Late to the Party Switch Review: A Great Travel Companion
Nintendo is back once again with hardware that wants to change the way we game. A task that few in this gaming industry attempt. Coming back from a lose Nintendo has shaken the gaming industry with its new, fastest selling console ever. Outselling its previous console in less then a year, but should Nintendos new console be your next purchase?
A gaming console is just the vessel we experience video games on and in the case of Nintendos competitors that experience has not changed for years. As for Nintendo they have always changed the way we interact with games to the point where most of the modern controllers we use today for video games are a summation of Nintendo innovations.
The Hybrid Console
Nintendos new console (if you haven't heard) is a hybrid console bridging the gap between portable gaming system and home console. The Switch might seem like a 6.2 in 720p touchscreen tablet, but connected (or not connected) to each side are controllers aptly named joy-cons looking similar, but much smaller to Nintendos previous wiimote controllers.
These can be removed or attached so that the Switch can “switch” into its other forms. With the controls attached the Switch can be hand held in "handheld mode". Remove the controllers and extend the back kickstand and now you can set up the switch on an airplane tray and play in "kickstand mode". Lastly dock the switch into the included dock and play how you like on your home theater system in "docked mode". The allure of the Switch is that you can play it how you want. It cuts the restrictions and lets it best fit into anybodies lifestyle.
Ergonomics and Hardware
When something tries to have two identities it stretches itself thin to comply.
When something tries to be two things it starts to stretch itself thin and in turn does those two things poorly. In the case of the Nintendo Switch trying to be a portable and home console, it doesnt completely fall flat.
To begin, the switch never feels perfectly comfortable to hold. In handheld mode the flat thin console can put a strain on the wrists and fingers after a long period of playing. The large spacing between button groupings and analog sticks call for grip adjustment or an odd grip style must be introduced to move between groupings. Unlike traditional controllers where the button groupings are placed diagonally to ergonomically allow your thumb to rotate to each button, the switches buttons are placed vertically causing a strain to reach buttons at a distance.
The design decision to space out the button groups and place them in a vertical orientation was made because the joy-cons, once slid off the console, can be used as individual controllers such as in docked or kickstand mode. For people with larger hands or fat fingers the individual joycons can be difficult to use, luckily Nintendo provided straps that slid onto the joycons increasing the size of the controllers which make them nicer to hold. For small to medium size hands the joycons are comfortable enough to use even for a couple of hours.
The advantage of having each switch come with two joycons is that right out of the box one can play multiplayer games with friends. If you invite a friend with another switch you then have 4 controllers or you have two switches that can connect through wifi. The switch was definitely made to be a social console and I for one am glad at how they executed that initiative.
Where I found the switch the most comfortable, and when i mean comfortable I mean one of the most comfortable gaming experiences ever, is when using the two joycons in docked mode. Using the two controllers untethered to anything was so such a freeing experience unlike any other. No more cramped trex position. I found that I would unconsciously swing out the controllers in my hand so that the buttons grouping were diagonal yielding a more traditional gaming experience.
As for the last mode, kickstand mode, the crappy kickstand presented on the switch makes this mode useless on anything other then a flat, hard, level surface and even then the viewing angle is atrocious. So useless that I am not going to talk about it anymore.
More Than Meets The Eye
By trying to be more then one type of gaming experience, the switch finds a happy medium in which it accomplishes some interesting things.
Even though the switch is probably the best dedicated portable gaming console to date the switch is also a very good home console. In docked mode the switch is allowed to power up increasing the resolution of games up to a maximum of 1080p (but most big titles seem to be only running at 960p).
In my opinion docked mode is the best way to play. It is a joy to play Breath of the Wild sprawled out on my couch, joycon in each hand in front of my large HD tv with surround sound vibrating my whole body. This is my preferred way to play as I get the best graphics the switch can output, the best sound I can get, and is the most comfortable way to play. The best part of the Switch is that when its time to go I can simple undock the switch and within a second the game switches from the tv to switch display.
The switch does this with grace only needing a second or two to switch. The most impressive part is not that it switches so fast but that it switches at all. This became most noticeable to me when I was playing breath of the wild on my tv and I could see the rolling landscape of Hyrule, mountains that seem miles away, and a castle in the distance. A game so vast, epic, and never ending... click... and now its in my hands. I can climb that mountain on a plane. Kill that boss on the subway. It is a dream come true. *wipes tears from eyes*
Docked mode is more then another way to play. The dock adds convenience because when the switch is docked it is also charging the console, and when the joycons are docked everything is charging. Additionally when docked the Switch can download updates or games in the background. It is a system that works well and is working even when you don't realize it.
