Out to Launch
The Nintendo Switch has arrived! I’ve been excited about the console and its upcoming games since we first heard about it months ago. After a frustrating launch experience, I finally got the new console, and I’ve been playing it a lot. The big question is: does it live up to the hype? After a full weekend of the Switch, here are my thoughts on the console, controller, and launch games.
The first unboxing revealed the key components of the system: the Joy-Con (L, left) and Joy-Con (R, right) controllers and the tablet-like Switch itself. Underneath lay the dock, the magical machine that delivers the system output to the television. The Joy-Grip, a makeshift controller that you can plug the Joy-Cons into, and some crucial HDMI and AC adapter cables comprised the rest of the included components.
Before plugging anything in, I wanted to experience sliding in the Joy-Cons to the Switch tablet. It snapped in easily, producing that satisfying *click* noise that we’ve associated with the console. I set the dock next to my TV and opened up its back to input the cables, which fit snugly. The coup de grace was putting the Switch and its attached Joy-Cons into the dock. I pressed the home button, set up the system, and installed an update within minutes. I was pleased with the snappiness of the initial setup.
You can use the Switch as a home console or a handheld device. The first major playstyle is taking out the Switch from the dock and playing portably. In handheld form, the tablet resembles a Wii U GamePad with the Joy-Cons being your primary grip. The Switch is lighter than the GamePad, while sporting an equivalently sized screen that produces a sharper 720p resolution in comparison to the GamePad’s 480p. I was surprised by how crisp The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s graphics looked on the small screen.
The Switch is comfortable to hold, and its light weight lends itself to portable gaming sessions. As an avid handheld gamer, it’s a luxury to take the Switch and its console games wherever I want, whether to a coffee shop or on a commute. A kickstand allows the system to stand on tables too. My one gripe is the three hour battery life. You can circumvent this by adjusting the brightness and sound settings, but you won’t be playing for extended periods. Plugging it in to an outlet or power bank is also an option. For shorter trips and breaks, the Switch excels. And once you get back home, inserting the Switch back into the dock takes you back into the game instantly. The output transfer is rapid, switching between TV and handheld mode within seconds!
When playing on the big screen, the Switch must remain in the dock, so you can’t use it as a controller. Instead, you have several options. The first is the bundled Joy-Grip, which resembles a skeleton controller until you insert the Joy-Cons. The Joy-Grip effectively holds the Joy-Cons close together, and the ergonomic handles provide a natural clutch.
Although the Joy-Cons are technologically impressive, I’m not terribly fond of their designs. While attached to the Switch/Joy-Grip, they provide your standard button layout with face buttons on the upper-right and analog sticks in the upper-left and lower-right sections. However, the face buttons are very small; they’re tinier than the 3DS’ buttons. The standard “d-pad” has also been replaced with the same small buttons, which is not ideal for 2D games. The L and R shoulder buttons are also very tiny and don’t feel natural to push down.
In some cases, like Snipperclips or Super Bomberman R, a single Joy-Con can be used on its own. As a bonus, another player can join in a multiplayer game using the other Joy-Con. For these games, you simply turn your Joy-Con horizontally, like you would hold an NES controller or a sideways Wii remote. However, the Joy-Con’s miniature size makes it difficult to grasp properly. The Switch box comes with two Joy-Con straps, that when attached to the Joy-Con, makes it slightly easier to hold. Even though my hands aren’t that big, I didn’t find the horizontal controller appealing. The Joy-Cons have asymmetrical layouts: the right Joy-Con positions the analog stick too far in the middle while the left one poses the same problem with its buttons. The configurations feel awkward when held sideways.
In games like 1-2 Switch, you hold the Joy-Con vertically as you would a Wii remote. Additionally, you can hold both Joy-Cons vertically to play nearly any game, as if you were operating a Wii remote and Nunchuk. Though I prefer a traditional playstyle, it’s wonderful to see an array of options depending on preference. Improved gyro motion control and HD Rumble capabilities enhance the experience for select games, too. Though I didn’t test out the HD Rumble that allegedly allows you to feel separate sensations within the controller, gyro aiming works wonders for Breath of the Wild. I look forward to seeing these interesting concepts utilized in future games like Splatoon 2.
