While the Switch's hybrid nature and versatile Joy-Con controllers are key selling points for many owners, for a special sub-set of players the console's real hidden weapon is the fact that it can be used in portrait mode and therefore provide the perfect platform for classic vertically-scrolling shooters – of which there are plenty already available on the system.
The catch here is that you have to rest the Switch in a tabletop dock in order to play in this way, which, while not a complete disaster, rather limits its ability to function as a truly portable device. It's this thorny issue that engineer Mike "Mechachoi" Choi decided to tackle head-on when he started conceptualising the Flip Grip last year. On the surface, it appears to be a simple piece of plastic, but in practice, it's a game-changer for fans of 'TATE' shooters.
On its own, the Flip Grip seems almost inconsequential; it's a single, lightweight piece of quality black plastic which features a space for your Switch console and two rails down either side – no prizes for guessing what slots into those. Four fabric pads on the inside of the unit avoid any damage to the back of the console, while an orange button grips the Switch once it's in place, preventing it from sliding out of the Flip Grip accidentally. To eject the console, you lift the orange button on the back of the unit.
Once 'fully assembled', the Flip Grip feels solid and sturdy; you couldn't hope to expect for better build quality, even from Nintendo itself. The process takes seconds to complete and once done, you're ready to play those classic arcade shooters the way nature intended. Naturally, the Flip Grip only really works with games that allow you to rotate the display 90 degrees, but almost all of the vertically-scrolling shmups available on the console do this. We tested the Flip Grip with Psyvariar Delta, Ikaruga, Strikers 1945, Strikers 1945 II, Gunbird 2, Dragon Blaze and Gunbarich and it worked with flying colours.
Naturally, there are times when you have to interact with the Switch in a landscape kinda way, which can lead to some awkwardness, but it's by no means a deal-breaker and it's amazing how quickly you become accustomed to flipping directional inputs in your brain based on the display being turned 90 degrees. Moving around the Switch's main menu is a breeze as well, because you can simply use touch controls to navigate and select things, negating the need to use the stick or buttons.
The Flip Grip itself does cover the power and volume buttons, but again, this isn't a biggie; by long-pressing the 'Home' button on the right-hand Joy-Con you can access a pop-up menu which allows you to put the console into sleep mode or adjust the volume level. Thankfully, the Game Card slot remains unobstructed, so you don't need to remove the Switch from the Filp Grip to change your game. A slot on the back of the device even allows you to use it in tabletop mode; you can insert the card that comes with it (or any credit card) to turn the Flip Grip into a stand. If we were being really picky we could moan about the fact that you can't use Hori's D-Pad Joy-Con with the unit, as it doesn't provide any kind of power to the controllers, but that's perhaps expecting too much.
It's hard to really explain the difference the Flip Grip makes when playing TATE-enabled games without actually placing a console in your hands with the device in place. Obviously, from a control perspective, it 'feels' very much the same as ever; the distance between the two Joy-Con is smaller than when they're attached to the console normally but larger than when they're slotted into a Joy-Con grip; it's comfortable and never feels like it's going to flip out of our hands or anything like that. The real revelation here is that this ingenious little piece of plastic allows you to get the full effect of vertically-scrolling shooters; playing them in a narrow window – as is the case if you're using the Switch in its normal portable mode – was never a truly agreeable solution so this cheap and cheerful device really does improve things dramatically, and for just $12, it's an effortless recommendation for shooter addicts.
The Flip Grip is available for pre-order from Fangamer and is expected to ship in the middle of December.