If you’re a hard-core Nintendo fan or a lover of Zelda games, you may have already preordered the Switch. And as you play the spectacular Breath of the Wild on day one, on your TV or on the Switch’s built-in 6.2-inch screen, you’ll feel like it’s worth every penny.
For everyone else, the easy decision on the Switch is to wait. Zelda is flat-out phenomenal, but otherwise, the Switch feels like an empty vessel, waiting for a deeper catalog of games and online features to take advantage of what is arguably Nintendo’s most ambitious and risky effort to date.
Nintendo has really swung for the fences here: the Switch is a hybrid console, meaning it can be played on a TV at home or on the go as a handheld. The Joy-Con controllers make the Switch a veritable Transformer: keep them attached to the sides in tablet mode, slide them off and prop up the screen on a table to play one- or two-player games, or dock the Switch in its included charging cradle to play on your big-screen TV. The idea is that you’ll get the same basic experience regardless of how you play.
The Nintendo Switch is a much more elegantly designed console from top to bottom, light-years ahead of the plastic goofiness of its spiritual predecessor, the GamePad on 2012’s Wii U. It feels solid in its construction — expensive, even — and demonstrates a mature refinement throughout. Even the operating system is clean and fast — a stark contrast compared to what the Wii U ran on.
Just looking at the Switch’s primary focus of being a practical home-and-on-the-go console, the Switch definitely nails it. There is something awesome about taking a huge game like Zelda with you wherever you go. It was perfect for my train commute to work and it works well on a plane, too. And while battery life is far from marathon levels, I was easily able to lengthen my mobile playtime using a Tronsmart portable charger thanks to Nintendo adopting the USB-C charging standard on the Switch.
And once you’re done with Zelda, you’ll probably turn to… playing Zelda again? That’s because the early Switch lineup is positively anemic otherwise. 1-2 Switch, which effectively serves as a demo for the Joy-Con controllers, isn’t included in the box. And don’t expect any other online entertainment on the Switch’s screen for now — Netflix and other basic streaming services are nowhere to be found.
And while some promising indie titles will be headed to the Switch’s online eShop store in the next couple of months, don’t expect a portable version of the NES Classic. Nintendo hasn’t detailed how or when the Virtual Console — Nintendo’s marketplace for its huge cache of classic games (like the Mario Bros., Metroid and Donkey Kong franchises) — will be migrating to the Switch. Whether or not any of the digital Virtual Console games you’ve purchased on previous Nintendo hardware will work on the Switch is also a mystery. But Wii, Wii U discs and 3DS game cartridges definitely don’t work here.
There is also some concern over the left Joy-Con controller’s reliability. Multiple outlets have reported issues with connectivity and performance. While I didn’t experience these with the frequency that other reviewers have, I wasn’t completely immune from them, either.
If this review seems otherwise incomplete, that’s part of the reason why: I was only able to play Zelda and 1-2 Switch during my 10 days or so with the console. At the time of this writing, no online functionality was live and no other services were ready, including Nintendo’s promised online multiplayer service. All the Switch would let me do was connect to a Wi-Fi network. That’s it.
So consider this an early look at an incomplete experience for now. We’ll update this review as soon as the day one firmware update is available (expected by March 3), and follow up in the weeks and months ahead, as more features — and more games — come to the system.
What’s good about the SwitchVersatility: The novelty that comes with taking the console on the go has not worn off on me yet. So far it’s been a mostly flawless experience. Switching is great.The operating system: While there’s not much to it, the Switch’s OS is zippy, clean and lets you resume gameplay from sleep mode in seconds. Even a full powering on takes no time at all. Local multiplayer: While we weren’t able to test it because no current games support it, the Switch allows for up to eight tablets to be locally connected for multiplayer.Screen capturing: A dedicated capture button on the left Joy-Con takes a screenshot of whatever you see onscreen. It works just as you’d want it to — quickly and easily. As of now there doesn’t seem to be option for recording video though.Amiibos: Those adorable toy-to-life figures are still a thing for the Switch, so if you spent money on them the last few years, you’re in luck.
