Like a fine wine, the Nintendo Switch console seems to only get better with age. A masterclass in combining portability, enjoyability and modernity, to call the Switch a satisfying device would be selling it short.
I still remember my first gaming experience back in the Summer of 2004. I was in the back of my parents car driving around the British coastline, playing Need For Speed on my two-button Nintendo Gameboy Advance – I was happy as Larry. A decade and a bit later, on March 3rd 2017, the long awaited Nintendo Switch came out; a device that, compared to the Advance, was ironically far, far more sophisticated. As I write this today, over 85 million of us have bought a Nintendo Switch Console: one of the most popular machines of its kind. I hadn’t played with a handheld gaming console since my Gameboy saga, so when I picked up the Switch for the first time I was just gobsmacked, blown away by the prowess of this device – I was playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt whilst at the dinner table. It didn’t feel quite real.
Over two years later, on the 20th September 2019, the Switch Lite was released – a console capable only of Handheld play whereas its sister console could be switched between a triad of TV, Tabletop (tablet) and Handheld modes. The Nintendo Switch utilises a Docking station allowing it to fluently link up with a TV through HDMI cabling, a kickstand wherein it can rest on a tabletop and act as a tablet and of course it can be held in the hands of the user as well – a thoroughly versatile product capable of being used virtually anywhere, certainly worthy of the label Switch.
How does the Nintendo Switch look?
Feeling like an excited kid on Christmas Day, as we open up the box and packaging we are immediately struck by the elegant design of the Nintendo Switch console, possessing a professional looking matte finish in various vibrant colours – my favourite being the neon green. In our grasp the device is not cumbersome or heavy as many handheld devices are, sitting well in the hand whilst being light enough in weight that the owner might take precautions so as not to bend it, though the risk of doing so is not really realistic. The reduction in weight leaves the mind only to focus on the game itself rather than any potential awkwardness in handling. The screen is deftly hugged by two satisfyingly slide-on-slide-off slots named Joy-Cons that contain the buttons used for actually (or recording using the Capture feature) playing the game whilst acting as separate entities entirely – a really inventive concept. These nifty little things can be removed from the screen and metamorphose into two mini-controllers capable of operating simpler games like Mario Golf: Super Rush, or they can be attached to a Grip frame to create a quasi-controller – a halfway between the standard Joy-Con arrangements and the Pro Controller. The pioneering design of the Joy-Con effectively allows all gaming preferences and needs to be met, elucidating further why the Nintendo Switch logo echoes the Karmic Ying and Yang symbol; a dualistic concept perhaps used in this instance to convey the idea that every sum of the Nintendo Switch works together to create one marvellous whole – that opposing elements can operate as one – or perhaps I am a romantic who likes to over-analyse logos? Who knows. The fact that Joy-Con doesn’t possess a traditional D-Pad might to begin with be a little perplexing, but once we consider that each half of the controller can be handily split and used individually we can understand the reasons behind the D-Pad’s absence. If the D-Pad is a make-or-break scenario for you, take a look at the Nintendo Switch Lite which does bring a D-Pad to the table, quite literally if you use the Switch in Tabletop mode. Each half of the Joy-Con contains a controversially placed (but only on first glance) Analog stick and four A-B-Y-X buttons, I found the positioning of the Analog sticks to start with slightly unnatural due to my years of conditioning to the ever-so-slightly differing Xbox controllers, but my brain quickly followed suit; a day’s effort for a lifetime of portable fun. For those fiercely loyal to the traditional makeup of the Xbox or Sony controller, the aforementioned like-styled Nintendo Switch Pro Controller might well prove to be your saving grace.
'These nifty little things can be removed from the screen and metamorphose into two mini-controllers capable of operating simpler games like Mario Kart, or they can be attached to a Grip frame to create a quasi-controller – a halfway between the standard Joy-Con arrangements and the Pro Controller.'
What about charging and battery lives?
