2017 has been so good for gamers, especially for those on consoles. Masterpiece after masterpiece – from Horizon Zero Dawn to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this year has been truly wonderful. But it was the release of a new console that was the main event. It was impossible not to be hyped by the new creation of Nintendo. We were promised a new era in gaming; a device to unite all devices. Something to erase the bridge between the East and the West, between home consoles and handhelds.
For a long time known only as Nintendo NX, the Switch is everything for the company. Their previous console, Wii U, was a massive disaster. Some said it was the company’s doom, but let’s not underestimate them – and their army of fans. It’s hard to say goodbye to their shorter-lived machine, but its quick demise was easily predicted. There’s no life left there.
Nintendo is a huge, massively influential company, but it’s known mostly to gamers. Those who prefer casual mobile entertainment or good ol’ PCs can be excused for not knowing what’s so special about it. Firstly, Nintendo never bets of power or trendy fads like VR. They prefer to be ahead – not to follow trends, but to create them. In 2006 they released one of their most successful machines – Wii. It was massively underpowered compared to its competitors and didn’t even produce HD picture. And yet, it had a unique gimmick – motion controls. And a low price tag. Soon after its release everyone seemed to own one of two. It was so easy to understand, and casual games interested virtually everyone. For that one generation, everybody was a gamer.
This concept was behind their every success. While PlayStations and Xboxes grew more and more powerful, Nintendo wanted to invent new ways to play. Nintendo DS had a touchscreen; 3DS impressed with 3D effect without the glasses; Wii U had asymmetrical gameplay. Successful or not, it was nearly impossible to predict their next move. Sure, there were misfires like the Wii U, which was massively misunderstood by the general public. Even probably the best games ever created by Nintendo (among them creative masterpiece Super Mario Maker and completely new IP Splatoon) couldn’t help.
The name was wrong, the huge gamepad was confusing, but the idea behind it helped Nintendo to create something else. Nintendo Switch is different, but it is a relative.
The best thing about it is how easy it is to understand. Let’s take a traditional console and make it completely portable. You can play home or you can take it with you on a plane. When you return home, you can just place it on a dock station, which will transfer the image into the big screen.
You might say this is just another tablet with a gimmick. Maybe it’s like that: Nintendo Switch is a tablet, after all. But what other tablet can run truly impressive games like The Legend of Zelda? What tablet has this many options for cooperative play on the move – or high-quality games from Nintendo?
Controllers and build
But it’s not merely a tablet. First of all, games are played mostly on dedicated controllers and not on touchscreen, which has always been inferior to classic controls. There are two similar controllers called the Joy-Cons. Yeah, it’s cheesy, but that’s Nintendo for you. These little controllers can be used separately, but also can be merged into one.
If you want portable, connect Joy-Cons to the console. The whole construction feels sturdy. The size is perfect: it’s not too big and not too small. But there are other options – and that’s where Nintendo Switch excels.
You can disconnect Joy-Cons and use them remotely both in portable to docked mode. Each controller can be used by two different people. This system allows to play multiplayer games with a friends anytime, anywhere – without the need to bring another controller. Which is good, because these controllers are mighty expensive.
Nintendo Switch is a console you want to succeed. It is everything we wanted from them – a truly innovative and unique product.
Overall, the project looks like PS Vita, if Sony cared about it.
On the upper side there’s a slot for cartridges, a headphone jack, a power and a volume button. Wireless headphones are not supported.
On the bottom there’s nothing exciting: there’s an extendable stand and SD-card slot. You’ll need it: there’s only 32 GB of internal memory. If you want to but digital, it won’t last for long. Thankfully, unlike Sony, the Switch supports standard SD cards with up to 2 TB of memory.
The Switch itself is nothing special, but its controllers are quite fascinating. The right one has a traditional A, B, X, Y buttons, in use since the times of SNES. Also there’s an analogue stick, which feels kinda weird under the buttons. There are also two sets of shoulder buttons, a plus button (which acts as “Start”) and a Home button.
