a lot of versatility in this controller design, as its able to seamlessly act as one controller, two controllers, or as one controller attached to the unit.
In all cases, it works better than you’d expect. My favourite way to play is with them attached to the unit itself, making for a great portable gaming experience. When attached to the grips, it’s an admirable facsimile to a real controller. That being said, once you try the Pro Controller, you won’t want to go back. I was expecting the sideways Joy-Con configuration to be terrible, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.
When held sideways, you get one joystick, four face buttons and two shoulder buttons. Make sure to have the Joy-Con straps attached, as they make the shoulder buttons accessible. I thought the asymmetrical designs would make either the joystick or buttons difficult to reach, but I didn’t have a problem with either. Sure, it’s not the most comfortable or functional way to play, but it’s totally serviceable with the right games. You don’t want to play Ultra Street Fighter II or even Puyo Puyo Tetris with them, but Bomberman R and Fast RMX work great this way.
As a motion controller, it works better than expected. With 1-2 Switch, I almost never had issues with the game recognizing what I was trying to do. That being said, most of those mini games were also better designed within the boundaries of what the controller can do. Especially cool is the HD rumble, which adds a whole new level of fidelity. In the Ball Count mini game, it actually feels like there are balls rolling around inside of your controller. Not really sure what the long-term applications for this tech are, but it’s certainly cool. I know there are reports of people having connectivity issues with the left Joy-Con, but I have yet to experience anything of that nature.
Last but not least is the dock. With the console in place, you can play your Switch games on the TV. The actual unit itself is largely hollow plastic, with just a few technical bits to facilitate the transfer of power and signal. Being able to quickly switch between home and portable gaming modes is pretty much seamless. Unfortunately, much has been made about the dock scratching the screens with repeated use. If this is a concern, you might want to use the workaround that allows you to get your Switch into TV mode without using the dock.
The Nintendo Switch is not perfect, and its quite expensive relative to the current prices of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but it might be the best piece of hardware they’ve put out since the DS Lite. The core selling points of this being a home and portable console in one are real and kind of fascinating when you put them to use. I love the fact that for the most part, it has everything you need to play traditional games, touch screen games and motion games, giving the system a ton of versatility on top of being a home and portable console. A number of quirks and design choices stop this from being its best self, but what they have here is quite compelling. At this point, it’s hard to recommend it over the competition, but if you already have one or the other, this is a viable alternative that you can also play on the go.