At approximately 3:12pm on Friday, March 3rd, I received my Nintendo Switch system alongside a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Since then I have been playing Zelda non-stop, but this article isn’t about how addicted I am to Zelda, it’s about the hardware I’m playing it on, and it’s an impressive piece of technology.
I’ll start off with what I like about it. The versatility of the console is its main selling point. The console itself is a tablet with a 6.2 inch 720p LCD screen and on its sides are Joy-Con controllers. These controllers are detachable and can either be combined and used as a single fully-featured controller, or used as two separate controllers that are only missing one analog stick and a d-pad each. You can hold one in each hand(And it may be comfortable or uncomfortable depending on the size of your hands, they fit in mine quite snugly and my hands aren’t exactly small. In fact, the Joy-Con are bigger than I thought they were.) or slide them into the Joy-Con Grip which comes with the system. Using the grip lets you hold them like a traditional game-pad and your mileage may vary on how comfortable it is, I find it to be just fine.
And while the Joy-Cons will be doing a lot of swapping depending on what you’re doing, the system itself lives a doube life. Out of the box it is a portable device that has more in common with the GameBoy Advance or PlayStation Portable/Vita than the Nintendo DS line of hardware. You can take it anywhere you go and play games that have the quality of home console games, specifically ones from the late seventh generation/early eighth generation since the Switch’s hardware sits somewhere in between the Wii U and Xbox One, which is actually very impressive for a portable gaming device. The obvious trade-off is the size of the Switch. Depending on the size of your pockets, you may be able to carry it around like you would a DS, sliding the tablet into one pocket and the Joy-Con’s into another pocket. If pockets aren’t a viable option or your thing, then you can just as easily slip it into a backpack or one of any number of cases that you could probably clip to a belt or something. While portable, the Switch has a battery life ranging anywhere from 2.5 to 6.5 hours depending on what you’ve been doing with it. If you decided to take Breath of the Wild with you, you’ll get at most 2 hours and 45 minutes out of the Switch before the battery gets too low and it powers down automatically. Luckily, the Switch does not use proprietary charging methods, instead opting for USB-C, so provided you have a good USB-C cable lying around you could charge the Switch by plugging it into an outlet or car charger, maybe even a power bank, but charging off of laptops has apparently been found to have mixed results. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and in the case of a new MacBook, the Switch will actually charge the MacBook, guess the Switch feels sorry for it or something.
Now, you return home from your long soujourn and have decided not to hold the console in your hands, you yearn for a TV experience, well then you’re in luck because the Switch comes with a nifty little dock that lets it output to your television like any other console you probably have lying around. Then you simply slide the Joy-Con off the system and enjoy your TV-sized game. I’ll be honest I have yet to play my Switch on the go because I never go anywhere, so it has stayed docked to my TV. Luckily the games scale well and even get a performance boost while docked(However this is debatable in the case of Zelda because while the game does noticeably look and sound better in docked mode, the frame rate can be terrible at times and is reportedly better in portable mode. Figure that one out.). It’s impressive as to just how fast you can go from portable to TV, snap your fingers and it’s done and vice versa. And of course, there is a third mode, tabletop mode(Portable mode, but with a kickstand.). Say someone wants to use the TV, you go over, pull the Switch out of the dock, and maybe you don’t feel like holding it, so you move over to a table, pop out the kickstand on the back of the tablet, and set it up and play. This is also how you’ll likely be playing multiplayer games while on the go.
Okay, so moving on. The user interface is pretty clean looking, no music, you can change the background color from white to black and back, you can set up a Mii in the options menu, link a Nintendo Network ID to the system, and you can get all of this done in a reasonably short period of time. If you’re well versed in UI’s it shouldn’t take you very long. One thing that I was a little disappointed by was the lack of eShop music. Seriously, one thing I’ve come to expect from Nintendo is a little jingle to go with my online shopping, but it isn’t there and that disappoints me. But otherwise I have no gripes with the overall UI or its functionality.
Games for the Nintendo Switch have ditched the optical discs that we’ve become accustomed too since the PS1 days, returning to cartridges. Now, if you’re coming to the Switch from a portable lifestyle, then you’re used to cartridges because the GameBoy and the DS/3DS use them, but if you’re coming from a TV lifestyle this is the first time you’ve used a cartridge since the Nintendo 64. For those not aware, that was give or take two decades ago. Now obviously the cartridges have a much higher capacity and they’re also a lot smaller so it is somewhat different, definitely more portable than the cartridges of old and discs. And there’s nothing wrong with that so long as larger games can realistically be stored on them. So far the largest game on the system is Dragon Quest Heroes 1+2 which takes up 32GB of space when bought digitally and that is the supposed ceiling for Switch cartridge sizes, though I don’t doubt that if a publisher needs a larger size something can be arranged.
