A few weeks before the official launch of the Nintendo Switch I had prepared myself to purchase the much-anticipated gaming console, but only under certain conditions. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped, so I prepared myself to wait a few months before taking the plunge. Less than a week into the wait, I was presented with the opportunity to review the Switch and, without any thoughts and second guesses, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I get some hands-on with the device for a brief period for review, but I could now make actual decisions on whether I was ready to own one myself.
At First Glance
The Switch grabbed my attention from the start. I wasted no time in setting up the unit, which was both straightforward and not. Setting up the unit and the dock were a breeze, but the controls were a bit strange. It wasn’t overly complicated to figure out, but the Joy-Con is not your conventional pick up and play type of controller. Instead, you have three options to use them: one as a normal controller by means of the controller dock (Joy-Con Grip), another on the sides of the console as a hand-held, and the third as a two-player setup with mini controls.
Straight Into the Games
If anyone is anything like me, there’s no need for the peripheral bells and whistles, not when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is right there at your fingertips raring to go. Without too many spoilers (as I will review the game via a separate post), it is amazingly good.
Gaming on the Switch takes some adjusting, both to the layout of the controllers and the size, as well as the actual console itself. After a few hours, you’ll get the hang of it no doubt.
Minimal Effort, Minimal Fuss
If you’re familiar with the layout of Xbox and PlayStation consoles, things are a lot more simplistic on the Nintendo Switch. On the main menu, you’re presented with a list of games that have been installed. Users can scroll through the titles you wish to play. This raised my first concern for the interface. While I only had a list of three games (Zelda, Shovel Knight and 1-2-Switch) to scroll through, what happens when you rack up 100 or more? You don’t get much in the way of customisation of the layout, and while I didn’t expect it at first, the gaming menu did make me question it.
The interface, however, is very streamlined, an aspect I appreciated apart from the games list. Users can choose between a few options from the main menu: News, Nintendo Shop, Album, Controllers, Settings, and Power options. All of which are self-explanatory.
Is It a Bird? Is it a Plane? Nope. It’s the Switch
There’s no denying the Switch’s star power and drawcard is it’s ability to double, or triple as a console, hand-held and gaming screen. Switching from console mode means switching to the battery-powered, tablet-like monitor, which has the same 6.2″ screen with 1280x720px resolution, as on the Wii U GamePad. But unlike the Wii U, the Switch doesn’t present itself as just a gimmick. There’s often an element of casual gamer associated with gaming on a hand-held or other mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, but the Switch takes this up a notch, or two.
This is easily the most brilliant gaming experience when considering moving between console and mobile modes. What made the experience truly unique was the ability to just pull the main unit from the dock and continue as if nothing major had changed – the only thing being the smaller screen. You can choose to continue using the controller in the Joy-Con Grip or slide them to the sides of the main unit. Both the Xbox One and PS4 has some variation of this, but nothing as concrete and effortless. Apart from the smaller screen, the experience doesn’t change during the ‘switch’.
Let’s Get Serious
I don’t want to get into the argument over specifications, upscaling, CPU chip, onboard memory, etc, so I’ll try to give you the straight and narrow. As a console, the Switch works great. It may be down on power, and there may still be a debate of upscaling of the resolution, but it works. I can’t comment too much on the resolution as I only had three choices of games to judge on. Zelda looked brilliant at times and above average on other occasions. No complaints here.
I wouldn’t go as far as to call it tablet-like, or tablet mode. In face, I would avoid using those comparisons at all costs right now if I were Nintendo. As an interchangeable device, I feel it draws more upon console and hand-held modes – the latter which could then double as single or two player modes and choice of controller modes to boot. Calling it a tablet, in my mind, means you’re able to use it as a conventional tablet, which you can’t. You aren’t able to browse anything else but the Nintendo news feed, and there are no options for apps other then gaming. This is a gaming device through and through. And this fact raised feelings of annoyance for me. Yes, there may be an update that can and will change this eventually, but for now the Switch is for gaming and gaming only.
On one occasion, I had accidentally unplugged the adapter for the dock, which meant the unit was running on its own power in standby mode. Turning the unit back on meant that only the LCD screen on the device was turned on. Having placed the dock slightly behind my main screen, I was unaware of this, which lead to a few moments of confusion. Perhaps a simple message on the main screen to connect the power source may make things easier, but then the dock would be powered from the device and not the other way around. Which makes me think that there could be room for a battery-powered dock as an option for the Switch going forward.
The above-mentioned are all slightly off-putting but doesn’t add up enough to have any negative feelings about the Switch as yet. That was until I experienced a flat battery. As part of my testing, I had purposefully drained the battery of the unit, to gauge battery life and the ensuing effects. What annoyed me here was that even when I immediately reconnected the device to the power source, it wasn’t able to turn back on, not until there was sufficient charge deemed necessary to continue use. Yes, I do understand some of the logic behind this and reassembles most other battery-powered devices such as smartphones and tablets. The issue I had is in comparison to the Xbox and PS. Yes, I shouldn’t compare these consoles to the Switch, but just imagine sitting down to the game on those devices, only for it to tell you that it needs to charge for 5-10 minutes before you start gaming. Anyone?
The issue of waiting to game while charging continued once the device was powered on. While there was sufficient charge to refill the battery while gaming, it did run a bit hot, at which point the fans on the top of the LCD kicked in. They were pretty loud for such a small unit. But, that said, it’s a lot better than playing while charging on any tablet I’ve ever used.
The Conundrum of Choice
After spending some time with the Nintendo Switch, I’m a lot more confused than when I started. If the company were to tell me right now that they’re bringing in-app and browser capabilities in the future, I’d be easily swayed. If they were to fix some of the glitches above, I’ll also be sold in a heartbeat. But, right now, I don’t have that luxury of foresight. I do, however, have one way to settle this argument. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for my review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for that.