With the Nintendo Switch now out for a week, plenty of eager Nintendo fans have put down a lot of money and jumped into the company's latest hardware offering. Various members of our team are in that group, as you'd expect, and having spent the past seven days playing around with the hardware we thought it worthwhile to share some impressions from that period. After all of the pre-launch hype and build-up, we're now right into the Switch generation and all that entails.
This doesn't need any more pre-amble - let's get to it!
To be completely upfront, as anyone watching my pre-launch content and reviews will know I was playing around in a certain game for a while before the system landed in shops. Nevertheless I still felt a lot of buzz on launch day, because the console was fully awake with the eShop and friend requests started to arrive. I also had two members of my immediate family waiting for orders, so I got to share in their excitement.
I've found it interesting to see their play habits and chat to others over the past week, and it's all boosted my confidence in Switch. For some it's an exciting and powerful portable, delivering extraordinary games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the go, and for others it's the next Nintendo home console and a slick upgrade on Wii U (in design and power). In the past week I've played it mostly on the TV, and often barely touching the console or Joy-Con - I hit the HOME button on the Pro Controller and I'm in a game within 10 seconds. I love how fast it is, and ultimately it's been a home console to me so far.
As I write this I'm preparing for a weekend trip though, so I will be taking it on the road. I bought Blaster Master Zero basically for this excursion, as it not only looks fantastic but feels like the kind of game I'd normally play on the road. I have tried FAST RMX on the portable briefly over the past week too but, to be honest, my old reflexes can't handle a game like that on a 6-inch screen.
Finally, how do I feel about my Switch? Well, I've rather fallen in love with it, in very much the same way as I did with my small New 3DS. I rolled my eyes out of their sockets when people actually complained about the lack of elevator music, for example - I love that Nintendo has kept noise down aside from funny and silly little touches. The UI's cute noises, bleeps and bloops have charmed me, anyway. I've also been frustrated at a relatively small percentage of issues getting blown out of proportion, but that's the internet and happens with pretty much everything nowadays. Negativity sells, and that sucks.
Beyond that, it's just such a Nintendo device, yet far slicker than its previous couple of efforts. It's well and truly settled into my gaming (and Nintendo) life already.
I will admit that, at least initially, I was not entirely sold on the Switch and didn't intend on buying one right off the bat. Yeah, I think the idea behind it being a home console/portable is pretty cool, but let's be real, there's not very much available for it in this first year which isn't already on the Wii U in some form. Generally speaking, it takes a year or two for any console to begin hitting its stride, and I was intending on waiting for the library to fill out a bit more before taking the plunge.
Ultimately, the decision to pick one up was one I made on a whim, and was largely born out of my current circumstances. I'm currently in the process of studying abroad at a remote location apart from my main college campus, and as a result I've left all my game consoles behind for the semester. Now, by and large, I've been too busy to have much time to play video games anyway, but every once in a while I'd have an afternoon to myself and find myself wishing I could play some Super Smash Bros. or something to that effect.
Suddenly, the notion of a portable home console became a lot more appealing, as if Nintendo had designed the device exclusively around my situation. Couple that with the fact that it launched on the first day of spring break—which saw me returning to civilization for a week—and I just couldn't resist. I picked up the last unit that they had in town, along with a copy of Breath of the Wild, and my experiences with it have been mixed, I suppose.
First, the positives. I may be shouting in an echo chamber, but the UI that the whole console runs is slick. Ever since Nintendo has begun designing operating systems for its consoles, I've come to expect a certain cumbersome blockiness to them. Sure they work fine, but I've never used a Nintendo OS that feels cutting edge until now. It's fast, it works, and it feels immediately easy to use. On top of that, the screen switching feature that's grabbed so many headlines is as painless and easy to manage as I hoped; I've probably spent an equal amount of time in both portable and console mode, and it's quite nice to know that I can explore Hyrule from the comfort of my bed if I so choose without any compromises.
However, it's not all sunshine and roses. The Switch feels to me very much like a 'beta console', one which still feels like a work in progress. Sure, it plays games pretty well, but that's it. No streaming apps, no internet browser, and no extra features like StreetPass or Miiverse. Now, I agree with many that these are not essential features (c'mon, you can watch Netflix on a fridge these days), but that's beside the point. In a market where every other competing device has such features, the Switch just looks backwards. I'm not highly bothered that I can't browse the internet on my Switch, but it's just giving me one less reason to use it on a regular basis. And when you factor in all the simple things the Switch lacks which its peers possess, that's a lot of missed opportunities.
My first week with the Nintendo Switch is not one I expected to proceed as it did. For one I did not foresee myself actually buying the console until a few more months down the line, yet after getting caught up in the furore of launch day and wanting to experience Zelda in the best possible way, then combining that with the tantalising prospect of taking the Switch everywhere and anywhere, here I am.
