Hands on with Nintendo Switch

Let’s get it out of the way right up-front; Nintendo Switch is an incredibly impressive piece of technology.

Is it worth $470 AUD? That’s something you’ll need to decide for yourselves, but after spending a few hours with it, I think my answer is yes. Here’s why.

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Nintendo doing what it does best

As it showed in the opening moments of the Switch presentation last week, the Switch itself is an evolution of everything Nintendo has done before. While some of the links may be tenuous at best (looking at you Rumble Pack), it truly does feel like Switch is the culmination of Nintendo’s work.

Where it differs is in the design, form factor and feel. Each of Nintendo’s previous consoles and handhelds has looked and felt very much like a toy. Not so with Switch. This isn’t “Baby’s First Console,” but rather a solidly built, powerful piece of consumer tech.

Holding the unit itself gives the first impression of something designed with adults in mind, rather than children. Not that it’s grown up altogether, but Nintendo finally seems to be embracing an older audience than it has in the past. Switch feels great as you would expect.

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The two Joy-Cons on either side of the screen attach and detach effortlessly and thanks to relocated right-hand analogue stick, mirror the feel of an Xbox One controller or DualShock 4. This makes it much easier to transition between consoles than ever before. With Wii U, both the GamePad and Pro Controller awkwardly placed the face buttons below the control stick. Switch remedies this and it’s all the better for it.

Thankfully, the Pro Controller and Joy-Cons are the same so you won’t need to adjust between the two.

As it tends to do, Nintendo has taken gaming norms and done something special and unusual with them. Not content so simply make a PC in a console case, Nintendo is attempting to create a gaming experience that complements modern, daily life.

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A new-old way to play

The idea of a console/handheld hybrid isn’t altogether new. Nintendo has been experimenting with the idea for years, just take a look at the Super Game Boy and Game Boy Player. Neither provided exactly the experience of the Switch, but both were certainly precursors.

PS3 and PS4 both provide Remote Play via the PlayStation Vita, which while impressive, relies on a solid internet connection to work well. Switch doesn’t stream gameplay to a secondary device, it’s essentially a portable home console.

But it’s more than that too. Switch can be played in a dizzying number of configurations;

  • In the dock, connected to your TV with either the Joy-Con Grip or Pro Controller;
  • Out of the dock with either the Joy-Con Grip or Pro Controller;
  • As a handheld
  • In table-top format with a single Joy-Con side-on
  • In a group of up to eight Switches connected via Ad-Hoc

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…and probably more that Nintendo hasn’t revealed as yet. These are all things we’ve seen before, but never via one console. Switch aims to cater for any and every possible gaming scenario and while the lack of games (more on this later) initially might put a damper on it, in the long-run it could be a powerhouse.

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Controllers and buttons for all

Nintendo’s controllers have always complimented its new console hardware. A new console has always meant a new controller and Switch is no exception. Except Switch doesn’t have one new controller; it has half a dozen.

Ok, not really, but Nintendo has made the Joy-Cons so versatile that they’re basically three controllers in one. When attached to the Joy-Con Grip they mimic a Pro Controller, as they do when attached to the sides of the Switch. Each Joy-Con can be used vertically by one player like a Wii Remote, but it seem like this is only going to be used for mini-game waggling.

Each individual Joy-Con can also be turned on its side — like a Wii Remote — and used in games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. An advantage the Joy-Con has over the Wii Remote is that each has an analogue stick and four face buttons in addition to two shoulder buttons (SL an SR) making it much more versatile.

Each Joy-Con includes an accelerometer and HD Rumble, which has to be experienced to be believed. One of the Joy-Cons also includes an IR sensor which, judging by 1, 2 Switch isn’t going to be used very often.

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During the Switch event, I did find that playing with a single Joy-Con horizontally was a bit small for my fully grown, adult hands. Like with the 3DS, it felt fine at first, but after a few minutes of play my hands and fingers started to cramp up. The flip side to this is that you’re unlikely to use the Joy-Con in that way very often or for very long.

You’ll also definitely want to turn off the accelerometer, if you can. While playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I found that Mario kept pulling to the right even when my thumb was off the control stick. I couldn’t work out why. Another guest was also having the same problem until we realised that we were both holding the Joy-Con on an angle and this was steering our characters to the right.

At first glance, I thought that the left hand Joy-Con would be far superior to the right. When turned horizontally, the right hand Joy-Con has the analogue stick in the centre. I was sure this would be much more uncomfortable; the controller reserved for your second cousin, but in reality, both Joy-Cons are much of a muchness.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any time with the Joy-Con Grip, but I did get to use the Pro Controller. Emphasis on the Pro. And with it Nintendo has finally made a controller to rival its best; the GameCube’s.

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The Pro Controller is light, but sturdy and has the feel and finish of quality. The analogue sticks snap back with rigidity suitable for modern gaming. The face and shoulder buttons give a satisfying click and are easy to find thanks to the redesign. The in-built accelerometer was only used for aiming in Splatoon 2, as far as I could tell and while I expected the worst, it was excellent.

