It is more evolution than revolution. At least for now.
So the Nintendo Switch is finally here, and Nintendo is starting over after the failure (yes, that’s largely what it was) of the Wii U. The Nintendo Switch has finally arrived, with one of the greatest games you may ever play, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as its big Day 1 release, and a series of new ideas that redefine expectations of console flexibility.
And yet not everyone will love the Switch – at least not yet.
All at once this is Nintendo at its best and its worst, a gutsy bundle of innovations coupled with some troublesome ideas. The $300 Switch does a lot of things right and gets its core concepts down pat, but from charging limitations to minor hardware issues to a few too many hidden costs, little things hold it back, leaving it just short of a must-have.
For now, it’s a must-have only for the diehard Nintendo fan – and that fan will find a lot to love. From the moment it was announced late last year, the Switch seemed like a highly evolved Wii U, offering the full portability that the Wii U couldn’t quite deliver back in 2012. And now that it’s here, that portability proves true: This machine is equal parts portable console and home console, uniquely versatile for a bevy of different playstyles.
I’ve played the Switch on my bigscreen TV, and in the back of a car, played Breath of Fire in marathon play sessions and in 15-minute snippets at a family member’s house. It’s been the center of attention during weekends, and a side diversion while something else was on TV during weekdays. In each situation, the machine is fully capable, and fluid, and switching between things is as easy as slipping the machine out of its dock, taking it to the car and making the five-minute trip to the drugstore, where it plays equally well while you’re waiting in a long line.
It’s a strong core concept that lets the gamer decide precisely how to play, without the constraints of the old Wii U. Some will treat the Switch like their Xbox One, leaving it connected to the big TV, and others will tote the machine everywhere, like some oversized (and it is rather large, even if the real estate is put to good use) PS Vita. For me, it was linked to the TV frequently, unless I was at a crossroads in Zelda and running a quick errand.
The versatility is impressive, and so are several other ideas that don’t manifest at first. The Joy-Con controllers, which unhook from the main unit and can be used individually or connected to a Joy-Con grip that makes them a reasonable (but not always comfortable) replacement for an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller, can be used individually, meaning you always have another device to hand to a partner for multiplayer action.
In so many ways, this feels like the machine the Wii U should have been, equal parts versatile and whimsical, and while some of that shows in Zelda, these features are on display even more in another title, 1-2 Switch. This bundle of minigames has gamers utilizing very little of the screen. Instead, each handles a Joy-Con, relying on the tiny controller’s motion controls and rumble abilities, and two challengers engage in such unique things as, um, milking a cow or dancing against each other.
It’s a game that shows just how far motion controls (which Nintendo pioneered, by the way) have come, and for all the excellence of Zelda, it’s 1-2 Switch that has the most unique applications for the Switch, and it’s 1-2 Switch that innovative developers should look towards for inspiration. 1-2 Switch is also a true exclusive for the console; Zelda will actually be available on the Wii U as well.
It’s Nintendo at its core, a diverse game that shows the unique capabilities of the console and its controllers, much as Wii Sports did a long time ago for the original Nintendo Wii. Wii Sports, however, was bundled in with the Wii. And really, 1-2 Switch, especially with its Switch-playing title, should have been bundled in with this console, a move that would have (perhaps still could) add value to the bundle, and mean that all gamers got a look at the power of the Switch.
1-2 Switch is a necessary game, too, in large part because the Switch arrives with a lean release library. Zelda does the heavy early lifting obviously, and Super Bomberman R is a strong second game, with several other titles, such as I Am Setsuna and Shovel Knight, providing a little bit of depth. But Zelda is by far the only must-have and several other big names, such as Super Mario Odyssey, won’t arrive until late this year.
Third-party support remains hard to discern, too, with only a version of Skyrim (an aged but spectacular game) and Disgaea Complete drawing instant attention. Nintendo must once again take the lead on developing games for the Switch, and while it’s a game console manufacturer that rouutinely delivers quality that’s still a heavy burden. Transcendent Zeldas arrive, what, once a decade?
Nintendo obviously focused heavily perfecting its core experience, but it fails to address several other imperfections. Some are more bothersome than major such as the absence of Bluetooth (meaning now Bluetooth headphone connections on the go), an odd omission in a 2017 on-the-go machine, or the fact that you can’t adjust the Switch display’s brightness via a dropdown menu of a toggle, a limitation that leaves the Switch a step behind the latest tablets and smartphones.
At launch, Friend codes, those annoyances that don’t nearly measure up to PlayStation or Microsoft’s systems, are also back, and there’s no support for video apps such as Netflix and Hulu, either. Both of these things could eventually change, perhaps, and Friend codes really need to go, or become simplified, especially now that Nintendo has so many platforms. The lack of video apps, meanwhile, seems a missed opportunity, too, in part because, despite being “only” 720p, the Switch’s screen is beautiful and potent, showcasing bright colors during both Zelda and the cutscenes of Super Bomberman R.
