Console: Nintendo Switch

When Nintendo dropped their first trailer for their new console, the Switch, towards the end of last year, I and a lot of people were really excited. A device that could be played on the TV like a traditional home console OR taken with you and played in handheld mode without sacrificing much in the way of graphical quality? Sign me the hell up. Though I mostly play handheld games, I do also love sitting back with console games when time permits, so the concept of a single gadget that lets me do both was something I was really looking forward to.

Though I was initially on the fence about buying Nintendo’s latest console on launch (partially due to the tiny launch lineup of games, partially because the first generation of any console usually has issues and partially because the Nintendo Direct that went into more detail about the Switch was pretty underwhelming), playing it early at the hands-on event back in January and getting into the first 20 minutes or so of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made me realise I didn’t want to wait for it. Though Zelda: BOTW was also scheduled to release on the Wii U at the same time, it required roughly 3.4 GB of memory for an install. My Wii U has less than 2 GB of space remaining, and rather than having to go and buy an external hard drive for one game, I figured I might as well put it towards a whole new console that would eventually get even more games. So, first thing on March 3, I was at EB Games picking up my preorder.

nintendo-switch-day-1-purchase

As you can see, I went nuts with Zelda: Breath of the Wild stuff, since that’s the only game on the system I wanted at launch (I did want I Am Setsuna as well but it’s not available physically and it’s $60 on the eShop, which is double the price it is on other systems; I’d happily pay it for a physical copy but not a digital version). I’ll review Zelda and its Amiibo in another post, but for now I just want to talk about the Switch console itself. I should also note that it’ll probably be more of a ‘first impressions’ post than anything since the console is only a few days old, and no doubt updates will bring in a few more changes; I’ll come back and update this post once I’ve spent more time with the system. After showing the basic specifications for the system, I’ll go into what I like and don’t like about the Switch.

The Specifications
Without going into huge amounts of detail, here are the main things worth knowing about the Switch:

  • Memory: 32GB internal memory, though this is reduced to about 25GB once you take into account the operating system etc. You can expand the memory with Micro SDXC cards and as far as I know, there’s no limit to the size you can use.
  • Battery life: Varies depending on game, but seems to be anywhere between 3 and 6 hours in handheld mode. I got about 3 hours (maybe slightly less) while playing Zelda in handheld mode but I haven’t tried other games yet. JoyCons seem to have a life of about 20 hours from what I’m hearing, though some people are reporting inconsistencies (see below).
  • Screen: 6.2inch capacitive touch screen, with a resolution of 1280 x 720.
  • Dimensions: ~23.5 X 10 X 1.5cm (including JoyCons)
  • Weight: ~400 grams (including JoyCons)
  • Game Media: Switch games use a proprietary cartridge (or card?) very similar in size and shape to the PlayStation Vita’s games.
  • Backwards Compatibility: NA, I’m afraid. While Nintendo’s past few systems (both home and handheld consoles) have allowed you to play games from the system before, the Switch can only play Switch games. So if there are any Wii U games you wanted to play but didn’t because you never had a Wii U, you’ll need to hunt down a Wii U console.
  • Online Service: While free at the moment, the Switch will eventually become Nintendo’s first console with a paid online service in about August this year. We don’t yet know what the monthly/yearly fee will be in AUD but hopefully it’s not too high; it’d be hard to justify spending much on it when there will likely only be a handful of online-playable games by that point.
  • Virtual Console: Nothing on this front yet, either. However, most other consoles have launched without digital access to their back catalogue, so we can assume it will be added eventually. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

The Good
Firstly, the operating system on the Switch is much cleaner and more streamlined than Nintendo’s previous systems (mine’s obviously a bit empty at the moment since the only game I have is Zelda). Games are organised as large square tiles that take up most of the screen, while key functions like the eShop, photo album and settings are available as small circular icons along the bottom. The different options within the Settings menu are also much easier to navigate. Choosing the Controller icon allows you to pair more controllers and also tells you how much battery is remaining in your current controllers. By tapping your profile icon in the top left, you can easily add friends and see who’s online.

