Whilst last week I was musing about the accompanying parental control app, this week I’ve decided to subject myself to a vague hardware review and ramble on about my initial Switch impressions. I’ve been Zelda-ing, Sonic-ing, and even a little Splatoon-ing (when I can get my Wi-Fi connection to behave) on Ninty’s latest box-of-tricks for a little over a week in which time I’ve gotten to grips with this mysterious bundle of hardware. It’s a console which is selling itself on being versatile so unlike the struggles I’ve had involving previous hardware reviews, I don’t think I’ll be running short of things to say about the Switch and its various configurations.
Upon opening the box you’re greeted with a load of “stuff”. I think that right up until breaking the seal I had still had in my mind the traditional view of a home console; black box, controller, cables. Sure, that’s all there in some sense, but there’s so much to it; I was presented with the switch itself taking the form of a chunky generic looking tablet, two mini joy-con controllers, the wonkey-eyed-dog joy-con holder, two wrist strap ‘click-ems’, the dock, power cable, and HDMI. I gingerly locked the joy-cons on to the side of the Switch and fired it up only to hit what has become the running joke of new hardware; a mandatory software update right out of the box. Mildly annoying moment aside I popped in a physical copy of ‘Breath of the Wild’, only to be greeted by another necessary software update for that title…
The system update I understand, but the necessity for a physical game to be updated right out of the box? Isn’t game readiness why people opt for consoles?
Having jumped through the obligatory setup screens I was presented with the main menu, and overall I’ve been a little disappointed with this experience; compared to my initial impressions of the 3DS right out of the box, the Switch is decidedly dull. There’s nothing of interest pre-loaded, no quirky minigame or retro trinket, the menu is dull and functional with only the option to choose a black or white background, and even minor details (such as the icons) are distinctly dry. I had been looking forward to some of that classic Nintendo charm, but instead I got an experience trying to mimic (poorly) that of a mundane tablet. Even the Mii creator, a mainstay since the Wii, is hidden in a dark corner of the settings. Aside from any games (either downloaded or inserted) the only options are to visit the shop or view some recent news pages, all carried out presumably through some browser that the user doesn’t have direct access to. It’s a lackluster show from a six month old console that there aren’t any themes bundled or sparkle in the presentation.
As a tablet it’s a little chunky, but as a console it’s fairly impressive. The bright and crisp screen shows off the games in suitably sharp resolution and framerate given its pocket sized packaging. The few times that I’ve used the touchscreen it has seemed responsive, but also decadent that it’s even a thing. For a system that has spent most of its time docked in big picture mode, the inclusion of a touchscreen on the unit itself is not what I expect, but it does resonate with the apparent Ninty philosophy that this is to be a versatile system, so my surprise is more likely a symptom of my own bias than anything else.
My only criticisms of the unit would be the ‘click-open’ cover on the cartridge port which is perfectly fine, but doesn’t impart a sense of durability, and the ‘click-open’ stand. The stand is something I’ve yet to even test as my one attempt to open it was abandoned as I was worried I might break the entire unit. A quick search revealed that I wasn’t unduly concerned given the wide range of problems that other ‘Switchers’ have reported with this simple hinged piece of plastic; from damaging the clipping mechanism due to it being too stiff, it not really functioning as a stand, all the way to it being too loose. For now at least I’ll satisfy myself with propping it up against a pile of books.
…also dubbed ‘Mr Scratchy’ if you believe the internet complaints, although it is worth pointing out that Nintendo has yet to replicate the scratching problem and my own experience has been positive. It’s a functional holder, TV interface, and charger with HDMI, power and USB connectors. It is also where my Switch is currently attending spending 90% of its time. The dock interfaces with the Switch via USB C, which makes it feasible to charge (if you, like me, happen to have had a USB C phone and plenty of cable lying around), but does limit the portability of just grabbing the tablet and running off to play on a friend’s TV. There are some third party solutions to this coming to light, but at the moment nothing concrete from Nintendo as far as I’m aware.
The Wonkey-Eyed-Dog Controller
I really don’t know what else to call this – the contraption you get when you remove the joy-cons from the Switch and Mega-Zord them on to the controller styled piece of plastic… is that better? Either way it is what most people (myself included) would call the default Switch controller. I have to tip my hat to the giant ‘N’ for this because surprisingly is works pretty well. The lop-sided sticks are comfortable to use, mainly due to how petite the whole arrangement is, and the assembly sits comfortably in my hands. Button taps seem responsive and, although it’s three-pieces-in-one, the ensamble feels suitable solid that I’m not aware of its click together nature when immersed in game. The only downside is that at the end of every session I have to remove the joy-cons and replace them on the base unit for charging, something that could have easily been overcome with a simple USB connector on the handset… but then I guess they have to try and sell us something at a later date…
Joy-cons & Wrist-Straps
My wife & I have only briefly broken out some two-player Sonic Mania, an experience that left her bemused (having not grown up with Sonic 2) and something I probably need my Sister to be present for in order to fully recreate the 90’s… We’ll have a ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ marathon at the same time…. The brief two-player-ness did allow us to try out the joy-cons as the super-mini-controllers that they were born to be, and once again I was pleasantly surprised. They wouldn’t pass muster for an entire single player campaign, but as a handy way to party-play without the need to buy endless extra controllers for those odd-times when gaming guests how up, it’s an elegant solution. The wrist-strap attachments themselves were a little less impressive as they could easily be fixed on the wrong way around as I demonstrated immediately and then sheepishly tried to remove for some time before succeeding.
To complete the Duplo experience, the joy-cons can be slotted on to the side of the main console to unlock handheld mode for gaming on the go… or sneaky late-night gaming… or someone else in the house can’t stand the Sonic music being on the TV gaming… delete as appropriate…. I havn’t played a handheld that was this much of a beast since my Game Gear; the screen feels huge! … but incredibly sharp, and it hammers home just how much Nintendo have managed to cram into such a small box. It is pretty liberating to be able to just grab the unit and carry on playing if you need to move from the couch, and nice to see it work so seamlessly give that it was the big gamble of the system. My only slight complaint is that in this mode the distance between the joy-cons and the weight of the system does combine to make their attachment feel a little more rickety compared to the cute-dog version, but that may just be that I have played it much less in handheld mode and am less used to it.
I have yet to actually take it anywhere; partially because I havn’t really been anywhere, but also because I don’t have a carry case. Again it’s likely to do with profit and after-sales, but I think a simple neoprene pouch would have made all the difference to the delivery of a product that is in essence supposed to be portable
My Closing Statement
This isn’t the last you’ve heard from me about the Switch. I’m currently pretty enamoured with this little console; it plugs a gap in my gaming habits and so far the titles I’ve explored are proving to be engaging. As far as my initial hardware ramble goes however it’s a bit more of a mixed bag; the seamless TV to handheld transition is neat, and as a gaming system it operates well in both modes. The stand & cartridge cover on the main unit are niggling problems and the lack of some of those extras (joy-con charging, basic carry case, non-dock TV connection) feels like a bid to keep the cost from spiralling rather than oversight. Weirdly my biggest complaint is the one that I opened with; the interface is so dry and there’s little sense of identity or that characteristic Nintendo charm. Similar experiences on other consoles (even other Nintendo consoles) create an identity by having a distinctive style and sounds (I’m sure everyone recognises the startup sounds from their favourite systems), but the Switch comes across as featureless. Hopefully it’s something Nintendo will work on, especially as the online services become more extensive.
Do you have a Switch? What were your first impressions? Feel free to jump in to the comments section!