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Nintendo Switch Review: Hybrid Homogenization

by on March 3, 2017
 

Before we begin the Nintendo Switch review, I would like to take a moment to say that console reviews are stupid. If a box that plays games comes out, and there are games you want to play on that box, you must buy the box. There isn’t much choice there. It’s nice when the box functions well and feels good, but that’s a small bonus next to being able to play the games you want. And given the lifespan of a console and the number of games that will come out for it, it’s impossible to know whether a console will be “worth your time” until the end of its life, or at least a couple of years into it. The games define the hardware. Given the small number of titles typically available at launch, not much can be said about the quality of the hardware, unless it’s exclusively judged as the expensive techno-box that it is. Now that I’ve spent a paragraph of your time telling you to not read on, let’s talk Switch.

The biggest draw of the switch is potential. We have a platform that exists as both a home console and a viable handheld. If Nintendo and its partners take advantage of this strength, we could end up with the most diverse and resilient gaming platform ever made. But it’s impossible to know currently whether that potential will be realized. Given the number of games currently announced, the number of developers on board, and Nintendo’s stated goal of maintaining and supporting third party relationships, it seems like the Switch is aggressively fighting for its corner in the video game clubhouse. But Nintendo is no stranger to Nintendo-like behavior, and it’s hard to know if these plans and this attitude will be maintained over the entire lifespan of the Switch, or its first year.

Even if the reported 2.5 to 6 hour battery life holds true, the console is perfectly playable in the handheld format. It will last long enough in most circumstances to get your fill before you find yourself near an outlet again. Given the visual complexity of Breath of the Wild, two and a half hours is an impressive number. While playing in portable mode, the console and button placement feel natural, and I had little issue adjusting to its layout. I found myself preferring portable mode to TV mode, as the Joy-Con Grip is a little too small in my hands for long term comfort. The only slight downside so far is that the console can feel a little weighty if used as a portable. It’s not heavy at all, weighing in at less than a pound, but I noticed some light wrist discomfort while playing for long stretches. This could also be due to the size of the device, or just a personal need to adjust to its layout.

While in portable mode, the 6.2 inch, 720p screen looks fantastic. Thanks to the smaller screen size, I noticed little difference in the fidelity of the screen image in portable versus TV mode. There doesn’t seem to be any significant difference in framerate either, with both modes consistently dropping frames in the same problem areas of Breath of the Wild I tested. If you can stand the distance between you and the device, the uncomfortable viewing angle, and the painfully small text, kickstand mode puts just enough distance between you and the screen to hide any aliasing issues and make everything look even better. The only problem with this setup is general playability. I couldn’t stand having the tiny screen that far away for more than a few minutes, and quickly went back to playing in my lap. The kickstand props the device up at an angle that does not complement most setups, and the action is reduced to a size that is uncomfortable to look at.

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Playing with the device as a home console isn’t much different than portable, outside of the Joy-Cons being attached to the grip versus the console itself. The grip is just a little too narrow for my hands to comfortably hold, and the buttons felt congested in a way that they didn’t in portable mode. The Pro Controller seems to comfortably solve this issue, but I did not have a chance to test it out personally. Separating the Joy-Cons and holding them as you would a Wii-mote and Nunchuck was surprisingly comfortable by comparison, and will likely be my preferred method of docked play until I can get my hands on a pro controller.

The console interface is refreshingly fast, fluid, and simple. Downloads are faster than I expected them to be, the home screen is cleanly laid out, and there are just enough options available to streamline and customize your experience without muddying the waters. Toggling between apps is responsive in a way that previous Nintendo consoles, and even current PS4s and Xbox Ones, are not. Pressing the home button takes you immediately to the home screen, with no initialization time required. The game you were playing will continue to run in the background, and you are free to use other (non-game) apps at your leisure. The dedicated “capture” button is equally responsive, with screenshots being immediately captured and saved without waiting for a menu to pop up. I am impressed at how fluidly everything runs on the console, and hope that this trend continues as more apps and features get patched in.

Nintendo Switch Review Verdict:

The Nintendo Switch has the potential to be the best platform the company has ever produced. It’s flexible, simple, and relatively comfortable to use. Whether the console becomes a success hinges greatly on their ability to produce games for it, and keep third parties interested. Third party support may not be what Nintendo fans are looking for when buying a console, but at the very least it makes a console feel alive and gives owners more reasons to turn their device on. As a device, the Switch is easily recommendable and presents a world of possibilities for both Nintendo and its user base. But only after some time has passed will we know if the platform will maintain its aggressive momentum and become a must have.

Score: 8.5/10

Pros:
  • Flexible
  • Relatively comfortable
  • Clean, fast interface
Cons:
  • Kickstand mode, while great on paper, isn’t comfortable to use
  • Joy-Con grip is a bit uncomfortable to use
  • Battery life may be a bit low for some