New game consoles that have a chance at being big successes come along very rarely. Portable, dedicated gaming systems are almost as rare, so when Nintendo finally pulled the wraps off the Switch it was to much interest. Nintendo have a reputation for going their own way and sometimes this works well (3DS) and sometimes it doesn’t (Wii U), but regardless of their success, Nintendo always has something interesting and is worth watching.
The Switch is both a home TV console and a portable system and it promises to let you seamlessly move from one to the other. It’s easy to see how it grew from the Wii U, but the controller Joycons borrow motion control from the Wii and some style from the Gamecube. Nintendo have been cagey about some of the technical specs inside the Switch, but following from their past form it’s not quite cutting edge processing power – extolling art and reliability over power – a sensible choice.
Nintendo needs very little introduction. They started life making playing cards and went from market to market, settling on toys in the 1960s, then moved on to electronic games in the 1970s. They rose to dominance in the 1980s and 90s and are one of the major gaming companies worldwide. The last home console generation was a bad one for Nintendo with very poor Wii U sales, but they’ve remained dominant in the handheld market with the 3DS.
The Switch is not the first convertible games console, but it is the first to make it into the big time. The key to the system is the small 8 inch slightly fat tablet. This central unit goes into a dock that charges it (and lets it run a little faster) and connects it to the TV. The tablet has bluetooth built in that it uses to communicate with two miniature size controllers – Joycons.
The Joycons are designed to do a lot of different things. Attach them to the sides of the tablet and it turns into a portable gaming console. Attach them to a handle and they look like a conventional (if blocky) console controller. Turn them sideways and attach a cover and they become two separate controllers that – whilst small – are big enough to work as individual controllers in their own right for multiplayer games. Hold one in each hand and use them as a split controller. Finally they can be used as motion controllers similar to the Wii’s wiimotes and one of them has built in NFC and infrared. There’s other ways to interact with it as well – a more conventional Pro controller and don’t forget that the screen is also a multipoint touch screen.
The first release video for the Switch showed people playing the Switch at home on their TV then running off to go and see their friends and taking it with them. I was sceptical about how well it would work, but the docking is actually seamless. Going from playing on the TV screen to handheld mode is virtually instant and I loved being able to carry the Switch around the house playing on the sofa, sitting up in bed or even taking it outside.
If you want to take it further afield than that, I discovered some drawbacks. Nintendo sensibly decided to charge via USB-C, but the Switch needs so much power it’ll only go for around three hours of full on gameplay. My collection of external battery packs only had one that could put out sufficient wattage to charge it and extend my time to about 5 hours. The other problem is that the screen, whilst beautiful and bright, isn’t made of the same Gorilla Glass that most phones use, but out of plastic. There is more chance of scratches and there’s been a number of reports of these already. I picked up a hard shell case immediately and I think it’s an essential purchase.
The Switch’s OS
The system software on the Switch is minimalist and designed to let you access games and the e-store without anything extra. There is a way to share screenshots on Facebook and Twitter and a couple of utilities to manage storage space and connectivity, parental controls and a news program. There’s also a friends list that uses Nintendo’s antiquated Friend Codes system, which works, but isn’t user friendly. In the longer term Nintendo have said they will have some non-gaming programs such as Netflix, but there’s no timescale involved. I’m not sure how much I’d use extra non-gaming programs on the Switch, although it would be good to have them available – a web browser in particular just seems sensible.
Nintendo has also promised an Online Service for multiplayer games that also includes bundled classic games, but these features will be rolled out slowly until ‘late 2017’ and when they’re all available and then there will be a unknown charge for the service. They have specifically said that chat functions will not be on the Switch – instead they’ll be on a smartphone app that you log into with your Nintendo ID.