A word of warning: pay attention to the straps’ alignment when you’re attaching them. The straps are interchangeable, so they will slide in regardless of orientation. However, if you don’t correctly match the “minus” and “plus” symbols on the straps to the Joy-Cons, they will get stuck. Due to the small sizes of the strap and Joy-Con, it’s hard enough detaching them normally. But when they’re mismatched, you have to yank them off, risking damage.
I saved my favorite controller for last. The Switch Pro Controller isn’t included with the system and costs a hefty $70, but it’s one of the most comfortable controllers Nintendo has made. Any criticism I have of the Joy-Grip is fixed with the Pro Controller. The grip curves inward a little, providing that satisfying ergonomic handle. The face and shoulder buttons are large and easy to reach. There is an actual d-pad. There is some clear inspiration from the standard Xbox controller, though it weighs less than its competitor. The matte finish is sleek, and the modern technological design is icing on the cake. It’s easily my ideal way to play. That said, I can only recommend it if you are willing to pay premium. Otherwise, the Joy-Grip is sufficient.
User Interface (UI)
The home menu is simple, though may strike you as a little empty compared to the Wii U’s. Sporting a solid white or black background, the menu displays a singular row of all your games and demos. The upper left shows your profile(s). Clicking on a profile lets you change your friend icon, which you can choose from dozens of Nintendo characters or your own Mii. The Mii maker has several new color options, as well as an array of facial expressions and poses.
The lower menu on the home screen has icons for system options and Switch news. It also gives you access to the eShop and a photo album. The digital store is simple to use and loads more quickly than in previous systems. Currently, there are no options for video streaming services such as Netflix. There is no Virtual Console either, but Nintendo has assured that retro games will arrive in the future. A much welcomed capture button lets you take game screenshots and share them on social media.
The Switch also marks the return of Friend Codes, those lovely 16-digit strings that you input to befriend someone. While you can’t simply search for someone by typing in their name, the FC process has been streamlined. When you add someone as a friend, it will show up on their systems, so they need only accept your friend request to add you back. It’s a nice compromise. As a bonus, using the connectivity of the My Nintendo account system, you can add people that you’ve befriended in games like Fire Emblem Heroes, Super Mario Run, and Miitomo.
The UI is easy on the eyes and as modest as possible. The lack of music is a shame, considering how catchy the Wii U’s system jingles are. Otherwise, I have no issues with the user-friendly interface.
Although I won’t harp too long on the games for now, I can say I’m enjoying the launch lineup. Nintendo, its third-party partners, and indie developers have delivered quality over quantity. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the big one, consuming most of my Switch playtime. I am awed by every moment of discovery. Snipperclips is a surprising hit for my wife and me, and we love solving its creative and goofy puzzles. We also like snipping and clipping each other, out of love, of course… Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is another solid 2D platformer into the Shovel Knight DLC compendium. Finally, Super Bomberman R is a fun revival of a multiplayer classic, though I will have better insight when I play 8-player online. If you have the game, please feel free to play with me! I will share more detailed reviews in the weeks to come, so please look forward to them.
The Switch is a technological marvel with the ability to output crisp HD visuals to the television, and with a snap, transform into a handheld tablet device that you can play on-the-go. The Joy-Cons aren’t the most comfortable to hold, but they are versatile and perform their roles well. As with any system, the games will determine the Switch’s future. I hope that Nintendo continues to deliver its first party offerings in concurrence with big third-party games and “Nindies.” Overall, despite any gripes I have, I love my new console. With hybrid capabilities that help it stand out from the pack, the Switch has immense potential as Nintendo’s next heavy-hitter.
What are your thoughts on the Nintendo Switch? Did you pick it up at launch, or are you planning to pick it up later (or not at all)? How have your experiences been with the system thus far? What do you like or dislike about the Switch? Please share any questions or thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!
Note: Here’s my Switch Friend Code: SW-3611-4684-6706