It’s easy to get distracted with the Nintendo Switch.
This is partly because of the nature of the hardware itself; it’s easy to be blindsided by this notional concept of it being a ‘hybrid’ console, but in reality that has a slight problem. By this I mean that as a home console, it’s a rather nice object du jour – it’s a device that will very soon be outdated once again by a shift in home consoles like the XBox Scorpio and the PS4 ‘Pro’, if the latter machine ever breaks free from just being a slightly upgraded PlayStation 4 and commits to utilising its hardware on a more fundamental level. It’s better than the Wii U, of course, but by this point that’s neither challenging nor particularly worthy of note. As a fully-fledged home console, it’s of its time and is arguably what the Wii U should always have been.
Thing is, it’s not really a home console. Because so much of what the Switch is, and does, and how it was designed suggests more that this is a handheld console – and as a handheld console, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the 3DS and PS Vita. It’s the next generation on from that batch of hardware.
Some sneer at the idea it’s “only” has powerful or thereabouts as an XBox One. Thing is, this is a handheld device. All the hardware for actual gaming is in that slim black tablet with one of the nicest screens I’ve seen on a handheld to date – a 720p, 6.5″ capcaitive touchscreen which is frankly lovely to behold and beautifully clear. That kind of power and performance is coming in on a board that isn’t a huge amount bigger than a credit card. That’s rather special, because it means in the last three years – handheld and mobile technology can now replicate the kind of performance you’d expect on a home console.
Hence the dock. It’s an afterthought, if I’m being brutally honest about it, but it’s a nice afterthought and does note that this hardware can and does perform on a level that current home consoles do.
It feels great in the hands – the JoyCon aren’t dissimilar in feel to the New 3DS, though you can detach them and prop the screen up on a kickstand. That’s kind of cool. It works as the next step on from the 3DS, and as I said in a previous piece, it’s also great to see Nintendo finally ditching the two-screen format which it has been stubbornly trying to resuscitate for the last six years. It feels like a proper device, a step forward and an acknowledgement that the two-screen format was a headache for all concerned, not just from a development standpoint but also from an advertising and promotional angle. You can’t keep expecting people to go somewhere just to see what the fuss is about. It doesn’t work. Hence why I don’t think VR is going anywhere – it has the same fundamental flaw.
Everything from the micro-SD storage expansion (which is fair enough, people are complaining about storage space here but it’s a handheld and I don’t expect huge amounts of storage from a mobile device anyway – the new Galaxy S7 at its largest comes with 32GB of space and I haven’t seen people moaning about that) to the gamecards themselves (a standard Blu-ray CD has 25GB of space. Those itty-bitty cards the Switch uses? 32GB. Consider those implications!), from the screen and its well-pitched bezel to the JoyCon, the UI and the feel of the thing – everything about the Switch screams handheld console. That’s just impossible to avoid.
It was always going to be the problem for the Switch too – the thing is, it’s hard to be all things to all men and it often means that one angle of a hybrid has to acquiesce to the other. In this case, the home console element – which is nice and Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks gorgeous at 1080p – has conceded to the handheld.
… and that’s okay.
Because in reality, Nintendo owns the handheld space. It has near-complete dominion over that market, for better or worse, and the last twenty-eight years (yeah, it’s been that long) since the original Game Boy have seen a slew of rival machines which have all universally withered in comparison to Nintendo’s offerings. And we’re not talking fly-by-night operations; Sony has tried, and failed – twice. Sega tried. Nokia tried. Tiger Electronics tried. Even Atari, back in the day, had a swing. Nothing has come close to shaking Nintendo off the high perch in this area, so it being a handheld with no competition around does suggest that this thing has a market – a market that Nintendo knows exists, because 65 million 3DS units tell them there’s a market out there for this kind of hardware.
As a home console – it is an afterthought, but I think it’s also a wake-up call for Sony and Microsoft. That Nintendo’s little Switch that can showcases that it can at least attempt to be a home console (I think external hard drive support on the dock is essential for it to really be a serious home console but that’s just me), it also says to these two big home console players – hey, look where mobile technology is at. Look what it can do. It can now almost equal your hardware. And it’s a fraction of the size. You… you scared yet? Scared that the hardware cycle for mobile technology is so fundamentally shorter than your big, bulky units?
The Switch also needs time.
