It’s difficult to really quantify the Switch’s strong points, if only because it has a lot of different things going on at once. Because of this, the following review may be a little unconventional, but really we are dealing with quite an unconventional piece of hardware. Also the lateness of this review has nothing to do with the fact I did not receive an early review console, and instead that I went to great lengths using my Switch in as many situations as I could, with as many impartial parties as I could find to truly explore NINTENDO’S VISION for the console. When it was unveiled, we saw a portable ‘party’ console – so how does it measure up now that we’ve had our hands on it for a while?
Let’s start immediately with what arguably could be considered one of the Switch’s current weak points – the software library. The initial ‘splash release’ of games may be weighed down a considerable amount by the brilliant Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but that doesn’t entirely cover the fact that it is a little sparse. One could argue that this is countered at large with Nintendo’s current release strategy, showing a promising release of games in coming weeks/months, with major titles such as Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2 and even Arms (a personal favourite I am dying to get my extendable hands on).
Springs n’ thing: A simple concept makes for a wicked good time.
A recurring fear for Nintendo console owners at this stage is that the software library will lack first party support beyond the usual stable of Nintendo IPs, but it’s also difficult to argue that a Nintendo console can’t be carried by its own first party releases. It is also worth noting that as of late both the Wii and the Wii U carried with them a terrible development burden in the form of their aggressively prominent ‘gimmicks’ and lack of general grunt. I could talk for hours about the looming shadow of past Nintendo gimmicks, and how they would correlate to the greatest response of ‘can’t be fucked’ from developers, but that is more suitable for another article perhaps. Thankfully the Switch sidesteps this for the most part, being that the console – on paper – does not incorporate any unrealistic feature debt on a third party considering Switch support, beyond the usual (and now Nintendo staple) lack of aggressive graphic processing power.
Speaking of graphical grunt, let’s be honest – the Switch is not packing a hell of a bulge in those shorts (at least not by today’s standards). In a world of 4k resolutions and framerates that cause a human’s eyeballs to blister and melt away like you have opened the Ark of the Covenant, the Switch is happy to assert itself in the midrange, offering a tasteful 1080p 60fps where appropriate. This of course lends well to the console operating as a handheld device, as the lower resolution will hardly be noticeable on the smaller screen. I have always been of the opinion that a developer who knows their limits can work to create magic with lesser hardware – and past examples of Nintendo releases have shown that the very best looking games are quite often ones developed by Nintendo themselves, if only because they have the keys to the kingdom when it comes to developing for their own hardware.
Herein lies the regular concern for a Nintendo owner – will the Switch truly be a turning point for third party developers? Will Nintendo offer more information than ever before to ensure that releases on their hardware look the best they can? So far the offerings that have been shown have been more than adequate, being downright gorgeous in most places. There is a minute amount of graphical slowdown in Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but again it is of such a minor concern it’s borderline negligible. The bottom line is that the console is more than competent at producing pleasing visuals with little issue, which is a nice change from the less than stellar output from a system such as the Wii.
Get fabulous or get out.
What of the system’s portability? Press releases have toted around a five-hour battery life in general, with a more in-depth experience like Zelda: Breath of the Wild running closer to three hours. My own experience is well told, as no sooner than 24 hours after I had picked up my Nintendo Switch I was tasked with flying from one end of Australia to the other, with stops along the way. This touted an opportunity for me to thoroughly wring out the portable power of the device as I sat idly in many an Australian airport. Throughout flights, and waiting at boarding gates, even beyond cab rides and hotel rooms, my Switch endured. I played it quite prolifically, and only stopped to charge when it was the most convenient, and the console behaved exceptionally well. I actually found myself seeking more and more places to play it, both because Zelda was a heap of fun, but also to really test just how much play time I could cram into an average day as a responsible adult male. I eventually felt like I was pulling a Dr. Seuss:
I quite enjoy my Nintendo Switch,
That wholesome scratch to gaming itch.
I can play it here or there,
I can play it – anywhere!
Can I play it on a Train?
Or can I play it on a Plane?
It might not be in airplane mode…
But that’s because I did not know.
