Waaaaaa eeeeeaaaiiaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…… wwwaaaahhh wwwaaahhhh waaahhhhhhh
An oft unadvertised bit of Hundstrasse trivia is that I enjoy a good western. That cliche mix of myth and reality, tales of a fleeting time in history, and the frequently blurred lines between good and bad make for some ol’ fashioned guilty pleasure viewing. In the last few weeks I’ve replayed both ‘Hard West’ and ‘Call of Juarez: Gunslinger’; two titles that capture everything superbly over the top about the genre in very different gaming vehicles, but I’m not writing about westerns today. Instead I want to talk about the platform that I enjoyed those titles on, and in all honesty, most of my recently played games: the Nintendo Switch.
The Switch has been a fixture in the household for some years now, but aside from ‘Zelda, Breath of the Wild’, I really hadn’t spent too much time clutching the wonkey-eyed-dog. Our Switch was, for the first 2 years in the house, mostly a useful portable gaming vector for excursions away for the weekend, or to take with us to play with friends or family. That was until late August last year when our player 3 arrived. At the time of writing we’re getting in to something of a good routine, but the first few months of having a baby that routine is really changeable and gaming needed to be slotted in as and when it could be; heck, I played most of Golf Story with him sleeping on my lap. I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that the Switch offers me a way to game when sitting down for long spells at the PC isn’t feasible. The quick startup, easily suspended software, and ability to just grab the console and continue in handheld mode all play right in to that need of having to adapt gaming to the current household circumstances. I’ve also begun… until recently of course… to brave possibly judgemental looks from my fellow commuters and started making use of my morning train journeys to get some gaming in.
So with the Switch the device I currently use the most to game, and having now played a good variety of titles, I felt like it was a good time to take stock and reflect on it as a console. In short, outline the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly …see what I did there?…
Hardware: The Good
Physically, the Switch is a pretty neat console. Nintendo excel at trying to revolutionise the way we interact with games, from ROB the robot through to LABO. Sitting right in the middle of the Venn diagram for home console, handheld, tablet, and mini-console, the Switch kind of has all bases covered. The dock works well and, despite early reports of it causing screen damage, I’ve never had any issues with it. The joycon controllers feel about as sturdy as they can when attached to the console in handheld play, and having played many hours of BotW with them in doggie configuration hold up pretty well as a full controller. I’d even go as far as say that despite being pretty small they function very well as mini-party controllers, a feature that really is one of the best things about the console. So strong is the Switch’s association as a couch gaming affair that we bought a second joycon set and a charging station for party play some time ago.
Hardware: The Bad
… but of course both of our left joycons have now developed issues. The green one is showing the first signs of the infamous drift, and the blue one’s lights no longer work although it seems to operate fine as a pair but not individually. Rather than spring for another set I’ve recently invested in a pro controller which seems to be a solid device (but it’s too early to say for sure). The console unit itself also has some design problems. The screen is crisp and bright, but we’ve yet to have a really good experience trying to play it in kickstand mode because there’s no way two people can get close enough to see anything going on clearly. I also found out that on a well lit train, all you can see is your own reflection scowling back at you when trying to play Doom 3, a problem that’s so bad I bought a special matt finish screen protector that has only marginally improved the problem.
Hardware: The Ugly
There’s also something about the kickstand itself that rubs me up the wrong way. It’s awkward to deploy, doesn’t work unless you’re playing on a perfectly level temperature controlled vibration isolated granite block, and I’m always afraid that I’m going to dislodge the hidden, and fairly necessary, SD card when I call it to action. On top of that the naked edge grooves look a little… messy… when the joycons aren’t in place, something that we remedied by picking up a set of Switch Blades to give it the classy wood effect finish of consoles of yesteryear.
Games: The Good
The good games on Switch are very good; which also seems to align with first party titles. I found BotW a superb experience (although I know some Zelda-beagles might disagree, but that’s clearly not me), Mario Odyssey seems to be a fan favourite, we really enjoyed Yoshi’s Crafted world, Mario Kart 8 is a great party experience… you get the idea. Nintendo know who their audience are and they know how to make games for that audience. The Switch also has some very nice ports and 3rd party titles; I guess it’s become a bit of a running joke that the Switch is home to many ports but when they’re done well they make good additions to the library. I recently played the Resident Evil Remake HD port (again) and it’s a solid version that holds up; plus I can play on the go!
