Nintendo has had some huge highs and some pretty deep lows over the course of their history in videogames. Yet after every low they seem to come back stronger and push the envelope of gaming. Not only do they push that envelope but they move it in a direction they want to go, even when the generous portion of us gamers scratch our head in disbelief. Good examples of that head scratching were the announcement of the DS and the Wii yet look how successful those platforms became!
The Nintendo Switch is something different. There seemed to be little head scratching from not just fanboys but the general public overall. The hype for the Switch was and still is palatable and for good reason. It does what it does it well...very well actually!
The Switch is still hard to find and the folks at my local EB Games just shrugged their shoulders each time I asked. I would swear Nintendo is keeping production short just like they did on the NES classic to help drive demand but I also sympathize with the fact that selling 2.74 million consoles in one month can drain ones supply pretty quickly. Like my recent purchase of the NES classic, I used www.nowinstock.net to notify me that they were in stock on Amazon and I jumped on it as fast as I could. 2 days later I had a lovely little package waiting for me!
Here is what un-boxing this surprisingly little piece of hardware looks like.
Much like my surprise at how small the NES Classic was, the Switch surprised me as well with its smaller than expected stature. I should have read the spec's a little more closely and then I wouldn't have been taken aback, but from the commercials I expected a screen around 8" across.
Here is a picture that compares the Switch to an old Blackberry Playbook and the NES Classic. It's the first useful thing that Playbook has done in years!
Another point to keep in mind is that the Switch charges at the bottom. That makes perfect sense as it charges when it sits in the dock. However, that means that unless you get a third party stand you can't charge the Switch and play it without it either sitting on your lap or with the Joy-Con's attached.
Before I go singing the praises of this "console" I need to bring up the total cost of this thing. Like the launch of its rivals, the Xbox One and PS4, the Switch does not have any pack in games. I just assumed that the purpose built 1-2 Switch would have been the pack in and really it should have been. It is not worth the price they want for it but I understand why they did it. Wii Sports was the pack-in for the Wii and, lets be honest here, not too many of those Wii owners bought any other games. In any case, you need to pony up up for at least one game and likely that's going to be Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or the recently released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition.
Let's go with $580 CDN for the price of the console and one game. What about an extra controller? Well, I went with the Joy Con's as you can split them apart into two separate controllers and with four of us in the house of soup I thought that would be the more prudent decision. Those two little suckers cost me $100 CDN which is about the same price as the Pro Controller. However what I didn't realize going in is that the Charging Grip that allows you to attach the Joy Cons to a handheld controller is another $40. WTF?!?? All in with the Switch, Legend of Zelda, extra Joy Cons and the base I am at $720 CDN! My Xbox One on launch day was $625 with an extra controller and game. To get into a Switch is definitely not the low cost console option like the original Wii was.
The question then becomes, "Is it worth the money?" The quick answer to that is "Yes" with a huge caveat. That caveat comes with a question of its own: "How much do you like Zelda?" If you can't stand the franchise stay away from the Switch for now. However, if it you like it a little or perhaps have just an understanding of what the Zelda franchise means to Nintendo and its fans, The Breath of the Wild is a game you need to play. We have had the Switch in our house for almost a month and it took me that long to play with it. Why? Well past setting it up, my daughter was on it almost every waking moment. When my daughter wasn't playing, Mrs-Soup was. When neither of them were playing it was because we all were asleep or out of the house somewhere.
Three and a half weeks later and I finally got a chance to play using the dock feature with my theater screen in the basement. At first I was happily little confused as compared to the cluttered options on its rivals, the Switch interface is clean and simple. This console, at the moment, only has one thing in mind...games. The interface and the games are as clear and as impressive as the PS4 or the Xbox One. I was half expecting the 480p quality of the Wii when it booted up but the Switch is gorgeous. It outputs full 1080p @ 60fps to your TV but limits the off doc resolution to the screens 1280 x 720. Still on a screen this size you don't and won't notice the difference.
The Joy Con Controller, once assembled, is comfortable but falls, for me, below the upper bar of quality held by Microsoft's Xbox controller and slightly above a PlayStation one. In all fairness, my dislike for the Playstation controllers overall is known mainly as I suffer more hand pain with those than any other controller but in this case I was testing whether it felt like I could twist it. How much give does it have or feel like it has? Perhaps needless to say, once assembled, the new controller is miles above the Wii and Wii-U versions. The thumsticks are a little loose and squishy for my tastes and the non-D-Pad D-Pad was odd the first time I tried using it. However, it is like that for a reason as when the Joy-Con's separate and split between two people those directional arrows mimic the A, B, X, Y buttons. The '+' and '-' symbols are also the power buttons for each controller. When attached like above you do have to turn them on separately. Not a huge issue but for $40 for the Charging Grip you would think by turning one on it would turn the other on as well.