The fact that different Switch box colours can consequently lead to differing battery lives might present room for confusion, which is exactly why we have our Red Box editions clearly marked (coming in Red and Blue, Grey and Neon), averaging a respectable nine hours of gameplay battery life as reported by Nintendo, though keen gamers report slightly less: around 6 hours depending on the game in question. Both the Switch and the Joy-Con are charged by a now-ubiquitous USB-C lead, a respectable move from Nintendo for it encompasses a mix of recent technology, the convenience of the user and their respective budgets: not everyone has the money for replacement proprietary chargers, but most will be able to get their hands on an USB-C. We can either charge our Switch (and the Joy-Cons) by placing them together in the dock or by placing the USB-C into the Switch as we play in Handheld mode on the sofa, or we can use a Battery Pack or Charging Grip to charge our Joy-Cons alone. The only time we cannot charge is when in Tabletop mode due to the placement of the charging slot, but this should not be a huge issue for most of us. I was in fact pleasantly surprised by the Battery Pack (especially so as it even came with batteries already, good job Nintendo!) as I had expected it to be a bit clunky and awkward, but it sophisticatedly slides into the Joy-Con in much the same nifty way as the Joy-Con slots into the Switch itself. Sporting a gripped matte-Black design, the Battery Pack looks far more elegant than I had anticipated when attached to my neon pink and green Joy-Cons. I keep mine safely stashed to one side in preparation for longer trips away from home, finding that the the extra battery allocation varies depending on the quality of the battery I choose, but I have achieved near 60 hours with some cheap AA batteries I got from the local off-licence. Having the Battery Pack clipped in can actually make for a refreshing change in grip and ergonomics if playing morning through evening, giving the Joy-Con a bit more bulk and thickness - helping it sink into the hand. Both the Joy-Con and the Switch take about 3.5 hours to charge fully through traditional charging methods, giving the Joy-Cons a 20-hour juice and the console between 6 and 9. Aside from charging, the Nintendo Switch has a simple volume up/down and power on/off buttons on the top: nothing superfluous – the attention remains on what is transpiring on the screen. Speaking of, it might be a prudent move to have a tempered glass screen protector if you are assiduous in your console maintenance. How often do you drop your phone? Well, now you have a heavier, larger, but ironically cheaper device, though the screen replacement will be anything but.
'I was in fact pleasantly surprised by the Battery Pack (especially so as it even came with batteries already, good job Nintendo!) as I had expected it to be a bit clunky and awkward, but it sophistically slides into the Joy-Con in much the same nifty way as the Joy-Con slots into the Switch itself.'
What is the storage capacity? Any compatible devices?
In the classic style, the Switch fosters a flip-up gaming cartridge used for inserting Game Cards, a retro-like feature that reminds me of days gone by. As for sound, the Switch does contain a wired headphone port that is compatible with 3.55m Aux-style jacks and associated adapters, yet in order to connect Bluetooth wireless headphones to the Switch you will need a plug-in transmitter or dongle. Going back to Game Cards, a common question relates to how many downloaded games the Switch can handle. The answer would depend on if the title was in physical cartridge form or a digital download; the Switch has a 32GB internal storage capacity with roughly 7GB used for the system itself. If you are old-school or like to share games with your mates, preferring physical cartridges, most of your internal storage will be used for save data meaning you can play considerably more titles than if you were to download games from the Nintendo eShop, as these digital editions do take up a chunk of your internal storage. To give you an idea, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild takes just over 13GB, Animal Crossing: New Horizons uses 6.5GB, 11.2GB from Fortnite, just over 10GB by Pokémon Sword, 14GB from Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and an enormous 28GB by The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It goes without saying that if you have a predilection towards downloading and playing several larger AAA titles at once, you will need to go about slotting in a MicroSD card underneath the kickstand on the back of the Switch.
How does the Nintendo Switch perform?