If you wanted to take screenshots on the Wii U or 3DS, you had to press the Home button while playing, then suspend the game, go into Miiverse and either make a post or add it to your screenshot album, which was rather tedious. The Switch has a Capture button on the Pro Controller and the left JoyCon which allows you to save screenshots to your picture album with a single button press. Once you’ve finished playing, you can go into your photo album and easily share screenshots to either Twitter or Facebook.

Modes
The Switch’s main selling point is the ability to play it both on TV or on the go, but it can also be played in tabletop mode, which is good for if you want to do some multiplayer gaming but aren’t near a TV. Let’s have a look at the different modes (hopefully I’ll be able to update them with more relevant game screenshots once we get a bigger Switch game library).

TV Mode
Like other home consoles, the Nintendo Switch can be played on TV, with the JoyCons either being used individually or in the Grip (or swapped for a Pro Controller). Whether you use a Pro Controller or the JoyCons in the Grip, it feels much the same as playing with a standard controller on other consoles.

switch-tv-mode

Handheld Mode
By sliding the JoyCons onto the side of the Switch and lifting it out of the dock, you can play it in handheld mode. The screen portion on its own is about the height and width of a 3DS XL but is much slimmer, and the JoyCons don’t really add much weight. As mentioned above, battery life varies depending on the game, but for the most part, you should be able to get at least 3 hours out of it, which isn’t much worse than dedicated handheld gaming devices. The Switch is surprisingly comfortable to hold in this mode; I found that when I played the PS Vita, I started to get a bit of RSI after a short while, but I can play for ages on the Switch with no discomfort (I know you’re supposed to take a break from gaming every hour but ain’t nobody got time for that).

switch-handheld-mode

Tabletop Mode
The Switch console has a little kickstand on the back of it that can be used to keep it upright on a surface in front of you, while you play with either the JoyCons or the Pro Controller. This mode seems to be aimed mainly at local multiplayer, as you can have a number of Switch’s connected this way, and depending on the game and number of players, you can probably get by with just the two included JoyCons (however some games require each person to have a pair of JoyCons). The ease of which spontaneous multiplayer gaming sessions can be set up in this way is a definite plus, but people with larger hands may find it tricky to hold a single JoyCon horizontally and use it as a ‘traditional’ controller for use in games like Snipperclips and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe when it comes out.

switch-tabletop-mode

So far I’ve mostly been playing in TV mode but I have spent a decent amount of time with it in handheld mode. The flexibility offered by being able to just take it out of the dock and keep playing it in handheld mode when my old man wants to watch TV is a huge blessing.

The Bad
One of the first things I noticed is that, although you can easily put the Switch in sleep mode, it’s harder to actually turn it off. Eventually someone told me that if you hold down the power button on top of it, it gives you Power Options, from which you can actually shut the system down. However, if you put it back in the dock to charge, it will turn on again and just go into sleep mode (I’m not sure if holding down the power button while it’s docked and then turning it off using the controller would work; haven’t tried that yet). While this isn’t a huge issue in general, I sometimes go days or weeks without playing any games, and when I’m not using a system, I like to have it unplugged and off, so I didn’t want to have the Switch in sleep mode and still be consuming battery power. It’d also be nice to be able to turn the console off while it’s docked by using the controller.

Speaking of controllers, some people are reporting having one JoyCon eat through its battery much faster than the other. My Switch has fallen victim to this as well; though both were evenly charged when I first started playing, my left one ended up in the red while the other one was still about 2/3rds full. Again, this doesn’t bother me a lot as their battery life is quite long anyway – longer than that of my usual handheld gaming devices – but it does mean that in total, you can’t have as much gaming time away from a charger of some sort as you could if both JoyCons ran down at the same rate. I bought a Charging Grip as I find I like playing in TV mode most, so in my case, it won’t really affect me too much, but it’s worth mentioning for those who prefer to play it as a handheld.

Thanks to the Capture button mentioned above, taking screenshots is very easy, but sharing them can be a bit fiddly. Miiverse was scrapped with the introduction of the Switch; you can still post to it from Wii U and 3DS, but not with the new console. The Switch also doesn’t have a web browser, so at this stage, the only way you can share screenshots from your album is by posting to Twitter or Facebook. After having my Twitter account hacked after adding a Twitter app to my PS Vita a while back, I’m not a fan of having my social media accounts linked to multiple services, so I wasn’t enthusiastic about this. You get the option to link your Twitter or Facebook account to your Nintendo Account, but when I posted without linking and went back later to post another photo, I found that it had saved my Twitter name and password anyway, which seems to defeat the purpose of allowing me not to link it. So far I’ve used my regular Twitter account but I’ll probably just make another disposable Twitter account specifically for my Switch screenshots. Another annoying aspect of being forced to use social media to post screenshots is getting abused by others for posting ‘spoilers’, even if you immediately save the screenshot to your device and delete the Tweet.