Games on the Switch
There aren’t that many games just yet. If you exclude retro games and straight ports there are less than five available right now. Even if you include the extras, the number is still less than 20. There is only big title – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s an amazing game, but it’s only one game. For many, that isn’t enough and the rest of the year looks similar – several big Nintendo titles and a lot of indies and ports of older games. Nintendo seem to be doing all they can to change this and the number of indie games promised is rapidly increasing. The fact that the Wii U sold so badly is also a potential help – there’s a rich seam of games for the Wii U which could easily be ported and which many players will not have tried.
I would not expect to ever see as many blockbuster AAA games on the Switch as on the PS4 and Xbox One, but if enough consoles sell and Nintendo holds its nerve there’s a very good chance of a decent eco-system growing up.
Environment & People
If you can find it, the Switch is available for £279. Throw in a near required microSD card and at least one game and the realistic price is around £350. That seems high – particularly if you compare it to the current Xbox One or PS4, both of which are cheaper. Look at it from another perspective – tablet or mobile phone costs which it most nearly resembles from a hardware point of view and it’s a lot more reasonable.
My perspective is that if this works as promised, it could replace both a TV console and a mobile console and so be a potentially money saver. If Nintendo can also add some media consumption abilities – iPlayer, Netflix and the like that would do ninety percent of what I use my small tablet for which could be another saving.
It’s difficult to place the Switch into context – it different enough that it doesn’t really fall into any one conventional category. It’s cost-effectiveness depends on how it’s utilised. If used as a flexible, versatile device to replace two or more of your old devices – be it console, mobile game device or tablet – it’s well-priced.
Product dimensions with Joycons attached: 10.2 x 23.9 x 1.4 cm
Item Weight: 297 or 398 with Joycons and a game cartridge
Colour: Grey or Neon (blue and red)
Release date: March 2017
Processor: NVIDIA customised Tegra processor
Operating System: Proprietary Nintendo Operating system with some elements of FreeBSD
Storage: 32GB internal and microSD card expansion
Display: 6.2 inch 720p capacitive 1280×720 touch screen and 1080p output to the TV via the dock
Connectivity: USB C port with three USB B ports on the dock
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth: Yes 4.1 – note this is for the Nintendo controllers and not for bluetooth headphones
Speakers: Yes downward facing stereo speakers
Headset: 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
Battery: 4310 mAh rechargeable 3.7V lithium-ion. Non-removeable with separate batteries in the Joycons. When in sleep mode in the dock charge time is around three hours.
Warranty: 12 months covering any manufacturing or workmanship defects but not physical damage.
The Switch does not come bundled with any games and at the time of writing there is only a single demo in the e -store. Games range from £5 for Othello up to £60 for the standard e-Store Zelda. I’d also recommend at least a medium sized microSD card and if you’re going to take it out of the house a case. Unlike most home consoles the Switch does not need an internet connection to function. There are currently patches available, but if you just have the console and a game cartridge there’s no need to ever have internet access.
The Switch was launched at an odd time of the year because Nintendo has a strategy. Rather than try and capture the mass market immediately, it’s been released in an almost finished state for their dedicated fan base and those who don’t want to wait to try it. They have scheduled games to come out throughout the year with the idea that the buzz will build and when most people start to seriously consider it in the run up to Christmas, there will be a good library of games and abilities.
As it stands today, it’s a good piece of interesting hardware with one outstanding game. If you can’t wait for it and want to buy into Nintendo’s timeline then by all means go for it. I loved being able to play on the TV and then just move to a different room and it’s been great fun to try something that feels creatively different from the norm. The Switch will probably be perfect for most trips and if the games on offer continue to be a mix of exceptional quality AAA titles and quirky new Indie’s, it’s appeal is definitely going to expand throughout 2017.
At the moment I’d give the Switch a Recommended rating. We review products as they are not what they could be in the future or have been in the past. The Switch is nearly done and if it lives up to expectations over the coming month’s it will probably climb to an Ergohacks Essential rating by Christmas. Good job Nintendo.
The review is based on the grey Nintendo Switch kindly provided by Nintendo during March 2017. This article was first published on 14 March 2017.