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Nintendo Switches Things Up With the Switch

For many people, March 3rd couldn’t come soon enough (not just because of the Nintendo Switch, but because of Logan as well). I haven’t had the chance to see the latter, as I’ve been spending what time I could with the former. I’ve been excited to see what it could do right off the bat… although like any console, it’s going to take some time to live up to it’s potential, both in terms of hardware and software. For now, I’ll breakdown what I can in terms of its specs and capabilities, so let’s dive right into it, shall we?

DESIGN

The Switch unit itself is a fairly slim (yet fairly wide) tablet-esque console, sporting a 6.2 in. LCD screen with a 720p resolution and touchscreen capabilities. On the sides, you have the ability to remove and connect the motion control capable Joy Con controllers (fairly similar to Wii-motes for the Nintendo Wii). On the top console (from left to right) is the Power button, volume buttons, a fan vent to help prevent overheating, a headphone jack, and the slot for Switch cartridges. On the bottom is a USB-C port. On the back is a kickstand, which also covers the micro SD slot for expandable memory, and stereo speakers.

The left and right Joy Con controllers are both fairly similar (albeit with a different placement of buttons). Both have a singular analog stick with four main buttons (in single player mode, the buttons on the left act in a similar fashion to a D-Pad), a start button (the left controller has a -, the right has a +), two shoulder buttons, and a smaller button down on the bottom (the left acts as a share/ snapshot button, while right takes you to the console’s home screen). When removed from the console, they both also have two horizontal shoulder buttons (SL and SR) and a sync button. Exclusive to the right Joy Con is an IR sensor that can determine both distance and shapes (i.e. Rock, Paper, Scissors). In terms of layout, it’s fairly similar to the Xbox 360/ Xbox One controllers, mostly to help with consistency when using the Joy Cons separately in a two-player scenario, in which case the main difference would be switching the positions of the snap/ home buttons with the -/+ buttons.

In terms of size, the console itself is about the size of a Samsung Note in a case. Adding on the Joy Con controllers makes even wider than that, which hampers the portability aspects a little bit. It’ll fit easily into any small bags that you may have, but if you plan on fitting the entire thing in your pocket, you might want to kiss that idea goodbye. Even with my larger pockets, it sticks out like a sore thumb. With that being said though, it’s small size makes it comfortable to hold and never feels like the weight will wear down your arms over time. The Joy con Controllers fit comfortably in my hands when snapped into the console unit itself. It feels like the perfect width and weight for comfortable gaming.

The controllers are a little stranger in terms of their design. They feel perfectly comfortable when snapped into the console. On their own, their tiny size can be a little difficult to adjust to, especially if you have larger hands. Thankfully, the console also comes with expanders/ wrist straps that you can slide onto the Joy cons to make them a little wider and give easier access to the should buttons. However, if you’re using them for their standard L/R functionality, you may find yourself constantly hitting the accentuated SL and SR buttons as well, which depending on the scenario can have you activate something you might not want. Then again, depending on the game, they shouldn’t be active at all, so that may end up being a moot point).

To help compensate for this, a Joy Con controller grip is also provided. This basically allows the user to plug their Joy Cons in a way that helps resemble an actual controller. In terms of shape and structure, it’s fairly close to that of the Wavebird from the Nintendo Gamecube. While not quite as comfortable as that controller, it helps give you a much more natural grip. For some games, this can be a godsend, as a more traditional controller (especially when you’re playing on a TV) makes things much better. That being said, if you can get one, try to spring for a Pro Controller, which is fairly similar to that of the Wii U controller of the same name. I can’t attest to how much better it is, although I’d expect it to be the best one of the bunch, given its more traditional design.

The screen itself is pretty solid. While not as good as the Playstation Vita’s original OLED display (then again, not much is), it provided great detail, contrast, and colors, and gets fairly bright as well. This certainly helps deal with issues like glare, although give it enough direct sunlight and you’ll still have difficulty seeing things. The fact that it’s protected by plastic, not glass, probably helps with this. Of course, this means that it’s fairly easy to scratch, so buy yourself a screen protector. On the upside, if you drop it, it won’t end up shattering it. The size itself is also good for when you’re playing a game by yourself, although it may be a pinch small for a game with a lot of people crowding around the screen (I’d expect Bomberman R to be rather difficult when 4 people are bunching in around the aforementioned 6.2 in. that’s in front of them).

