For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Nintendo.
During my formative years, my mother informed me the only way she could calm me down while I was an infant was to play Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System for hours on end. She thought, perhaps, that was why I was playing video games and neglecting my adolescent chores.
She was probably right.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, my adoration for Nintendo manifested itself each time they released a new console — I would incessantly beg my parents to buy me the latest and greatest system to come from Japan. I offered to do extra chores and I made sure they knew each and every time I went out of my way to do one I wasn’t asked to. I was very fortunate to have them oblige every time.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are playing Pokémon Blue, bragging about the Pokémon I had caught, and battling other students on my hour-long bus ride to school. I also remember being the first of my friends to beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I was a legend.
However, I became disillusioned with Nintendo when they released the Wii U. While I love Nintendo’s commitment to experimentation in the video game medium, I found the Wii U was the last thing I wanted. I bought one, became quickly disappointed, and sold it not long after purchase.
When the Switch was announced, I immediately thought Nintendo’s years of iteration and experimentation would pay off. It was the best of both worlds: all of the portability from the 3DS family, coupled with the best features from the Wii and Wii U.
I was lucky enough to obtain a preorder the day they were announced. And I’m very glad I did, because the Nintendo Switch is not only Nintendo’s greatest creation, it is the best video game console I’ve ever owned.
A Design Mash-Up That Works
When I first saw the Nintendo Switch, it was immediately familiar. It’s as if the 3DS and a Wii U GamePad had a baby. It was beautiful and understated.
The design of the Nintendo Switch demands you take it seriously with its sleek dark-grey finish and demands you’re met again with Nintendo’s historically fun design with its neon red and blue Joy-Cons. It can hide alongside your TV and on the train.
Both the processing power and screen are housed within the same unit on the Switch, which, without the Joy-Cons, is essentially a tablet. The screen itself is a 6.2-inch multi-touch capacitive LCD panel with a resolution of 1280 x 720. The Switch is driven by an NVIDIA Tegra processor, and while Nintendo has said the processor is “custom”, a teardown of the system has shown otherwise.
The sides of the Switch has mounting rails for the Joy-Cons, which slide easily on and off the console with the press of a button. The top features a power button, volume rocker, a vent for heat dissipation, a 3.5mm headphone port, and a door for Switch game cards.
I was very excited when it was announced the Switch would be getting game card support, instead of a disc or download-only system. Oddly, my Switch seems to have a problem with the game card door not staying shut. I can press it down and lock it into place, but it doesn’t stay long. This may be a consequence of not having a spring-loaded door game card similar to camera SD card ports. While it’s probably the most personally annoying thing about my Switch, I’m not sure how many others are having this issue. Hopefully, Nintendo will fix this in a future revision.
The bottom of the switch features one USB-C port for charging and docking.
The back of the Switch features perhaps the worst design decision Nintendo made with the console: the kickstand. Nintendo touts the many ways in which you can play the Switch, including docked, handheld, and tabletop mode. However, the kickstand needed to use tabletop mode is poorly designed. When you fully extend the kickstand, it makes a horrible-sounding click noise and feels as though it’s about to snap off. What’s more is it doesn’t feel sturdy in the slightest and only has one fixed position. Because of this, it’s impossible to prop the Switch up on a surface that isn’t perfectly smooth.
Underneath the kickstand is a slot for a microSD card, with support for up to 1TB. This microSD card can be used to store downloaded games and media. Thanks to the Switch’s built-in 32GB storage capacity, along with my love for game cards, I haven’t had the need to buy a microSD card yet. I’m not sure if I will.
The controllers that ship with the Switch are called Joy-Cons, and like their name implies, they are a joy to use. Though I have small hands, the Joy-Cons looked too small when they were first announced. When Nintendo showed off how you could use one Joy-Con per person to play multiplayer games, I gawked.
However, after using the Joy-Cons since March, I’ve fallen in love with how comfortable they are. Moreover, the amount of technology Nintendo was able to cram into each Joy-Con is a technical marvel, with an NFC reader (in the left one) and a Bluetooth radio that talks to the other Joy-Con.
The Joy-Cons can be divided between two people for some competitive Mario Kart 8 or Arms, but it’s not as comfortable as it initially appeared in Nintendo’s launch marketing. Nintendo even includes wrist straps, which give you a little more plastic to hold on to, as well as proper shoulder buttons.
The buttons on the Joy-Cons are satisfyingly clicky and the thumbsticks are just the right height. One complaint I’ve seen from other users is the D-pad, which is four separate buttons. I don’t mind it at all. If it’s a big deal to you, enthusiasts have you covered.
