Flatiron Hot! Gamer: Impressions After 4 Months with the Nintendo Switch (Part 1: Hardware)
By Max Shapiro
Back when the Nintendo Switch was first revealed, I talked about whether or not I thought it would be a success and get Nintendo back on their feet after the commercial failure of the Wii U. And while I wasn’t without a few concerns, my tune was pretty optimistic overall. And having now owned it for four months, I’m happy to report that the Nintendo Switch is awesome. Of course it’s not perfect and I’ll get to the few issues it has later, but this system fully delivers on what it promises: a seamless blend of a home and handheld game console. The process of switching between playing on your televison and playing on the go is almost unfathomably quick and simple. Insert the tablet-like unit into the dock device the game appears on your TV; remove it and it’s right there on the screen. You can even prop the thing up with a built-in kickstand to use the system itself as a mini TV (what Nintendo has called “tabletop mode”). The fact that the Switch makes home console-caliber games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild portable is simply mind-blowing. Sure it doesn’t quite push graphics on the level of the PS4 or Xbox One, but the trade-off here is more than fair. But if Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey are anything to go by, I think this thing is still going to have little trouble running games with gorgeous visuals. The Switch is currently priced at $300, but I wouldn’t be surprised if received a $50 price drop come this holiday season.
In terms of controller options, the Nintendo Switch gives you quite a few. The controllers you get out of the box are two “Joy-Cons”. When playing in either TV mode, you can:
A) Insert them both into the “Joy-Con Grip”, which also comes with the system, forming a more or less traditional controller. Although the buttons and travel distance of the analog sticks are pretty small compared to other home console controllers, this is a still a perfectly valid and comfortable enough way of playing.
B) Hold them individually in either hand similar to how you hold the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. I tried this a few times and it isn’t nearly a disorienting as I thought it would be. Not ideal but certainly doable.
C) Hold a single Joy-Con horizontally. Despite how tiny these things are, this way of playing is also surprisingly doable—as long as you’ve attached one of the two straps are also come with the system. These straps give you a good extra half-inch of finger room, and an individual Joy-Con without one of them attached is borderline unusable.
D) Use the Switch Pro Controller, which is sold separately for $70. And while that price may seem a little steep, believe me when I say it’s worth it. Not only is it easily the best way of playing when in TV mode, but it rivals the GameCube controller as one the best controllers Nintendo has ever made. And if you want to have a second controller and you and whoever you’re playing with don’t want to use the tiny Joy-Cons, this is basically a must-buy since a second set of Joy-Cons along with another grip is far more expensive. Now with that said, the Joy-Con Grip configuration is still a perfectly fine option and you’re not at any huge disadvantage is you don’t feel like shelling out the $70. But the Pro Controller is still my favorite way to play.
It’s also worth mentioning that both the Joy-Cons and Pro Controller are PC-compatible—a nice bonus for you PC gamers out there.
To play in handheld mode, all you do is take the Joy-Cons and attach them to either side of the console. While it’s a little inconvenient that the device in this form is still too big to really fit in your pocket (I recommend purchasing some sort of carrying case), playing on the go feels just a great as on the TV, and games look fantastic on the system’s sharp 720p screen—a major upgrade from the low-res screens of the 3DS and Wii U GamePad. And finally there’s tabletop mode. As I said before, you also have the option to prop the Switch up with an adorable little kickstand and play games using any of the control options available in TV mode. I really haven’t used this configuration very much so far, but that fact that it’s an option is still great. I did test it out a few months ago on a three-hour flight and it worked pretty much flawlessly. I was expecting the screen too be to small to really see what going on in the game I was playing, but to my surprise, it wasn’t.
But the Switch has got even more bells whistles than that. Both the Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller feature motion controls. Some games use them in subtle ways like steering in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and aiming your weapon in Breath of the Wild and the upcoming Splatoon 2. But then there are games like the minigame collection 1-2-Switch and the wacky boxing title ARMS that make far heaver use of the Joy-Cons’ motion capabilities. And as if that wasn’t enough, the console also sports a touchscreen (though it can only be accessed in handheld mode). And while no game so far has made any major use of it beyond making selections on menus (well, besides this one ), it’s just another thing that makes the Switch even more versatile. The touchscreen is also super responsive thanks to it featuring capacitive technology (all of Nintendo’s previous touchscreens have been resistive).
Moving on to battery life: the Switch reportedly can last anywhere between 2.5 and 6.5 hours in portable form, depending on how technically demanding the game it’s currently running is (for example, the device will last a lot longer running Snipperclips or Sonic Mania than it will Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey). And while a minimum of 2.5 hours may not seem like very much, the good news is that Nintendo has made charging your Switch as easy as possible. The console (along with the Pro Controller) is compatible with any USB 3 cable you’ve got lying around (and they’re dirt cheap if you don’t have any). So if you’re going on a long trip and have got decently powerful portable battery, you’re set. And the even better news it that all of the Switch’s controllers have fantastic battery lives, with each Joy-Con lasting 20 hours and the Pro Controller a whopping 40. And in one of the most of the most brilliant design choices I’ve seen in a while, the console itself charges the the Joy-Cons when they’re attached to it. That means you never have to worry about them dying when playing on the go as long as the main unit isn’t dead.
Out of the box the Switch includes 32GB of internal storage space, the same amount the Deluxe Wii U shipped with. For people who want to download all their games digitally like me (sorry but I’m not even bothering with those tiny cartridges), this isn’t very much. However, the system’s memory can be easily expanded by popping in an SD card (the SD slot is cleverly tucked beneath the kickstand). Its storage can reportedly be expanded to up to 2TB (though 2TB SD cards don’t actually exist yet). So once I heard about all this, I purchased a 128GB SD card for $40. However, there is still one major problem: as of right now, there is no way to transfer your save data to another Switch console or SD card. While any software you buy digitally is tied to your Nintendo Network ID account, your save data is not. That means if you break or lose your Switch and have to buy a new one, you won’t have to rebuy any games you had purchased digitally, but your save data is gone forever. I really hope data transferring is added through a system update sometime down the road, because the lack of this option right now is baffling.
So that pretty much summarizes the hardware of the Nintendo Switch. If you want to know about the software side of things, read Part 2.