Nintendo Switch Hands-On
Following on from our jaunt to the Nintendo event a few weeks back, check out our preview article to see what we got up to, we were lucky enough to get our grubby hands on a Nintendo Switch along with a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (herein known as Zelda: BOTW) a little under a week ago and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to use the hell out of the thing to bring you our impressions before it launches.
If you were one of those people who simply didn’t ‘get’ what Nintendo were aiming for with the Switch, you likely had some or all of the following questions swimming around your head; is it just a little tablet? Is it a 3DS replacement? Does it compete with other consoles for that precious living room space? Firstly let’s take a look at what you get for your £279.99, later we will try to answer some of these questions...
The standard package contains the following items; Switch tablet, docking station which has a mains input, a USB3 port and a HDMI out, two Joy-Cons, two Joy-Con straps, a HDMI cable and a Joy-Con grip. It’s fairly basic and without a game, or even a game demo (servers not turned on at time of writing) but naturally for a new console launch there are a ton of peripherals which you can buy. A lot has been said about the cost of additional items for the Nintendo Switch such as a Joy-Con grip that charges your Joy-Con as the standard one which is included in the box doesn’t charge. For that you need to have the Joy-Cons attached to the Switch tablet and plugged into charge on the docking station, at a cost to to you of around £25-30. Additional Joy-Cons clock in at around £70 and the likely very popular Pro Pad (a proper solid pad which isn’t too dissimilar to the xbox pad) comes in at the £65 mark. These things aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but you may ask whether there is enough in the box itself so you don’t need to spend big on launch day, since the actual console itself and the associated launch games aren’t exactly cheap to start with. Well, the answer is yes, it’s not an all-singing all-dancing tablet out of the box but what you get is enough to get you going once you’ve bought a game to play.
The build quality of the tablet, the dock and the Joy-Cons is of a very high quality, weighty, solid and perfectly designed to all snap together into place. Whilst they could easily have felt tacky or lightweight, Nintendo have done a really nice job of making everything feel like it’s well made and worth that expensive price tag. The Joy-Cons have a really satisfying click when placed either on the console itself or into the Joy-Con grip, and everything fits perfectly, right down to the millimetre. It really is some lovely engineering. The single negative comment about the build quality is that the kickstand feels tacked on and doesn’t fit with the build quality of everything else in the package. In hand it feels awkward to release, thin, flimsy and is absolutely bound to be the thing that breaks the most consistently on these devices. It also has a peculiar click into place which veers dangerously towards sounding like you snapped it off rather than simply slotted it in. As flimsy as the little stand is, it does very neatly hide the MicroSD sim slot which is tucked underneath, allowing you to expand the (some would say) ‘thrifty’ internal storage of the Switch: 32GB. That’s not a great deal of storage when you consider you can buy a 32GB USB stick for under £10, your average console will have at least 500GB to use and to make matters worse Zelda: BOTW will take up a fair chunk of this storage space if bought digitally, as that clocks in at 13.4GB.
Previous similar efforts using android technology like the Wikipad or the Nvidia Shield have seen lacklustre results. Android games generally weren’t optimised enough for the poor processing power (and usually lack of RAM) to cope with the visual demands of the titles and the games simply were not built for pads. In the case of the Wikipad you had to use a really awkward button mapping configurator and in a lot of cases make do with suboptimal controls. Nintendo, though, have a closed market and make the majority of the titles themselves, something they are often criticised for but which here makes perfect sense. With their mastery of the handheld market, the pioneers of movement-based controllers and the raft of colourful, fun but not graphically intensive game titles available to them, the viability of the Nintendo Switch as a platform starts to fall into place.
The issue for the likes of the Wikipad is that they were attempting to tap into the existing Android mobile market, with its already massive library of games and trying to tempt developers into adapting them to their new joypad technology. There’s not a great deal in it for said developers as it’s the mass of Android devices out in the wild that makes developing for that platform cost- effective. As a result it ended up being half-baked with the user required to install and fiddle with a joypad mapping tool for every single game. To be fair, the makers created templates and shared them with the community, much like the Steam pad does today, but once all was said and done the effort on the part of the user was never really rewarded. This is where the Nintendo Switch is fundamentally different and whilst in the past Nintendo have been roundly criticised for not having a mountain of third-party games, their own in-house titles are so good and so popular they don’t need to convince third parties to adapt their games for the Switch like previous failed tablet/pad crossover attempts had to. Case in point and launching with the Switch is Zelda: BOTW. We can’t say much about Zelda: BOTW right now as the embargo will not lift on that title until tomorrow but suffice to say, it’s an incredible achievement for a handheld title.
