Nintendo Switch – What is it?
In the unlikely event that you don’t already know, the Switch is Nintendo’s pioneering hybrid console, giving you the best of the home and handheld console worlds in one convenient package. It’s the first gaming system through which you can start playing a game on the big screen in your lounge, then grab the console, slot in the controllers and continue playing on the bus or train – or anywhere else – until the battery runs out.
This is all thanks to an incredibly clever and versatile design. The console itself is a 6.2-inch tablet that plugs into an HDMI/USB-C dock. The two removable Joy-Con controllers slot into the tablet when you’re on the move, but work through Bluetooth when you’re not. While it can’t match the PS4 or Xbox One for graphics horsepower – let alone the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro – it has enough to run games of a similar calibre, not to mention Nintendo’s own first-party hits.
Nintendo Switch – Design
The Switch itself is a slightly chunky tablet, with thick bezels and a 6.2-inch capacitive touchscreen sporting a 1280 x 720 resolution. It’s more akin to a low-cost phablet rather than a cutting-edge gaming device, yet the construction feels rock-solid and the metal finish very classy. The Switch might be the slimmest, slickest and least obtrusive console ever made.
Only two things really stand out: a hefty vent at the top for cooling purposes, and the kickstand at the rear that enables you to prop up the console for tabletop gaming sessions when you’re out and about. Or, more commonly in my household, banished to the kitchen while someone else is watching TV.
And the latter is one of the few areas where Nintendo has put a foot wrong. The kickstand feels surprisingly weak and flimsy, and allows for only one viewing angle. While I haven’t had the flapping kickstand problems that some have reported whilst using the Switch handheld, I have had the console suddenly fall back a couple of times when, say, an over-excitable Mario Kart 8 Deluxe victor jogs the table. Would a tougher kickstand and a stronger mechanism be too much to ask?
Also, note that you can forget about charging the device while in tabletop mode, since the USB-C charging port is positioned on the bottom of the Switch.
The screen might not have a 1080p resolution, but this is no big deal. 720p is a sensible target for mobile gaming hardware, and at this size you still get an incredibly immersive experience; it puts even the PS Vita to shame. Where the Vita struggled to convince that you were playing proper home-console games, the Switch does it every time – because you are. I’ve spent about 60% of my time playing titles such as Super Mario Odyssey or Dragon Quest Builders handheld, and I’ve never felt that I’m getting an inferior experience.
The Switch’s magic is really in the supplied accessories, particularly the dual Joy-Con controllers. These slide into the rails on the side of the Switch with a satisfying click, sliding out again when you press a button on the rear of each controller.
Just be careful that the digital click you hear when you attach the controllers is followed by a mechanical click to denote that all is properly in place. Otherwise, picking up the Switch by the controllers could see the tablet crashing to the floor.
The dock, meanwhile, is a fairly elegant slab of matte black plastic into which the console easily slips, connecting and charging the tablet through the USB-C port. It has sockets for the USB-C power adapter and HDMI cable, plus three USB 3 ports – two on the side, and one behind the flap at the back.
These USB ports can be used to charge the Switch Pro Controller or a Joy-Con charging accessory, or also for an Ethernet adapter. However, they can’t connect a USB hard drive or USB memory stick, which seems a shame given the limited 32GB onboard storage. If you want extra – and you will – then a microSD memory card is the only way to go.
There have been a number of complaints levelled at the dock, with some users saying that sliding the Switch into it resulted in scratched screens. Owners of some Samsung TVs have found that the Switch makes the TV switch sources over HDMI every time it wakes from sleep to check for updates. The first issue doesn’t seem to be that widespread; and the second has been resolved via firmware updates.
Nintendo Switch – Battery testing
Nintendo claims a battery life of three to six hours depending on the game, the brightness level and whether Wi-Fi is turned on or turned off. Brett tested this for his review last year and found that an hour of play would drain 36% of the battery, while an hour of charging would recharge it by 47% (with brightness set to 100% and Wi-Fi enabled).