Both my daughter and my wife have used the Switch off the dock the most but as the screen is a bit on the small side they tend to sit quite close to be able to see clearly. That commercial where you see the Switch being used on an airplane pull down tray is about as far away as you really want to get. I have witnessed both of them using all three configurations of control schemes.
TV Mode- The Joy-Con's are attached to their base and they are playing on the big screen. This is the preferred way for all of us to play at least for Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Handheld Mode- Joy-Con's attached to the side of the Switch screen. It becomes a really big 2DS and while smaller and lighter than the Wii-U's touchscreen it still felt heavy to hold for them and they were constantly looking down. Both complained their neck hurt after a while. It is too heavy to hold up in front of them for any length of time. It is only around lb (400g) with the Joy-Con's attached but even that weight can feel heavy after a while.
Tabletop Mode- the Joy-Con's are separated with one in each hand. This is a pain in the ass and quickly they were returned back to the grip as it was too difficult to play like this. You could probably learn how to but why? The Switch's kickstand sets the angle of the console for good viewing and it was comfortable to play so long as I was no more than 3-4 feet away.
The touchscreen is responsive and I am glad there is no stylus needed as I learned the hard way on the DS that those little plastic tips can still scratch the ever loving shit out of the screen. As it stands right now there is no significant use I found for the touchscreen, other than tapping my way through menus before I had the controller in my hand, but maybe in the future.
The dock that charges the Switch and outputs via HDMi to the TV has a three USB ports available (one on the back, two on the sides). Perhaps more controllers can use these in the future or maybe a USB stick to play movies from when docked. I am not sure but I am sure Nintendo has something in mind. There is also a microSD card slot tucked under the kickstand to bolster the storage capacity.
The biggest issue I had with the dock is that it sits ON something and not IN. Every other device I own sits in a cabinet as the disk loads from the front and it powers on from the front. The Switch, due to it needing to be able to be pulled out requires that it sits on top. For some this may be an issue, for me it was. I didn't really give it any thought before buying but as I went to install it downstairs I quickly realized I will be unable to put it in the cabinet. Luckily I had a hole in the wall routing my center channel cable so I managed to squeeze the power cable and HDMI cable in there too. It took the better part of 15 minutes with drywall dust all over my hands and under my fingernails but that is a small price to pay for not having the cables go down the front.
I have read that the dock can scratch the screen and I can see that as one tends to insert and remove the Switch itself at a bit of an angle. I will be installing a screen protector here shortly which will hopefully help. The theme of this review seems to be how my expectations were surpassed or left short. In this case it is very far short. I expected the dock to have something fuzzy on the top and sides to help protect the screen and keep the unit tight. I was wrong and it is just straight up plastic. There are little bars inside the dock to help guide it but they are rubbing the screen each and every time you insert or remove the Switch itself. Booooo Nintendo! Booooooo!
I did manage to pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and give it a try. On the small screen MK8 looked great but I found it hard to see. I went to the doctor and yeah I need glasses but still everything is small and cramped. The game looked great on the big screen downstairs. I was more interested, however, in connecting the multiplayer. I don't have any friends on there to share friend codes with but unlike my experience with the original Wii, the Switch was super easy to hook up into online games. It was seamless much the same way as Xbox and Playstation are which was great.
The Switch does not do everything right but it is attempting to be both a home console and a portable game device. You know the adage..."Jack of all trades. Master of none" but I can tell you that the Switch can do both very well without a hitch. I was convinced the Switch could spell the death of Nintendo own DS devices and after playing it I will say it has that ability but there is something to be said for a lid. The new 2DS that Nintendo announced (yay no headache inducing 3dD!) almost proves that point to a tee. If there was someway to introduce a lid onto the Switch that would be it for the DS.
So all in all the Switch is a great little device and feels like a direct evolution from the intention of the WiiU. Nintendo took the idea of playing the game anywhere and uncoupled the unwieldy integrated tablet and controller to make the worlds first truly portable home console. I would love to tell you to wait a few months if you can for the price to go down but this is Nintendo and, unlike the WiiU, the Switch is selling like hotcakes so its price and the price of its accessories will not go down for likely quite a long time. It really is disappointing that the required accessories cost so much especially since the competitions controllers are less than half the price. That being said, there is a lot of promise here and I can't wait to see what Nintendo comes up with next! (just let's not go back to the NintenDogs-esque shovelware craze of the Wii)