With less than two weeks to go Nintendo invited some press to come and try out their new hybrid home console. This was an opportunity I was not going to miss, so I headed out there to finally see if the Switch will be worth considering.
Before I get going I want to get this out right up front, I didn’t learn anything new. I asked about the way digital purchases will be handled but they didn’t have an answer for me. Ironically later that day I learned online that the Switch will (finally) link purchaes to your account, not to your hardware.
So, the hardware then. This can go either way with Nintendo. The build quality is usually excellent, especially for the controllers. But they can choose to use outdated hardware. Both the (new) 3DS & WiiU had this problem with lower screen resolutions, resistive touchscreens, and limited networking options. Luckily most of these issues seem to be addressed with the Switch. It offers a modern USB-C connector with USB 3 speeds to boot (well, the hardware for it). It also features all the modern wireless connection options you’d expect like ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.1. So, while it’s not pushing the envelope here it’s not launching with outdated hardware. The USB-C connector should be a real boon as this connector is getting more support very quickly.
The controllers all felt great, with the Pro controller leaving the best impression with me. Overall the build quality was what you may expect from Nintendo. All hardware had a matte grippy feel and the sticks and buttons all felt great. Being a dutchman with fairly large hands I was pleasantly surprised that the Joy-Cons didn’t feel tiny. They actually felt really good. Using them as a two-handed controller is pushing the limits a bit, though. Using them attached to the Switch, the Joy-Con grip or in the one-in-each-hand set-up all felt really good. The only criticism I have is that Nintendo opted for the “X-Box” button layout. Meaning that the layout isn’t symmetrical like it is on the PS4 or it was on the WiiU Pro controller. Since I’m used to the WiiU layout it felt off, especially when I had to control the camera in games like Splatoon 2 & Zelda. The choice is logical since the button layout is a result of the design to make the Joy-Cons work as standalone controllers. While I might not be a fan now, I hope this is just a matter getting used to it.
Like I said the Pro controller left a really good impression with me. Initially, I figured I’d stick with an extra pair of Joy-Cons with a Joy-Con grip since this would give me the broadest range of options. But having played Splatoon 2 with the Pro I am definitely getting one. The addition of motion sensors makes Splatoon’s motion assisted aiming fully playable on the Pro and it worked very well. I played Splatoon on both the Switch itself and the Pro and easily preferred the Pro. However, this isn’t a totally fair comparison as Nintendo had locked down all the Switches with heavy metal grips. So the Switches all felt a lot heavier than they did without them. Because of this, I haven’t really gotten a proper feel of how the system will hold up for longer play sessions.
The Joy-Cons have all kinds of attachment options and in all cases these attachments are a welcome addition. When using the Joy-Cons on their own, the Strap add-ons add a little body to the small controllers. But they also better position the shoulder buttons and provide the straps to prevent accidentally dropping them. These straps also felt like an improvement over the Wiimote straps, feeling both sturdier and easier to fasten. The Joy-Con grip basically transforms the Joy-Cons in a Pro-like controller. Feeling very similar but not as ergonomic as the Pro. This makes the Pro an aptly named accessory. You don’t need it, but if you are serious about your gaming it does merit enough benefit for the additional cost. The Switch also has its own version of the Wii Wheel. These wheels were noticeably smaller than their Wii counterparts but felt surprisingly good. The wheel has two shoulder buttons instead of the single one found on the Wii iteration These shoulder buttons do feel a lot more solid than the flimsy one on the Wii wheel. In my short stint playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with the wheel, I noticed that the analog stick was still functioning as a means of control. This means you no longer have to tell the game what method you’re using but can use them both as you please.
Finally, there is one piece of kit remaining, the dock. This is a surprisingly uninteresting piece of plastic. It has the USB-C connector in the middle to handle the connection to the TV and charging the Switch. Apart from that, it sports two USB-A connectors and…that’s it. Not sure what else it would need, but given the price point of these things (90 bucks) I kinda was expecting it to have more.
Overall the hardware left a very good impression on me. The build quality is what you can expect from Nintendo, which is very good. But this time around the overall feel is more premium than it has been the last two generations. Unfortunately, the prices match this more premium feel. To counterbalance that, the main system bundle is complete enough to provide everything you need for basic two player control. All things considered, Nintendo seems to be delivering a very decent bit of kit. But nice kit is just that without decent software to go with it. Luckily I played some of the launch window games as well!