Nintendo Switch review: A story of risk and reward from gaming’s greatest innovator
A fantastic gaming gadget despite the high price and poor launch title line-up
The Nintendo Switch makes a big promise ; a flawless transition from handheld to big-screen gaming and back again.
Thankfully, it delivers.
After about a week with the device, I’m still marvelling at the design and functionality of the hardware. The tablet-based console slides home with a reassuring click and the game continues on the telly exactly where you left off.
That same click happens when you add or remove the brightly-coloured JoyCon controllers.
If versatility is the guiding light of the Nintendo Switch, then the storied Japanese company has nailed it right out of the gate.
But there’s a couple of significant hurdles to overcome once you’ve finished marvelling at the hardware.
Arriving with a price tag of £279 , the Switch is more expensive than either of its immediate competition (save the PS4 Pro) and that’s before you’ve even thrown in a £45 game. Want an additional controller? That’ll be £64 .
Moreover, the line-up of games is a little thin on the ground at the moment. You’ve got Zelda, Mario Kart and 1-2 Switch for the first few months, with more Mario and possibly Skyrim arriving later this year.
For non-Nintendo fans, it looks like a lot of outlay for little returns.
But we’ll get to the concerns about Switch in good time. Let’s first start out by examining exactly what Nintendo has made and, perhaps more importantly, why it’s made it.
Design and Performance
The Nintendo Switch is, to all intents and purposes, a 6.2-inch tablet with a 1280 x 720p resolution touchscreen and 32GB of internal storage space. The game cartridges are tiny and slot into the top of the tablet – next to the 3.5mm headphone jack. Sadly, there’s no option to connect wireless Bluetooth headphones to the console.
It uses a USB-C power supply and the same connector is what merges the tablet with the dock – which in turn feeds out the signal via HDMI to your big screen.
Like previous Nintendo hardware, the Switch feels durable and well-made. It’s small – not much bigger than the iPhone 7 Plus but weighs 297g, giving it some heft. The size obviously expands when you slot the JoyCons on either side if you want to play it in handheld mode.
Battery life comes in at about five hours of solid gameplay thanks to the built-in 4,310mAh lithium ion battery. When it’s connected to the dock, the Switch is running through the mains.
The JoyCon controllers really are the star of the show though. They take what was great about Nintendo Wii controllers and shrink them down into devices you can use together or separately.
However, on occasion I found that the left JoyCon would occasionally drop its connection to the console. Even when sitting 10 feet from the console, I wasn’t able to navigate or control a game. This issue appears to have affected a few other pre-release consoles and the hope is that Nintendo can fix it with a software patch issued in a timely fashion.
JoyCon problems notwithstanding, the clear move from Nintendo is to take bits from both the Wii and Wii U and combine it into a hybrid console that can appeal to both “serious gamers” and the rest of us that like the idea of a bit of virtual tennis in the living room. The company is continuing along its own path without trying to compete too directly with the powerhouse gaming boxes from Sony and Microsoft.
At the same time, it’s trying to win over a generation of gamers that have become used to playing quick games on a 5-inch phone screen.
In my mind, the hardware is up to the task; it’ll be up to the games to carry it forward.
Games and Multiplayer
Nintendo has the first-party franchises sewn up. You can be sure Mario, Zelda, Pokemon and the rest will all be going big on the Switch.
The difficulty comes with finding engaging third-party support. When PlayStation announced its Vita, it promised console-quality games on the move. We got a handful of them, but then things more or less dried up. It’s even more crucial for Nintendo to get this down because it’s positioning the Switch not just as a successor to the Vita or 3DS, but as a home console in its own right.
Developers, for their part, may well hang back to see how the Switch fares. Easier to pump out a game for the (much larger) Sony and Microsoft audience and hope for a hit than try and guage Nintendo’s family-friendly appeal.
Following Zelda, 1-2 Switch and Mario Kart will come the likes of Dragon Quest, Splatoon and a new motion-controlled boxing game called Arms. There are also new games in the Bomberman and Sonic franchises. The latter, Sonic Mania, is well worth getting excited about .
Peer further into the gloom and you’ll see the outlines of Super Mario Odyssey and a Switch-friendly FIFA game. That’s about the pick of them, at least for moderate-to-serious gamers.
If you’re into internet-based death matches and tournaments, I really don’t see what the Switch will be able to offer you.
Nintendo has repeatedly stated it’s more focused on getting people in the same room as each other to play games sometimes without even looking at the screen. Online multiplayer isn’t even available to UK customers at launch.
As impressive as the Switch is, there are a couple of caveats to be aware of before you rush out to hunt down one for yourself. For starters, although it’s effectively a tablet – there’s no web browser, app store or video services like Netflix. Nintendo has been very clear that it’s just for games.
Which begs the question – if you’ve already got a 5-inch smartphone or a decent tablet as well as a PS4 or Xbox One, do you really need it? Ultimately, it’s probably a no at this point – unless you’re desperate to play Nintendo’s exclusives. And even then, you’re going to have to wait for a while to get hold of a decent Super Mario game.
If, on the other hand, you don’t own a console or a tablet (or do own them, and want to keep the kids off) then the Switch is a great proposition. Using the JoyCon’s as separate motion controllers harks back to the days of playing Wii Sports with friends in the same room.
It puts the social aspect of gaming back in the same room, rather than on the other side of a network connection.
Rather than just following Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has done it’s own thing yet again. The risk is undeniable, but if it works, the rewards for the Japanese company will be huge.