Nintendo Switch First Impressions, or How I Accidentally Bought A Switch

switch-logoI fully intended to not buy a Switch at launch. The only launch title I was excited for was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that was coming to Wii U, so why bother? Let other people scramble around to find pre-orders. I was pretty excited about Breath of the Wild, so I pre-ordered it at Best Buy, and went to pick it up on my lunch break. My local Best Buy recently moved/split their Customer Service and Online Pickup desks, and I went to the Customer Service desk out of habit. As I was standing in line, I saw a stack of a few Switches and several of the people in front of me were buying them. Surely these were pre-orders; pre-orders filled up the first day and there was a midnight release. After the guy at the desk informed me that I was in the wrong place to pick up my pre-order, I asked, on a whim, if any of those were for sale. He informed me that all pre-orders were at the other desk, and these were indeed all unspoken for. So, while I was waiting in line for my Zelda Wii U disk, I started thinking. This is Nintendo we’re talking about; who knows how long it’ll be before I find another one. It’s not going to get any cheaper if I wait. We have plenty of money in savings. I could sell it on eBay for a profit… ok that’s probably not going to happen; if I have it I’m going to want to play it. So I called my wife and opened with “So… talk me out of this.” She in fact talked me into buying it, which is one of many reasons why I love her, and said basically all of the things that I was thinking.

So I’m now the proud owner of a Nintendo Switch. The grey version, of course, because the mismatched neon controllers make me cringe. I, of course, exchanged my Wii U copy of Breath of the Wild for the Switch version. The game is absolutely beautiful. I’m not sure how the Wii U version compares, but the Switch version has some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen from a Nintendo game (which, to be honest, isn’t saying a lot, but remember we’re talking about a tablet here). This feels like the Zelda-meets-Elder Scrolls (Zelder Scrolls?) game players have been begging for for ages. They finally nailed the graphical style (Windwaker was too cartoony, Twilight Princess was nice but felt like it was trying too hard to shoehorn cartoony characters into a photoreal world, and Skyward Sword tried to be somewhere in the middle, to some success, but to a lesser degree than Breath of the Wild), and the open world is a joy to explore. From the marketing and the reviews, it seems like there’s a ton of stuff to do in the game, which is good because it’s looking like it will probably be my only game on the system until the release of Splatoon 2 or Mario Odyssey, whichever comes out first.

The only problem I have with the console so far is the controller. The thumbsticks on the Joycon (the controller that snaps onto the sides) are short and feel a little cheap (the guy at Best Buy said they’ve had problems with them snapping already, but he was probably just trying to sell the protection plan), the buttons feel small, and I’ve had some connection issues (granted, my couch is pretty far away from my TV, but I never had any problems with the Wiimote or DS3). Also, controllers for this thing are freaking expensive. One half of the Joycon is $50, or $80 for both halves, and that doesn’t include the grip that links them together into a real controller. The pro controller is actually cheaper at $70, so hopefully that will be reasonably well supported (I don’t see why not, as it has the same buttons at the Joycon). I’m sure it’s all the new tech packed into these things–NFC touchpoint for Amiibo, accelerometer+gyro “HD” rumble, etc.–but I wish they would offer a stripped-down version that just took my inputs for a little less money. I’m sure some third party will make one, but, in my experience, third party controllers are universally terrible. In any case, though, it’s better than that awful, bulky Wii U tablet.

Controller issues aside, the console seems pretty solid. I like the touchscreen a lot better than Nintendo’s previous consoles (it’s capacitive like smartphones and tablets instead of resistive like the (3)DS and Wii U, which is less accurate for some things, but just feels a lot easier to use) and it feels light enough to hold for a while without my arms getting tired. The toaster TV dock attaches easily and the switchover to HDMI output is almost instant. In tablet mode, you can tell the graphics are dialed down a little, but it’s far from painful to look at. I like that there’s a screenshot button and the ability to share your screenshots on social media (sorry, Twitter followers, I’ll try to keep my Zelda screenshot spam to a minimum). The battery life isn’t great–I haven’t run it all the way down, but when I did it seemed to be on track for the low end of the 2.5-6.5 hours estimate that Nintendo gave. It’s frustrating that there’s only one game that I’m excited about, but I’m not too worried. Nintendo, for some reason, never seems to care about launch titles, so I’m sure we’ll have a good library of titles about a year from now (the DS, for example, was heralded as a commercial failure at launch, but once they got some actual games out, ended up being Nintendo’s highest selling console ever). Until then, I’ll be in Hyrule if you need me!