Now I play it on a bus!
Plain and simple, zero fuss!
Why not play it while I eat?
Or gaming in my taxi seat?
I can game in every state!
With my compact gaming mate.
My Nintendo Switch is quite the hit.
Now I’ll play and take a shit.
At one point, I did employ the use of my battery bank to squeeze out a scant extra moment of gameplay – but I never felt truly at risk of staring into a dead screen. Even beyond these moments of involved gaming – the minor minutes I had to plug it into an errant socket yielded impressive charging results. The consumption of a Premium Chicken Subway Wrap saw me zip up from a lame 12% battery power, to a far more healthy 40%. And I am not a slow eater!
But what of comfort, you might ask? This was my main concern when faced with the concept of long periods playing the device, and I am pleased to say that the findings were very positive. I played extensively in all configurations during my time away, with both the Joycons docked to the tablet itself, with them removed and being held in either hand freely, as well as utilising the JoyCon charging grip to transform the loose controllers into something more traditional. I found varying degrees of comfort in all situations, depending on my posture and the surfaces available, and any discomfort would absolutely be derived from my lack of familiarity using the devices, as a basic shuffle would relieve any negative grip feelings. Surprisingly, one of my favourite ‘Playing on a Plane’ stances was sitting with the tray table deployed, Switch Tablet freestanding on its deployed kickstand, and my arms crossed with a Joycon in each. I took up little room, was comfortable, and gaming my arse off. Good times. Similarly, I never once got an indication of a JoyCon’s battery running low, so they too have a generous lifespan.
Seriously though, how good does Arms look?
How about the nature of the console being a ‘pick up and play’ device, to be enjoyed on rooftops with hipster strangers? Well I don’t have many hipsters on hand, but I did manage to convince a fair number of family members, acquaintances and friends to join my experiment. I was well armed with what I needed – mostly the Switch itself, and a copy of the 1, 2 Switch!, a collection of microgames to serve as the launching platform. My findings were all quite positive, with many approached individuals being intrigued enough to pretend to shoot their mates, or count some balls. Even the scroogiest ‘anti-gamers’ eventually found their curiosity winning them over to my cause. There was even an incident involving a younger family member laughing to the point of pants-wetting over the 1, 2 Switch! game ‘Runway’. So far, so good.
The real test came when I was invited to speak about the Switch on our local radio station. I was asked to take part in a morning tech segment to talk about the newly released console, serving as a local ‘Tech Expert’ thanks to my obvious credentials as a well respected gaming journalist (also because my Facebook profile picture still showed me at the Switch Conference from January). So I was posed with a challenge. The deciding factor would be whether I could convince two radio hosts to play the console as part of a short segment, live on air, as a demonstration of how ‘Pick up and Play’ the console was.
And so the conclusive evidence was found – the Switch was a success as a medium of quickplay shenanigans. I could convince Joe Average to drop what they were doing and shoot their buddies in the street thanks to the promise of “It’s quick”, “It’s easy” and “It’s fun”. The very nature of Nintendo’s vision for the console confirmed – albeit without hipsters.
It all comes together surprisingly well
So in conclusion, I find myself in a weird situation. A fairly generic benchmark that one could apply to a system – and particularly nowadays – would be how ‘next-gen’ it feels, using metrics like graphics, power and online accessibility to govern how much of a success it is. Because these items don’t appear to be the Switch’s focus, I instead chose to measure it based on the intention of the console, and I feel like it has passed with flying colours. The Switch is this odd hybrid of home entertainment system and portable gameplay experience, designed to be shared with friends (should you wish) or enjoyed in whatever private palace you deem suitable to game in – be it toilet, train or tram. Its hardware stands up to this, with ample battery life given its modular nature, and nothing is outwardly frustrating unlike recent ‘modern’ Nintendo consoles.
All together, the Switch feels like a very good thing that comes in a small package, though I must admit that its ‘failings’ may frustrate an audience that is used to rushing headlong into a future full of generational leaps and technological advancement. But a simple soul such as myself appreciates the simplicity of something delivering on its promises in every way it intended.
Reviewed on my beloved Nintendo Switch