My main complaint about the design is in regards to the placement of the USB-C port. It was placed on the bottom of the console so it could be plugged into the bundled TV Dock, which allows you to play on any TV with an HDMI port in up to 1080p. It’s also used to charge the console/ Joy Con controllers when not in use or low battery (I have issues with this as well). Now given the functionality of the dock, this seems reasonable. However, this creates a problem if you want to charge the system and you’re playing in kickstand mode. With the console resting on the kickstand, the USB-C port is blocked and charging is impossible. If a plethora of players are playing around the console and it’s low battery, they’re SOL, unless one person acts as stand or they don’t mind looking flat down (unless they can find an incline that angles things in just the right angle).

With that in mind, this creates another problem: charging the controllers. In terms of everything backed in the box, the only way to charge the Joy Cons is if they’re attached to a charging console. That means if you’re low on power, you’re basically forced to either wait while you charge it in the dock or have to play in mobile while the console is plugged into the charger. This can be aggravating when you want to play on the TV. I had this situation happen while playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I didn’t want to have to unplug the TV dock and plug in the console, followed by taking the controllers out of the Joy Con Grip or the wrist straps just to keep playing on a smaller screen when I had my 55 in. right in front of me. While it’s possible to get around this by getting a Joy Con Charging Grip, this is frustrating as it just drives up the costs for the sake of convenience (which I’ll get to later).

Lastly, a couple quick things. I just want to make a quick mention of the kickstand. It’s… serviceable. It certainly helps keep the system where it needs to be. However, it also feels a little cheap and easily breakable. For all I know, it could be stronger than it looks, but when it feels like it could snap off just by opening it, that raises some concerns. Second, I’m wishing they could have found a way to move the speakers to the front, both for volume and clarity.

Usability/ Versatility

This is obviously where the console shines. The whole point of this console is to bridge the gap between mobile and home console markets, and boy howdy does it do that. There are so many ways to play with this console that you’ll never feel like you’re being held back when you want to give it a go. Want to use it as a handheld? Snap in the controllers and you’re good to go! Want to do multiplayer (or just not hold the console in your hands)? Pop out the kickstand, detach the controllers, and have at it. Want free arm movement? You’ve basically got two Wiimotes in hand. Hate motion controls? Plug them into the Joy Con Grip (or get a Pro Controller). Or even better, want to have these options while wanting to play on a bigger screen? Just pop the console into the TV Dock and disconnect the controllers, because you’re playing on a console. The versatility is a godsend that lets you play the way you want.

In terms of disconnecting the controllers, it’s a snap (quite literally, because you’ll often hear the SFX that has become synonymous with console when you Switch them out). There are small buttons behind controller that unlock the controller and allow you to pull them out. They slide in and out of the console relatively effortlessly. The wrist straps are a little more snug, and can a little tough to pull out when you get them in (even with the secondary lock disabled). Switching to the TV is even easier. Literally just plug it into the dock, and it’ll automatically switch to the TV Screen in about a second. What’s better, this doesn’t require any sort of rebooting, so you’ll be in exactly the same place you were when switching between modes.

There really isn’t much more to say. This was main point of the console and it was incredibly well thought out, even if  it’s at the expense it’s design in a couple places. With those exceptions, it works exactly as we hoped it would.

 

Nintendo-Switch-cartridges

 

Hardware/ Performance

Thankfully, despite it being considerably lesser power compared to the PS4 and Xbox One, the system itself is relatively snappy, thanks to it’s use of cartridge based mediums (micro SD cards and cartridges), 4GB RAM, and a respectable chipset with a customized Nvidia X1 chip (similar to what’s housed in Nvidia’s Shield TV consoles). Games load relatively quickly, and going between programs and the home screen are much quicker compared to the Wii U. While it is somewhat disappointing compared to the more powerful competition (especially with the PS4 Pro and the upcoming “Project Scorpio”), one must once against understand that power was not the point of this endeavor, but rather to find a happy medium between console and mobile devices. Arguably, the only device to attempt this that wasn’t a high powered tablet (once again, I have to mention Nvidia) was the PSP, which was in essence a sub-powered PS2. However, it had nowhere near the ease of use as the Switch does.