The left Joy-Con looks a lot like it: a minus button acts as Select; a Share button is exactly like the one on DualShock 4. You can use it to make screenshots and, in the future, videos. Other than that there’s an analogue stick, shoulder buttons and a very untraditional D-Pad, which you won’t like if you’re into classic games. Better buy a Pro Controller for that. Since Joy-Cons are meant to be inside of something, they have special rails for that. In order to make them look more like real controllers (and feel like it) Nintendo added special straps, which you can slide into them. Be careful, though: getting them off is a pain. Most likely, you’d be too lazy for that anyway.
Joy-Con is a very impressive piece of tech. It is small, but it’s packed with features. In addition to gyroscopes there’s a proximity sensor and a special kind of rumble called Rumble HD. You may think it a silly gimmick with no real meaning, but no, this technology is impressive when used. To try it you have to buy 1, 2, Switch – a pricey collection of mini games which, frankly, should have been free. Thanks to all this tech Joy-Cons can also be used as some kind of a Wii Remote in some games, like World of Goo.
There are three colors available: Blue and Orange and standard Gray. Special Neon Yellow color is sold separately.
While all of this is impressive, even Nintendo is not protected from defects, which happen often with new consoles. Switch has a bad one with the left Joy-Con. Many (and I mean many) left Joy-Cons just refuse to work properly. They constantly loose the signal and resync. It’s a disaster when playing on TV and there’s really nothing you can do, except replace it. Happily, Nintendo seems to be able to fix them in little to no time, but it’s infuriating nonetheless.
The “station” for the tablet is nothing special. It’s small, it can charge it and transfer the picture to the TV. On the back there’s your USB Type-C port, HDMI and USB Type-A port. On the left another two USB ports. One of them looks a lot USB 3.0, but Nintendo says nothing about it.
While playing on a TV, there’s nothing special. It is like your normal console except one huge difference: you don’t have to power it down at all. PS4 bragged about the sleep mode, which allowed to power the console down, but still be able to return to the game without restarting it, but this is the next level. The console works exactly like any other modern handheld: you down shot it down, you just turn off the screen. The game is always on. It’s normal for portable, but crazy for a fully-fledged home console. It makes a world of difference. Never before was it as easy to play for a couple of minutes then return when you have time. Playing a game feels like watching TV. Never before console gaming was that convenient.
So, there are three ways to play: on a TV, in portable mode and in “desktop” mode, when Switch is used like a small screen or TV. Yeah, the screen is too small to replace a TV, but it’s okay for a random match of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with friends or even complete strangers. Thanks to that mode, Nintendo Switch feels like a complete console even away from home. Want to play some Mario Kart with a friend? Have a go! No additional game or a controller needed. The console is not cheap, but this shows you just how much you can do with what’s already in the box.
There’s one problem, though: the kickstand to way to flimsy. Like, dangerously flimsy. I can’t trust it. It also prevents me from charging while playing, which is plain silly. I does work, but I advise you to buy a stand from a third party.
Now, the screen is great – especially after the disastrously dated 3DS display. Yeah, 720p is not amazing for 2017, but I see no problem here. The picture is crisp, the colors are juicy. The touchscreen is responsive. While the screen supports 720p, in dock the console can output up to 1080p, but it depends on the game. Some support Full HD, some – like Minecraft – only run at 720p. 4K is not supported even in theory, although there was a hint from Nintendo that in the future VR could be implemented. I have no idea how, though.
Online and offline multiplayer
So, the most important thing: gaming. In 2017 almost any game has some kind of online functionality, and online has been Achilles’ heel of Nintendo for a long time. It was often slow and baggy, but it was free, so we endured. Well, it’s free no more – Nintendo has finally copied one of the most irritating things about the current generation. But problems are still here.