Like any sane Zelda enthusiast I booked some time off so I could explore Hyrule in real depth...or so I thought. Over 20 hours in and I've barely scratched the surface of what this world offers. Never would I have thought that Hyrule could have such rich depth to it or that I would be so invested in finding every hidden collectible. Breath of the Wild is a monumental leap forward for the series, single handily making my purchase warranted.
Saying that though undersells what is on offer, because when needing a break from Zelda (by break I of course mean being dragged away like a screaming man-baby) I took up some supersonic racing. FAST RMX is a wonderful F-Zero inspired racer that flourishes when on the go. In fact I can imagine I'll spend more time with FAST RMX when away from home due to its easy jump in and out formula. Otherwise I did download the Snipperclips demo, playing through with my partner as we chaotically yelled methods of trying to solve the elaborate puzzle. It seems a goofy, fun time. No doubt I'll end up adding it to my collection in the future.
So all in all one week in and my somewhat rash decision has brought me more joy than cons. Lets hope this continues...
One week into my relationship with Nintendo Switch and I'll admit that I'm not in love. I'm hoping that my feelings will change as we spend more time together and better understand how we work as a couple, but at this point I still find myself lying in bed at night, wondering what my other consoles are up to. I know that I can be picky, and maybe it's just me, but I find myself growing irritated with the little things that Switch does.
The console's primary functionality, and the feature that I was most excited about, is its ability to convert from a home console to a portable with ease. Unfortunately, between removing the Joy-Con from the Switch console and placing them in the Grip or equipping them with their designated wrist straps, the reality is that this process isn't as smooth as advertised. Instead of casually transforming my home console to a portable, I find myself fumbling with full hands - like someone trapped in a late-night infomercial - while my coffee table lies littered with various tiny Switch parts and accessories. I'm also running into frustrations and discomfort with the size of the Joy-Con when using them in their horizontal formation. In short, the process of "switching" is cumbersome, the Joy-Con are too small for my hands, and on top of all that, the game cards taste awful.
That said, I'm starting to come around to Nintendo Switch. It's been a week, and while I may not be in love, I'm beginning to understand its place in my life. The other day I came home from work and decided to take it for a quick spin. Upon waking the console, I noticed that I had a friend request from none other than Nintendo Life's own Daz Calvert. Rather than immediately accepting the request, I instead decided to take this opportunity to partake in one of the few rare pleasures that I still find in life: messing with Daz. Thanks to Switch's intuitive and speedy UI, I was able to screenshot Daz's request, add some text implying that I was going to block him rather than accept, then tag him and post the image to Twitter, all before I even took my jacket off after a long day in the office.
In that moment, something changed. I began to see this new console not just for what it is, but for what it's capable of being. Nintendo Switch is a new outlet for me to quickly and easily engage with my friends, both locally and across the world. Despite my early frustrations, I'm excited to see what Nintendo Switch has in store.
You and me, Switch? We're gonna be just fine.
The first thing I said to myself when opening my glorious new Switch was "Man, this really is a beautiful bit of kit". Of course, like everyone, I knew what the Switch was all about long before, plus I already got the chance to play it at a Nintendo UK event. But holding the thing in my hands and setting it all up with no distractions really demonstrated how fantastically innovative the console was.
Forward a couple of hours later, and my whole family and I are playing 1-2 Switch - which was a feat to behold! The games are so easy to pickup (as they should be) and so accessible through the Switch's peripherals, so my parents naturally gravitated towards it and became hooked. It was difficult to get them off the damn thing so I could finally begin my adventure in Breath of the Wild! And speaking of which, it goes without saying how amazing this launch title truly is. I even had my dad watching me play for a good twenty minutes (something he hasn't done since I used to forcefully sit on his lap and show him my adventures in Pokémon G/S/C as a kid), as he was in awe over the environment my Link traversed through and interacted with.
Unfortunately though, the more I've been using my Switch, the more I've had these "Oh come on, Nintendo" moments. They're not deal breakers as such, but problems such as the lack of both a headphone jack in the Pro Controller, no system web browser, Joy-Con desyncing, frame-rate issues, a cheap-feeling docking station, no method of backing up save files, and not being able to turn off the system (only Sleep Mode) from a controller began to show their ugly faces. I'm sure some of these can be fixed with software updates and could arrive in due course, but the others are quite surprising for a 2017 console release. It also struck me that since the Switch doesn't use CDs for its games, there's no disc drive, meaning any chance of using it as a portable DVD/Blu-ray player flies out the window. To be fair, I've never watched DVDs and Blu-rays on consoles (and I probably never will), but in terms of versatility and perhaps backwards compatibility with older Nintendo titles, that could've been a nice feature. I guess the Switch's size, portability, eShop, and overall stance as a games console - not entertainment system - are the answers to that.
I also couldn't help but come across the many videos of people having problems with their Switch consoles, from both hardware and software standpoints. Naturally, this is likely to occur with any new console launch, but it makes you hold your Switch just that little bit tighter. I immediately got myself a screen protector and then spent an hour diagnosing mine like a fool - something that a customer should never need to do in my eyes - looking for dead pixels and any potential scratches made by the dock etc. Luckily, I'm one of the fortunate ones who seems to have a perfectly healthy, problem-free Switch, but I'll know this for sure should its practicality limits stand the test of a 1-2 Switch tournament I'm hosting at work.