It’s a new games console and the launch of any new games console is never a great time to adopt in. Yes, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is amazing but it will be equally amazing later in the year, when a bunch of these other games – like Skyrim, FIFA, Minecraft, Xenoblade 2 and Super Mario Odyssey – are also out there to buy and enjoy. By this time, we’ll also have been through the first E3 of the Nintendo Switch’s life and in that, we’ll probably have release dates nailed down for things like Pokémon, Tales Of, Blazblue, Shin Megami Tensei and Dragon Quest – alongside hopefully new announcements (Monster Hunter Switch is frankly a no-brainer).
Perhaps it’s fair to say the Switch is having a soft-launch. And it’s not rare in video game terms for this to happen – but it’s still odd. Nintendo is letting the early adopters – who are usually a little more technically minded – find the problems and report them so when the Holiday 2017 Season swings around – with Black Friday, because that’s a huge thing – much of this can and probably will have been ironed out. Sucks for us but, eh, it’s the way things happen.
It has potential. Sure, it’s an oddity, but it’s an oddity with an odd purpose to it. A statement of intent – and rather high-end for Nintendo’s usual standards. Take it as a handheld, and compare it to the PS Vita, and yeah. The Vita launched at £250 for a Wifi and £300 for a 3G version and that was struggling to get close to PS3 performance. £280 for the Switch, in this space, is actually pretty reasonable. Would have been nice for them to knock it out at £250, of course, but Nintendo wants to make some cash on sales and being a business, and considering games have such a short half-life these days on the shelves, I don’t believe Nintendo is being unreasonable there.
Does it have issues? Of course it does. The battery is always going to drain away when you’re playing big, showy, big-budget and traditionally home-console games on the thing. External battery packs aren’t expensive objects but it’s an additional cost (plus the charging bit is on the bottom of the Switch, which means you couldn’t have it kickstanded whilst playing a game in this way – oops!). The JoyCon desyncing issue – I haven’t had an issue with that, but I know it exists and I feel bad for those suffering with it. Plus, sure, the Pro Controller is a premium bit of kit and the nicest controller I’ve used since the XBox 360. But it’s also a premium-bound £60 extra. My angle on this is – if I don’t have to replace it every year (like I have had to do with the DualShock 4), that’s probably worth the extra cost.
And I wish there were more amazing games. Sure, Nintendo could have waited for the Holiday 2017 season. But that does tend to be more for home console launches – Nintendo has a habit of releasing its handhelds earlier in the year, and seeing what needs to change and be fixed before the holidays roll around. All the more evidence this is a handheld more than a home console, I guess.
I’m not saying its a bad home console though – for the size of the hardware, it’s frankly amazing. The dock sits on my mantle, underneath my big Samsung Smart TV, and it fits. It’s pretty and it works sitting there with it. That’s certainly better than the Wii U, which was a flat brick that you wanted to shunt away as quickly as possible. The UI does make more sense on the actual 720p screen, but it’s actually quite nice on the big screen too – though the new eShop does come off as a bit too minimalist right now.
My point is – this can be a home console. But I’ve taken it outside. On Sunday the 5th, my neighbour took me to lunch (it’s a thing we do) and he joked about how I could tear myself away from my new thing. I pulled out the Switch, and you could see people turn their heads. We also got a lot more attention from the servers and waiters than usual – all making a beeline for this thing. That was kind of fun, though my slight paranoia was making me shake a little as I could feel people leaning in over my shoulder to get a look at it. Personal space, people. Respect it. Even if I am being a vulgar-enough person to show off a handheld console I got not forty-eight hours prior.
It’s a talking point, and it does work out in the wild. Or in the nearest buffet. You know, whatever. It works remarkably well. It feels special. And I’m pretty convinced that with how it was built and pitched, it was initially a handheld but hey, the hardware can and does upscale pretty well to 1080p so the home dock can be used to upscale and charge the battery, awesome!
Okay, rambling now.
Conclusion – it’s a good home console. But it’s a brilliant handheld.
Should you buy one now? Eh, wait for later in the year. You’ll get a better deal and more games with less waiting around.
Do I like it? Yes.
But deep down, I think it’ll be the Switch Mark-2 which really hits things out of the park. I think this is technology in its infancy – and it’s going to be fascinating to see where it goes, and what happens when this device gets its next-gen instalment.
Really Nintendo, Pokémon will shift this thing and you know it.