Looking at the core uses of the console, it’s absolutely not a competitor to either standard consoles like the PS4 or a direct replacement for your favourite handheld. It’s actually something completely different and a fantastic gaming evolution which in hindsight could really only be attempted by a company like Nintendo. After spending time with the Nintendo Switch in hand, it’s clear to us how successful this device could be. Having the ability to play Zelda: BOTW for a few hours on your nice 52” lounge TV only to be reminded that you need to go and visit your mother for the afternoon is no longer a nail in your ‘game time’ coffin - simply pick up the Switch and take it with you. As soon as your mother gets lost in her own little world of Ancestry family trees, turn Zelda: BOTW back on and pick up exactly where you left off. Aside from the obvious smaller screen, there isn’t a big dip in picture quality either so there aren’t any big trade-offs which we’ve endured over the years with mobile gaming. The games look great in handheld mode with vivid colours and solid audio. Comparing the power of the Nintendo Switch to something like the PS4 is a red herring and borderline silly. This is a different beast, aimed to give you high quality with the flexibility to leave said lounge and continue your experience. We would defy anyone to play Zelda: BOTW for five hours in both docked and then mobile mode (which lasts roughly just short of 2.5hrs running the game Zelda: BOTW on full brightness) and not be blown away by what this tiny handheld tablet is capable of. Needless to say over the countless hours we’ve been using the Nintendo Switch, for want of a better phrase, it clicked and as a result we can now confidently say that any lingering skepticism has dissolved away and we now absolutely get it. Lessons appear to have been learnt from the lacklustre Wii U and the Switch seems to be the evolution of the second screen experience.
Whilst we have indeed fallen in love with the Nintendo Switch over the last week and are excited to see what the rest of the year holds games-wise it’s not without its problems for this launch. First and foremost, the elephant in the room is arguably games. This launch isn’t one which you would call particularly strong when it comes to titles, yes there is one absolute must have title day one - Zelda: BOTW - and yes it’s a bit special. But if you aren’t a Zelda: BOTW fan, or you simply don’t like the genre then there isn’t a whole bunch of things you can be doing with your Switch while you wait for new releases. Working alongside Zelda: BOTW is a handful of indie games such as Snipperclips, the Nintendo Joy-Con showcase 1-2 Switch, Just Dance and a smattering of other titles which have been out for some time on other consoles for example. Skylanders Imaginators. Some of these titles would seem to benefit hugely from the Switch’s ability to be taken on the go, as indeed Zelda: BOTW does in a massive way, but it’s a difficult sell given the price of these launch games, most clocking in around the £50 mark. As a result, users are faced with a premium for older titles if they want the ability to play them on the go, it’s a tough sell. It’s a bit odd also that the launch lineup seems to be changing week to week.
To add to the issues of cost of entry, lack of launch titles and the high cost of the titles that are going to be available, the Nintendo Switch launch seems a bit messy overall. Trying to win over the ‘why should I buy this tablet instead of using my existing tablet’ crowd isn’t going to go well on day one as there is no video player and no web browser installed. In addition, trying to convince the Wii U & 3DS owners to join the party and be early adopters is going to be tough as there is no Miiverse, no StreetPass, these will not be coming to the Switch and no virtual console at launch. There is also a bit of a short wait for most countries (some longer than others) to receive the software to allow for online play (which will be chargeable, coming this Autumn). So for launch it feels light, whether it’s too light for you will likely depend hugely on your general love of Nintendo and/or Zelda: BOTW but it’s not outrageous to say that for a new console launch, it feels a bit weird. We expect the online servers and associated services to be rolled out during the retail launch so will be putting together a deep dive article into what the Switch has to offer shortly after launch: check back in with us in a week or two.
Running the risk of being negative further we’ve encountered a number of hardware issues, which range from annoyances through to making games unplayable for short periods of time. We will start with the annoyances. There is seemingly an issue when the Switch is docked and charging that it intermittently seems to send a signal to the TV (or HDMI switch if you have on) which briefly changes the HDMI signal. If watching TV or playing on another console this results in a brief black screen. For someone who has an Xbox, a PS4 and a Steam link hooked into a digital auto switching HDMI switch, if you try using one of those with the Switch docked, off, and simply charging, then get ready for consistent interruptions in play.
Far worse however are the Joy-Con connectivity issues we encountered intermittently through our many hours of use. Extended plays of Zelda: BOTW highlighted that the left Joy-Con can sometimes lag out causing issues while playing. This primarily happened when held with the Joy-Con grip and oddly then worked immediately when we took the Joy-Con out, even slightly. On another occasion the left Joy-Con just simply wouldn’t register full stop, even though fully charged, and required everything to be rebooted. As well as this we’ve also encountered an issue where the right Joy-Con wouldn’t register when attached to the console in handheld mode. It worked fine when not attached but as soon as it was clipped in, there was no response. To get over this a full de-sync and resync was required from the controller settings menu. Not a massive issue but still, these things shouldn't happen and that’s ten minutes of precious Zelda: BOTW time wasted. We really hope that these fundamental Joy-Con connectivity issues can be rectified with some software updates as if not, they will cause a lot of pain for Nintendo. At this time we are unable to comment on whether any connectivity issues occur with the Pro pad but we should be getting one on launch so will report back!
Any initial scepticism was blown away once the Switch was introduced into real life scenarios. The ability to play such a wonderful game as Zelda: BOTW on the big TV, then (usually) without much fuss pick it up and continue playing handheld while the TV is used for something else is simply a delight. At first it was difficult to see where Nintendo was coming from with the Switch but it’s safe to say that we are now fully onboard. This launch is underwhelming, bordering on peculiar with a wealth of features missing, not to mention the lack of any real launch titles other than Zelda: BOTW, and that price point is really too high, but having played on the unit for just under a week now in both TV and portable mode, we believe that the Nintendo Switch will be the must have gadget come Christmas. Add Mario, Splatoon, some Lego titles and possibly bring that starting price down a little, and then we think the Nintendo Switch will most definitely be a smash hit.