Nintendo Parents
Image: Nintendo

If you're a parent who's stumbled on this website wondering what to buy your child for their birthday or Christmas this year, then presumably you're in the market for picking up a Nintendo console. A wise choice, and one of which we heartily approve.

But with several options out there, you might be left wondering which model or bundle is the right one for you. Allow us to offer some parental guidance.

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Switch Bloodstained
Image: Nintendo Life

Nintendo Switch (the standard model)

After launching back in 2017, the standard Nintendo Switch remains the most popular Nintendo console right now and is the one which connects to your TV via a special dock.

The design of Nintendo Switch enables your kids to play on your TV like a regular games console or take the game with you when you leave the house and continue playing on-the-go. This means you can take full console games like Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Animal Crossing: New Horizons with you in the back of the car, on the bus or anywhere else you take your children.

The Nintendo Switch doesn't require a TV to function and you can happily play in portable mode forever if you choose. However, if you have absolutely no intention of using it on the TV, you might want to consider the portable-only Switch Lite, a smaller, cheaper Switch which isn't able to output to a television. Scroll down for more information on the Switch Lite.

What's included in the standard Nintendo Switch box?

When you open up your brand new Switch you'll find the following:

  • The base Nintendo Switch console (essentially a small touchscreen tablet with railings either end)
  • A pair of detachable Joy-Con controller of the colour indicated on the box
  • A plastic grip for the Joy-Con which you can plug the controllers into to create a more standard game pad
  • A cradle-style dock that connects to your TV
  • An HDMI cable for connecting the dock to the TV
  • A power supply which can be plugged into the dock or the console itself

What's the battery life of the Nintendo Switch?

A minor internal hardware revision increased maximum battery life for this model to 4.5 - 9 hours, depending on the game running. While playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example, the new console should give you approximately 5.5 hours of playtime between charges, versus around 3 hours for the older version.

Old inventory should be gone by now, but it's still worth making sure you're getting the revised model. Our guide to the differences between the old version and the improved Switch will help if you're unsure which is which (the box of the newer version has more red). For reference, the links included in this article are for the new version only.

Nintendo Switch OLED Model

Image: Nintendo Life

In October 2021 the standard Nintendo Switch was joined by the current flagship Nintendo console — the Nintendo Switch OLED Model. It still connects to your TV via a special dock, although it boasts a couple of enhancements over the standard model to justify its higher price.

The inner workings of this console are largely identical to the regular Switch, but its standout feature is a larger, brighter OLED screen.

Additionally, Switch OLED comes with larger internal memory storage (64GB versus 32GB), a slightly different dock with an inbuilt ethernet port (for the fastest possible wired internet connection while the console is docked), improved speakers, and a larger and sturdier kickstand.

What's the battery life of the Nintendo Switch OLED Model?

While the screen is bigger, OLED screens are more power efficient than the screens in the other Switch models. Battery life is therefore comparable to the standard Switch — see above for details.

Nintendo Switch Lite

Switch Lite W Box.JPG
Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

The Nintendo Switch Lite is portable-only entry in Nintendo's console lineup – a smaller, cheaper, handheld-only version of the Switch. Unlike the standard console, the controllers on either side of the touchscreen are permanently attached on the Switch Lite, making it a tougher, more durable console that might be better for younger kids with butterfingers.

It is possible to link standard Joy-Con controllers wirelessly to the Switch Lite (indeed, it's necessary for a small number of games), but they'll need to be purchased separately.

One other benefit of the Switch Lite is the selection of colours it's available in. You can currently choose from Turquoise, Yellow, Gray and Coral or there's a special Pokémon version.

What's the battery life of the Nintendo Switch Lite?

The Switch Lite has a battery life of around 3 to 7 hours, depending on the game. For example, a full charge will get you around 4 hours of playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild versus approximately 5.5 hours on the standard Switch.

What games should I get with my new Nintendo Switch?

The Nintendo Switch has a vast library of family-friendly games on offer, including the Super Mario series. Here are a selection of evergreen classics to set you on the right path. All of the games below are family favourites that will guarantee smiles all round:

Micro SD cards

Switch Micro SD Card

While many of the games on Nintendo Switch are available on physical cartridges, the Switch eShop offers the opportunity to avoid losing those tiny cartridges down the back of the sofa or in the footwell of the car by buying the games digitally instead (some smaller games are only available on the Nintendo eShop, too).

All versions of the Switch come with at least 32GB of internal storage, with the OLED Model having 64GB. Bear in mind that the console's operating system will use around 7GB of space, with the remainder accessible to the user. This will be fine for storing your save data and a few games, but if you run out of space it's easy to expand that storage with a micro SD card.

Nintendo Switch Common Questions

What are Joy-Cons?

Switch Lite Joycon 2.JPG
Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

Joy-Con(s) are the detachable controllers that slide onto the sides of the main Switch console. They operate wirelessly and also feature motion controls and rumble functionality for compatible games. The standard console comes with two, although none are included with Switch Lite which has its own integrated controls.

Joy-Con controllers can be used in a variety of ways depending on the game: split up, held sideways or combined to become 'one' game pad. For many games it's possible to play in two-player mode using only the two Joy-Con that come with the Switch, meaning it's the perfect system for kids who want to play games together on-the-go without the need for cumbersome extra accessories.

What is the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller?

If you're planning on playing the Switch yourself once you've tucked the kids in bed, you might want to consider getting a Pro Controller. The Pro Controller is more like a traditional game pad and it can't be split in two, although it offers the same motion control and rumble functionality found in the smaller Joy-Con.

The Pro Controller is not required for any game, and you can happily use two Joy-Con in the supplied grip to achieve the same control - the Pro Controller simply offers a more ergonomic, comfortable alternative for people with larger hands.

Can the Switch play games online?

Yes it can. Free-to-play games such as Fortnite can be played online at no cost, although most other games with online features will require an annual Nintendo Switch Online subscription.

The price of this service varies depending on how you choose to pay:

12 Months 3 Months 1 Month Annual Family Membership
£17.99 / $19.99 £6.99 / $7.99 £3.49 / $3.99 £31.49 / $34.99

There's also a family membership option for up to eight Switches for £31.49 / $34.99 per year. That's less than £5 / $5 per user if eight people are signed up.

Subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online also has other benefits. A subscription includes Cloud Saves for supported games, which means your child's in-game progress will be saved to the cloud (subject to a functioning WiFi connection) and can be accessed again if the worst happens and their Switch console somehow gets lost or dropped in the river.

You also get access to a growing catalogue of classic retro games from past Nintendo systems.

What is Nintendo Labo?

Nintendo Labo is a system of cardboard objects that you construct and which interact with the Switch in novel ways using the various features of the system's Joy-Con controllers. For example, you can construct a wearable Robot kit which registers your movements in-game, or use the system to experience some simple Virtual Reality games. It's ingenious, although beware that with younger children you will be called upon to do the lion's share of the building, which can take several hours.

Due to the required features and design of the Nintendo Labo kits, they are only compatible with the standard Switch model and will not work correctly with Switch Lite. Switch OLED is also slightly bigger than the standard model, so compatibility is not guaranteed.

So there you have it. Nintendo consoles are a great choice for children and parents alike, whether you're hoping to enjoy games together as a family or just want to make road trips a little more peaceful. We hope the details above help you make the right choice when it comes to getting the console and games that are best for you.