Motion-control aiming is and always has been very hit and miss, but in Splatoon 2, with the Pro Controller, Nintendo nails it. It’s so much more sensitive than I was expecting that at first I was looking all over the place. Once I realised just how subtle the gestures I needed to make were, it was a whole new experience. Aiming with analogue sticks is often slow and clumsy, but not so with the Pro Controller.

I’ll be very interested to see how other games — namely shooters — make use of this in the future.

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Play Zelda on the go, but not much else…yet

As far as launch line-ups are concerned, Switch’s may be the weakest ever. Sure, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a massive title, but it’s also coming out for Wii U, for $10 less.

On launch day you’ll also be able to play Super Bomberman R, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders: Imaginators and 1, 2 Switch. None of these titles are system sellers, nor are they must haves. There’s nothing wrong with any of them and they are solid titles, but I hardly think anyone’s running out to buy a Switch for them.

1, 2 Switch is a perfect example. During the Switch presentation, I wrote it off immediately, but assumed it would be at least something to play. Until I found out that it’s not bundled in with Switch. This marks the first console since Wii that hasn’t had a bundled title.

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It’s a stretch to call 1, 2 Switch, Switch’s Wii Sports, because it’s not in the same league. It does however provide some interesting mini-games that would work well within a party setting. I won’t go too much into the launch titles as they’ll be covered on their own, but suffice it to say that 1, 2 Switch while generating some laughs really isn’t worth the $70 AUD admission.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will come nearly two months after launch and despite being a remaster is shaping up to be a must-have title. Mario Kart 8 is a phenomenal title and the addition of more tracks, characters, battle mode and 1080p display, it’s worth the price tag.

Other than that though, we know that titles are coming (including the insane Super Mario Odyssey) but most have no firm date or are so far away that they barely matter right now. Nintendo simply can’t afford to do what it always has and leave players languishing between releases. Hopefully this isn’t the case.

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What’s in the box?

We don’t really know much about what’s going on inside Switch. Some of what we know and have seen is promising, while some is disheartening.

Bad news first shall we? Switch comes with only 32GB of memory. This is utterly appalling and ridiculous. Especially when you consider that Breath of the Wild will take up 40% of that, lots of gamers buy titles digitally and that it’s supposed to be taken with you on the go.

It’s not a huge undertaking to carry cartridges with you — and this is obviously what Nintendo is aiming for — but I’ve personally become accustomed to digital libraries and much prefer it. To make matters worse, according to Fenix Bazaar MixroSDXC cards will be compatible, but will be hideously expensive.

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Even in console mode, there’s no way to plug in a USB hard-drive at launch. The Xbox One also launched without this functionality, but it included a 500GB drive. The Switch seems to be starting behind the eight-ball with regards to storage and as more titles are released it’s only going to become more of a problem.

One of Switch’s biggest question marks is its processing power. We know it’s running on a modified Nvidia Tegra chip, but beyond that…it’s a mystery. The titles I played all looked decent, but none were eye-popping. For a title that’s due at launch, Zelda in particular displayed a worrying number of dropped frames, screen tearing and ugly textures.

In reality, Switch doesn’t need to keep up with PS4 or Xbox One, but it needs to close the gap. Especially considering that Microsoft and Sony’s consoles are approaching their fourth birthdays.

For a console/handheld hybrid, Nintendo’s own assertions that Switch can last between 2.5 and 6.5 hours (and only 3 hours for Zelda) isn’t particularly impressive. Especially given the cost. While they are vastly different devices, the iPhone 7 will support up to 8-hours of video streaming.

We’ve become accustomed to our devices having extended battery life and Switch’s is underwhelming. It may even deter some players from using it in its handheld configuration; rendering simply an under-powered home console.

At launch, for $469.95 AUD you’ll get the Switch, Dock, Joy-Con Grip (non-charging version), two Joy-Con controllers, A/C adaptor, wrist straps and HDMI cable. You’ll need to spend another $99 AUD for a Pro Controller, $39 for a Charging Grip, $119 for additional Joy-Cons ($69 for a single Joy-Con), and $89 AUD for a game. Plus an SD card if you’d like more storage.

Obviously, not all of the above is necessary, but you’re still looking at at least $560 for Switch and Zelda. All of a sudden, blowing the dust off your Wii U is starting to look appealing.

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Is it worth Switching?

For me, the answer is yes. The Switch is an expensive purchase, but it’s an investment in Nintendo, its games and the future.

I know that Super Mario Odyssey is coming. I know that Nintendo will support Switch with quality titles that make use of its hardware better than anyone. I know that I will play the absolute arse off of Zelda on the tram and train.

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I know that Switch is worth it, but at the same time, I understand that for many it’s too steep a price for too little reward at first. If you’re hesitant, it’s probably best to wait. Breath of the Wild isn’t going anywhere and neither is Switch.

As more titles and features are announced it’ll become more clear whether or not it’s worth it for you. For some Zelda and Mario are all it takes. I’m one of those.

I already know I’ll be lining up come midnight and racing home to get it set up. See you there.

PowerUp! attended a preview event for Nintendo Switch in Melbourne as guests of Nintendo.

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Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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