Time to – ahem – Switch things up.
When it comes to gaming, I’m hardly a loyalist. I grew up flip-flopping between companies, dabbling mostly in Sony and Nintendo while also spending a great deal of time with my Xbox 360. I’ve even been known to go through bouts of PC gaming when a particular game catches my eye in a Steam sale. A couple of weeks ago, the majority of my gaming took place on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. Having received my Nintendo Switch exactly one week ago, however, the prioritisation of my time has mostly centred around learning the ins and outs of the new console. By and large, I’ll preface by saying that my experiences with the Switch have been largely positive, and I can say that I am satisfied with my purchase. While there are certainly areas to which I would love to see some improvements, I think that Nintendo is off to a strong start with the Switch, and I look forward to seeing where they choose to lead the console in its future.
Above all else, the console itself feels great – not too heavy to feel cumbersome in handheld mode, and not too light as to feel like you could accidentally throw it across the room. In terms of dividing my playtime into the different orientations, I’ve split my time fairly evenly between the docked and handheld modes. Touch functionality on the touchscreen feels responsive, though I haven’t had much experience using it aside from transitioning between menus. Using the tabletop mode has been of little interest to me, as positioning the screen too far away while playing inevitably feels awkward. Not to mention, the finicky kickstand requires a solid, flat surface to work properly. The kickstand would easily fold back into the console when not on the right kind of surface to rest, and having it offset to one side of the console results in the whole device tipping over with relative ease. In most instances where such a surface is available, I’d rather just hold the console in handheld mode or have my dock nearby.
In contrast to how good the console itself feels, I was actually somewhat disappointed by the feel of the Nintendo Switch dock. It essentially comes across as a lightweight, cheap-feeling piece of plastic. A flap on the back opens to where you insert the AC adapter and an HDMI cable, and there is the option to insert a USB device as well. That’s about it. While I know I’m not going to be within arm’s reach of the console very often, I’m also mildly concerned that the dock may tip over when the console is docked, if the unit were to be nudged by accident. I recognise just how little I interact with the dock, but it seems outrageous to charge $100/£80 for an additional piece of plastic. With the rumours going around that some docks are even scratching the bezel around the screen on some Switch devices, it’s enough to make me curious if Nintendo was a little too cheap on this front. On that note, I have inserted and removed my Switch from the dock many times and have not encountered any scratching on any part of the device. I have a screen protector just in case, but it appears to be a non-issue for me.
User Interface and Battery Life
Nintendo opted to use a stylish minimalist design for their user interface this time around, ditching the Mii-centric aesthetic of the Wii U for a simple tile system with quick access to essential features along the bottom. While it’s difficult not to draw connections between this and the similar design of the PlayStation 4’s interface, I find the simplicity of displaying games in a horizontal line appealing nonetheless. Network strength and battery life are indicated in the top right corner, and I highly recommend digging around in the settings to opt in on displaying battery life as a percentage. It helps provide a much greater indication of how quickly different software saps your device’s power. For myself, downloads are typically quite speedy (due in part to smaller game sizes compared to that on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), and the ability to resume downloads while in sleep mode is a welcome addition.
While exploring the settings further, I was surprised to find there was an absence of any place to pair wireless headphones to the console. Many people will likely be disappointed when they find that their higher-end wireless headphones aren’t yet supported by the console, rendering them useless. To my knowledge, Nintendo has not commented on this omission, but not adding the option to support wireless headsets in the future seems mind-boggling. Especially with the removal of the headphone jack on Apple’s iPhone 7, wireless earbuds and headphones are bound to become more commonplace, and Nintendo needs to accommodate that.
In terms of battery life, I have encountered times similar to what Nintendo initially indicated – between two and five hours of playtime between charges. With brightness settings set at a minimum, I reached just shy of three hours of battery life playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while adjusting to automatic brightness settings reduced that playtime by about half an hour. I haven’t done much in terms of playing during long commutes, so I can’t speak as to whether or not the battery life comes off as much of a boon or a hindrance. Nor have I fiddled with airplane mode, which would presumably increase your playtime as well.
The Joy-Con Controllers
While surprisingly small at first encounter, the Joy-Con controllers feel comfortable in the hand. Granted, my hands are admittedly smaller than that of the typical adult male, but the inclusion of the Joy-Con straps with the console allow for some added girth to grab onto. Of course, your mileage may vary. With the straps, I found the controllers even more comfortable to manoeuvre, even when turned sideways for games like Snipperclips. The lengthy battery life – reports indicating around 20 hours per charge – means that you won’t be punished for keeping the Joy-Cons disconnected from the console for a few days or more. Whether you choose to use the Joy-Cons separately or place them in the included Joy-Con grip, I found both methods to feel satisfying, even for extended periods of time. This also alleviated all of the concerns I had before receiving my console about the lack of charging functionality for the Joy-Con grip. As for the Switch Pro controller, I personally don’t feel the need to purchase one anytime soon, especially with its hefty price tag.
Amidst the news of Switch owners experiencing a delay in the responsiveness of left Joy-Con controllers, I find myself experiencing the same issue – albeit, in rare instances. On top of that, the issue only occurs in docked mode, which has been all the more motivation for me to use the Switch in handheld mode. That being said, the delays I encountered were brief when they did arise, and I suspect that it might be due in part to the substantial amount of wireless devices that exist in my house. Nintendo’s latest firmware update for the console did not provide me with any noticeable improvements, though I am optimistic that they will address this issue in the near future.
