Nintendo Switch Review
The Nintendo Switch is Nintendo's latest home/portable gaming console released on March 3, 2017. It's powered by NVIDIA's Custom Tegra processor(the same that powers NVIDIA's Shield), has a 6.2-inch 1280x720 LCD Multi-touch capacitive touch screen, 802.11 ac wireless card, Bluetooth 4.1, 3.5mm audio jack, 32GB of internal storage and weighs about .66lbs. This is not your typical video game console that just resides underneath your television(as was the case with its predecessor the Wii U), this is a truly portable console that you can enjoy from the comfort of your couch for long gaming sessions or you can take it with you and continue your game session wherever you left off. The switch from home to on the go, is absolutely seamless.
The first time you open the packaging and hold the system itself, you will notice it looks and feels like a good mid-ranged tablet but once we get to what it actually does you'll see it's much more than that. I'll be doing a couple comparisons to the Nintendo Wii U throughout the review and the most noticeable change is that Nintendo ditched the large/cumbersome/cheap plastic feeling of the Wii U Gamepad(sorry Wii U!). This time around, the Switch feels more practical; essentially a modern tablet with attractive controllers attached to both sides of the screen.
-Operating System: I've always been a fan of the grid-style operating systems for both the original Wii and the Wii U, so I was glad to see Nintendo kept the same look for the Switch. The Switch OS is simple and clean, no fancy graphics or transitions, everything is easy to find and it's very responsive. Navigating from application to application or jumping in and out of the Home Screen while in-game is snappy, there's zero delay or downtime when doing this and that is vitally important for the Switch considering that is the main purpose of this system. When gaming on-the-go(for many of us), it's usually in short sessions and being able to quickly wake-up the system and jump into a game instantly, rather than having to wait for a program to load up and go through the cycles makes all of the difference in the world.
Along the bottom of the screen from left to right, there's a News tab that keeps you up to date on all things Nintendo. Including things such as Nintendo eShop updates; new games available; Nintendo Direct videos showcasing new game videos, tournaments, challenges, and features coming soon. It's just a quick way for Nintendo to connect with Switch owners and give them heads up on fresh content and new updates for the console. Next is the eShop(which I'll touch on in the next section), Album (which contains your screen photos), Controllers tab (which displays battery life and allows you to pair and change the order of the controllers), System Settings (which offers a variety of options like Parental Controls, Themes, Brightness & Mii Creator to name a few) and lastly Sleep Mode (puts the Switch in a low-power state).
System Updates are also very fast, the most recent update took only a few seconds but even the longest update I've seen took up to a minute(depends on the file size) to download update files before the system restarts. The Wii U and 3DS system updates are quick as well, so Nintendo's never really had an issue with extremely long update times(I'm looking at you PS3..).
eShop: The Online Shop for the Switch is very basic at this point. There are three categories to search for games: Recent Releases, Best Sellers and Coming Soon. There is also a button to type in a prepaid code or download code. Each of the game pages describes its features and details such as the Supported Controllers, Required Space, Number of Players and so on. But one addition that's missing—and I hope they patch this—are user reviews. I normally browse through them before I purchase a game on Steam or in the case of PSN, I can at least see the overall score given by players for the game. Reviews aren't everything but they can at least let us know if a game is worth passing on. There is a wish list available, which is a nice feature. Each user on the system gets a list, so you can add games that you'd like to purchase at a later date but perhaps are waiting for it to go on sale.
There is no paid online service equal to PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold yet but Nintendo has revealed that their Nintendo Switch Online Service will be launched in 2018 and will cost $20/year, $4 a month or $8 for a three-month subscription—which is significantly cheaper then both Plus and Gold. What this subscription fee will get you are: Free versions of classic games(Balloon Fight, Dr. Mario, Super Mario Bros. 3 listed as examples), Deals on eShop titles, unlimited online multiplayer and online voice chat. Until 2018 rolls around though, you can enjoy online multiplayer matches for free.
Also worth mentioning are the robust Parental Controls, which you can control through an app for your smart phone or directly from the system. You can restrict software based on its rating, prevent online voice chats or social media posts, and also use a PIN to restrict unwanted purchases from the eShop. Another useful feature for parents is that you can set Play Time Limits from the app on your smart phone and you can be notified when your child exceeds the set play time and by how long. You can also set the Play Time Limit to suspend the software your child is using if they exceed the allotted time.
