One week on from the Switch launch, we examine how it holds up.
When the Nintendo Switch launched last week I was still fairly unconvinced of the machine’s unique selling points. I’d been absolutely loving Zelda on it but the machine itself still left me perplexed – and at that point I’d had the console for almost two weeks. More than anything I just felt uneasy, and that’s one of the reasons you didn’t see a Switch hardware review from us earlier – I wanted to solidify my opinion on it all.
“It took time to click with me, but for many types of game this has the potential to be the ultimate machine.”
Despite having the machine early, launch week was when the the Switch really clicked for me. Now, several weeks from the day I first plucked it from its dinky box, I get it. Not only do I get it, but I love it: I’m convinced. It took time to click with me, but for many types of game this has the potential to be the ultimate machine.
I loved the concept from minute one, but for a long time I was unsure of its validity. It was never the idea of a hybrid machine’s utility that excited me most but rather the idea of Nintendo’s immense first-party talent at last being focused on just one machine – but as it turns out, the utility is pretty fantastic. It’s portable gaming that I can get behind.
Utterly key to this is the simplicity of the concept and experience. The Wii U’s concept was one that often required extra explanation, from the ‘is it an add-on’ confusion surrounding its terrible name right through to games needing to instruct you way too often: Look at the screen! Now look at the tablet, and so on.
Few games actually managed to use its unique concept as well as the tech demo collection in Nintendo Land, and the mess that is Star Fox Zero served as the perfect underscoring of where the machine failed: for a Nintendo product it was, in truth, surprisingly complex. When you think about it not many DS games actually require focus on both screens, and when you extrapolate that to a TV and a tablet with a mega shitty display it’s not surprising it ended up a bit broken.
This isn’t so for Switch. It doesn’t need those explanations. It’s one screen, one game. The stuff that looks complicated, such as sliding out the joy-cons and changing the ways you play are for the most part incredibly intuitive. It’s the sort of thing where you could probably hand it to your grandparents and they could figure out how to make it do what it does in the adverts easily enough (so long as they don’t put those wrist straps on upside down). That’s reminiscent of the Wii.
Then there are the lovely Nintendo-like touches throughout the machine. The way it makes that click noise from the commercials when you slide the Joy-Cons into place is sublime, and the build quality of the buttons speak to the experience of a company who set the standard for what game inputs are. This is paired with a build quality that is without doubt the best Nintendo has ever managed: gone are the crap screens and the cracking hinges.
Basically, it feels as though it’s built to last, something best demonstrated by a stomach-turning video from JerryRigEverything who destroy a Switch so you don’t have to. Their conclusion seems fair: this thing is well-made. (But get a screen protector.)
I think in power terms the machine seems well-pitched, too: It’s very pretty for a handheld and not as impressive as other consoles, but when you consider that the machine can be taken with you the throttled power is much more acceptable. I think much of the Switch’s market will be found either with those who don’t care about visuals or with those for whom it’ll be a second machine, making that a much easier thing to accept.
Across the course of the last few weeks I’ve slowly become convinced: sliding my switch out of the dock to take it to bed for late-night Zelda, or even fulfilling the advertisers’ dream in taking it over to a friends’ house to show them and then playing four-player Bomberman off the console screen, crowded around the display like the old days of Goldeneye split-screen. It works. I typically played my 3DS favourites like Fire Emblem and Ace Attorney in bed or sprawled out on the sofa, and the joy of the Switch is that it allows me to do that with huge console-sized games. I can play Zelda properly, and then in an instant switch to a lazy sprawl if I fancy.
“When I think about some of the massive games coming out, I’ve caught myself a few times wishing they were on the machine that’d make life easiest – and very rapidly that’s beginning to look like the Switch.”
It just works – and that’s ‘just works’ in the same sort of way that swinging a tennis racket just worked, albeit for a more gaming-focused audience. It’s intuitive and natural.
In this the Switch slots in around your life more than any other fully-fledged console ever has. When I think about some of the massive games coming out, I’ve caught myself a few times wishing they were on the machine that’d make life easiest – and in light of how effortlessly I pumped 100 hours into Zelda that’s very rapidly beginning to look like the Switch. If I end up putting 80 hours into Persona 5 as I did into its predecessor, I have no doubt the Switch would be the best place for me to do so – and I think in the future Nintendo’s latest could be a goldmine for the massive Japanese RPG in particular.
With all this glowing praise it still has to be said that the Switch feels unfinished. The machine boots into a barren wasteland (though boy, it’s fast and snappy) with a vague approximation of an online service powered by awful friend codes. Saves can’t be shunted around. Considering the machine proposes to be a tablet-like device the lack of a media player or any media apps at all is jarring. Basically, it feels like it launched a little early, like we’re a few firmware updates and additional downloads away from it feeling like a complete machine. The anemic launch line-up speaks to this, too – it seems like developers didn’t have much time to prepare.
The same is true for the hardware itself – good as it is, there are all those weird issues and questions about the dock scratching the screen, heat issues, Joy-Con wireless woes and so on. This is the sort of stuff that’s commonly widespread on any initial hardware launch, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a little more to it all here. It also feels to me like the Pro Controller is an absolute must for when you’re docked, at least for traditional games like Zelda. Again, maybe we’re a revision and a bundle away from true greatness, but that’s been true of Nintendo’s handheld hardware for years.
From the lack of launch games through to the anemic operating system, Switch early adopters might feel a little more like they’re participating in a beta than your average console launch. That’s a pain, but if you know what you’re getting into I think that’s acceptable, and what’s been presented on day one is still pretty damn good. You get the better version of one of the best games ever made in for the bargain, and on top of that I think the future looks pretty bright.
The Wii U’s concept was good on paper, but difficult to execute on. All you need to do on Switch is make good games – they’ll then translate naturally to being able to be played in a variety of scenarios. Zelda is the perfect example of this – we need more of that. Software and updates are now the key – but if Nintendo can keep plugging away on those, I’m sold.