It feels like we’ve been talking about the Nintendo Switch for years now, only the introduction of Nintendo’s latest console arrived mere months ago. It was in October 2016, when Nintendo released the first glimpse of the console accompanied by a short trailer. We later saw the console on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon followed by a longer in-depth look earlier this year. We're now mere days away from the release of Nintendo’s new machine and I’ve been fortunate enough to put its paces these last two weeks.
The Nintendo Switch is an interesting device right from the start. If you haven’t followed the pre-release hype, let me try to break it down for you. The core of the Nintendo Switch is a tablet with a 6.2” multi-touch display that can display games up to 720p. On either side of the tablet are connectors that the new Joy-Con controllers can click into. Think of the Joy-Con’s as a standard video game controller split into two halves. The Joy-Con’s connect to the left and right sides of the Switch tablet with a simple slide and click. With the Joy-Cons attached, you've got a completely portable version of the Nintendo Switch ready to go.
The Joy-Cons don't have to be connected to the tablet, though. You can either play games with a Joy-Con in each hand or connected together via the Joy-Con grip. Similar in design to the sides of the tablet, the Joy-Con grip has a track on each side for the Joy-Con’s to slide and click onto, making an object that closely resembles a standard controller ready to be synced to the console. Syncing controllers is relatively painless, and requires a couple of button presses before the process is complete.
If that setup doesn't work for you, you can connect the Switch tablet to the included dock that hooks into a TV through an HDMI cable. By sliding the tablet into the dock, your game instantly "switches" from handheld device to console. One thing I found slightly odd was how difficult it can sometimes be to know right away if you properly lined up the Switch tablet with the dock. Unlike the Joy-Con controllers, the tablet doesn’t have a solid, click into place noise. Instead you just wait a second or two to see if the picture comes up on screen (otherwise you'll have to readjust the machine until it happens). A small oversight that’s rectified the more you use the device.
- Size: Approximately 4 inches high, 9.4 inches long, and 0.55 inches deep (with Joy-Con attached)
- Weight: Approximately .66 lbs (Approximately .88 lbs when Joy-Con controllers are attached)
- Screen: Multi-touch capacitive touch screen / 6.2-inch LCD Screen / 1280 x 72
- CPU/GPU: NVIDIA Custom Tegra processo
- Storage: 32 GB of internal storage, a portion of which is reserved for use by the system. Users can easily expand storage space using microSDHC or microSDXC cards up to 2TB (sold separately).
- Networking: Nintendo Switch can be connected to the Internet via a wireless (IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth 4.1 (In TV mode, Nintendo Switch can be connected by using a wired LAN adapter - sold separately)
- Video Output: Up to 1080p via HDMI in TV mode. Up to 720p via built-in screen in tabletop mode and handheld mod
- Audio Output: Compatible with 5.1ch PCM Linear output. Output via HDMI connector in TV mode
At this point in the review, I should mention that as part of receiving the Nintendo Switch early for review, the console's online functionality was turned off. A patch will be released before the official release of the console to activate some online features, such as the store. Right now, though, the Switch is a minimal console: you can pop in a cartridge and it plays the game. As such, that is the console experience I’m going to review.
To start with let’s talk about playing games on TV, the most conventional mode of a home console. In this situation you can either use the Joy-Con’s with or without the Joy-Con Grip, but I absolutely preferred using the grip. Once you have the two joy-con’s locked in place and synced with the console you’re ready to play. Sadly the Joy-Con’s as a standard controller might be the weakest part of the console. Had a Pro Controller been available to purchase I think I would have opted to give that route a go. Using the two Joy-Con controllers with the Grip is not a comfortable experience. Coming from Nintendo a company known for fantastic controllers, this out of the box setup makes for a cramped controller. The buttons lack travel, they press but not as satisfying as an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller. My biggest gripe are the two analog sticks that are ill placed and far too short. They work fine when you have the controllers out of the grip but as a standard controller, they’re hard to work with.
The other big problem with the Joy-Cons in my testing have been the lost connections. While playing different Switch games in TV mode, the controller would fall out of sync with the console, causing the machine to think I was constantly pressing up or down on the left analog stick. It is simple to re-sync, but it was an annoyance that happened countless times during testing. Hopefully this can be fixed with a software patch, but as of this writing a solution has not yet been released.
The other mode of play that I tested extensively was playing directly on the Nintendo Switch tablet with the joy-con’s connected. I was really impressed with the solid and swift transition between TV and handheld - and the games played as well if not better then on the TV. The tablet with the Joy-Cons is around 1lb which isn’t exorbitantly heavy but after a while it can wear on you. That’s why I absolutely love the simple addition of a kickstand to the back of the Nintendo Switch that lets you prop up the tablet and use the joy-con’s in the grip, making the tablet a display. I could see this being an excellent way to enjoy games on a plane. For my testing I did take it on the road with me and enjoyed both methods of play.
Battery life is of course a concern. For the first week of my testing the only game I had to test on the console was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and it seemed to last a little over two hours before the battery died. Nintendo has stated that games will have different impacts on battery length but as a benchmark it seems that around two hours is what you can expect from Breath of the Wild. The one positive thing I can say is that because more and more devices like the Nintendo Switch are using USB-C connectors you should have no problem finding something to charge the device with. I do wish though that the console could last a cross-country flight without needing to be recharged.
At the end of my two weeks of testing I’m relatively impressed with the Nintendo Switch. The console feels like a smarter, more well thought out console design in comparison to its Wii U predecessor. Although not as straightforward as the Nintendo Wii was for general audiences, I do believe that after a small learning curve the functionality of the Nintendo Switch is both evident and useful.
The console is not without some concerns however. The connectivity issues I experienced between the Joy-Con and the console being a primary one. But another being that much of the online functionality just isn’t ready for the Nintendo Switch launch. Nintendo’s paid online service doesn’t launch until this fall. In fact, even Netflix won’t be available at launch according to Nintendo, and at this point even refrigerators launch with Netflix. And that might be the best example I can give for what worries me about the Nintendo Switch. It’s a well thought out product that might be hindered by a bare bones launch. It will be up to Nintendo to take this platform and bring it into the modern age with online services and a continuous stream of great Nintendo games. If they can do that, the Nintendo Switch will have a far more successful run then the Wii U.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.