For the purpose of transparency, this review was completed using a purchased Nintendo Switch. The use of a purchased console does not affect my judgement of this product.
Friday 3 March saw the release of Nintendo’s new home console/hand-held hybrid the Nintendo Switch. This was something I personally did not plan on investing in, but, after the reviews of Zelda: Breath of Wild I knew I would have to play that game – and I do not own a Wii U. For someone who did not plan to purchase this until the day of its release (thanks Argos for having one left in stock), was the change of heart worth it?
Something everyone has come to expect from Nintendo products is the build quality and standard is usually high, and I am glad to say it has continued with the Switch. Every part of the hand-held and the docking station feel like they’ve been made out of premium grade materials. Although I personally didn’t own a Wii U, the time I’ve had with using one the GamePad seemed to feel very plastic – this is definitely not the case with the hand-held element of the Switch.
For the hand-held mode Nintendo have gone with a 6.2 inch capacitive touch screen with an out-put resolution of 1280×720. Now, even I was shocked when it was only going to put out 720p – I was thinking people are moving onto 4K and you’re not even giving people 1080p. However, you can start to see why this option was taken as you use it;
- Given the size of the screen, with the out-put of 720p, you still receive a very clean, crisp and jaggy free image.
- Out-putting at a higher resolution would use more battery power, and the battery life is already a talking point.
- The higher resolution would also cause more drain on CPU, making it possible that the hand-held to generate a lot more heat, and that’s not something you would want if not using it in desktop mode.
- Adding a 1080p screen would also add to the price of the console, if you think of the price of mobile phones with this resolution.
When playing with it in hand-held mode the dimensions are 102mm x 239mm x 13.9mm – with the Joy-Cons connected. Over my time using hand-held I feel this is about the right size to make it still feel portable, and still give a nice clear image (as mentioned above) and the screen size to enjoy playing the games. Un-docked it is thicker than the I-Pad and most android tablets, coming in at 28.4mm from the top of the Joy-Con analogue stick, to the bottom of the back triggers on the back. But, for me this is not a bad thing, because I like to feel like I am holding something in my hands and find tablets can sometimes feel a bit to flimsy and light weight. Weight-wise you are looking at approximately 398g – with the Joy-Con attached. This gives it a decent weight for a hand-held system, but, also it is not overly heavy. Taking into account the weight and the dimensions; I found with the Joy-Cons connected the hand-held mode balanced well in your hands, which is great for when you are travelling, or even just relaxing wanting to play a game away from the TV.
Next I will look at the tablet/desktop mode that is available when its un-docked; this is made possible with the kick stand on the back of the console. For me this is more for the multi-player when away from the docking stand, as I find if it was single player you would just use the hand-held mode. I did give it some testing for the review, and played some Zelda: Breath of Wild, and Super Bomberman R in desktop mode, and I feel with the screen only being 6.2 inch, you couldn’t use this mode if you were even just a medium distance away from the screen. However, that being said I can’t imagine it ever being a this sort of distance away from you in this mode – but for my purpose it would only ever be played in this mode in my gaming room, and then it would then just be docked.
One thing I see being a major issue about this mode is, games that require split screen (like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe when it’s released on 28 April 2017). Although I have not tested this myself as I do have any split-screen games, I can imagine it being difficult because the screen does not seem big enough to be split.
Now for the important thing about these modes the battery life, as this is essential for a portable product; and Nintendo suggest that it can last up to six hours depending on what you are playing. I found the average battery life is around the three-hour mark. Which Nintendo explained is what you could expect playing a game like Zelda: Breath of Wild – but for me this was the case switching between that and Super Bomberman R over my play-time. However, if you are travelling on a mode of transport with a plug socket, you can play and charge the console, because there is a Type-C USB connection (commonly used for android powered mobile phones) on the bottom of the tablet. If you have no power socket you can use an external USB power bank – PC Advisor have you covered on this. In relation to charging the console, it is reported to take around three hours to charge completely in Sleep Mode, I am not sure of the time if you chose to play and charge at the same time.