The Joy-Cons are the most versatile aspect of the Switch — they can be used in all playing modes, including the Joy-Con grip for those who prefer a traditional controller layout. However, I’ve found the Joy-Con grip forces the Joy-Cons in an awkward fashion, with the thumbsticks being too far apart vertically. Generally, if I want to play with the Switch docked, I use the Pro Controller. The Pro Controller is awesome, but whether it’s worth $70 is questionable.
Simply put, the Nintendo Switch dock is a USB-C hub with HDMI pass-through, and the fact Nintendo charges $90 for additional docks is preposterous. It is, by far, the simplest accessory included with the Switch, and also the most expensive. The dock provides a simple way to store your Switch while connected to a TV or for storage, but the same effect could be achieved with a USB-C to HDMI cable, assuming you don’t need the two additional USB A ports included in the dock.
Shortly after the Switch released, there was some clamor in the community from users saying the dock had scratched their screens from repeated use. The response was varied, and I have experienced no scratching whatsoever. To be fair, I installed a glass screen protector the moment I took the Switch out of the box just to be sure. Furthermore, others have claimed the Switch can take on a slight bend if it’s left in the dock for extended periods of time under heavy load. Allegedly, the heat can warp the Switch body. This hasn’t happened to me either.
In any case, the dock included with the Switch is the only one I’ll buy, thanks to the high price and low added functionality.
With the Switch, Nintendo chose to simplify its user interface, and it worked out for the better. The 3DS and the Wii U interfaces were borderline abysmal, and I often found it difficult to do even simple tasks.
The Nintendo Switch sheds all of the cruft in favor of a simple, beautiful interface. With both a dark and light mode, you can choose the most-pleasing aesthetic to you.
The home screen features a Menu Bar-like area that displays information about your wifi connectivity, battery life, and time. The middle section of the home screen is dedicated to selectable games to play, and the bottom offers options to dive into other parts of the system, such as viewing your photos in the Album, the eShop, or system settings. It’s delightfully easy to navigate, complete with incredible sound. One of my favorite things about the Switch UI is clicking my portrait in the top left of the screen and hearing the adorable sound before entering the Account page.
Nintendo has knocked it out of the park when it comes to the Switch UI. It’s far superior to Sony’s offering on the Playstation 4, and a bit better than Microsoft’s Xbox interface when I used it few years ago. To put it in one word, the Switch UI is delightful.
Nintendo has traditionally received criticism for its “underpowered” consoles when compared with the Playstation 4 and Xbox. I think this is comparing apples to oranges. Nintendo has never competed on specifications, and the Switch is no different.
With that aside, the Switch is capable of 720p output while in handheld mode, and 1080p when docked. However, not even Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s hallmark launch game, played at 1080p. Instead, while docked, it outputs 900p at 60 frames per second. Even then, it is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. Nintendo doesn’t have to compete on specifications with other manufacturers because they make up for it with design, time and time again.
There were some intial hiccups with Breath of the Wild, however. During play in The Great Plateau (the game’s tutorial area), stuttering would sometimes occur, slowing the game down to less than 20 frames per second. This was fixed in a patch by Nintendo shortly after launch. Since then, the game has ran great.
As we’ve found out, the Switch runs on a Tegra chip, which has been almost exclusively used as a handheld gaming CPU and GPU. Because of this, you will get nowhere near the performance of Playstation 4 or Xbox.
But you shouldn’t care.
The Switch is the first console I’ve owned that has a varied battery life, with Nintendo claiming between 2.5 and 6 hours, depending on the game. For example, Breath of the Wild, which is a demanding Switch title, will get you about 2.5 to 3 hours in my experience. Indie titles from the eShop, many of which are much less power-hungry, will net you between 4.5 and 6 hours.
The great thing is, since the Switch has USB-C ports, you can use many battery packs to get more juice. However, it’s worth noting many of them will either charge 1-2% every ten minutes or so, or simply slow down the rate at which the Switch loses battery. This is because the Switch uses more power in power mode. If you want a battery pack with your Switch, it’s best to buy one that outputs at least 5V/2.1A (10.5 watts). Research has shown that increased power doesn’t have an effect on charging speed.
Feeling Like A Kid Again
I wrote a post on my blog detailing my feelings about the Switch when I first received it, and not a thing has changed. Nintendo has taken years of iteration and created something beautiful. The Switch is both an “everything console” and something very specific. The world melts away with it in your hands or it sits nonchalantly by your television. It is easy to use with its beautiful interface. It offers an ever-expanding library of great games, and launched with perhaps the greatest video game ever made in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The Nintendo Switch is everything I’ve ever wanted in a game console, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.