The Nintendo Switch likely won’t be the revolution that the Wii was and can’t really compete with the PS4 or Xbox One, but none of that mattered during the joyous few hours I spent with it at a New York preview event. Nintendo’s wacky new hybrid console had me shooting, racing, and wildly flailing my arms in real life, and while I’m a bit worried about its game lineup, the Switch could turn out to be a vessel for great and unique games from both Nintendo and its partners.
Hardware: Sleek and Simple
The $299 Nintendo Switch is remarkably simple. The system itself is essentially a 6-inch tablet that you can play on your TV via a dock or take on the go thanks to a myriad of wireless and detachable control options. You’ll barely notice the Switch when you have it docked and in your entertainment center — it’s that small.
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One of my biggest concerns about the Switch was how its 720p touchscreen would handle console games on the go, and I’m pleased to say that it looks fantastic. Games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 popped with color, and were both crisp and responsive enough to allow me to drift through turns and spray ink at my enemies with precision.
The Switch charges over USB Type-C and supports microSD cards, which makes me glad I won’t have to deal with any annoying proprietary junk. The big question mark is how long the Switch will last undocked in the real world — Nintendo gives a very loose estimate of 2.5 to 6 hours.
Controllers: Mostly Great
As with most recent Nintendo consoles, you can control the switch in a variety of ways, most of which feel pretty great. The console includes two Joy-Con controllers, which, when attached to the included Joy-Con grip, create something resembling your average console gamepad with two analog sticks and a standard layout of face and shoulder buttons. Playing this way felt fine, especially given the light weight of the Joy-Cons, but I couldn’t always comfortably rest my fingers due to the blocky portion at the center of the grip.
Fortunately, you can detach each Joy-Con, which opens up a ton of control possibilities. A single Joy-Con can essentially act like a Wii Remote — you can swing it around it motion-based games and hold it sideways to form a mini-controller. Using a Joy-Con sideways was probably my least favorite experience given how tiny the thing is, as trying to perform precise jumps in Sonic Mania proved to be a nightmare. But I didn’t mind it for simple multiplayer games like Super Bomberman R, and it’s an easy way to get a 2-player game going when you only have the single pair of controllers that comes with the system.
You can attach each Joy-Con to the sides of the Switch, which turns the system into a self-contained portable console. Playing this way felt very good: the system was light even with the controls attached, and I didn’t feel like my hands were spread as wide as they were with the Wii U gamepad. I used this control method during a heated match of Splatoon 2, and both precision shooting and gyroscope-based aiming felt great. Sliding the Joy-Cons on and off of the Switch as an absolute breeze, which I learned when I decided to play some Mario Kart 8 while holding a Joy-Con in each hand.
I really wish the Switch’s $70 Pro Controller shipped with the Switch, because it’s far and away the best way to play games on it. Nintendo has offered Pro Controllers for the Wii and Wii U, but this is the first one that feels comfortable and weighty enough to hold its own with the Xbox One and PS4 gamepads. As a fighting game nut, I had no issues pulling off special moves and combos in Ultra Street Fighter 2 on this pad.
Games: Good Variety, But Not Enough
The games I played for the Switch ran the gamut of what I’d expect from a Nintendo console, from traditional action experiences to weird party games. I was shocked to discover how much I loved Arms — this seemingly gimmicky motion-based fighting game had me furiously flailing my arms to beat my opponent, though I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the same depth I’d expect from a standard brawler.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 felt like smart improvements on their Wii U counterparts, both offering precise controls and gorgeous color palettes that looked good on and off a TV. The Switch makes a fine home for old-school multiplayer experiences such as Ultra Street Fighter 2 and Super Bomberman R, both of which were joyously easy to pick up and play.
Naturally, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild drew the biggest crowd at Nintendo’s New York event, and for good reason. The upcoming Zelda is a gorgeous, surprisingly modern open-world adventure, and will likely be the reason most folks pick up a Switch on March 3.
I had a blast playing the Nintendo Switch, and I’m fairly sure I’ll have hit the pre-order button on one by the time you read this. That said, I’m worried about just how many great games it’ll offer this year. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the only notable launch title for the system, and highly anticipated games such as Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey aren’t coming until later this year.
The Switch has some decent third-party games coming in the form of Minecraft, FIFA and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, but you can play those games on just about any other platform. If Nintendo can complement its handful of major blockbusters with some strong third-party exclusives, the Switch could be a must-buy by the end of the year. But unless you’re fine with spending your time on some (admittedly great) party games and the occasional major title, the Switch is a fantastic piece of hardware that you can probably wait a few months to pick up.