In terms of battery life, it can vary between 3-6 hours on average, based on what others have said. Lesser games will obviously have a longer battery life (I’d recommend the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove for starters, which is all 3 games with their DLC). More intensive games will obviously last a lot shorter (with LoZ: BotW being the main subject of this). Some have claimed that this game falls below the 3 hour mark, although I’ve gotten some good mileage out of it. To be fair, I’ve been playing with Airplane mode on most of the time, which extends times considerably. While not fantastic, it gets the job done (and honestly, the fact that it’s better than the Vita, especially given the power of this thing, is fine for me).

The Joy Cons, as mentioned, are much like Wiimotes, although the main standout is the inclusion of HD Rumble, which is vibration feature that totes a much more naturalistic feel and accurate representation of feedback. This was where I was bit let down, because I expected universal application of this. Right now, the only game that fully takes advantage of is 1-2-Switch. LoZ: BotW was, in comparison, used in a much more standard way, so hopefully the increase in software will be able to showcase what the console is capable of. In terms of motion controls, the Joy Cons are relatively accurate. Because of their gyroscopic capabilities, they have a great sense of range and reproducible movement. Once again, because of the lack of software, it’s hard to really judge how great it is outside of 1-2-Switch, but if can be implemented correctly, these controllers are incredibly capable. Unfortunately, I can’t judge the IR Sensor, so I’ll have to come back to that another time.

On a side note, there have been complaints of sync issues with the left Joy Con. I haven’t had any problems with that. Most likely the day one update took care of that. However, some people have reported they are still getting them, so be wary. Thankfully, this sounds like something that can be resolved via firmware updates, so don’t feel like your system is broken, as frustrating as this may be.

Another side note, in terms of internet connectivity, it only comes with an 802.11 ac WiFi router. For those looking for a more stable (and generally faster) connection, you’ll have to buy a third party LAN adapter. On the plus side, it’s great to see Nintendo FINALLY put in a dual band support for both 2.4ghz and 5ghz wireless signals. It’ll certainly help when you want to take advantage of your router or feel you need to switch between the two for whatever reason, be it speed or stability.

The speakers also get the job done. I played some music at louder than normal volume and then cranked up the speakers of the Switch, and it was still audible. Maxing out the speakers won’t overcome a crowded convention, but it certainly gets loud enough that you’ll be able to hear it without headphones in a place that’s moderately busy. It also helps they’re relatively crisp for their size. They won’t win any prices, but they get the job done.

The one shortfall in the hardware section is the lack of hard drive space. At only 32GB (27.1GB after the OS takes up some space), you’re left with very little space for downloadable titles. For smaller indie titles, this isn’t as much of a problem, but some games take up a rather large amount of space (LoZ: BotW takes up 13.4GB, where as Dragon Quest Heroes 1 & 2 take up a whopping 32GB, forcing one into buying expandable memory). This wouldn’t be as problematic if there was more memory available. While the Switch will have the capability of supporting up to 2TB micro SD cards, there are a couple problems. First off, the largest available at the moment is 256GB. Second, those things get expensive. A 256gb card (and arguably a 200GB card, depending on where you buy them) cost more than 1TB external hard drive. That will either force people to stick with buying physical copies or spending a lot more on memory than they would like.

If you don’t mind the fact that the console is nowhere near as powerful as the competition, this is still a solid piece of hardware. What it lacks in those regards it more than makes up for in potential capabilities. Whether or not Nintendo succeeds in this department kind of bounces back and forth, but I love the ideas that the console opens up for developers who are willing to take the time to invest in the opportunity. That all being said, there isn’t much to really push its boundaries at the moment.