Switching it up (see what I did there), you can put the hand-held console into the Docking Station and it becomes a home console. When it is docked and playing through the TV, the docking station does convert it’s out-put to 1920×1080, running at 60fps – meaning it does match the resolution of the Full HD TV sets. Other than this it is all the same, just on your TV – expect while in docked mode you have the Joy-cons disconnected from the console (I will touch on the controller options soon). But, one thing I was really impressed with it was the switch from hand-held to home console by placing in the dock is as instant as Nintendo have made out.
I did find one issue when playing in docking mode. I found the image quality dropped a little when docked – but don’t get me wrong it still looked clear and crisp, it just dipped a bit. But, there is a major issue being discussed around the internet, which is the docking station scratching the screen when its being put in and taken out. So, it’s suggested you buy a screen protector as soon as possible, if you can find one as I have not been able to. There is a number of temporary fixes while you wait for one to come in stock or be delivered off the internet; one I have done by spending £2.00. I achieved this but picking up some double-sided sticky tape, and a microfibre tea towel from the pound shop, to line the docking rails inside the Docking Station.
When in docked or desktop modes the Joy-Cons can be used in multiple ways. There is the way Nintendo have been showing off regularly in motion gaming on 1-2 Switch demos (a game I did not pick up). But, you can have one in each hand for your single player games. Which I think this could be really useful for someone who has difficulty holding a usual controller for a prolonged time, say due to a disability – so massive kudo’s to Nintendo for covering people who could suffer from such issues. However, I found this way hard to play, because I am used to using a controller; but I feel with time this way could be easily adapted to.
Then for games that support couch co-op multi-player, you can use a Joy-Con each side ways. I did try this out on Super Bomberman R, and to my surprise it actually worked quite well. At first I did find quite fiddly with them being so small, but as you adjust to them they are soon manageable with even adult sized hands – but where this is manageable I feel this was the worst way to use the Joy-Cons.
The final way to use the Joy-Cons is by connecting them to the Joy-Con grip provided with the console. At first glance I was very sceptical of the decision to make it square, and the fact the grips seemed shallow on the back (for adult gamers) – but what other option did they have taking the shape of the Joy-Cons into account. But, to my surprise given the shape and the size of the Joy-Con grip controller I actually found it quite comfy, even for prolonged gaming sessions.
Whichever way you opt to use the Joy-Cons, they all work just as well as the other in regards to performance. I found that every part of the controllers seemed very responsive and as mentioned previous of a high build quality and standard. Also when playing in any of the modes you can press the square button with the circle indent on the left Joy-Con to take a screenshot – this can then be edited and shared on Twitter and/or Facebook, I am glad they added this feature as I like adding game screenshots to my Twitter account.
Now there is some issues facing the Joy-Cons, the main one being is the placement of the analogues and buttons when using them in single player on both hand-held and docked mode. In my opinion the reason both the Playstation and Xbox controllers work so well is the analogues are diagonal to the both the d-pad and buttons, meaning switching from one to the other is made simple, but Nintendo have placed the right analogue directly below the buttons, and the left directly above the d-pad. This makes the movement of your thumb to either the buttons or the d-pad feel a lot more fiddly, and less natural compared to systems the competitors – they have combated this with the release of the Pro Controller, but this comes at the cost of around £64.99.
Another issue I found is that the Joy-Cons are charged separately, and the only way to charge these out of the box they have to be connected to console in the docking station – reports are that they have about 20 hours battery life per Joy-Con. So, it would be a pain if these died mid-docked play. It is possible to by a play and charge Joy-Grip controller, but this is going to cost you around £27.99, so it all depends how desperate you become, and how often you find the battery in them dying on you.