Overall though, colour me impressed. Teething issues and a couple of lacklustre features aside, the Switch is an example of Nintendo stands for, and that's innovation. It'll be interesting to see a "juicy" new game solely designed for the Switch to really get a grasp of the system's power. Breath of the Wild, albeit a huge, expansive, and visually pleasing game, was dual-released for the Wii U, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an enhanced port of the Wii U's Mario Kart 8, so I believe we have yet to really see what the system is capable of. Super Mario Odyssey and Skyrim seem like the perfect examples to showcase this, but we've got a slew of upcoming games to look forward to until then!
It's great to have a modern Nintendo console back in my life. I say this, because a few months prior to the launch of the Switch I traded in my Wii U. I had never sold or traded one of my Nintendo systems until this point. In my defence, I still own my original Game Boy and the many other systems the Big N has released over the years. I cherish each of these retro devices and appreciate the experiences they can still offer me as they did the first day I got my hands on them.
My time with the Wii U - while filled with good memories - ultimately led to a tough call. I bought the system a year into its life, with the belief it was finally gaining momentum after a trying launch period. I enjoyed games like Splatoon and played each exclusive title for hours on end. When the Nintendo Switch was finally revealed to the world last October, it was easy to see this was the device Nintendo had been working towards all along. The Switch immediately had a sense of accessibility the Wii U never once demonstrated. To top it off, new iterations of FAST, Mario Kart and Splatoon were also revealed for the hybrid console. My only thought at this point was to ditch the Wii U before the online services were cut and it became a shadow of its former self.
My first week with the Switch has been pleasant. The user interface is quick, clean and effortless to navigate. The hardware feels durable, but not in a cheap and tacky way like the Wii U did. While the Joy-Cons are a tad small, both are incredibly well made. It's hard not to appreciate all the tech that has been crammed inside of them! I think the fact this system essentially ships with two controllers is also fantastic. It reminds me of the N64 era and a system bundle Nintendo released including a bonus atomic purple controller. I've read a lot of comments regarding the lack of background ambience on the Switch HOME menu and music on the eShop. The little beeps, bops and whistles are oddly satisfying enough for myself. Although relatively desolate in terms of offerings - the eShop is as slickly presented as the HOME menu. The tile design in both locations also makes everything easy to view.
Swapping between television and handheld game sessions is seamless as we saw in Nintendo's advertisements. I have primarily spent my play time on the television so far, but the occasional Puyo Puyo Tetris and Snipperclips table top multiplayer moments have occurred in between my intensive Zelda marathons. My early impressions of the system's performance based on the launch titles are positive. Breath of the Wild is truly stunning. It's like an animated canvas. The soundtrack has to be one of the best in a Zelda game, ever. Its subtle presence in key locations goes well with the environmental sound effects and further adds to the game's beauty. The only downer - as well documented by Digital Foundry - are the occasional performance issues during more intensive moments. So far, this has not detracted from my own time with Breath of the Wild. Games like Puyo Puyo have also proven there is still plenty of life left in local multiplayer. Not to mention, smaller less intensive games like this one run superbly.
Now, can I please have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe?
When you get a new console, you always want a cheeky fiddle with its bits first. Much of my initial time with the Switch was spent playing around with the hardware and seeing the different combinations possible when using the Joy-Cons, and testing how the system runs as a whole with wide-eyed enthusiasm. I was surprised at how simple the UI is and how slick everything feels when turning on the system and booting up software, especially when using sleep mode. Everything is easy to find and simple to set up, which is always a plus. Also, I couldn't help but smile at the little clicks and whistle sounds the system makes when selecting particular options. There have been some downsides though, namely the size of the shoulder buttons on the regular Joy-Cons. When playing a game like Zelda things can get a little cramped up there, and I have small hands, so it's a slight irritation. Also, it's a bit disconcerting that the long-winded friend code system has made a darkened return, and the online system is still bare bones, so I hope this gets sorted out. But so far it's snug, slick and easy to use.
As for software I've taken a look at the eShop's Neo Geo games – the addition of which warms my little retro heart – but like most people I've mainly been spending my time with Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Let's face it, it's pretty bloody magnificent. I have been a critic of Nintendo in recent years but it's games like Breath of the Wild that remind me why I became a Nintendo fan in the first place. And after running both versions of the game, it's clear that the Switch version feels that little more crisp. This game has truly stolen my heart with its glorious open-world, deepened combat mechanics and narrative additions, all the while maintaining that traditional Zelda charm. It's been a joy to bask in the beauty of locales such as Hateno Village and take a ride through the countryside with my trusty steed, Bronn, smashing bokoblins as we go. So far, it's been a very happy seven days. And I look forward to many more.