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Nintendo Switch first impressions


By now you’ve probably seen news about the Switch. It’s Nintendo’s new console-tablet-thing (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term) that was announced earlier today. As a Nintendo fan, I’m personally pretty excited. It’s no secret that Nintendo has been floundering lately, especially stateside. It has been suggested that they should do what Sega did in 2001 and give up on the console market and focus on making software for third party consoles. But Nintendo has always dominated the handheld arena. Yes, tablets and smartphones have stolen a bit of their market, but the success of the 3DS has shown that Nintendo can still hold their own in that area. I think the Switch is a great move for them, because it unifies their handheld and home console into one.

First off, let’s talk about controls. Ever since the Wii, Nintendo has been all-in on “unique” controllers, and the Switch seems to go back on some of the weirdness, which is much apreciated. As you can see in the above trailer, the controller is basically a normal, Xbox-style controller that splits in two and snaps on either side of the tablet. Razer has an Android tablet with a similar design, and I’m sure others have tried this, but I think Nintendo is the first company to do something like this in an elegant way that looks like something I’d want to play on. Using the tiny side controllers on their own is a nice option I guess, but I don’t see developers using them for much, as they look pretty cramped. I like the new version of the Pro Controller; nothing fancy, just a good, solid, traditional controller. It seems to have the same buttons as built-in one, so I’m really hoping that this means all games will allow you to use either controller. No more wondering which of your myriad controllers a game is compatible with, please (I’m still annoyed that I can’t play Splatoon on a pro or classic controller, which, judging by the end of the trailer, is set to change in the sequel).

I find it odd that we never see anyone touching the screen on the Switch in the trailer. It would be super ironic if they went from having a home console that has a touchscreen where it doesn’t belong to having a tablet that doesn’t. I’ll be really surprised if this is the case, however, and I suspect that they simply chose not to show it because they wanted to distance it from the Wii U in users’ minds. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of Nintendo’s design specifications this time around that every game must be playable with the controller only, since otherwise you won’t be able to play if it’s plugged into the dock. As an added bonus, they get people like me to speculate with their friends about whether or not it’ll have a touchscreen for a while.

I’m curious about the battery life. I’ll be impressed if they can get more than a couple of hours on battery playing a game like Skyrim. Will they drop the resolution for tablet mode to save battery? What about graphical quality? Come to think of it, my 3DS probably gets less than three hours per charge at this point, so maybe it won’t be a big deal.

Speaking of 3DS, this brings us to the interesting question of what happens with the current consoles. The Switch seems to have the capabilities of both of Nintendo’s current consoles. Sure, they’re saying that it’s a third category that’s meant to coexist with other consoles for now, but they also said that the original DS wasn’t going to take the place of the Gameboy line. I’m pretty sure Nintendo is giving themselves an out; if this ends up being a disaster, they can always bail on it and come out with new versions of the DS and home console.

I’m a little frustrated with Nintendo for the way they went about this. We’re well past convention season now, and it’s coming out three months after the holiday release window when new consoles traditionally do best. They’ve said they waited so long because they were afraid of competitors stealing their ideas, but I’m pretty sure that the amount of hype and press that they lost by announcing it this late in the year far outweighs any risk of some other company stealing their ideas (which is going to happen sooner or later anyways). Also, this trailer dropped just one hour before the trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2, which, let’s be honest, is probably much bigger news in the eyes of the average gamer. They announced that the trailer was coming out last night (really? Couldn’t you have at least tried to build hype first?), so it’s not like they didn’t know the biggest game of 2017 was being announced the next morning. Annoyances aside, for the first time since they announced the Wii, I feel like Nintendo is finally heading in the right direction. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m excited to finally be optimistic at all about a Nintendo hardware release.