The final issue I found, which you will have to be careful about is connecting the correct grip to the correct Joy-Con – to make sure this is clear Nintendo have marked both of these with a plus and minus sign. I have yet managed to do this, but I have seen multiple cases of this happening around the internet, and people reporting you can get them off using brute force or a wiggling technique. Although this is fixable, my main issue would be if this is a regular occurrence it could cause damage to the strap connector, or the even the Joy-Con, and then it becomes expensive to replace.
Setting up the Switch both to your TV and for first time use was really simple – which to me is a great thing when you want to just get hands-on with your latest piece of hardware. The Docking Station is just a simple connection to the power source and the HDMI socket on your TV, then this is all ready to go, as with all other gaming consoles.
If you want to set the console up for first time use in the docking station and on your TV this is possible, however, I did all mine via the hand-held mode. Nintendo used a very simple step-by-step process, with what seemed very few steps, all that is required was;
- Selecting your region
- Agreeing to their terms and conditions
- Connecting to your wireless network
- Setting your time-zone
- Your icon and console nickname
- Linking or creating your Nintendo account
- Selecting parental controls
And, that is you done – your console is now set-up for use. It really was a quick and painless set-up, even for me who had to set-up a Nintendo account, as I have never had one. The only issue I found with this step was that you had to use your PC or another Smart Device when creating your account, I feel this should have been possible via the Switch console, and then verified on your PC/Smart Device.
Although I have already discussed the Joy-Cons, I thought I would leave this part to the set-up. In order to switch about the modes, as mentioned before you will need to detach and attach the Joy-Cons to and from devices. I found the runners for the Joy-Cons very smooth and well sized, and removing them could not have been any simpler. All you need to do is press and hold little button on the top of the Joy-Con and it simply slides off the runner – unfortunately this is not the case with the grips. When it comes to the grips they seem a lot more of a snug fit to the Joy-Con, and feel tough to get off at times.
One thing I really like about the Switch is the simple and clean look of the user interface, which makes it so easy to navigate and use. It has a plain background, which you can either set to white or black – I personally prefer the black. You will then find all the registered accounts on the system in the top left, selecting these will open the profile for each user.. In the top right you will find your remaining battery (in hand-held mode), your wireless connection signal, and the time. Across the middle you will find larger images of the games/demos you have installed on your system, when launching one of these it will ask you which user is playing. Finally across the bottom you have News, Nintendo eShop, Album (where your screenshots are stored), Controllers, System Settings and Sleep Mode. I really hope overtime that Nintendo don’t mess about with the user interface, because it really does work well.
In regards to the online services currently offered by the Nintendo Switch it is really hard to discuss, because to me it has been launched while a lot of this is not available. I know at the moment they are not charging for their online service and it’s free until at least fall – but personally I think it would have been better to make sure it was all available at launch. I have had a browse around what is available on the systems options, and you can basically find and add friends, local users, and people you’ve played online with at the moment – so that means no messaging service at this present time. I don’t really see this changing much either, with the Switches companion app being slated for a Summer 2017 release, I think this is when more will start to appear around the online functionality of the Switch.
One thing I have been surprised to see if the re-introduction of the Nintendo Friend Numbers – you know them 12-digit numbers that were hated by the Nintendo gaming community. I am not sure why these have been re-introduced due the known hate for them, hopefully this is something that will be patched out, as more of the online functions are added.
I did however test Super Bomberman R online-play, and in the games I’ve had it mostly seemed to run smoothly connecting to other users (via match-making), and hold the connection well in the game. There was a few lag spikes in some of the games, but that is expected really.
There was a few additions I was grateful to see added for the Nintendo Switch, which I think it benefits from. The first thing is the inclusion of the Auto-Sleep on the hand-held element of the console. I have mentioned previously I did not own the Wii U, but from the people I know that did, I believe the was missing form the GamePad and it was an issue at the time.
Secondly was the inclusion of Amiibo support – but I don’t think they had much of a choice with this one due to popularity and the money they make from them. Again, due to not owning any Nintendo product since the Wii, I have never had anything to do with Amiibo’s but it is something I can see my looking into now with the Switch.