The most important part, right?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Probably to no reader’s surprise, the majority of my time with the Nintendo Switch has been lovingly devoted to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. At the same time, however, I’ve been doing my best to prolong the experience and savour it. There’s no denying that Breath of the Wild is a massive game with a great deal of things to explore, and I’m genuinely fascinated by just how open-ended it truly is. I have numerous friends playing the game (*cough* Wii U *cough*), and it’s captivating to discuss one another’s experiences and realise just how drastically different they are from one another. One of those friends has played for dozens of hours more than me without ever finding Zora’s domain – a locale that I stumbled upon within my first five hours of exploration. As someone who typically prefers linear experiences to grand, open-world adventures, I find myself surprised at how genuinely rewarding it feels to wander aimlessly and still feel like you’re accomplishing things. On top of all of that, I really appreciate the level of challenge that the game provides. This time around, the series expects you to tackle its challenges thoughtfully; even then, you’re bound to get knocked down a time or two. This inevitably leads to both incredibly rewarding victories and plenty of “one more try” moments upon failure.
With respect to the Nintendo Switch itself, Breath of the Wild truly shines in handheld mode. That statement is something I didn’t expect to admit. Initially, I felt mildly overwhelmed having such a large-scale adventure on-the-go, available on a tiny screen, but I quickly grew to appreciate the potential of taking such massively engaging world from room-to-room in my house, and even out in public. The opportunity to bring fully-fledged experiences on-the-go is one of Nintendo Switch’s main forms of appeal, and Nintendo absolutely nails it with The Legend of Zelda.
Admittedly, there are some technical limitations, most notably the frame rate dips when playing Zelda in docked mode. These kinds of hiccups are understandable given just how much the console renders at once, and in my experience, frame rate issues only occur in larger areas with tonnes of trees and other assets. That being said, these instances never last longer than a second or two, and the overwhelming positives about the game outweigh the negatives brought on by underpowered hardware. While opting for more of a watercolour art style than the realistic visuals often seen on the other home consoles, there is no denying that Breath of the Wild is gorgeous in its own right. Ultimately, having witnessed my friends’ experiences tethered to the television in their living rooms, I am even more excited for the potential flexibility that the Nintendo Switch offers.
I Am Setsuna
While initially released in the West in 2016, I Am Setsuna is a game that feels like it was built to be played portably. Upon the game’s announcement, I had significant interest in playing this on PlayStation Vita; unfortunately, that version was never released outside of Japan, and the West saw only the PlayStation 4 iteration. Lo and behold, Setsuna was then announced as a launch title for the Switch, and I decided to wait patiently as a result. Aside from upcoming DLC in the form of a party-on-party battle arena, I Am Setsuna remains unchanged from the PlayStation 4 version (you can check out our review for the PS4 version here).
While I currently only sampled the demo of Snipperclips – an adorable little cooperative puzzle game that should absolutely be played with others – I played through the demo multiple times with a friend, experimenting both with the game and swapping the Joy-Con controllers. Puzzles are still interesting and thought-provoking when playing alone, but the added mischief that comes from snipping a teammate at an opportune moment highlights some of the best things that both Snipperclips and local multiplayer, in general, have to offer. With 45 levels, a party mode, and a small handful of mini-games offered in the full version of the game, I am contemplating purchasing the full version of the game. My initial concern was that 45 levels would not be enough to warrant the purchase for me, as I’m not one to revisit levels and try to solve them in new ways. Nevertheless, my limited experience leads me to believe Snipperclips is a charming puzzler and a welcome addition to the launch lineup. Personally, I would love to see more levels come in the form of DLC, and the thought of a level builder reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet would make me downright giddy.
As you may or may not know, the right Joy-Con positions the control stick in the middle of the controller, whereas the left controller has it offset to one side. After experiencing the game with both controllers, I was impressed with how easy it was to feel comfortable playing with either controller. I had initially assumed the right Joy-Con to feel awkward with the analog stick positioned in the middle, but it works surprisingly well nonetheless. The friend who I played with actually preferred the right Joy-Con, which was also an interesting discovery. It’s hard to say how this might translate to more intense game experiences, such as racing or fighting games, but it didn’t come across as a hindrance while playing Snipperclips.
With my first week at a close, I’m excited for the prospect of future experiences with the Nintendo Switch. I look forward to the inclusion of Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services, as I feel like handheld mode will really benefit from those additions. In terms of refinement, I would also like to see Nintendo incorporate some of the features seen on other current consoles – cloud saves, for example. There are also still a great deal of topics that Nintendo needs to shed light on, with online services and the virtual console among the most important. What all will an online subscription offer customers? When is it coming? From which consoles will games be made available on the virtual console? Will digital purchases transfer over with our accounts? These are but a few of the things that I’m eagerly awaiting answers for. Considering that the console is already in my house, answers to at least a few of those questions should already be answered.
One thing I’m particularly excited for is the interesting ways in which HD rumble will be utilised. 1-2 Switch, while arguably the best showing for the capabilities of the new console, is a little too expensive for my tastes at this moment in time. I’m intrigued by the premise of ARMS, and having never played the original Splatoon, I’m excited to see what comes out of the upcoming sequel. Obviously, bigger titles like Super Mario Odyssey and the new Fire Emblem game coming in holiday 2017 and beyond are bound to garner excitement. If all that wasn’t enough, Nintendo is also showing a strong commitment to indie developers, most notably with their recent Nindie Direct presentation. With what’s already announced and the surprises that are sure to come from E3, Nintendo is making it very clear that they want gamers’ attention. As for me, I’ll be listening.
Have you picked up a Nintendo Switch yet? What are you most excited about? Do you have any concerns? Switch over to the comments below and let us know!
(… Sorry for that last one.)