My results this year – playing Super Mario Odyssey – aren’t much different, with any variation down to the change of game and the fact that my battery has been getting hammered for a year longer.
100% Brightness and Wi-Fi enabled
-38% after one hour of play
+45% after one hour of charge
50% Brightness and Airplane mode
-32% after one hour of play
+45% after one hour of charge
Realistically – and based on a year’s experience – you’re looking at a little under three hours of battery life for more demanding games and 20 minutes more with the brightness set to a comfortable 70%. That said, I’ve found that some less graphically intensive indie games will give you another half hour or so, so a lot depends on what you’re playing.
If you’re going on a flight, a day trip or a long-distance train journey then that three-hour battery life won’t be enough. Your best bet here is a USB-C battery pack with a high capacity and fast-charging capabilities, such as the Anker PowerCore+ 20100, the smaller PowerCore 10000 or RAVPower 26,800. Do yourself a favour and sling one in your bag before you go.
Nintendo Switch – Joy-Con
Underestimate those Joy-Cons at your peril. Each packs in a lot of tech, with not just an analogue stick, four face buttons and a trigger and bumper per controller, but an accelerometer and a gyroscope, Nintendo’s HD Rumble haptic feedback engine and – with the right Joy-Con – an NFC reader for Amiibo and an infrared depth-tracking sensor.
At launch, this all seemed like overkill. Sure, the Joy-Cons made good motion controllers in 1-2-Switch or Snipperclips, and motion control was good for aiming in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but how many gimmicks did one console need?
Twelve months on, this is no longer the case. We’ve seen those motion controls put to good use in games you’d expect, with Super Mario Odyssey’s advanced hat-chucking controls, plus some games you wouldn’t, such as Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and Doom. They’re essential if you want to make the most of Nintendo’s brilliant beat-em-up: ARMS.
I’m still not 100% comfortable playing many games with a Joy-Con in each hand – the combination of the lightweight controllers and the slightly awkward position of the right analogue stick occasionally wrongfoots me. Yet it’s undoubtedly the best way to play Mario Odyssey and to feel the subtle but immersive HD Rumble effects.
If you want a more conventional controller then you can always slot them into the bundled Joy-Con grip. This might still be a little too small for some hands – personally, I find that the right stick and the triggers/bumpers feel ever so slightly crammed in – but it’s something I’ve become used to over the past twelve months. While the Switch Pro controller is a stronger alternative, it’s an option rather than a must-have.
The other great advantage of the Joy-Con controllers is that you have two controllers as your disposal when playing multiplayer games. Slide them out of the Switch, attach the wrist-strap modules and you’re ready for multiplayer Puyo-Puyo Tetris or Mario Kart – anywhere, anytime.
Related: Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Some early left Joy-Cons suffered from frequent disconnection issues, although Nintendo seems to have ironed these out, fixing the hardware and replacing the affected controllers. In fact, the worst thing about the Joy-Cons is remembering to slide on the wrist-strap modules the right way. They’re easy to put on incorrectly and not so easy to get off.
Nintendo Switch – Pro Controller
If you want a more conventional controller for your Switch, the Pro Controller is really the only game in town. Luckily, it’s Nintendo’s best controller since the Gamecube’s, with nice, large analogue sticks, rubberised handles and less plasticky triggers and bumpers than the Wii U equivalent.
Unlike third-party controllers we’ve seen so far, the Pro Controller also packs in all the tech from the Joy-Cons, including the gyroscopes and accelerometers and the HD Rumble – although since it doesn’t split in half, it’s still inferior for playing Arms.
The D-Pad isn’t great, so fighting game fans might want to look for an alternative, but the only real issue with the Pro Controller is the price. Even now, it’s common to find it on sale for £55 to £65 – £10 more than a DualShock 4, and £15 more than an Xbox Wireless Controller.