But that leads me to the next topic and that is the storage. These days systmes come with enough internal storage to fit at least a couple of games. We’re talking 500GB at least, but the Switch has 32GB internally with the ability to expand via MicroSDXC card which currently goes up to about 256GB in size, though I do believe 512GB is out there somewhere and 1TB & 2TB cards are coming in the future and are officially supported by the Switch. So it’s not as if you don’t have options for more memory, but it does suck that the internal storage is barely big enough to hold one large game and two or three smaller games so long as you cram it into 25-27GB.
So what don’t I like that I haven’t mentioned yet? I don’t like the slot on the dock for the Switch. One issue that I’ve seen people bring up is how much they’re afraid the screen will get scratched, and it’s a valid concern and you can buy screen protectors to keep it safe. However, random bits and bobs strewn throughout the world are not the worst of your problems. The dock is. See, someone at Nintendo or NVIDIA must have had a brain fart because the docking slot has no padding in it to protect the screen when you slide it in and out. People are already reporting that their screen is being scratched by the dock when they pull it out or put it in. I have to be extra careful when I put my Switch back into its dock(I only removed it for testing purposes.), putting it towards the back of the slot, slowly sliding it down, and then letting a little buffer at the bottom guide it onto the USB-C plug and successfully dock. But that also leads me to the other problem with the dock: The Switch is not secure. Padding was one thing, but the fact that you can rock the Switch back and forth in the dock is kind of concerning. The USB-C plug doesn’t snap into the port on the Switch and because of the lack of padding it isn’t held in there. Just bumping the Switch will cause it to go from TV to portable mode while it’s still in the dock. The dock is also tiny and all the cables are routed through a hole on the side. This presents cable management issues because I frequently have to push my HDMI cable down because my Switch is on the left side of my entertainment center, the same side that my TV’s HDMI ports are on, but the cables come out of the right side of the console and I’m sure you can picture how that causes problems.
One last thing I want to talk about is the Joy-Con straps. They’re 50/50. On one hand they do add much needed width to the controllers when you’re using them standalone, making the ZL and ZR buttons more prominent in the process, but man are they a PAIN to get off. Those suckers are stuck on that rail. The Joy-Con’s slide off and on everything else with ease. Just hold down the release button on the back of each controller and slide. It works, but the straps for some reason do not want to cooperate. Not only do they lock in normally like the grip and the console, but they also have a tiny little lever on the bottom that locks them in even more, but even if you don’t push this little lever in to get it a little more security, holding the release button will not free the Joy-Con from the strap. You have to pull on that thing and when it finally comes off, you’ll swear you broke it. In fact, I think I might have slightly screwed up the rail on my left Joy-Con because it wiggles on the rail a little more than my right Joy-Con.
Oh, and just in case anybody asks, no I have not run into the desyncing issue with the left controller. Not once during my 15-20+ hours of Zelda did I notice the same issue that many others seem to have.
And that wraps it up for my impressions/review of the Nintendo Switch console itself. I’ll probably do an impression piece for Zelda at some point because I can tell you right now that it will be a while before I make a full-fledged review for it because I am at least 15 to 20 hours in and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the story, that’s how much there is to do and how easily distracted you can become. At the end of day I know I’ll give it a very high score(Though I don’t do scores so I’ll just say if you ever get a Switch and don’t have a Wii U, Zelda is a must buy title.). For the Switch, it’s a solid piece of hardware that apparently can withstand being dropped on concrete 10 to 11 times, that nintendium at work ladies and gentlemen, but there are some shortcomings with the accessories that cheapen the package as a whole. So I do have to detract some points for that, but as a console, either portable or home console doesn’t matter, it’s a system that is definitely worth owning and I think many people who are skeptical of its portable gimmick will come around when they actually have one and try it for themselves. Of course that being said I still think they should have marketed it as a portable rather than a home console because when people call it underpowered, they’re talking about it as a console. It doesn’t surpass consoles released three years ago and that are currently being refreshed and made more powerful, widening the gap between them and the Nintendo Switch. As a portable however it is the strongest in its field, and so I hope that down the line, as the Switch picks up steam, Nintendo will release a dock with a beefier GPU in it so the TV experience can be competitive, and that Nintendo fully puts all their handheld resources into the Switch and make it a one-stop shop for all your Nintendo gaming needs. The Switch has a ton of potential, and I hope Nintendo capitalizes on that.