I was also pleased to see that the Switch is Region Free; which is a great move in my opinion, as there’s many games that don’t see a Western or European release. Another great thing about this is Nintendo have made it easy to create an account for the other regions, all you need is a different email address, and to select that region on the set-up – I just wish the other gaming consoles made it that easy.
One thing Nintendo have really struggled with is the strength of its launch line up for the Switch. In my opinion it’s not all that great, I mean it’s good they got a Nintendo great like Zelda: Breath of the Wild out for launch, but it’s also available on the Wii U – and other than that the rest are not stand-out titles. I also got Super Bomberman R because I love that game franchise and I was happy another one was coming out. The other physical copy releases were 1-2 Switch, and to me this seemed more of tech-demo and I think it should have been bundled like Wii Sports had been previously – as did many others. Then there is Just Dance 2017 and Skylanders Imaginators, which isn’t going to be a stand out system seller for many people, and they’ve been avaialble on other consoles since 2016. There is also a number of digital only indie type games available on the eShop, but these just aren’t strong enough for me either.
Now to some more of the problems I have found with the Switch so far. The main one is storage issues, a big complaint about the Wii U was the minimal storage on the device, and it seems they have not learnt from that. Your console comes with 32gb of internal storage (you looking at about 26gb after system installs), taking into account that Zelda: Breath of the Wild is 13.4gb if purchased digitally, it doesn’t leave a lot of room. One thing I was glad about when it comes to storage is Nintendo are allowing the use standard MicroSD card types, and not overcharging for this like Sony have with the Vita.
But, even-though they have chosen to allow the use of MircoSD cards reducing the cost in that area, I find that the rest of the accessories are overly priced. I have previously mentioned the Pro Controller when talking about the placement of the analogues on the controller, if this was something you could not get used to, or say you found the Joy Grip Controller uncomfortable. Also, I aforementioned connecting the wrong strap to the wrong Joy-Con – if you break the strap it’s not too bad as this will cost £4.99 per pair, but say you broke the Joy-Con, you can only buy these in a pair and that will cost you around £74.99. For one final example, if you wanted a new full controller with Joy-Con Grip for multi-player, you are going to be down around £94.98, taking into account the pair of Joy-Cons and then the grip for £19.99. So, as you can see the console could soon become very pricey.
Previously I have mentioned how grateful I was of the ability to screenshot and share them on social media, but this leads to my final issue – it stops there. Both of Nintendo’s main competitors allow the use of the video capture and streaming services directly from their consoles, at the moment the Switch does not allow both of these. As someone who likes to stream on Twitch, the ease of doing it directly from my console is not an option. Now there has been suggestions from Nintendo that both video capture and streaming may make its way the Switch, I just hope it does because it really is a feature that I feel will get some use.
And finally for a bit fun, Nintendo mentioned that they had made its cartridges have a really bad taste to them, this was to stop a child from being able to swallow them. As many people have, I had to put this to the test and see if they really do taste that bad. Believe me when I say they do – it took me about half a pint and water and some chewing gum to completely remove the taste afterwards. Personally I think this was a smart move by Nintendo, because the cartridges will easily fit into the mouth of children and could easily be swallowed.
Overall I feel the hardware itself is of the usual Nintendo high quality when it comes to the materials used, and the build of the product, but then taking the lack of online functionality it seems like as a system it’s sort of in BETA. This feeling isn’t helped by what I see as lack-luster launch titles. So, unless you really want to play Zelda: Breath of the Wild and don’t already own a Wii U you can maybe skip so far – also given the next Nintendo in-house exclusive is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, another game you can play on your Wii U. If this sounds like you then I would maybe recommend waiting until the end of the year when it should have a bigger games library.
However, if you are a fan of Nintendo, and want to be an early adopter of their latest hardware, then you most likely wont be disappointed – because it is a decent piece of kit, you’ll just have to be patient waiting for the extra features to come along.