-Recording Features: With the exception of not being able to record gameplay, the Switch probably has the best screen capture feature for a console. The instant the capture button is pressed on the controller, a screen shot is taken; no delays, no multiple menu options, just a quick simple screen shot. I usually take a fairly large amount of Video Game Screenshots during the year, so I've found myself using this feature constantly. There isn't much you can do in terms of editing the photo but once you've taken a screen shot, you can add bold text to the picture and changes the color of the text before posting it on one of the only two outlets available for now, Twitter or Facebook. I hope there's an update to Instagram and a way to post to an activity feed in the future, which is something that the PlayStation 4 is now able to do. The resolution of the photos is 1280x720 and it's in JPG format - which you're unable to change. I'm also hoping for a built-in video clip capture feature to record shot clips from 5-15mins of gameplay, sometimes I don't have recording software active while I'm playing and if I want to share a small snippet of video, it's a easy way to do so. I'm very glad to say there is no HDCP, so if you are an avid game recorder for online playthroughs and what-not, you will be able to capture video straight from the HDMI cable.
What's Included: You basically get everything you need to get started in the Nintendo Switch package. Included is the Switch Console, Docking Station, Left & Right Joy-Con Controllers, Two Joy-Con Wrist Straps, Joy-Con Grip Accessory, AC Adapter and a HDMI Cable. The package does not include any games at this point in time but I'm sure there will be additionally packages down the road. There isn't much to the very light Docking Station, it's made out of plastic and contains a small circuit board inside. The unit offers a HDMI port, AC port, 3 USB ports, as well as openings inside the casing to allow the vents to take in fresh air. One thing that is a bit of a disappointment is that the Joy-Con Grip accessory is not able to charge the Joy-Cons, the only way for them to be charged is by attaching them to the Switch console or by picking up a separate Joy-Con Charging Grip for $30.
Screen/Performance: Not sure if this will surprise anybody but the 6.2inch capacitive multi-touch screen is not glass but plastic(as was the case with the PlayStaion Vita). It's feels and functions no different than a glass screen but while you won't have to worry about the screen shattering if you drop it as you do with your smart phone, it is just more likely to be scratched. So, you will want to get yourself a good screen protector as soon as you pick-up the Switch. From what I've heard, the most common way it can scratch is when the system is placed in the dock but I've docked and undocked my Switch for two months now and my screen is still perfectly fine. If you're careful with it, you're Switch screen should be safe.
The Switch's 1280x720 Multi-touch Capacitive IPS screen is certainly a step up from the Wii U gamepads 854x480 Single-touch Resistive Touch screen. Now, It won't look as sharp as when outputted in 1080P via the docking station and you can see that some of the textures come off a bit soft at times but even still, the colors are vibrant, the reflections and lighting effects are very impressive and it's plenty bright enough to accommodate a portable gaming experience. The contrast and viewing angle of the screen is impressive as well, tilting the Switch to the side you are still able to view the screen clearly - making it useful for a friends or family members that are watching you play. It's simply the best screen yet for a Nintendo device. On the negative side, there is no direct HDMI output. The only way to play on your TV via HDMI is through the docking station that's supplied with the system. It's not a huge turn-off but hopefully it's something that can be added in the next iteration.
On the performance side, I did experience rare frame-rate dips during graphically demanding gameplay sections of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The stutters were sparse and I was expecting some performance hits because of the focus of the Switch being a portable console but it did turn out to be less of a problem during my playthrough than I anticipated. When going for a design like the Switch, It's a balancing act between: battery life, CPU/GPU power, screen size, weight, temperature and price. With all that said, I think Nintendo was able to find that sweet spot as well as anybody could.
Sound: The stereo speakers themselves sound crystal clear. There's no way to test how TV shows or Movies sound until streaming services become available but with the volume turned up all of the way I haven't experienced any crackling or distortion. Even with the chaotic parade of starmen, turtle shells and bombs going off in Mario Kart 8, they still sound great for mobile speakers. The speakers are also dynamic, for example you can hear from which side an enemy is approaching depending on the direction you are facing. There is currently no support for Bluetooth headsets as of yet but there could easily be a software update supporting them later on. They're located on the bottom front of the display.
Controllers: There are numerous controllers and combinations you can use to play the Switch. The wireless controllers are connected via Bluetooth 3.0 and all options have an Accelerometer, Gyroscope and HD Rumble. Additionally, the Right Joy-Con also has a Motion IR Camera on the bottom of it. I'll list the different controller options out here..
Joy-Cons Attached to the Switch Display: This may possibly be the setup you use the most so I'm glad to say that it's comfortable and it works well. The Joy-Cons are contoured with smooth rounded corners and both the buttons and control sticks are within reach of your thumbs. I do miss the classic Nintendo D-pad but at least it's available on the Pro-Controller. Depending on the type of game being played(whether it's competitive or casual) and how large your hands are, your hands might begin to feel slightly strained after an intense gaming session. I noticed after a good couple games of close Mario Kart 8 races and battle modes that my hands felt a little cramped but I didn't have this problem playing Breath of the Wild - which isn't a competitive game in comparison.
