Nintendo Switch Review

Nintendo switch gaming console

Disclaimer: I love Nintendo consoles. My first gaming console was a Gameboy Color. I spent literally years on that thing, with games like Dragon Quest III, to various Pokemon titles, to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (DX). My first home console was a Nintendo Gamecube, which I had during a time when all the other kids were on their Playstation 2’s. I owned and played most of the classic Gamecube titles, such as Wind Waker, Smash Bros, Eternal Darkness, Metroid Prime, Star Fox Adventures, and the list goes on. These games still resonate with me to this day, more than most of the games I played on the Playstation 2 that I eventually got, and more than many of the other games I’ve played over the years. So clearly, I have some bias when it comes to Nintendo. But I haven’t had a Nintendo home console in over ten years.

The Wii and Wii-U both had me excited, and I almost bought both of them late in their hardware cycles (I almost never get a console at launch because of the lack of games). I didn’t end up getting either, partly because I was always busy, but mostly because the games libraries for both ended up being small, and I couldn’t justify spending my money on consoles that don’t have a lot of games available for me to play. But Nintendo consoles still excite me because Nintendo seems to be the only console manufacturer that tries new things with their technology that actually innovate the gaming experience. Other console companies say they innovate, but all they really end up doing is slightly upgrading the graphical capabilities of their machines, and making it impossible to play the latest releases until you shell out hundreds of dollars for a new machine that does basically the same thing as your old one (looking at you PS4 and XBox One). So when the Switch came out, I thought I’d give Nintendo another go.

The Switch is a hybrid machine, meant for both gaming at home and on the go. The console itself resembles a small tablet (it isn't a tablet, but more on that later), that can be used by itself to play games or plugged into a larger screen like a TV or computer monitor. It comes with two controllers, called "Joycons," that are used together to play games, or separately as individual controllers for select multiplayer games.

The Joycons are the successors to Nintendo's "nunchuck" controller for the Wii, albeit without any wires. Having never had a Wii or Wii-U before, using two halves of a conventional controller in each hand is a new experience for me, but it's one I enjoy. The Joycons give the player freedom of movement to position their hands in any way that feels most comfortable, and if they feel small in the hand, the console also comes with lanyard attachments that can make the controllers bigger in the hand. When playing on the console itself, the Joycons can be attached to the sides, sliding in with a satisfying click. They charge on the console itself when it's plugged in, and have a respectable battery life of 5-7 hours when not connected to the console. The Joycons work well overall, but I have noticed that their wireless connection with the console can be interrupted if there’s interference, like someone walking in front of them. This has happened to me multiple times: I'll be in the middle of a game and one of the Joycons will stop registering the buttons I'm pressing. However, while it can be frustrating, it is by no means frequent.
joy cons

The hardware on the Switch is solid, and I only have a few gripes with the design. There is a stand on the back of the console so it can be propped up on a flat while playing on the console itself. This is a novel concept, but since the USB-C port used for charging the Switch is on the bottom, it is impossible to safely charge the Switch while it is propped up. There are also some heating concerns. Due to the size of the console, the fact that the TV dock is an enclosed space, and the graphical requirements of some games, the heat of the console is something that you may need to keep an eye on. Also, the thin metal housing on the outside of the cooling vent seems very flimsy. Though all of that being said, I have been playing the Switch for hours at a time over the last few months, and I’ve had no issues with overheating. In other specs, the console has a battery life of 2-3 hours of continuous gametime, depending on brightness settings and graphical requirements, and there is a Micro SD card slot behind the stand when it's opened.

The idea of a home/portable hybrid console is brilliant, but it only works if the experience is the same at home and on the go. Portable consoles like the Gameboys, DS's, and Playstation Vitas of the world have their place, and have given millions of people incredibly rewarding gaming experiences, but they've always been built on compromise. Sure you can have a portable game with complex gameplay and story, but the graphical quality and the scale of the world will inevitably be limited. So the Switch has a lot to live up to, and luckily, it does not disappoint. The console’s screen is up to the task of presenting games the same way they look on your TV, and the speakers work great.  And going between a big screen to the Switch itself is seamless and smooth. The game you're playing is paused, and you can start playing again immediately. On that note, you can suspend whatever game you're playing at any time, giving more credibility to the Switch as a portable console.

And the Switch is definitely a console, not a tablet. It's portable and it has a touchscreen, but it is not a tablet. You aren't going to be using a Switch for work, listening to music, or watching videos. As of the writing of this review, there isn't even an internet browser on the Switch. If you've ever used a DS or 3DS, the Switch OS will look familiar. The default screen is a simple horizontal layout of box icons where games and other apps will go. All in all, there isn't much functionality coming from the Switch, besides playing games of course.

So far there are few games out for the young console: a few core titles, and several downloadable games (mostly re-releases of older games). The flagship title that's been selling the console is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a massive open-world adventure that looks fantastic and runs smoothly on a big or little screen. The jury's still out on whether the console will be able to compete with the other major consoles graphically, but with its ability to bring console-quality experiences to a portable device, the Switch has its own allure.

Now for the main question: should you buy a Switch?  The answer, like most things, is complicated. There aren't many games out right now and that’s a big reason to wait. Every Nintendo home console since the Gamecube has had trouble attracting 3rd-party publishers, which make up most of the games on any given console. As a result, Wii and Wii-U owners have historically had an extremely limited range of titles to choose from, with months-long gaps between game releases. A Wii-U owner may have been able to play Nintendo games, but if they wanted to play the latest popular releases from other publishers, they would have to go out and buy a different console or PC to play those games. Eventually, the lack of games made these consoles niche products that collected dust, a far cry from the days when Nintendo dominated the home console market.

Nintendo has made promises that the Switch will be more friendly to 3rd-party publishers, and judging by the sales numbers and the fact that the Switch is at the forefront of gamers' minds right now, they may end up living up to the promise. I truly hope that the Switch won't just be a niche item that gets forgotten or sold in within a year, because there is so much potential for it to flourish. It could even end up being many gamers’ primary console for years to come, if Nintendo plays their cards right.

Ultimately, I recommend that you wait to get a Switch. In a year, we'll have a more definite picture of what the game library is going to look like in the future. The console itself is definitely worth the money, but if there ends up being a lack of games, the Switch will end up being a very pretty paperweight. However, if you're like me and simply HAD to have the Switch, if only for Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo exclusives that will definitely be coming out in the future, you will have a great experience. For me, the freedom of movement that the Switch provides, combined with the quality of presentation on a big screen or on the console itself all make the Switch worth having now.

Featured writer: Osama Bhatti
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