Handheld and Graphics
The same way the switch impressed me with its ability to go from tv to switch and vice versa i also found it equally fascinating how durable the switch felt in handheld mode. When the joycons are attached to the console it is hard to tell that they are separate pieces. After using the switch for months I can say that it has held up very nicely and still feels as robust in hand.
I have appreciated the Switch while traveling. It has been a great companion allowing me to play on long international flights or while riding the train. I have heard stories of strangers battling each other in Mario kart or offering to play a multiplayer game in kickstand mode. These are the magical moments Nintendo envisioned for the switch. I have yet to experience this, but if you ever see me maybe we can have a quick match in splatoon.
The screen on the switch is sharp having decently high pixel density. Viewing angle is good with only slight color shifts at extremes. The screen isn't laminated which does produce a refractions at acute angles. The contrast on the switch screen is quite low but by no means bad. The colors are good and the screen in total seemed like an average budget tablet screen.
Im a big believer that graphics power is not everything that defines a video game console nor a video game. To be real the switch seems to be maxing out on power with its launch titles. Dont expect anything much better in quality throughout its life. That said the graphics are impressive for the size of the device.
The console does use some pretty impressive technologies such as variable frame rate and dynamic resolution which helps keep performance up. This technology is heavily used in the DOOM title, a game that many graphics nerds thought would never be able to run on the relatively weak switch.
Battery life is ok on the switch. You can expect 3 hours on triple A titles and 3 to 6 on arcade titles. This is not bad but wont get you through an international flight so make sure you have a charger on hand. I suggest buying a separate usb c cable that you can use with your usb wall charger such as this amazon basics cable and charger.
The controllers last a long time and when fully charged wont even get down to 3/4 power even after hours of playing. If you remember to dock them every once in a while you wont have any issues.
Where the controllers do suffer is range. The controllers lose connection after a couple of meters or even less if there are objects obstructing the switch. You will need to keep this in mind when deciding where to place the dock in your home.
The switch is a culmination of Nintendos attempts to try to get online right. Integrated with the switch is an online store, news tab, and a friends system.
The integrated online store is a simple take that gets the job done. One can buy games, download demos, or re-download games. Because of the limited 32 gigs of onboard storage you will need to buy a memory card if you aare going to be using the convenient online store exclusively. Sandisk has you covered with a 200 gig micro sd card for a reasonable price.
In addition Nintendo added a news section, a great way to get information on new DLC, upcoming games, Switch features and software updates, or even watch an e3 Nintendo direct all from your switch.
The online play works well enough and I only had a few hiccups. Nintendo will be charging for online play at the end of the year but at $20 a year this almost seems like im stealing. In addition to online play Nintendo will backup your saves. Where the online functionality falls flat is with the friend codes. Nintendo integrated some features to allow finding friends from people you recently played with but at the heart of adding friends are these long impossible to remember codes. The friend code system is not an elegant design and I wish Nintendo would have changed this with its switch. Once you add friends you can see what they are playing and for how long and when they are online.
Missing from the list of online features is some sort of achievement system. I had found this to be a very social feature for gamers who enjoy to compete as well as adding substance to games after they have been completed. Virtual console doesnt seem to be coming to Switch as Nintendo has not mentioned it since the release of the console.
What Nintendo has left out, and for no apparent reason, is an integrated voice chat system for online games. They did not even build in a microphone. When it comes to local multiplayer Nintendo hit it out of the park, but when it comes to online multiplayer they seem to have stumbled in through the door.
Game lineup is growing on the switch with some quality indie and first party titles. There is still a hole, yet ever shrinking, for good third party titles, but with the rate the switch sold I have no doubt that devs are currently working on games for the Switch. In the mean time Nintendo has some strong first party titles lined up all the way into 2019 and potential for wii u ports to come over to the switch.
The joycons are packed with technology such as motion controllers, hd rumble, I.R. sensor, and more, so we expect some interesting games to come out incorporating these technologies or even the portable nature of the system. If the switch has anything its potential for some amazing games.
The switch is a wonderful console and a breath of fresh air from the stale consoles that other competitors are releasing. This is the console many of us have been waiting for, a portable home console hybrid with strong multiplayer features and all the first party titles from Nintendo that we love. I love the switch and cant wait to experience more games on this wonderful device.