Nintendo has lofty ambitions to completely change the way we all play video games on console – the Nintendo Switch is the manifestation of that ambition and it makes a very strong case for it.
The Switch is a completely new concept, or rather a brand new system that combines two existing ideas – home and mobile gaming – into one package.
The set-up revolves around a portable screen and the modular Joy Con controllers. When docked, the console works with your TV just like a PlayStation or Xbox, but lift the screen from the dock and take it with you and you can play the same games while on the move.
As an idea, it sounded exciting, in reality it’s a wonderful cord-cutter that frees you up as a gamer.
The issue is that this, right now, comes at a price – one aspect of which is the literal price of the Switch, it’s £279 and that is more than feels comfortable for a dedicated gaming device at this standard.
The second issue is the current lack of games for the Switch and the lack of bundles for launch. Beyond the new Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, and 1-2 Switch the fun and versatile collection of mini-games, there isn’t yet much worth investing in.
So, waiting before you buy the Switch may not be a bad idea, but buying it full stop is something everyone should consider.
Nintendo Switch: The Set-up
Unboxing the Switch is a unique experience for a new games console, because though you enter it with a hint of trepidation – it’s a new system configuration after all – it is impressively straightforward.
There’s minimal cables for one, but also you can power up and do the initial system settings from the console screen. Then you can just plug in the dock and drop in the screen, and the transfer to your TV is near instant.
The first time you put the Switch’s name to the test and make this jump during a game is truly impressive – the speed at which gameplay switches from one display to the other and the seamless nature of it is truly joyful to witness – it’s exciting in itself.
It also quickly becomes a staple to how you play, we found ourselves lifting the console out of the dock to take into the kitchen and play while cooking or waiting for the kettle to boil – not every time, but if it wasn’t the most opportune moment to completely step away it’s great that you actually don’t have to.
The Joy Con controllers are slightly less compelling – yes, they are great pieces of design with plenty of excellent features, and their sheer flexibility place them above almost anything else, but they are not without issue.
In the handheld play mode, when the Joy Con are attached to either side of the display, they and the entire system is arguably at its portable best.
However, in the Joy Con Grip – the skeleton of a controller that turns the two pieces into something more closely resembling a ‘traditional’ video games controller – things don’t feel right.
By nature, the Joy Con are compact, each part is designed to be both half a controller for solo play and a controller each for multiplayer. This means clustering buttons together, which is fine, but when the Grip places a large empty space in the middle, the buttons suddenly feel a little trapped under your fingers. It’s not comfortable to use.
This is perhaps why Nintendo has a Pro controller option too as an alternative, otherwise the home TV mode would suffer otherwise.
Playing the Nintendo Switch
At the heart of living with the Switch is being able to make the decision to put the console in your bag and take it with you should you choose to do so without any compromise.
Though we would highly recommend investing in a good carry case – the Switch doesn’t come with one but obviously needs protecting if it’s going in your bag – the portability is excellent. It’s very comfortable to use on trains and planes, with and without a table in front of you to rest on and make use of the handy kickstand.
The display size is good too – big enough to be able to sit slightly back and still play in mobile and be comfortable without weighing down your bag in the first place.
The 6.2-inch LCD display also runs at 720p, so you get a crisp image to work with too.
The main caveat around the screen is that you can’t use the stand and charge the Switch at the same time as the charging point is on the bottom of the screen.
Not that charging will ever be too much of an issue when you’re out, because we found the Switch to be very reliable at holding its battery life. The device charges when in the dock too, but when left off for around two days at one point we returned to find that in sleep mode the Switch had only dropped 6% of battery.
As for the Switch software, anyone familiar with Nintendo will find it easy to use, and indeed the interface is straightforward and logical to navigate.
It’s simple and minimal in truth, enabling you to focus on playing and not get bogged down by other aspects of the system.
Players can register multiple users who can each have games on the go should you have a “family” device and take it in turns to pass time on the commute with it and, again, the Switch lives up to its name with the ease in which you can jump between profiles and, crucially, game saves.
What the Switch experience does to the player most interestingly, perhaps, is to change your gaming habits. Suddenly you don’t need to rush home to get that hour of play in, you can pass the commute with it instead. That frees up other time you didn’t realise you had or previously lost down the console rabbit hole.
The Switch lets you be productive and a relentless gamer at the same time, and that is quite something.
Nintendo Switch: The games
So, we come to the greatest debate about the Switch’s current place in the gaming world and whether a lack of games holds it back.
There is no hiding from the fact that, currently, there are perhaps only two Switch games you have to play – Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch.
This is a huge issue for such a big console release – foot traffic to new consoles is driven by more than just the experience, which we know the Switch has knocked out of the park.
But the Switch, right now, doesn’t have the range of games to match the range of ways you can use it, which is an unusual problem but a very potent one.
This conversation, if all goes well, will be void by the end of the year when Mario has arrived along with plenty more third-party games, but right now parting with £280 for a very linear gaming experience choice-wise is a red flag.
Once they do arrive, though, there is no reason the Switch won’t bring new life to almost anything old and new brought to the platform, and so you must make the decision whether or not to take the jump now or wait.
Should you buy the Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch has the potential to be as much a gaming revolution as the Wii, but with the longevity the Wii could never sustain.
That system turned entire families who’d never been near a console into obsessives.
The Switch has the potential to turn casual gamers into the hardcore players they’ve probably always wanted to be but never had the time. That’s what this console gives you – time to play when it works best for you.
It cuts the cord on how tethered and rigid the joy you got from gaming was – it’s no longer something you have to plan, it is the poster child for infectious spontaneity and that is a powerful force.
But the word potential is still the most important one and it reiterates that the Switch has achieved nothing yet, and is still a gaming catalogue away from being a success – but crucially if it does arrive that success could be limitless.