Other deficiencies are more serious – or just plain obtuse. The Switch can charge over a USB-C cable, but you can’t play it in stand-up mode when you’re doing so, because the UCB-C input is on the bottom of the console. And somehow, the Switch only includes 32GB of memory, which means those who want to download their games will need to buy an additional memory card. Thankfully, physical media doesn’t install to the Switch at all, an old-school move that many gamers should embrace; after all, you can trade in a copy of Zelda at GameStop, something you can’t do with a digital version. Still, a 32GB console in this day and age seems oddly backwards, much like the Bluetooth omission, a killer on a long flight or car trip.
The left Joy-Con has a tendency to lose its sync with the main Switch unit. Nothing disrupts a gameplay session quite like the need to recalibrate the left Joy-Con – and it happens in too many situations, has happened to me when I’ve used the Switch as a portable unit, and when I’ve used the Joy-Con’s with the grip. It seems to have dissipated since the initial system update, though, so the problem may finally be gone.
The fact that the Joy-Cons can’t actually be charged via the included Joy-Con grip, however, is a different issue, although it’s being overplayed throughout cyberspace right now. Right now, to charge your Joy-Cons, you need to either pick up a separate, overpriced charging grip that doesn’t come with the console and plugs into a USB-C by itself, or you need to reattach your Joy-Cons to the main console, and no, this isn’t ideal. But in practice, it’s not that much of an issue, in part because the tiny Joy-Cons feature ridiculous battery life, getting 20 hours to a charge, according to Nintendo, and generally surviving my longest playthroughs.
Overall, cost for the Switch is an issue, because the costs escalate quickly. With not a single game included, the Switch runs you $300, so you’re looking at spending at least $360 just to get life out of the machine, upwards of $400 when you factor in the need for a memory card. It’ll run you another $90 to purchase another dock and enjoy one of the coolest features of the Switch, the fact that you can simply hook it into another dock in another house or room or hotel room and it connects to the TV via HDMI. The ease with which this happens remains incredible, although a more portable cable wouldn’t hurt. Even better would be if Nintendo included two docks in the box, making the Switch’s unique portability factors an even more prominent selling point.
You’ll almost certainly want a carrying case, too. The Switch itself seems durable, and it’s a solidly made device with a slick look, but as with any device with a sharp screen, it doesn’t seem ideal to walk around with it without some kind of protective casing. Things happen. Especially in New York. PowerA makes perhaps the most robust line of Switch accessories right now, including a messenger bag that stores the entire Switch ($39.99) and includes a smaller carrying case for the console in its on-the-go version. Other options abound.
Much of the Switch’s story, though, both for the public and Nintendo, has yet to be written. It’s hard to know how the console will primarily be used, and impossible to tell whether developers will embrace the Switch’s unique toolbox, or just keep making lazy ports, as they’ve done in the past.
And it’s unknown whether the community will embrace the console’s unique multiplayer abilities, which permit as many as eight Switches to link together. Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K title should be interesting on the Switch, too, proving that sports games can thrive even with the smaller set of controls – but that’s not due for another few months, of course. Could a full 5-on-5 run take place with 10 Joy-Cons on a few Switches? And can I find nine friends to make such a run possible, even if the game allows it?
The online ecosystem also must be friendly. Eventually, Nintendo will debut a pay online service, and the Switch will lose the free online play advantage over the Xbox One and the PS4, but Nintendo must make this worthwhile. The company also has promised a Virtual Console, although there’s no timetable for this just yet, and there’s no word on how this will work, whether games you’ve purchased on previous consoles will need to be repurchased or simply be available to you already.
The latter idea would instantly make the Switch far more versatile, letting it function as a do-it-all retro console to some and serving as a thank-you from Nintendo its longtime fans. For all the struggles of recent years, no console manufacturer has a legacy of titles quite like Nintendo does.
And for everything wrong with the Switch, it still captures plenty of a gamer’s imagination, opens vast possibilities in terms of gameplay and portability. (I say this as I pack my Switch now and prepare to head to Manhattan for a long day of work, hopefully to play my Switch a little bit in free moments.)
The Switch isn’t a must-own right now, in part because all these questions still need to be answered and issues that need to be solved and in part because Zelda, also available on the Wii U, is the lone must-have game. An updated Switch, too, could address some of the issues, perhaps deliver Bluetooth headphone support and adjust the positioning of the USB-C port. Updated accessories could make connecting to a TV easier, and updated software could make the menus, barebones now, more friendly.
So the Switch could very easily, eventually, present a gaming revolution. It doesn’t do that just yet, although it is plenty of fun right now.
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