OK – the graphics on the Switch are not quite as they are on the ninth-gen Xbox or PlayStation, but then again that is not why we buy the Switch in the first place. The trade-off we make for portability and being able to play more or less anywhere at any time is a reduced graphic fidelity, but this doesn’t mean to say that we get bad graphics: the Switch renders in Handheld modes in 720P whilst offering 1080P and up to 60 frames per second when docked and used in the TV Console mode – not a bad output at all, and if anything these figures lend themselves further to the classic Nintendo look we all know and love. Plus, 720P when condensed into a 6.2” screen bestows more than adequate visuals, often giving rise to similar gorgeous landscapes we are able to savour on the conventional consoles. At the end of the day, you don’t buy the Switch to consistently use it in TV mode, you buy it to play on the train on the way to work, to take it to your mates place so you can test one another’s resolve through Mario Kart, and this is the true USP of the Switch: social gaming, anywhere, any time, and it radiates its excellence best when used in this way. Put it this way, if you are content with Xbox 360 graphics on a device you can use on a plane, the Switch might be the right choice for you.
'At the end of the day, you don’t buy the Switch to consistently use it in TV mode, you buy it to play on the train on the way to work, to take it to your mates place so you can test one another’s resolve through Mario Kart, and this is the true USP of the Switch.'
Can I play with friends?
Nintendo recognise that their fanbase love to share and play with their mates, so they have generously offered us three primary ways of doing so: Local play, Joy-Con syncing and Nintendo Online. I remember causing havoc on Wii bowling back in the day, knocking over vases (and people) with only fond memories of those times remaining…at least for me. When done right, social gaming can be very, very amusing, and the Switch has certainly done it right. Nintendo Online, which costs an affordable £17.99 yearly in the UK in 2021, gifts users access to a cornucopia of evocative NES titles from Zelda to Donkey Kong but also allows multiplayer gaming so that you can rip up Apex Legends leaderboards or fly to one of your buddies islands on Animal Crossing from wherever you can find a Wi-Fi connection. Each Nintendo Switch can sustain eight Joy-Con connections, meaning that if you stick the Switch in the dock and link it up to the TV, the whole family and more can have a go at Table Tennis via 1-2 Switch in the living room after a nice family dinner. Wholesome! More, it isn’t just the Joy-Cons that can connect together, both variations of the Switch consoles can too. Local Play takes full advantage of co-op titles, like Rocket League, ensuring that Friday nights in (or out with the Switch) cannot ever become stale or lifeless.
What's up with the Joy-Cons?
In keeping with the forward momentum of gaming technology, the Switch is not without its augmentations namely in the form of HD Rumble tech and its teammate, the advanced kinetic sensors, known as Infrared Function. Essentially, the Joy-Con sprays a bunch of Infrared dots all over your living room so as to map out its furniture topography (you included) so as to serve Virtual Reality gaming modes, which we will come on to shortly. Nintendo’s HD Rumble features makes good use of Haptic technology, adding subtle secondary elements to gameplay in the hopes of immersing the gamer further - and I would say it works. How can I say that? Well, I didn’t fully feel the HD Rumble features until I muted all in-game sound, and boy did I notice it then. Being a partially movement-based machine, The Joy-Con controllers also incorporate gyro-sensors and motion capturing mechanics so as to create the most realistic response to your actions possible, an attribute especially apparent when using the Steering Wheel accessory whilst diving into driving-focused games like Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. Man, I wish these sorts of things existed back in the days of the Gameboy Advance! The engineering behind the Joy-Con’s sensory outputs are so intricate that there is even a mini-game called Count Balls (not an unfortunately named real-estate Vampire) that provides sensations enough so that we can estimate how many marbles are ‘rolling about’ (the marbles are not real) within the controller, all this achieved through utilising the versatile HD Rumble feature. Whilst a trivial example, it highlights the competency of the Switch in the relevant world of motion and movement within gaming.
'Nintendo’s HD Rumble features makes good use of Haptic technology, adding subtle secondary elements to gameplay in the hopes of immersing the gamer further - and I would say it works. How can I say that? Well, I didn’t fully feel the HD Rumble features until I muted all in-game sound, and boy did I notice it then.'
Any similarities to the Nintendo Wii?
