Review: Nintendo Switch
Posted 05 Mar 2017 at 15:23 by Ashley Jones
After poor sales of the Wii U, Nintendo is having to pin its hopes on the Switch. The portable/home console hybrid is certainly different enough to grab attention and its sleek design and transformative nature certainly highlights how ugly the Wii U GamePad really was, but is the console enough to turn the tide for a hardware manufacturer that is getting increasingly left behind.
The Wii U was a powerhouse for games, providing some of the best experiences Nintendo has ever offered. However, the low install base, weaker graphics and near-non-existent online meant it got little love from third parties. Muddled marketing didn't help the Wii U after its initial strong start (having to repeatedly explain that your console isn't an add-on for the previous one is not a position a company wants to be in) and Nintendo being the main supporter of their own console simply increased the belief that only Nintendo games sold on the Wii U.
This, and many other points, lay the ground work for the Switch. It is in part a refinement of the core concept of the Wii U, but also a Hail Mary. A console that can sit next to others and not be noticed (the true sign of a modern console is, after all, to not be seen at all), but one that sets it apart from its competitors. Sony and Microsoft have dabbled in blended gameplay with the use of the Vita and mobile apps, and of course Nintendo has been trying for generations, but this is a true hybrid and one that surprisingly just works. Docking and undocking it is effortless, smooth and oozes that technological magic companies aspire to.
Have no doubts about it, the ability to pick up a home console game and just take it with you is amazing. It feels truly transformative and truly modern. We all dreamt about playing the Wii U in bed late at night (because screw what optometrists and sleep experts say) but many were frustrated come late 2012 when they found that the range wasn't wide enough. Now, just over four years later, we finally can. And we can play it on the train, round a friends or yes, on the toilet.
We've had some time to get to grips with the Nintendo Switch and wanted to present our review as it currently stands. Of course, consoles are subject to change more so than software. Part of the reason we've left it until now to review is to test out the day one patch that added online features, but even then the console isn't complete yet. Online services will be coming down the line as well as Virtual Console and who knows what else. Software is, of course, a big part of a console as well. A great console becomes less enchanting when there's no games on it.
With that in mind, please find our review for the Nintendo Switch below.
In The Box
The console itself comes with everything you need, but many may be surprised to find that the Joy-Con cradle is not a charging version, which itself is around £30. Furthermore, the Pro Controller is an optional additional purchase priced at £65 and an extra set of Joy-Con is £75. Nobody said gaming would come cheap!
The contents are neatly packed and easily accessible and re-packageable and as someone that used to work at GAME and have to pack and unpack second hand consoles let me tell you things have gotten a lot better. You can be unpacked and set up in five minutes, with even the OS setup being relatively simple and expedient.
The Dock's vertical nature means it doesn't fit in with traditional consoles, which have often been flat (excluding the Wii of course) and if you're going to be taking it in and out of the dock you're going to need to ensure you have sufficient access to it. In our setup that means its behind the TV, out of sight. You can dock it without the Joy-Con attached, although I always feel a bit un-at-ease taking it out without the extra grip. Switch owners are going to spend the next five years in a constant state of fear about dropping or damaging the unit I'm sure. Apparently Nintendo intends to offer a paid replacement service for expired batteries, let's hope it will offer a decent service for replacing broken screens. According to iFixIt the screen is easily removable, which should hopefully mean its easily replaceable too, but early feedback from owners and damage tests suggests its difficult to crack but easy to scratch (with some users complaining that the dock itself is scratching the screen).
In Your Hands
Nintendo has a strong history of making ergonomic controllers, although the Wii U GamePad could be sore to hold after an extended period of time for some people. Nintendo has made a challenge for itself once again by providing multiple configurations to get your hands on; Joy-Con pair, Joy-Con singular, Pro Controller, Handheld mode.
After their initial unveil the Joy-Con seemed too small to be comfortable and looked like they could be easily lost in giant Western hands, but they are surprisingly comfortable. Given extended periods of play they may be problematic if used in isolation, but games thus far don't seem to require you play with just Joy-Con in any kind of precise manner (1-2 Switch normally requires nothing more than a button press and motion control).
The Joy-Con host a great deal of tech in such a small package (which explains the price) and are versatile in their usability. The HD Rumble still feels, to me, like it could end up just being a gimmick akin to the DualShock 4 light bar - nice, sometimes used in interesting and useful ways, but mostly just there.
Their portable nature, and the fact each one can even be used individually for some games, makes the machine ideal for local co-op. During the unveil event in January Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe really showed off how much this machine is made for local gaming, and launch titles such as 1-2 Switch and Snipperclips show a great deal of potential. You may need to buy more Joy-Con down the line, and sadly they don't come cheap, but its fantastic that out of the box you have potential for two player games.
I've been finding the lack of any real button names for the left Joy-Con to be problematic when trying to explain controls. You can say up/down/left/right, but it becomes fiddly to say "hit up but not on the analogue stick". It will take some time getting used to I suppose.
