Nintendo has been innovative since the dawn of the home console. The N64 was the first popular with 4 control ports and Nintendo were the first to innovate the analog stick and even the first rumbling controller. They also pushed for the most family friendly hardware and software. Their target age group has always been from 5 to 80, something that no other competitor has ever do successfully. Sure, the competitors had games for all ages, but the focus was never on the entire spectrum.
The Switch, their latest console was released right in the middle of this 8th console generation. Maybe because we are moving away from console generations and starting to see more incremental upgrades like PS4 Pro, and Scorpio – both coming mid gen. Or maybe it was the lackluster sales of the Wii U that made Nintendo jump into mid gen. Regardless they did it, and here we are. Now, let’s get into (what I think) is Nintendo’s strangest or most rushed launch yet.
I’ll start with the hardware first. I played the Switch briefly at PAX South in January, and my early impressions were incredible. I was blinded by excitement, like always. It wasn’t until I had my own all to myself for hours that I began to notice its flaws. There are a lot of oversights on this console and it just doesn’t make sense to me, that Nintendo would do this. Nintendo has always designed consoles that are for all ages. This console is not. Sure kids can still “play” the system, but unless you want broken/jammed joycons, and scratched screens, I highly recommend you keep the console docked, and only let the little ones play with the pro controller (amazing controller) or the joycon controller grip. Not only can the screen be easily scratched going in and out of the dock, the screen is plastic. Yup, plastic. Basically, all touch screens use a type of glass that’s scratch resistant, but this is not the case here. Even without docking, expect it to scratch very easily.
If you are like me, a single scratch on such a small display is forever noticeable. I do know that this means nothing to a lot of people. Honestly, it’s an oversight that could have been easily remedied. What about a screen protector, you are probably thinking? That is a great idea, if you like them. But guess what? The console gets so hot in the doc, most of the screen protectors on the market, the adhesive will melt and either cause more damage, or basically ruin the screen protector. Keep in mind, these are issues that happen to people that game extensively. Nintendo already has said, “We’re looking into it”. Apparently there are docks out there where the rubber pads are misaligned and this is the reason for a lot of the scratches, from normal use of going in and out of the dock. The reason this is such a big deal to me, is because this is what the system was designed to do, and if it gets scratched in the first week? That is what I call a serious oversight.
The Joycons are fantastic little controllers. Even with big hands I have gotten used to them. That being said, I am a gamer that never lets “controls” stop me from enjoying a game. I will get used to whatever you give me. The hardware oversight I found with the joycons, is the strap. If you happen to accidentally place the wrong strap on the joycon, it gets literally jammed on there. Almost to the point of breaking when trying to remove it. There are already tutorial videos posted on YouTube on how to remove the strap without breaking it, or the joycon. I will never make this mistake, because of the indicated symbols, but I’ve already seen countless hardcore gamers make the mistake, as well as many children. Is this a deal breaker? Not at all, but again it’s something that could have been avoided. Don’t even get me started on the fact that since they’re different, consumers will run into a situation where they have to buy 2 to replace 1, or will the retailer be sold out of only the left ones and only have the right one in stock? Who knows, but you wouldn’t be surprised if you have ever worked retail in a video game store, how often these kinds of things can happen.
Nintendo also decided to put the analog in an off-axis design. I know there are plenty of gamers that prefer this since Microsoft introduced it on the 360 controller. I never cared for it, but as always, I got over it. The problem here is that when they are close together in the joycon grip, the right stick is really low, and almost hand cramping low. That’s not even the worst part. If you are playing a two player game, where each player uses one joycon, whoever gets the player 2 is stuck with the controller with the analog in the center of the joycon. Why Nintendo? WHY? Not only is the analog in the middle, but the face buttons are still at the edge. You are essentially holding this tiny controller and only using the right side of it. Maybe this is a large hand issue, but again, I can’t help but think this would have been a non-issue if they just designed both sides in the same way. Maybe they really wanted them to be unique, so consumers could tell them apart, and not put the wrong wrist strap on the wrong joycon (sips tea).
