If you need any indication of how the 'hybrid' form factor of the Nintendo Switch means different things to different gamers, just chat to half a dozen system owners about how they play the console. For my part it's been mostly a home console, with the tablet spending a lot of time in the dock; yet I know quite a few people that look at Switch and see a powerful portable first and foremost. In reality it's both, that's the whole point, but it seems plenty primarily lean one way or the other.
This past weekend, though, I had an opportunity to put it to the test. My father, a lifelong Liverpool FC fan that always wanted to go to a game at Anfield, finally had a ticket - though we only had one ticket it would have been mean to say "enjoy your lifetime dream, let us know how it goes". It was a bit of a flashback, then, as I went along with my parents for the trip - after the Switch launch I was glad of a long weekend regardless.
It was a road trip with two nights in a hotel, and I wasn't driving, so as a result it was a chance for me to put the Switch to the test as a portable. I set off and did something that I hadn't done in years - I left my 3DS at home. I didn't want it as a distraction; if I was to play a game on the go, it had to be on Switch. It would help divert me from the fact that, as a Manchester United fan, I was going to be looking around Anfield the day before the game. I'm just glad the weekend passed without me bursting into flames, though I should say that Liverpool is full of very nice, generous people. Still, MUFC until I die etc...
I packed my Switch up in the 'official' Nintendo case, along with a spare cloth for the screen - I've always been extremely fussy about keeping screens clean on my portables. I did shun the screen protector that came with the case as, frankly, it's garbage, and made the screen look much worse no matter how carefully it was applied. I'm generally very careful with my gadgets, so I don't throw my Switch about and then complain that the screen got scratched; so far it's scratch-free. I left the dock behind (even though, actually, the hotel had an accessible HDMI input) so that it was, for all intents and purposes, a portable.
My first bit of gaming on the drive from Edinburgh to Liverpool was in FAST RMX, which is an excellent early title on the system and looks lovely on the screen. Actually, it had a few very brief frame dips and I should have tried turning off the Wi-Fi, but otherwise it was flawless. In any case, the HD Rumble and actual movement of the car I was in undoubtedly made for a fun time. I then dipped into my new post-review save of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for a short stint - in this save I'm going at my own pace and exploring more than I could with review time limitations, which I'm enjoying a lot.
While FAST RMX was relatively light on the battery (albeit still relatively demanding), Breath of the Wild was not, draining that sucker quite quickly. Nintendo's never denied this would be the case, to be fair.
After arrival I typically played the Switch in the hotel and then on the drive back, and the game I played the most was Blaster Master Zero, which I bought as a typical portable-style game ahead of the trip. Its chunky pixel visuals looked great on the screen, and its retro-style music worked nicely with headphones or the speakers. It's a decent length for the price, too, and well constructed with a bit of HD Rumble thrown in. Yes, I like HD Rumble and am aware that I go on about it too much.
In fairness to the Switch battery, it had plenty of juice when I played Blaster Master Zero, which is to be expected considering how much less stressful the Inti Creates game will be on the hardware than other titles. I had an AC adapter with me and I used it twice over the three day weekend, with the sleep mode doing a great job of using very little power when I wasn't playing anything. If I'd been hammering Breath of the Wild all weekend I'd likely be saying the battery is passable at best, but when playing download titles it was pretty solid.
As for how my Switch felt when serving its role as a portable? Well, I've always liked the build of it, though there's no getting away from the fact that it's wide - it's relatively thin and not too heavy, but the tablet + Joy-Cons gives it plenty of width. It never went anywhere near my pockets, as a result, and when in its case took up a decent amount of room in my man-bag. It was ok, size-wise, but certainly not as easy to carry around as my small and hardy clamshell small New 3DS. I felt very aware of my Switch, being cautious of where to put it in my bag and making sure that - even though the system was in its case - I wasn't throwing my bag around. With my 3DS it's always been less of a concern, as it's certainly tougher.
For sure the Vita comparison some make isn't that crazy, in terms of how it feels as a portable on the road. I was always equally cautious and aware of my Vita back in the day, to the point that it mainly stayed safely at home while my 3DS went with me everywhere. Also, it's a pity Switch doesn't have any kind of StreetPass, as that has always been a fun diversion on 3DS.
In terms of whether I consider my Switch road test a success, ultimately I think it was. It's not as immediately robust and easy to carry around as a 3DS, but I love the quality of the gaming it kicks out. My New 3DS is wonderful, but playing home console-level games with neat HD Rumble and a high quality screen is terrific. Blaster Master Zero is a game that, in hindsight, I'd have been equally happy playing through on my 3DS, but I got a real kick out of playing FAST RMX and Breath of the Wild on the go. With the former I'd play it in small doses, tackling 'Hero' tracks and so on, and it was eye-opening how enjoyable that was. As for BoTW, well, it's one of the best games ever made (in my opinion) and dipping into that at any time was a treat.
Despite those positives, though, the Switch is unlikely to ever be a full-fat dedicated portable in my eyes. It's that bit too big, and a little too vulnerable, to be a true handheld built for the job full time. The 3DS, and particularly my current 'New' model, is so darn hardy, such a great size for dropping into my bag, that it feels - as it should - built for that purpose. The Switch can't match that perfect form simply because that would compromise its other purposes. As a system to play on TV, or in tabletop mode at events etc when you're feeling social.
That's fine, but I'll be interested to see what Nintendo does once the 3DS is truly retired. I'd like to think there'll be a budget, portable-only system supporting Switch games - rebranded a little in terms of the system name - but with fixed inputs and a tougher, smaller form-factor. Pay less to sacrifice the detachable Joy-Con and TV support out of the box, but perhaps with a case included and a size more befitting a hardy portable. Who knows what Nintendo will do, ultimately - part of the fun will be finding out.
I enjoyed my road trip with the Nintendo Switch, but now it's back where it belongs in my own little gaming world. Snuggled safely in its dock.