The Cradle is fine and does the job, although I can't help but feel that for substantial play periods the Pro Controller is a much more comfortable option.
Reports have been coming in saying the left Joy-Con is more prone to connection issues, with uncertainty at the moment about exactly what is causing the issue with the left Joy-Con. We'll have to wait for Nintendo to confirm if this is a manufacturing issue or not. The wireless connection also doesn't work well near laptops, wireless printers, wireless speakers, microwaves or smart watches...which isn't ideal. It will apparently be fine with smart phones though and good thing too as you'll need them for voice chat. They also apparently do not play well with stickers and decals, be warned!
During my time with Zelda I've found occasionally the left Joy-Con ends up with a mind of its own, suddenly moving Link around without my input. Hopefully this is an issue that can be fixed by Nintendo with software, otherwise they could have their own Red Ring of Death on their hands.
All of these controls and options are great, but I can't help but be mildly annoyed by the fact that if I dock the console with the Joy-Con attached I end up with a bare Cradle and two straps just there. When you add in Pro Controllers and more Joy-Cons it soon starts to feel like its cluttering the room up and reminds me of the days when we had Wii Remotes just dangling off a hook. It is obviously a minor thing, but a practicality issue that doesn't come up in promotional videos where everyone has these marvellous empty houses.
On The Go
The Switch's unique selling point is of course its portability. Pick it up from it's dock, pop it in your bag and away you go! This works seamlessly, almost surprisingly so. Of course we'd recommend a carrying case due to the exposed nature of the screen, but the fact the console can be quickly and easily converted between its three different states (TV, handheld and tabletop) is no small feat and a real credit to Nintendo.
As is increasingly, and frustratingly, common in technology it comes at the expense of battery life though. Nintendo's official estimates place the battery life between 2 and 6 hours depending on the game you're playing and tests seem to indicate that's about right, although you're going to have to do very little to get the upper limit. In most circumstances, and for most people, that should suffice. It is easy to just pick up the unit from the dock, play it while commuting and return it later to charge, or take a charger with you on the go. It won't be as useful for a long haul flight that some of Nintendo's past handhelds have been, but there's always got to be a trade off.
I have tried it out with what little sunshine I could find in London and there is some glare when you're in direct sunlight. If you can angle your head in the way it helps, but visibility can be an issue, particularly in bright light. Our readers in Southern Europe may be at a bigger disadvantage than we are when it comes to this!
The kickstand is surprisingly stiff and does the job. There might be a reason for it being on just one side, but I can't help but feel it would be sturdier if it was mirrored. It also does a great job of highlighting an issue with the OS at the moment as it would make a great portable viewing device. As I type this I have it propped on my desk and it would be great if you could pop on Netflix and watch something on there, particularly when it comes to entertaining kids while travelling.
The inbuilt speakers are also surprisingly strong, which will come in useful for impromptu situations in a private space (don't be that person that uses speakers on public transport) and of course when just playing it curled up in bed. The unit has a surprising heft to it. It's not heavy per se, but you can definitely feel it when you've been holding it for a while. I found myself propping it against my knees while playing after a while, but perhaps I just need to hit the gym more. In this way it reminds me of the GamePad - at first it feels fine but the longer you hold it the more you begin to notice it.
On The Web
Do people still say that?
Nintendo and online...well the less said the better. They have historically been behind competitors, in spite of numerous pledges that they're going to get it right next time. We'd love to tell you that the Switch finally sees them correct the course, but we genuinely don't know. The console is out, as are some of the online features, but more will be revealed 'later', while an online paid service will be offered 'later in the year' and will cost something. It all feels like Nintendo is either winging it or they just don't see any reason to keep customers informed.
The lack of a browser and streaming apps separate it from its competitors, and its predecessor, but not necessarily in a good way. Friend Codes are still a thing unfortunately, although the process has been improved (codes are down to 12 characters and its one-way now so just one person needs to request) and it is one of a number of options - the others currently being adding local people and people you've met online, although Nintendo promises more in the future.
Upon its second unveiling in January Nintendo faced criticism over the launch line-up. The big title is, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A game made for, and also available on, the Wii U. 1-2-Switch is a nice demonstration of what the Joy-Con can do and a bit of a laugh, but many saw its high RRP and lack of Joy-Con bundle to be off-putting. Aside from this were a few other titles, but even then they seemed to be either ports or more expensive than people were expecting (namely Bomberman).
In the six weeks since then numerous titles have been added to the launch line-up, including a late addition of Snipperclips, a cooperative puzzle game that was a surprise hit at the Switch preview events. Nintendo has stated that it intends to spread out games throughout the year, which is why we get Arms, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 throughout the next few months. Outside of that we know we're getting Super Mario Odyssey later this year, but at present that is about it. Of course, we are only a few months away from the first E3 Switch (it's crazy to think a console has launched without ever being at E3) and we fully expect a whole host of new titles to be shown then.