Joy-Cons Attached to the Joy-Con Grip: I played with the Grip attachment including both Joy-Cons for about 2 and a half hours straight and my hands never felt strained or uncomfortable. It's doesn't top the Nintendo Pro-Controller as the prime choice for the Switch but it works just fine for long gaming sessions. The rumble feature of the Joy-Cons varies depending on the application; Nintendo advertises that the HD Rumble attributes of these controllers will provide more precise feedback, games such as 1-2 Switch demonstrate this feature and it's impressive. There is a game where you have to guess how many marbles are in the controller by tilting it one way or the other and it actually feels like the marbles move from side to side. When the Joy-Cons are connected to the Grip attachment, there are 8 lights on the face of the controller that represent each player that is connected to the Switch at that time. For instance, if you are player number two, the second indicator from the top will illuminate on the left and right side of the Grip attachment.
Joy-Cons: When the Joy-Cons are used without the Grip attachment, they almost mimic how you would use the Wiimote and Nunchuck from the Wii days(I'm hoping this means we get Wii games ported to the Switch). This is the setup you would use for when you're on the go, want to set the switch console on a table or other surface remotely and do not have the Grip attachment or a Pro-Controller with you. I played Zelda: Breath of the Wild for an hour using this setup to see how it would hold up in comparison and even though it's not the most ergonomic setup, it does work—and it's not as strenuous as first expected. One con I have with the Joy-Cons is that the + and - buttons are sort of awkward to press with this setup but they feel more natural to press in tablet mode. Again, if you have larger hands, this setup may not be the best for you because of the small size of the Joy-Cons so you may want to pick up an encasement for them to make for a more comfortable gaming experience. Each Joy-Con has 4 lights on the inside of them that represent the player's number connected to the Switch.
~Pro-Controller~ You can use the Pro-Controller the same way you would use the Joy-Cons, not just on the TV but stand-alone with the tablet as well. It's a cool feature to be able to flip-out the kickstand of the tablet, sit back and use the Switch as a small TV while you game with the Pro-Controller. Lately while I'm waiting for projects I'm working on to compile or upload, Instead of loading up Netflix like I usually would, I found myself reaching over grabbing the Switch and playing a couple rounds of Battle Mode in Mario Kart 8 or completing side missions with Zelda. It's such a quick, satisfying way to game and the Pro-Controller is my first choice for gaming on the system. The Pro-Controller cost $70.
~Battery: Battery life on the Switch hasn't been an issue for me, I played Mario Kart 8 for a good two and a half hours straight—both online and offline play—and according to the icon on the top right of the screen, I had 7% Battery life remaining. I recharged the Switch and played Zelda and got about 2 hours and 45 mins before the battery was completely depleted. While playing games that have a much lower graphical demand, the battery life reached anywhere from 4-6 hours before depletion. The battery life is very good and consistent depending on what type of game is being played. You will virtually never have to worry about the battery life of the Joy-Cons, Nintendo advertises approximately 20 hours of battery life and I still had what looked to be a complete charge after 3-4 hours of game time. While in sleep mode, the Switch conserves it's battery power and I had it placed in sleep mode once for almost two weeks straight and it still had some battery power left. The system took just about 3 hours to fully recharge after being depleted.
~Games: As of now, there are 56 games available on Nintendo's eShop with more being added almost every week. The big three games that are available now that you will most likely be interested in are Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 and Arms. Next month we will see the release of Splatoon 2, the sequel to the Wii U multiplayer hit. This is certainly one area where Nintendo made sure that they improve over the Wii U, by making sure that high-quality games are available to support the Switch at launch and they continue to release them throughout the year. Sonic Mania, Mario+Rabbits: Kingdom Battle, Pokken Tournament DX, FIFA 18 and Super Mario Odyssey will all be released this year for the Switch. I'm glad to say that during our online gaming sessions, we experienced virtually zero lag or interruptions during our online matches of MK8 and it only took a few seconds to connect to a game from the lobby. Which was a welcomed surprised considering the online experience of the past console generations Wii and Wii U. Nintendo hasn't exactly been at the forefront of competitive online multiplayer but if Mario Kart 8 is any indication of their future with multiplayer gaming, it's looking very positive going forward. What's not exactly forward looking are the Friends Codes(yes, they're back). Instead of entering a friend's username/ID tag, you will need your friends 12-digit friend code from their profile page in order to play with them online. I was hoping Nintendo would ditch this clunky way of adding friends or family members but at least for now, it's required in order to add people to your friends list. There is also an option to search for Users that you've previously played with on an online match. One major and puzzling drawback of the Switch is that saved game data cannot be transferred to an SD card or saved to the cloud at this time. Meaning that if something unfortunate happened to your Switch console to deem it inoperative, your saved game data is possibly gone for good. This is extremely disappointing and quite honestly frustrating that Nintendo didn't think about this during development. I hope that they addresses this issue—possibly with their online service—because I regularly back-up my saved games to the cloud or externally on my PlayStation and nobody wants to lose hours and hours worth of saved game data.