Nintendo fans, and gamers who are looking for another platform to play on, are in somewhat of a bind. The Switch is out and it’s trying something new. But after being burned by the Wii U, is there really a reason for players to take a chance on the Nintendo Switch?
The short answer to that is ‘Yes’, but it’s an answer that comes with a couple of caveats. We can’t say that your nervous hesitation is without merit but the Switch… the Switch is the console that Sony will be copying in its next iteration. Which, if you know Sony, is high praise indeed.
The Switch consists of two removable Joy Con controllers, which can be used by one player when in portable or in full-on gaming mode or by two players when removed from the sides of the display portion of the Switch. The display is the brains of the console itself, playing host to storage expansion (a microSD slot which lives underneath the rear kickstand), the game cartridge slot, a headphone jack, speakers, volume controls, as well as all the internals you’ll need to get your game on. That’s whether you’re playing with the Switch in portable mode (as seen above) or docked and connected to a TV set.
There’s also the Joy Con Grip, which takes the two controllers and merges them into one almost wholly traditional controller (with brilliant battery life), as well as the charging dock, included in the box. There are also additions to the Joy Cons, which turn the pair into proper, if small, Wii Remote-style controllers complete with wrist straps.
The Switch charges using USB-C, or by popping it into the dock. The dock is powered by the USB-C charger and has two standard USB ports for external storage. If you’ve connected the dock to your TV via HDMI then docking the handheld turns it into a lounge console, instantly. Pick it up, and it’s a handheld again. The most you’ll have to do to facilitate this is attach or remove the Joy Cons. It’s… pleasingly simple. It’s harder to sign up for a Nintendo ID than it is to set up and use the console for the first time.
The Good: Portability, Battery Life, Exclusives
The user interface is as simple as you could like. The Switch UI is a refinement of the Wii U operating system, which was itself an upgrade of Ninty’s hugely popular (though easily soft-modded) Wii OS. Pop in game, select icon, go adventuring. It’s that simple. The console does lack ancillary apps, like Netflix and the like, but Nintendo says those are coming. It’s cool, we’ll wait.
There are other positives to look forward to in the meantime. The Switch, in portable mode, is rated for use for about six hours or so. That’s not the case with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was our main test game for the console. Still, after running an open-world title that looks as good as Zelda does, without stuttering or load times outside of fast-travel, we’re happy with the three-and-a-half hours we get before having to return to the dock for some TV time. The controller lasts far longer while divorced from its screen — we took the Joy Con Grip for an endurance trial and were not able to drain the controller battery even a little in a mammoth 11-hour gaming session. Our batteries, though… just one more dungeon, okay?
And then there are the exclusives that Nintendo commands. If Zelda is indicative of the quality of first-party games for the Switch then, release frequency depending, Nintendo is on the verge of a new gaming golden age. We don’t think that we can handle a deluge of games of Breath of the Wild‘s quality. Our leave-days can’t take it. If you’re a Nintendo fan, upcoming exclusives are the only system-seller you’ll need.
If you’re considering buying the Switch to use it as either a portable or an at-home console (as opposed to, you know, both), then you’re doing it wrong. It’s not immediately apparent just how impressive Nintendo’s innovative take on home gaming actually is.
Playing a full-scale game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a TV screen and then popping off into another room to get in a last dungeon or two before bed might not sound like much but… when the gameplay transitions with no loss in quality, within seconds, and no matter which direction you’re moving in, you’ll find yourself wondering how you ever did without the Switch in your life. The added benefit of being able to play full-fledged games while someone else uses the home TV (and without having to purchase a Vita, an Xperia device, or set up a wireless connection to a Windows 10 PC, in the case of Sony and Microsoft’s ‘similar’ options) is also hard to deny.
Don’t go thinking that this is an alternative to the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4, by the way. This looks like a different beast altogether, one with the potential to change home gaming the way that the Wii did. With fewer remotes lobbed through TV screens, that is.
The Bad: Online, Storage, And Uncertainty
Nintendo doesn’t have it all their own way with the Switch, repeating at least one of the mistakes of the past — the Wii U’s limited storage. Yes, this spanking-new console only has 32GB of internal storage so you’re going to have to shell out for expansion cards if you’re the type who likes to download their games. And these days, that’s pretty much everyone. We could have done without the additional expense, to be quite honest. Extra controllers and other peripherals are expensive enough.
There are two other points to consider, both of which have the potential to be… not so bad. It’s just that right now we’re uncertain about a few things. One of those is online multiplayer, something that Nintendo has historically made complicated and handled rather poorly. This time around online play will require a paid subscription so hopefully the kinks will all be ironed out by the application of loads of money. Unfortunately we haven’t had any proper multiplayer titles yes so we’re unable to test the (free, for now) online component properly.
The other uncertain element is the games lineup. Whatever anyone tells you, the Wii U was an okay console. Better than okay, because it got Bayonetta 2. But what killed it wasn’t so much a lack of sales as it was a lack of games to play on the thing and it’s this hurdle that Nintendo has to clear with the Switch. Enough developers get on board and the console will be a raging success. If they stay away in droves then this lovely, versatile piece of gaming hardware will tank. Early hardware sales suggest that developers are going to be throwing some effort this way — they go where the gamers are, after all. For now, we’re expecting a normal console life-span. Which is great, because we love playing on the Switch. But we also understand if you’re feeling overly cautious right now.
Nintendo Switch Verdict
We’ve long been of the opinion that lone games are worth buying a console for, with the odd happenstance that only Nintendo games ever seem to fit that bill. Seriously, replacing two dead Wii consoles just to keep playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl makes it the most expensive game we’ve ever owned. And The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (full review coming next week) is just such a system-seller. We’d hang onto the versatile Switch for that game alone. And Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, and any other first-party games that Nintendo releases just mean the Switch is going to get more play time down the road.
But not everyone is as optimistic or, perhaps, easily pleased as we are. The Switch has its good points, like amazing portability functions, a lengthy battery life (especially for the Joy Cons), and at least one stupendous launch title (Zelda, again). That’s offset by a lack of storage and the ever-present worry that we’re looking at the Wii U 2.0. If you’re any kind of Nintendo fan then you should already have a Switch but if you’re on the fence, even a little, then we won’t hold it against you if you want to wait to see what the release lists look like first. But rest assured that you’re in for a polished experience when you do plonk down that R5,200 (plus extra for storage expansion, more controllers, all that stuff) for the console.