Third parties are once again approaching it with trepidation. It is annoying for fans, but should hardly be too surprising from a business point of view. The Wii U didn't do well, particularly for third parties, and they need to focus on their bottom line. Companies have spoken highly of the console itself, and you'd be hard press to find a company that dislikes Nintendo as a software supplier, but whether this translates into games remains to be seen. Given its specifications we may once again find ourselves enduring the occasional cross-platform title (Just Dance), the odd delayed port and a lot of "we're not making it for Switch". The future lies in the console's success of course, but there seems to be one bit of hope for us - indies.
Earlier this week Nintendo hosted an indie-only Direct to showcase the 60 indie titles already in development for the Switch. Many are ports, which is understandable given the console is brand new, but if Nintendo manages to maintain good relationships with these developers and keep Switch development cheap and easy it could become the go-to machine for indie games. The PlayStation Vita, in spite of its shortcomings, was a hotbed for independent titles that made it a fascinating machine. The Nintendo Switch could soon become that very machine.
Unlike the Wii U, 3DS and Wii there's very little need for software that 'shows off' the hardware because it is largely a refinement of what has come before. The Joy-Con is a more technically advanced version of the Wii Remote, which is how we've ended up with titles like 1-2 Switch and Arms, while the portable nature is a cross between the 3DS and a GamePad, but actually portable unlike the latter. 1-2 Switch may help sell some of the console's features, but it remains to be seen if it can capture the immagination the same way Wii Sports did.
Nintendo's strategy for Switch software is an unknown at present. The console could be sold in multiple ways - from 'home console games on the go with no hassle' to the more Wii-like motion gaming. I suspect we'll see some experimentation from Nintendo in the next year or two as they figure out what the audience is buying in to, but it is certainly exciting. The prospect of being able to effortlessly take your home console game out with you is fantastic and nobody doubts Nintendo's ability to make wondeful software.
We will be reviewing the software on offer shortly, so stick around.
We can all hope that third parties will come rushing to the console, but there is a chance that the system's technical inferiority will leave it slipping behind other consoles in terms of release, especially as Sony has recently released a beefed-up PS4 and Microsoft is doing the same to the One later this year. It will undoubtedly get some amazing games from Nintendo themselves, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and what we've seen of Super Mario Odyssey showing that they're willing to shake off the cobwebs, and as mentioned above the potential for the Switch to be the go-to machine for indie titles is great.
E3 will be the first big test of what the road-map for the Switch looks like. Nintendo needs to show off not only what they can do with the console (preferably with as little ports as possible), but also what others can do. The press conference (or Direct, if they go with that) needs to be more than a Nintendo show.
Final (for now) Verdict
Given so much about the Switch depends on what the future brings it is difficult to really 'review' the console in the traditional sense because this is just the begninning. It offers a lot of hope due to its form factor and of course Nintendo's software, but it could be beaten down by some of the problems the Wii U faced. We'll have to wait and see and while we've scored the console now, we will come back to it in the future.
Hardware is reviewed at launch on promise and over time on its software (and any subsequent updates). As such, the promise the Switch shows as a piece of hardware is fantastic. The form-factor is fantastic and there's just something appealing about being able to play the latest Zelda in bed at night, dock it to charge and then take it with you in the morning. This alone will be beneficial for those of us that are growing up and have less time to sit in front of the TV each night gaming, but can catch some time while out and about.
Aside from Zelda the launch line-up does not contain a title that really wows in the way Wii Sports did, but we're optimistic that this will come. The early and strong support from indie developers is a great sign, and let's hope third parties don't disappear in the next twelve months.
However, the console still feels incomplete in some ways. The online services are not all there at the moment, and we don't even know when they will be (and what exactly it will contain). The lack of entertainment software (Netflix, internet browser etc) is bound to weaken its appeal to some people who want an all-in-one and we can hope that these will come later, but Nintendo seem pretty locked-in on focusing on the gaming at the moment. Some potential issues (such as durability, easy to fix/transfer data) will be revealed down the line, as with any console launch, and Nintendo's quietness about a lot of aspects can easily frustrate.
The launch is bound to appeal to the core fanbase, Zelda alone does that for most people, but for Nintendo's sake, and for the sake of the industry as a whole, we hope they can appeal to a wider audience. While there are many good reasons to jump in now, I am not surprised to hear some people say they are waiting. The Wii U never got an official price drop, so it may not be wise to hold out for that, but we would not be surprised if come Christmas there are better bundles out there and of course a host of new software.
The Switch offers a bright future for Nintendo and for us as gamers. Let's hope it clicks.
N-Europe Final Verdict
As a piece of hardware it is fantastic and, dare I say, very un-Nintendo. Its early software shows promise and hopefully that will be fulfilled, but missing online features and general secrecy over what is coming means the main audience at the moment are fans.
An amazing form factor that just works
Smooth, sleek hardware and UI design
Truly innovative technology
Perfect social machine
Strong early support from indies
Some key online aspects missing
Early third party support is thin
Potential build quality issues