One complaint levelled at the Nintendo 3DS was the requirement for two people to enter each other’s friend codes to add each other as friends online. I never found it a huge issue, though I did wonder why they couldn’t just let us search by User ID, like the Wii U did. Unfortunately the Switch has brought back friend codes, though at least this time, only one person has to enter the code and send a request; the other person can just accept without having to enter the first person’s friend code. Again, not a great hardship, but since we do have Nintendo User IDs, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why we couldn’t just search for friends using that instead.

switch-profile-edited

As you’d expect with the launch of any new hardware, the Switch does have some issues. One of the most common I’ve seen reported is that the left JoyCon briefly desyncs during game play. It hasn’t happened to me at all, but one of my friends said it happened to him three times during his first day of playing Zelda. Luckily it seems it can be fixed in a few seconds (ie. you don’t have to go out to the controller menu and manually resync it or anything) but it would still be annoying.

Another seemingly widespread problem that’s popped up – and I have encountered this one myself – is that the Switch will lose its wifi connection and tell you it “can’t find an IP address” when you try to reconnect. It’s only happened to me once, and it was quick/easy enough to fix, but still rather irritating. It seems to happen mostly while the console is docked after it has been put into sleep mode, and the most common solution (which worked for me) is to undock it and, in handheld mode, go into Internet settings and manually reconnect it to your wifi.

Accessories
Since the Switch launched with a number of accessories, I figured it was worth mentioning some of them. Most of what’s available are just JoyCons (available separately or in pairs) and the straps, as well as a dock (preorder only at this stage) and AC adapters. As mentioned above, the JoyCon grip that comes with the Switch doesn’t allow you to charge the JoyCons (out of the box, they can only be charged by connecting them to the docked Switch), so I bought a Charging Grip and adapter so I can charge the JoyCons while playing. Like with the Wii and Wii U, there’s a Pro Controller available for the Switch, but unlike its predecessors, I think the Switch’s Pro Controller is almost unnecessary (unless you have large hands) as the JoyCons in the grip feel and act much the same as the Pro Controller anyway. There’s also a wheel accessory you can slot a JoyCon into for use in racing games, but until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe releases at the end of April, I don’t think there’s much you can do with it for now.

You can also get various cases, though most only hold the Switch itself and the JoyCons; only a few can hold the dock and accessories as well. I got two Zelda: BOTW themed cases. The top one is for the Switch itself and it holds the system with the JoyCons attached. The case is a lot firmer than I was expecting. From the pictures, it looks like a soft cloth case, but it has a bit of padding. It can hold 14 games on one side, and the system itself slides into a netted compartment on the other side. This net is quite tight so getting the system in and out can be a struggle as the thumb sticks tend to get stuck on the net a bit. Still, the build quality is quite good, as is the printing on the outside of the case. I’ll probably get another case eventually but I’m not planning on taking my Switch on the go that much so it’s not a big deal. The other case is just for games and it holds 24 game carts (there were similar cases available for DS and 3DS games).

zelda-switch-cases

Anyway, that wraps up my thoughts and first impressions of the Nintendo Switch for now. As I said earlier, I’ll come back and update this post if anything changes, but overall I am glad I got the Switch on launch and am loving the ability to play an open world Zelda game wherever I want. That being said, I think that if you’re not interested in Zelda: BOTW, there’s probably not much point in buying a Switch for the next several months at least. The physical lineup of games at the moment is very slim, and with no Virtual Console and a fairly small selection of eShop games to start with (and with many upcoming indie games also being released or already available more cheaply on existing platforms), that $470 AUD price tag is pretty hard to swallow. However I expect – and hope – that once games like Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey hit the shelf, and we have more indie games that we can play on the go, the expense will be more than justified.

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