The online service is free until autumn, for it’s in a bad place right now. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe players say it’s sometimes even worse than on Wii U, but I can’t say how much of this is true. One thing is certain: don’t expect smooth experience.
There’s still no voice chat. Nintendo say that we have to download an app on our smartphone on order to use it. Yeah, this is insane even by their standards. There’s also no Miiverse – Nintendo’s social network for gamers. We’ve grown to appreciate it for the coziness and convenience, but the company decided to pull the plug. No exposure, I guess.
Still, even if there was Miiverse, the console feels empty. You can play games on it and that’s virtually all you can do. Even 3DS looks like a media combine compared to this. No browser, no YouTube or Netflix app, no camera or even a notebook. I know why there’s no browser: it’s because previously it was the main weakness, which was exploited by hackers. Still, this must be the most straightforward and one-minded tablet ever.
For me, Nintendo has always been about local coop or split-screen. And that’s where the Switch shines. Play with your friends over the air. Mario Kart parties on one screen or on multiple devices. Options are near limitless: 8 players in Mario Kart, 4 players on one screen, 12 consoles and 12 players when connected via Ethernet! This is, as always for them, a party machine. Portables are usually for individual gaming, but Switch changes everything. The best of both worlds.
Games and performance
While we were excited for a new portable from Nintendo, we had our usual fears concerning graphical performance. While 3DS is awesome, it’s thanks to games and not hardware, which is miles behind the Vita. But what of Switch? Can it impress?
In center there’s a Nvidia Tegra NX1 chip similar to the one used in Nvidia Shield.
We can’t judge its graphical prowess just yet: we haven’t seen a “real” exclusive yet; both The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are, essentially, ports of Wii U games. Sure, Wii U is almost as powerful, but we have to wait for the developers to utilize the hardware to its full potential. For now, though, the games look great. Zelda, for one, is the most spectacular-looking handheld game ever, that’s for sure.
While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was supposed to be released as a Wii U excusive, it visited both consoles with little to no differences. Wii U outputs the game in 720p while Switch can boast 900p in docked mode and 720p in portable mode. The Switch is more powerful, but there are some problems with FPS sometimes. Only in docked mode, though.
If you are unfamiliar with Nintendo games, you might ask just why should you buy it? And yes, we have to say, there are not nearly enough games for now, although The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild alone warrants a buy and it can take you months to finish it. In the next few months we can expect more exclusives: from already released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to Splatoon 2, Arms and Super Mario Odyssey.
If you have no idea what those games are, there might be a problem. Sure, EA’s FIFA is in the works, and so is The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, but overall there’s no way of knowing how much third-party games would eventually find their way to Switch. If you are mostly interested in shooters, Switch may be the wrong choice for you. In the future, though, we can expect myriads of indie titles. I can predict that Nintendo’s console will become the new king of indies – sorry, Vita, you had a good run.
Good battery life is essential for any portable device and especially a console. Nintendo Switch is not great in that regard, but I can’t really blame it, considering its power and portability. Nintendo says that the console will work for 2,5 hours and up to 6 hours depending on the game. After some testing, we concur that these numbers are accurate.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will work for about 2 and a half hours. You can squeeze a bit more by using the plane mode and playing with low brightness level.
But is 2 and a half hours actually bad? No, not really. My 3DS, although, admittedly, not new, can hardly work for longer time. It’s enough for morning commute or quick play in the queue. There are battery extensions on the market for those who travel a lot.
We can judge Nintendo Switch after a couple of years. There are not enough games, and support from third level studious is unknown. For now, it is a success – the fastest selling console of the company. But only time will tell if it’s really successful. Will it unite the East and the West? Will it bring our favorite portable series into the world of high definition graphics?
Technically, it’s impressive. For its size, it’s surprisingly comfy to play. And, knowing Nintendo, we can expect great new titles. This is not Sony – they won’t abandon it. Nintendo Switch is the most intriguing event in the world of gaming in 2017, and I’m happy be a part of their new revolution.