Value

Unfortunately, I have some issues, outside of the lack of games (which is standard for any new console, so I’m not going to bother harping on that too much). I think given the capabilities of the console, $300 is understandable, albeit not ideal (I was one of the many assuming it would be $250). However, there are things they could have done to make it better (or at least not feel cheated). First off, as mentioned before, the design flaw in how one must charge the Joy Cons forces one to buy a charging grip if they would like to consistently play on the TV or without connecting them to the console. $30 isn’t terrible (hell, that’s the price of a 10′ USB-C cable), but given there’s a standard Joy Con grip already bundled with the package, I feel like they could have just as easily switched the two out without drastically affecting the price (there’s a $15 difference between the two). Unfortunately, this is most likely a deliberate move in order to gain more income. It also doesn’t help that some of the other accessories are pretty up there in price as well (like the Pro Controller costing $70, mostly likely due to the NFC reader in there for Amiibo support).

Secondly, the lack of any sort of bundled software to demonstrate the system’s capabilities doesn’t help it’s value either. (And this was clearly a last minute decision – there’s space in the box that’s obviously designed for a game. -Ed) The glorified demo disc 1-2-Switch would have been ideal. Even though it’s not included, a lesser price tag would have made it easier to swallow. However, $50 for a collection of quick mini-games feels like a cheap cash grab, even compared to the Pro Controller. The same thing kind of applies to another game, Super Bomberman R, which has been described as being quite fun, but unfortunately not worth the $50 price tag.

This is pretty typical of Nintendo, so I shouldn’t be surprised. It doesn’t make the value issue doesn’t make me feel any less bitter. While not a deal breaker for me, it might be more of one for others. It’s certainly not a bad value for the hardware, but it feels incomplete, and the addition of the Joy Con Charging Grip instead of the standard one and some sort of software would have gone quite a long way (much like it did for the 32GB version of the Wii U).

 

nintendo-switch7

 

Side Notes

-The UI looks relatively clean and easy to access. It doesn’t try to be flashy and gets the job done. With easy simultaneous access to software, settings, and apps. Although with that in mind, I’m not sure how the eShop will look, given it’s basic.

-As stated, there aren’t a lot of games yet for the console. All in all, there’s a total of 8 or 9 (depending on how you count Shovel Knight Treasure Trove or it’s newest standalone expansion). If software is a problem, you may want to wait a bit. Thankfully, unlike the Wii U, there’s much wider third party support, so this should be easily remedied.

-There’s been talk that the TV Dock can rather easily scratch the screen. Given how exposed that screen is in general, I recommend getting a carrying case/ protector screen. Generally a combo will only cost about $20.

-Friend codes are back… woo. Thankfully, there are some easier ways to connect with friends locally, using the image/ symbol matching that Miitomo uses. While the use of Friend codes are still annoying, it’s nice to have a different method when you’re in the same vicinity as your buddies.

-Because of a lack of online content, it’s hard to judge how that may turn out (or how effective it is as a whole), both in terms of multiplayer and services.

 

Final Thoughts

All in all, it’s a good system with a lot of potential, which more than makes up for it’s lesser power. The versatility of it mostly makes up for it’s design flaws and feeling like a somewhat incomplete package. While there aren’t a lot of games at the moment, the few that are out might be able to help you bide your time (Zelda, I Am Setsuna, and Shovel Knight Treasure Trove will give you plenty of hours on your own, with Bomberman offering large scale multiplayer fun if your buddies invest into it as well) With a fair share of pledged support, as well as some A-grade titles in the works, this won’t be a problem for long. It’s not the Godsend we want it to be at the moment, but give it time to grow, and it may be a game changer in the market that will affect how mobile and console devices interact. With that in mind, don’t feel like you need to be in any rush to go out and buy one. It wouldn’t hurt to wait for more games (in a couple of months, it should have a fairly decent library to choose from) or bundle packages that will no doubt come out in due time. Definitely give it a try when the opportunity arises. You’ll no doubt have a fun time seeing what this system is capable of.

Grant Corvin
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Having double majored in Art and Film at SJSU, Grant is a self-proclaimed cinephile (who's still trying to build up his repertoire) and an absolute gamer geek. Not only does he try to make them, but he also does let's plays and helps out with an indie review channel from time to time.

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