Like many people trying to get their hands on a Switch, I spent a good portion of the week leading up to its release calling stores and trying to figure out who the hell expected to have any in stock. Ultimately, my quest led me to waiting 3 hours in line outside of a Toys “R” Us, in the freezing cold, in the wee hours of Sunday morning the weekend the Switch hit the market. Was it worth it? Unequivocally, yes. Is the Switch the perfect system that will undoubtedly catapult Nintendo back into the conversation as the premiere console maker in the industry? I’m not so sure.
After several weeks of putting my Switch to the test–and playing an ungodly amount of Zelda–here are my initial thoughts.
THE HARDWARE: Lots of ink has been spilled decrying the lackluster processing power and graphical capabilities of the Switch hardware. We get it: the Switch is not in the same league as the PS4 or Xbox One when it comes to pure technological horsepower. But that doesn’t stop Breath of the Wild from being arguably the most aesthetically breathtaking game ever created. Zelda’s graphical brilliance shows that, if developers get creative, they can certainly make amazing-looking games for the Switch.
But perhaps the most impressive thing about the Switch hardware is that it is, as promised, fully portable. I’ve played my Switch outside, on the train, in the car, on the toilet, and while cooking dinner. While it’s not small enough to easily fit in your pocket, it’s on par with an iPad mini and it’s insanely lightweight. There’s just something downright magical about being able to play a full-on Zelda adventure on the go.
Additionally, the Switch functions admirably as a traditional console when it’s docked–and it can even become a small tv screen on its own, if you disconnect the Joy Con controllers from it. Not bad for a little guy.
All in all, I think that the Switch’s flexibility and innovation more than make up for its technical shortcomings.
THE CONTROLLERS: I have to admit that I was worried about the Switch’s controller situation. I hated the Wii controllers and I have big hands, with chunky digits: I was convinced that the Joy Con was going to be totally impractical and uncomfortable for me to use. But, against all odds, I’ve actually come to love the Switch’s basic controller.
Out-of-the-box, you can use the Joy Con in three different configurations: literally attached to the Switch itself (think tablet with built-in controller contours and buttons); as standalone Wii-like, motion controlled remotes; or as a traditional controller, when both sides of the Joy Con are clicked into the “comfort grip” skeleton.
So far, my preferred method of play has been using the more traditional configuration. The comfort grip is definitely still on the small side, but it feels pretty smooth in my hands and all the buttons have solid responsiveness. My one grip would probably be that the R and L buttons (think RB and LB on Xbox One or R1 and R2 on PS4) are really, really narrow and sometimes I have trouble pressing them without hitting any of the other shoulder buttons.
When the Joy Cons are clicked into the side hardware itself, the Switch feels like a tablet on steroids. The overall package is still small enough that it’s comfortable to play. It’s very similar to using the comfort grip–the only difference is that your hands are several inches away from each other, separated by the Switch’s beautiful, vibrant screen.
As standalone controllers, the Joy Cons lose some of their luster. They are literally tiny and for someone with even average-sized hands, they can be unwieldy. Nonetheless, in a pinch, they can do the job and it’s nice that Nintendo basically gives you an extra emergency controller in case you want to play with the friends you don’t have.
THE GAMES: Here’s where the Switch really loses points, in my book. As of today, and the foreseeable future, Zelda is the only worthwhile title on the system. And while it is an incredible, incredible game, it can’t sustain an entire system indefinitely. Splatoon and a new Mario game will come out eventually–and will almost assuredly be outstanding–but one good (read: near perfect) launch game is still a dagger to players. Not to mention, Breath of the Wild also released on the much-maligned Wii-U. So, in reality, there is exactly zero legit, exclusive games on the Switch. That hurts, Nintendo, that hurts.
There’s still a chance that other developers buy into Nintendo’s vision (especially after seeing the critical and commercial success of Zelda), but the House that Mario Built will be in dire straights if outside parties don’t start contributing to the Switch’s lineup in a significant way–and soon.
As it stands, the Switch is, in many ways, just a glorious, really fun, really convenient way to play the best game of the last 5 years. But that’s no formula for continued success. My fingers are crossed that an on-rush of quality Nintendo and non-Nintendo games is just around the river bend, but I’m not so sure. As a console, I have no problems recommending the Switch. But from a games standpoint, I’m not sure I can say the same.
FINAL GRADE: B