Nintendo has perfectly captured the emotion of their launch video into a home console. The Nintendo Switch is rife with tradition of the company and takes lessons from their hardware from the NES straight through to the Wii U. More than that, they've made a bold statement about a return to social/couch co-op gaming that we can get behind!
+Fun to change between modes
+Satisfying and well thought-out transitions
+Real weight and quality in the individual components
-Weak launch line-up
-Everything is overpriced (games, accessories)
-Launch issues with scratched screens and de-syncing JoyCon
Nintendo has a history of making bold choices where hardware is concerned. Sometimes their wild attempts to deviate from the norm have produced unparalleled success, as in the case of the launch of the Wii. In other instances, their attempts to push hardware in new directions has caused a comical failure that echoes through time, like the still hilarious attempt at VR in the ‘90s with the Virtual Boy.
All things considered, though, often Nintendo’s courageous strategies of deviating from the norm have put them in a league of their own, not only in terms of the hardware and software produced from their endeavors but in terms of record-breaking sales and complete domination of the handheld gaming market.
For those that follow the site, you already know how excited I was at the dawn of the new era of Nintendo gaming. The move towards portability and social gaming as a core feature of a new console was, for me, an exciting prospect. I’ve been bitching about the lack of couch co-op and continuously reclusive gameplay for years now, both on social media and here on the site. Nintendo was the first one that seemed to listen; if not to me then certainly to the others like me.
Upon receiving the console and diving into that most sacred of traditions for the hardware geek: the unboxing, two distinct things stood out for me.
First, it was the fact that the console itself was a whole lot smaller than I was anticipating. Yes, we knew this thing was going to be intended as an “on the go” console, but there’s really no accounting for how under prepared you are for how small everything feels. The core console (JoyCon attached to the portable screen) is akin to the Wii U tablet… which I guess we knew already but is still somehow surprising out of the box.
The next thing I noticed is that everything felt, well, better than I would have imagined.
Somewhere floating in the back of my head was the idea that the JoyCon were going to feel cheap and plastic, like army men, rather than like the die-cast figures we always WANT small pieces of console/gaming to feel like. There’s a distinct pleasure in having a bit of weight to your console and its pieces, really any piece of hardware needs a little something to it. Perhaps that’s just me, maybe I’ve seen Jurassic Park one too many times and have the voice of Gennaro lodged somewhere deep in the back of my mind: “Is it heavy? – Then it’s expensive.”
Overall the feeling of the console, weight, positioning in my hands, and the quality of all the individual moving parts was a lot better than I was expecting. I found myself pleasantly surprised with everything about the feeling of the console after the initial unboxing. There’s nothing more pleasing than dropping a bunch of your hard-earned coin for early access (day one launches) and being rewarded with something that feels BETTER than what you were expecting. Moments after revealing my console I found myself feeling that sense of reward, but there’s a lot more that goes into a console than just the feel of weight and quality to it. So, let’s dive further into the main features:
Admittedly I might be in a minority here, but if there are any other ‘90s kids out there that bought Transformers figures for the express purpose of getting them from vehicle/beast to robot without reading the instructions (as though it was some kind of a puzzle) you might be able to appreciate how I feel about toys/gadgets that a) transform and b) have multiple functions.
The Nintendo Wii U has offered the function of switching gameplay between the big-screen and a hand-held portable for a couple of years now; at least around the home. There’s a distinct pleasure obtained from the Switch in that regard, however, as you hear the satisfying “click” when snapping the JoyCon into place on either side of the screen before undocking to go mobile.
Really, each transition on the Switch fills me with a little shot of happiness. I know that’s not something everyone is going to get, but if you’re a perpetual 12-year-old, like myself, or just actually a 12-year-old, you might get that same rewarding sensation on the transition from home console to mobile gaming platform and back again that I do. I think the most important part of that is how everything slides together smoothly and, as previously mentioned, has a satisfying little “click” sound as it locks into place.
The only real downside might be the way things fit together with the in-box make-shift controller rig. There’s a small bit of plastic with light pass-through for the LED which acts as a controller for single-player gaming, enabling you to snap the JoyCon into a base with grips and serve as a more traditional controller. Unfortunately, due to the design of the thing, it can be a little awkward to hold at first grip. Spending a few hours with Zelda will form the thing in your hand into a “good enough” position, but if the controller base had been a little wider, or if they had positioned the analog stick on the right side a little higher still we might have fewer complaints to make about the console as a home unit.
Leading up to the launch of the console one of the main complaints from people was the lack of an expansive line-up of games. I understand that, if you’re dropping $400-500 dollars on the launch of a new console you want to make sure you’re well taken care of, that you have OPTIONS for gaming. Especially when the thing is being marketed as a party machine for your friends to gather around and fist-pump over.
Admittedly the line-up is… spartan. There’s only one real “must have” title in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while the other launch titles are more niche, for kids like me who have an unhealthy addiction to the Bomberman franchise. 1-2-Switch is tantamount to the Wii Sports tie-in that came with the launch of the Wii… but isn’t actually included and requires an additional $65 (Canadian) in order to obtain.
Personally, all I needed for a launch was Zelda. I can easily justify (and have multiple times in the past) the purchase of a new console for a single title. Zelda is one of those games that is a gimme, and considering the early praise of the game (including the gameplay videos steadily streaming at every convention since it was announced), there was just no way I wasn’t going to play the damned thing. Of course, it is a multi-generation and title, and truth be told seeing them side by side (Wii U and Switch) the gameplay doesn’t look that much different… so the justification of owning a Switch (if you already have a Wii U) for the purposes of Zelda specifically might not be enough to close that gap and front that much money on a day one console.
Where the Nintendo Switch really shines, in my point of view, is the sense of nostalgia it instills. In the original announcement video, Nintendo walked through the history of the company from the NES straight on through to the Wii U, attempting to show how they’ve learned a little something from each generation of hardware that they produced. That’s something I think you can immediately feel when you start gaming on the Switch.
Particularly when you’re playing multiplayer/co-op games on the console using the JoyCon as two paddles for play. Yes, the JoyCon are small and a little awkward to hold on their own, but so was the NES controller. It feels like being transported back to childhood as you play on the Switch with your friends. Perhaps some will be upset about the small controllers and it’s easy enough to claim that the feature is a novelty, but it’s a novelty that I can get behind.
Since I received my console I’ve been taking it with me everywhere, along with its accessories, so I can set up with people at their homes or in their places of business and sneak in a couple of rounds of Bomberman. It’s not ideal, the screen is small and so are the controllers, but it works! That’s something we couldn’t claim before of any other console, handheld or otherwise. Out of the box, you have a gaming platform that is entirely social, it comes with you and it has multiplayer. You don’t have to worry about buying another controller (though ideally, you should). It does everything it’s promised and wraps that experience up in the most nostalgic of wrapping papers that make this jaded old bastard’s heart sing.
At the end of the day, I understand why people are apprehensive of the launch. There aren’t as many titles as we would have liked to see. There are reported issues with JoyCon syncing issues and the dock scratching the screens. The game library is ridiculously expensive, where 1-2-Switch would have traditionally been a freebie throw-in, it is instead a full-price game just $10 cheaper that Zelda (good luck with that). However, I’m happy with mine. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy each time I transition from mobile unit to home console. I love sharing the experience with my friends, taking the console to them and turning the single-player portable monster into something tiny and cute for the purposes of on-the-go multiplayer.
Now all we need is some more games that take advantage of those warm fuzzies, more Mario Karts and Smash Bros., co-op puzzle games and platformers, please!