Oui mon ami! The gaming community often receives a lot of flak for promoting inactivity and united overindulgence in Doritos, it is an unfair stereotype…sometimes. Nintendo have historically been that mate who is always urging us to get out to do some hill sprints or visit the gym for a deadlift, squat and bench day; the Wii Fit had us burning calories by completing Mii marathons, cycling up mountains and jousting with our family using virtual foam swords. The Switch is no stranger to working up a sweat, the Ring-Con accessory invites the user to attach both Joy-Cons, one on the thigh and the other on the Ring Con, in an bid to burn some calories. Through the Ring-Cons primary use, the Ring Fit Adventure game mode, we are tasked with traversing a world dominated by a tyrannical (and absolutely jacked) dragon, and we do so by running, squatting and stretching past his scaly minions. Incorporating 40 differing movements, divided into Arm, Core, Leg and Yoga categories, we earn XP by defeating adversaries, enjoying some side missions and then hunkering down against turn-based attacks using the Ab Guard defence strategy. We can level up and customise our characters, concoct salubrious smoothies capable of health regeneration all whilst attaining tougher movement abilities. Advertised as a full-body workout, RingFit Adventure offers us a chance to get our Hearts beating in between adventure binges of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – what can’t the Switch do?
What on Earth are the Labo sets?
Now, I am going to bet that you haven’t ever built an Origami creation that you can control your TV screen with. Cardboard is inert, lifeless – it can’t connect with a screen, Switch or otherwise, surely? Physics just doesn’t work in that way does it? Oh, but in Nintendo’s boundless universe it does! If you insert a Joy-Con controller within your cardboard construction it immediately becomes digitally conscious, tapping into the Joy-Cons movement sensors as well as its hitherto latent Infrared Functions. We knew the Switch was a hybrid console, but we didn’t know it was this hybrid! In the Spring of 2018, Nintendo outdid the Toy Story franchise when it introduced the Labo series, a Virtual Reality initiative combining material with the immaterial, encouraging us to give into our inclinations to build, to create, inclinations now able to aid us in playing our favourite titles in VR: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros Ultimate and the mini-game aligned Nintendo Labo VR App. A varied generation of Toy-Cons have so far been produced, the Elephant and Camera, the Bird and Wind, and the prestigious Blaster accessory as part of the initial Labo VR Set. My jaw dropped upon realising that the VR Headset I would be using with the Switch would be made from cardboard, and my first thought was ‘how many of these things am I going to have to buy?’, and now a few months on I think I have my answer: one, or two if I am exceptionally clumsy one weekend, but then again that is the same with my high-end Oculus Rift too. I don’t know what sort of Titanium cardboard Nintendo are sourcing here, but it is durable stuff. If none of those Toy-Cons seem to satisfy, Nintendo have another trick up their sleeve: the Labo Customisation Set, where you can go about designing a Toy-Con that is just right. The Labo set is the embodiment of the phrase ‘cheap and cheerful’, providing the most bang for your buck when it comes to solo or family entertainment.
'Cardboard is inert, lifeless – it can’t connect with a screen, Switch or otherwise, surely? Physics just doesn’t work in that way does it? Oh, but in Nintendo’s boundless universe it does!'
It is our opinion that the Nintendo Switch deserves all of the credit it has garnered; the console is a synthesis of virtually all of the technology the gaming sphere has to offer whilst promoting novel innovations too. Even four years on since its release, the Switch remains at the forefront of the gaming communities hive mind, and it is not hard to see or feel (with HD Rumble) why that is the case. The Switch gracefully combines portability, technological modernity as well as appealing to our collective sense of nostalgia; gaming cartridges, NES titles and building toys-to-play as we did back in the day – there is not an age group the Switch can’t appeal to. It is difficult to place a finger on what I love most about the Nintendo Switch, but if you threateningly held a Joy-Con accessory to my head I would probably have to choose the fact that I can take my Switch wherever I go and game while I am there, it doesn’t matter if I am resting after a long day, journeying on the train or on my lunch break, my trusty Switch reliably provides me with time to rest and some well-needed escapism.
Written by Joel Gunner
If the Nintendo Switch sounds like the console for you, you can buy the product here.
Images sourced from Nintendo