Now, for the joycons attachment to the screen. When you are in portable mode, with the joycons attached, there is a very serious issue. The joycons are very light, so light in fact, that they can bend back and forth. They don’t lock onto the tablet firmly. Sure, they have a little plastic lock so the tablet doesn’t just slip out of the joycons, BUT the actual bracket which holds them in place is weak. The slightest amount of pressure forwards or back, will cause the joycon to bend, and in some cases, de-sync from the tablet. This could have been completely avoided had they spent a little more time on the bracket. Are you supposed to apply pressure? Of course not, but after minimal use, I have already seen the threshold of how far they can bend continue to grow. =(
All these hardware cons can be avoided by anyone that takes really good care of their stuff, and plays delicately. My overall point is that, it’s meant to be on the go, and durability is a major factor when dealing with a portable console. Also, there is no chance a child could use this system without running into these problems. Every single Nintendo console before this one, could be dropped down a flight of stairs and continue to function perfectly. When Sony built their first portable, they went for sleek design and the system was more fragile. Nintendo continued down a path of straight durability, DS hinge aside. Every Nintendo handheld was built to be used by kids, teenagers, and adults. Why stop now? I guess they just didn’t care this time around, which seems ridiculous to me, because this is the most expensive portable ever. Why wouldn’t you want it to be durable? The sad part is, that these all could have been avoided without more cost. They could have just took the time to test these things and not had the early adopters be there beta testers. I’m reminded of the first 3DS and how just closing it could lead to scratches on the top screen because the bottom screen was slightly raised. Nintendo immediately changed this in the next design, but you can tell that was a mistake they didn’t see coming. All these issues I mentioned they should have saw coming. Especially the dock scratching screens.
Now that I got my petty gripes out of the way, let’s talk about what is awesome about the Switch.
The first and most important part of the console, is the tablet. This bad boy is amazing. It displays a beautiful 720p image, and its bright as hell. At the cost of the battery (2.5 to 3 hours at max brightness), but who cares, I love a good bright screen. The screen is more responsive than the Wii U’s touch screen. It’s also not squishy like the Wii U. It’s solid and the feedback is instant. It doesn’t require a hard press like the DS or Wii U either. You can tell all your money went into this bad boy, because the dock is cheap, and the joycons, while amazing controllers, are cheaply made. The kickstand is the only part of the tablet that feels weak. I don’t see myself running into issues, but if any kid put pressure on this, it will easily break. Another strange oversight, or maybe just a ploy to sell another type of charge dock, but the USB charger is on the bottom, so it can’t be plugged in and charged while the screen is in kickstand mode. If you are gaming with friends and the console is on the table, you won’t be able to charge it. =(
The console runs beautifully and quickly. Pop in a game and play. No long load times here, thanks to that cartridge. I still had the option to download a patch for Zelda, but the game was literally plug and play – which I haven’t seen this since the N64. Even the Vita (used tiny cartridges) still needed to install data, and took quite a while to load. The Switch is incredibly fast, not only booting games, but navigating its OS.
Speaking of OS, Nintendo finally listened to the fans and created something quick. The design of the previous OSs is all subjective but it’s a fact that they were slow. That’s no longer an issue here. In my opinion, it actually looks really nice too. It’s easy to navigate and it has some of the coolest/cutest sound effects when you do simple tasks. I find myself repeating steps just to hear them – I am not kidding. Friend codes are still here, but they are at least universal this time around. Thankfully, there isn’t a code per game. You finally have one code for your entire profile. I’m still worried about what’s in store for the online service, since they are going to charge this time around. But if it’s as cheap as they claimed (29.99 a year), I don’t expect much.
If you made it this far into my rant, you are probably asking “Why do you care so much about a childproof console?” Well first, it has always been a staple of Nintendo hardware. Second, I have two kids (five and two) and both of them can successfully play every single Nintendo console without damaging them…except this one. So it’s a big deal for me. Like I said before, gamers that take care of there stuff will probably never run into the issues I mentioned, but they have to be mentioned because Nintendo has done better in every console before this one.
I will be posting The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild impressions at a later date. I can already tell this game is incredible and well deserving of its many 10 out of 10 review scores.
TL;DR: The Switch is not perfect, but it’s not a piece of garbage either. For being the first ever true portable console, I think they did a decent job. I still feel a lot of things were not thought out and the console feels rushed to market. That by no means, makes it a don’t buy. I am still happy with my purchase, but I am upset that my kids can’t play it without me having constant anxiety of something breaking.