Games: The Bad
… unfortunately there just aren’t many exclusive Switch titles and, aside from wanting to make use of the Switch’s other advantages, there’s usually little reason to pick the Switch version over another if you’re making a straight choice; heck, I guess this is why our Switch was underused for so long. There’s also a load of noise floating around the eShop – I’m happy Ninty have finally evolved to understand the rise of indie developers, but I feel as though I spend my impulse buying moments just trying to find titles I’ve heard of. I also have to list the expense of games here in the ‘bad’ section. First party titles are rarely reduced from their original selling price and sales, a common feature of most online game marketplaces, are fleeting events. BotW itself has held its AAA release price for several years now in digital and physical form.
Games: The Ugly
And then there are those games that shouldn’t have come to Switch. As much of a fan of this plucky little console as I am, it just can’t handle some of the games that have made it to the platform. Even the aforementioned REmake had a couple of embarrassingly long load times and I’ve heard that RE:Zero is even worse; these are games that were originally released on Gamecube some three generations ago (admittedly not in HD). Not too long ago I picked up the Tesla infused ‘Close to the Sun’ because it felt like my kind of thing. Unfortunately I’ve only made it about 15 minutes in to the game, unable to deal with horrible aliasing and janky framerates as the Switch tries to keep the Unreal engine ticking.
Infrastructure: The Good
… I’ve started this paragraph a few times now and everything I write sounds like a backhanded compliment, but here goes:
The Switch’s OS interface is streamlined and functional, and that’s about all I can say about it. It does everything that you might expect. Screen capture, social media posting, software suspension, and … erm… various system settings? are all a thing. It’s also worth saying that online subscription (something I’ve only recently adopted) is pretty cheap for the console market clocking in at £18 for 12 months, and comes with the perks of the SNES and NES collections although I’m still not sure I agree with ol’ Ninty that it’s the best way to distribute its back catalogue.
Infrastructure: The Bad & The Ugly
… I don’t even know where to start, there are so many things that are just plain strange about the Switch experience; don’t get me wrong, they’re not dealbreakers, but the more I use the console the more I’m confused by the logic behind some of this stuff. The home screen displays a handful of games in recently played order and there are no options to change or arrange them, even viewing all games has only a limited number of sorting options. Want to customise the look of that menu experience? Well you can have white, or black themes… and that’s it. For a company that has so many iconic franchises, I’m baffled by the lack of themes available to tweak that home screen look. It’s the same when it comes to the slim selection of player icons that are easily a thing that could be bundled with games. They even seem to have backed away from the Mii idea with creation being super-buried in the settings and none of the cute functionality of yesteryear. It’s all just so sterile; when I picked up a 3DS at launch years ago I was enchanted by the array of things I could play about with straight out of the box, but here Nintendo seem to have specifically chosen to remove all the charm in favour of pure functionality. The same sort of sterility is present in player homepages and friend interactions; just enough to get through, but not a scrap of flair anywhere.
Then there is the slow loading eShop mess that’s awkward to navigate, tucks your wishlist waaayyy out through several menus, and isn’t a customised experience at all. I’m all for being recommended the odd new thing, but have I ever bought a visual novel? Why aren’t games similar to those that I’ve bought in the past being recommended? Let’s take browsing by genre as an example: First you need to go unintuitively to the ‘Search’ section, then click genre, then select the genre, and then scroll through a huge list of vaguely associated games in some of the broadest genre categories ever imagined. ‘Shooter’ covers side-scrollers, top down, first person, third person etc. and as far as I can see there’s no way to filter much further.
That Scene Where Eli Wallach is Running Through the Graveyard
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the Switch has flaws, often baffling choices, and struggles with current gen games but, given my recent playtime, for me none of this has for cancelled out the advantages that the platform provides. I can’t help but admire Ninty for taking the bold move to combine their home and handheld markets. There will be those of you out there jumping up and down about the console’s power, and I agree, it doesn’t compete with the other big players in the market, but that’s just not who Nintendo are. They haven’t really been able to hold their own in a square matchup of brawn since the 90’s when everyone used to remind us how many bits a console had by suffixing every game title with it. For two decades now they’ve been doing things a bit different and I’d argue that although they haven’t always gotten it right the Switch has tapped in to something pretty unique that, based on sales at least, seems to be in demand. As high-noon draws near, the big players are out in the street having a tense dual, all eyes are on them as the Switch quietly empties the bank’s vault, Winchester slung over their back, and without a word rides off in to the sunset.