Alongside Breath of the Wild came something else – something I had craved since I first learned its true nature back in October. Previously known as the NX, Nintendo gave a glimpse of the Switch, a tantalising look at their home/handheld hybrid console.
Early reactions were cautiously positive. Nintendo, who would often try out new ideas with varying results, were at it again. Just as the Wii was a radical departure from the power battle raging between Sony and Microsoft with its unique new approach, the Switch would attempt to once again redefine the console genre. It’s a clever idea – but does it work? The short-term answer is an emphatic yes! It’s far too early to say what the long-term prospects are, but the Switch has enjoyed a solid debut, and Nintendo have done a much better job marketing their new creation.
In terms of raw power, the Switch is miles behind the PS4 and XBone, but specs have never concerned Nintendo. What the Switch does is different – the Joy Cons can be directly connected to the console itself and the console can be held quite comfortably in two hands – or the Cons can be connected to the Grip, with the console slotted into its docking station (that connects to the TV via HDMI). The switch (get it?) between the two modes is pretty seamless, and there is more. The Cons can be unclipped from the console, which can be stood up on a kickstand, and you can play like that (or pop the Cons into the Grip and use the kickstand. Or hold the Cons and play via the TV). I’ve yet to put it to the test (I don’t have the right games), but you can use a single Joy Con for some titles, and some multi-player games require each player to have a Joy Con. Though the individual controllers are quite small, they are surprisingly easy to hold either vertically or horizontally.
So already Nintendo have scored points for creativity and versatility. What other pluses are there? Well, the Switch is, as to be expected in this day and age, equipped with wi-fi, and can therefore be used for multi-player gaming online. In a move that Nintendo have previously shied away from, a paid-for subscription service will soon be required to access most multi-player gaming experiences, and the details of the cost are not yet known. If this allows Nintendo to develop a more robust system then so be it.
The graphics of the system are surprisingly good, at least in respect of the one game I’ve played in earnest, Breath of the Wild. Nintendo’s flagship franchise is a powerful showcase for the Switch and looks gorgeous. It must be noted that this game was originally designed for the Wii U, so as good as it is, there is almost certainly more to come from the Switch in terms of performance. The interface is easy to use and links in nicely to the Nintendo eShop service. Sound quality is good, even when the console is used in handheld mode. The one main bugbear (and to be honest, one that hasn’t really been an issue for me) is that the battery life, when the console is used in handheld mode and when playing games like Zelda, is around three hours, which isn’t spectacular. This may well prove to be a limiting factor behind using the console during long trips – though I suspect most people would pack the charger.
Another gripe is less to do with the hardware and more the price of the add-ons. The Grip doesn’t charge the Cons – only the console itself does that. An optional charging Grip exists, but it’s not exactly cheap, and nor is the Pro controller. Additional Joy Cons are expensive, and the games are pretty pricey too. The cartridges that the Switch relies on are apparently even more expensive to produce than blu-ray discs, and the eShop prices match the retail prices.
Cost aside, the Switch is a clever, unique system that has the potential to open up new avenues for Nintendo and for gamers. The casual appeal is immediately obvious, whilst Nintendo have been trumpeting their third-party support for some time. If this takes off, it could be as successful as the Wii – a major accomplishment.