Nintendo Switch – UI and Social
The capacitive touchscreen and touch-friendly UI makes the Switch a joy to use, and whether you’re starting a game, changing settings or browsing the eShop, it’s easy to get around. I tend to pull the Switch out of its dock if I’m changing settings or purchasing something, just because it’s faster to navigate the UI or enter text by swiping left and right, tapping options or using the onscreen keyboard. You can switch between users quickly – the Switch supports up to eight – with the homescreen adapting to display the most recent games you’ve played.
When you launch a game or the eShop, the Switch even asks which user you want to launch it with. If, say, you’ve come unstuck loading a PS4 game, only to find that you’re on the wrong profile, you’ll understand how useful this can be.
One surprise about Nintendo’s software is how barebones and game-focused it is. There’s no real apps ecosystem as there is on the Xbox One and PS4, and you can’t even watch video-streaming services as you can on the Wii U. For me, this isn’t an issue. If I want to watch Netflix then I can reach for the TV remote, my tablet or my smartphone, not to mention the aforementioned consoles. If you’re travelling with just a Switch and phone for company, however, then you might take a different view.
Nintendo hasn’t launched its online service yet and what’s currently in place is pretty ropey. You can add friends you’ve met on Nintendo’s mobile apps or use those dreadful, old-fashioned Friend Codes, but features to add people more organically or using social media still haven’t emerged. It also seems bizarre that you have to use a smartphone app for voice chat and game invites. We’re hoping Nintendo will up its game when the Nintendo Switch Online service finally launches in September.
The Nintendo Switch experience
I’ll admit it: I was a cynic. At one point I was telling people that the Switch was the first Nintendo console since the SNES that I wasn’t going to buy. I thought it was too gimmicky and not powerful enough, and I was deeply concerned about software support after the Wii U.
I was wrong. The great thing about the Switch is its versatility. It’s my handheld gaming device of choice – my all-time favourite of its type – but it’s also a console I’ll play at home when something big like a Zelda or Mario comes out. I love the fact that when someone else wants to hog the TV, I can grab the console and controllers and set it up in an instant elsewhere. I love the fact that I can take it away with me on a trip.
I had predicted that I would never play this way, but I’ve found myself playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in multiplayer on the small Switch screen, and even played two vs two across two Switches. It’s great fun, no matter how you play.
And then there are the games. Nintendo already has two absolute classics in Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It has the best and biggest ever Mario Kart, plus quirky favourites such as Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Arms and Splatoon 2. It’s also become a great console for indie gaming, with titles such as Night in the Woods, Oxenfree and Stardew Valley.
Sure, the Switch’s Tegra X1 processor and 4GB of DDR3 RAM couldn’t cope with the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn or Call of Duty: World War II, but the best Switch games still look spectacular thanks to lavish effects and brilliant art design.
The ports of Doom and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim prove that the Switch can handle big console games, too, and the only question is why more third parties aren’t developing them? The Switch could easily run enhanced updates of most last-gen greats and trimmed-back ports of some more recent hits. There’s something magical about playing these things on the move – and we want more of them. And could we please, Blizzard, have Diablo 3?
Other things to consider
The Nintendo Switch costs a steep £279.99 – and that won’t be the last you splash out on the console. As we mentioned earlier, a microSD card is a must, and you’ll need new controllers for four-player multiplayer gaming – so either the £55 Pro Controller or a £65 pair of Joy-Cons (these are available singly, but why would anyone bother?) I’d also recommend a battery pack and carry case if you plan to take your device out and about. The costs soon mount up.
Why buy the Nintendo Switch?
Microsoft and Sony have the more powerful hardware, and I couldn’t imagine doing without a PS4, Xbox One or PC for the shooters, racers and big action games.
However, with the Switch, Nintendo isn’t trying to compete on graphics; it’s delivering great new experiences that work as well in your hands while on the move as they do on a TV screen at home. Where the bigger, more advanced home consoles demand that you find time for them and their heavyweight blockbuster games, the Switch fits into your life. It’s a smarter, more sociable games machine you can pick up and play whenever the opportunity arises.
The Switch has already earned both a place on the great console podium and a place in gamer’s hearts. We’d like to see more big titles, both from Nintendo and third parties, and a few more eShop deals on existing favourites.