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Posted March 6, 2017 by Dawid Venter in Hardware Review
 
 

Review: Nintendo Switch

It’s been a rough journey since we first heard of the NX in March 2015. Since then the mastermind behind the success of the Wii and DS platforms, Satoru Iwata, passed away. With that he left his final legacy – the Nintendo Switch.

It’s obvious as soon as you open that tiny little box that Nintendo have put their heart and soul into what is ultimately all their previous consoles combined into one. A world where a console confines you to your lounge is something of the past. They’ve been clear that the Nintendo Switch is first and foremost a console that can convert into a handheld, but I think they’ve got it wrong, because it’s an okay console and a brilliant, brilliant handheld system.

The family received a new member, and it is the smallest of the lot

The console, dock and controller options

The first thing you’ll realise is that it feels nowhere near as cheap as the Wii U’s gamepad. It’s got a solid build and once you slide the left and right Joy-Cons into place, with ease I might add, the moulds fall right into the curves of your hands. The power and volume buttons are in easy reach of your left hand, while the headphone jack and game card slot can be found to the right. In-between the two you’ll find air vents that help the powerful unit let off some steam. On the back you’ll find the kickstand, which is honestly a little flimsy, with the Micro SD card slot buried neatly underneath it. I found that pulling the kickstand out for the first time was quite a mission as it felt like I was about to pull the console apart – it’s got a tight fitting, so don’t be too worried when pulling on that baby for the first time.

On the dock you’ll find a Type C connector to charge your console when it’s docked, an HDMI out port to your TV and a USB port. This USB port can sadly not be used for external storage, but should you own or plan to buy the Pro Controller it’s perfect for charging it. It’s got a little flap on the back with a big enough gap to keep all the wires tidy. Other than that the dock is really just a pretty piece of plastic.

I can’t overstate just how impressive the concept of the Joy-Cons are. It’s quite unbelievable that Nintendo pulled it off. The fact that you can slide it out from the console and connect it to a Joy-Con grip (that comes bundled with the console as your traditional controller option) is a testament to how versatile these little controllers are. Slide the Joy-Con straps into place and suddenly you have two-player games in action. It’s years and years of Nintendo testing it via their previous consoles that it’s all fallen into place. That said, I have a personal little problem that might not be the case for you.

Do you have big hands? Be warned

Fortunately or unfortunately I was born with hands made for giants and because of this the comfort of a controller is very important to me when playing long game sessions. When playing on a standard DS/3DS in the past I’d walk away with cramps, hence I always preferred the XL option. The button layout on the Switch, whether it’s docked and you’re using the Joy-Con Grip or you’re playing it portable with Joy-Con’s attached to the unit (or not), can get a bit messy for people with big hands. My long playing sessions with Breath of the Wild had me crying for an alternative option after about 4 hours of play. This mostly comes down to the shoulder and face buttons requiring me to do weird things with my fingers. The hero came in the form of the Pro Controller. If you decide to buy the Nintendo Switch I can not recommend that Pro Controller highly enough. It comes with a much improved D-Pad, none of the weird clicky button stuff, and it resembles the feel of the Dualshock 4 in your hands in terms of its shape. The good news is that the Pro controller can be used on-the-go too if you have space in your bag and comes with a 40-hour battery life.

Play it how and where you want to

What will lure many to the Switch is its versatility. Being able to play in the lounge, in your room, outside, on the toilet, up in the tree, under the water… no, don’t do that! It’s definitely not waterproof, but it’s definitely constrained-to-one-room proof. Setting the console in or pulling it out of the dock is simple to do, and when you take it with you on-the-go you have various options at your disposal. Do I play it with the kickstand out and a Joy-Con in each hand free from the shackles of a screen mounted in-between? Or do I want a traditional portable experience? Or, could it be that I want to play the game with another friend using a Joy-Con each? It’s whatever you want it to be, and that’s the beauty of the Switch. The chances are good that you’ll end up using one setup more than any other, but that’s fine – as long as it’s what you want it to be, who cares? Unfortunately the battery life, when out of the docking station, will suck it dry in about 2.5 hours (full brightness and volume) while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so be sure to keep your power adapter nearby when on a trip.

Clean and simple UI

Gone is the tile layout of the Wii and Wii U and in its place is a UI that has a very similar feel to that of the PS4. The top row consists of all your installed games and below that you have access to the latest news, Nintendo eShop, Album, Controllers, System Settings and Sleep Mode. So far Nintendo has updated the news page every day. It consists of upcoming game videos, recently released game videos and simple tutorials to teach newbies about what their Switch is capable of and how to pull off simple tasks. As you move in and out of any menu there’s a typical Nintendo bleep or bloop sound that brings a smile to your face.

The eShop is a little bare bones at the moment, but it should be said that Nintendo have gone the minimalist route. You can search, check out recent releases, see what’s coming soon and redeem a code. That’s that. Under Recent Releases you’ll find that you’ll see an image of a game and the cost – but should the image not contain the name of the game on it anywhere you have to tap to see what it is on the next page. It’s a little annoying and I really do hope they get that fixed soon. Thankfully all your games are now tied to your Nintendo account, so at least they listened to that, though your save file is connected your console. Oh Nintendo. There is another question mark.

Friend codes – need I say more? Oh, it’s not all bad

Yes, those pesky friend codes are back. Thankfully you just need one person to enter the code, and the other to accept, so it’s not that terrible this time round. The system will also have a look at your Nintendo account and who you might have connected with on Miitomo and Super Mario Run. Tap the image and select ‘become friends’ and that’s as difficult as that gets. As soon as you login to your console you’ll be notified how many of your friends are online and whenever you receive a friend request you’ll now have a blue little dot appearing in your profile on the home page, and a notification will pop up while playing. That’s a big step for Nintendo. However, there is a blatant oversight – you can’t message your friends. I really do hope it’s something they fix in the future. I’d also really like to send my friends images I’ve taken and saved to the unit.

Pressing the Capture buttons instantly saves any image to your console. Once there you can check it out, add some text to it and then post it on Twitter or Facebook. At this time, because there is a no message system, you can’t send it to someone on your friend list and disappointingly it can also not be saved to a USB drive. What is good news is that the UI is incredibly fast. In fact, I think it tops the PS4, which is saying something. It’s probably because it’s never really powered down.

Unless you hold down the Power button on your Switch for 3 seconds there is no way of turning the console off completely. It’s always in sleep mode. Head back in for another game and you’ll have to tap the same button three times to wake it up. This avoids the Switch turning on while being flung around in your backpack.

Conclusion

As the saying goes – games make a console. As it stands the best game available for the system is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that can be bought on the Wii U. The only other game I’ve tested so far (on my own unit) is 1,2 Switch!, which is great at showing off what the Joy-Cons are capable of, but is nothing more than a bunch of little tech demos. There’s definitely more coming from Nintendo, of that I am certain. The Switch, as with all consoles, comes with the bare minimum on launch. In time I’m sure Nintendo will cover up some of the potholes, but unless you’re a die-hard Nintendo fan or you know that you’ll be buying any of the announced and upcoming games it’s probably a good idea to wait.

There is however another important question – are you more of a console or portable gamer? If you find yourself in the latter camp it’s going to be hard to pass it up, as it’s easily the best portable gaming system money can buy, and to boot it can be a console too.





Dawid Venter

 
Married to a gamer wife who kicks my ass at most shooters. If it's got analogue thingies, with buttons that's connected to a big box I'll play it no matter the format.