The Switch’s problemsGame library: Beyond Zelda, it’s a bit of a desert. That will be the case at least until midyear or so.Online play and Virtual Console are both MIA at launch.Left Joy-Con desync: There’s definitely something going on with the left Joy-Con. While I’ve only had it desync once, it’s acted up half a dozen times, whether it be erratic behavior or a dropout. Hopefully, this is something that can be patched.Screen size: When using it as a handheld device the Switch’s screen is fine, but as a tabletop display it’s another story. Because of its small text, it’s tough to play Zelda from any farther than around two feet away. Other games might be more lenient about distance, but a group crowding around a screen to play doesn’t seem as practical.The kickstand: The plastic flap that hides the Switch’s microSD slot is also its kickstand. Unfortunately it’s very flimsy and doesn’t instill much confidence. At the very least I wish there was another one on the other side of the screen for balance. If it’s on a hard, flat surface it won’t just topple over for no reason, but getting it to sit right the first time isn’t as easy as you’d think. Bumping into the table it’s resting on could make it fall over, and I’d imagine some airplane turbulence might knock it down. Don’t expect the stability of the sort of full-width stand you get with a Microsoft Surface or an iPad case.No wireless audio: You can pretty much count out any kind of wireless audio solution for the Switch. Other consoles have made this a baseline feature, but don’t expect to see it on the Switch.”HD Rumble:” Nintendo might be overpromising with the vibration feedback in the Joy-Con controllers. It’s tough to sniff out why it’s so much better because right now it just feels weaker than other controllers out there. Maybe this will change.Outdoor use: Sure, you can take the Switch with you anywhere, but the screen is really tough to see outdoors, especially anywhere it’s sunny.
If you care about specs
The Nintendo Switch’s 720p capacitive touchscreen measures 6.2 inches. When docked it can output up to 1080p to a TV. The console can also send a 5.1 surround-sound signal via the dock, but only stereo sound (via wired headphones or onboard speakers) when on the go. The console is powered by a custom Nvidia Tegra chip.
There are two USB 3 ports on the left side of the dock and one hidden away behind the connection panel. There you’ll also find the HDMI-out and a USB-C power port.
The Switch has 32GB of onboard storage, but you’ll only have access to around 26GB of it out of the box. If you download Breath of the Wild from the forthcoming eStore (cartridge-based games will also be available in downloadable versions), it’ll take up half of that. Storage is expandable up to 2TB using a microSD card, hidden in a slot behind the tablet’s kickstand. As for the game cards — they’re super tiny, a little thicker but narrower than a standard SD card.
The tablet itself has a USB-C port centered at its base (you can charge it directly there too). There’s a headphone jack up top along with the game card slot, power and volume buttons. And unlike, say, an iPad, there’s also a heat exhaust vent because we believe there’s a cooling fan inside, too.
One amazing game in an otherwise light catalog
Looking at Nintendo’s Switch site, there are a total of 12 games that will release alongside the Switch on March 3:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild1-2 SwitchJust Dance 2017Snipperclips – Cut it out, together!Super Bomberman RFast RMXI am SetsunaShovel Knight (along with two DLC packs)Skylanders ImaginatorsWorld of GooLittle InfernoHuman Resource Machine
So far, I’ve only gotten quality time with two games for the platform: the fantastic new Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, and the not-so-fantastic 1-2 Switch.
The latter is a party game, though all the minigames inside are two-player and the vast majority of them are simply uninteresting. But the real slap in the face is that 1-2 Switch is not a pack-in game like we saw with Wii Sports in the past. Not only should 1-2 Switch be included with the new console, it most certainly shouldn’t cost $50.
But back to Zelda. The Breath of the Wild is incredible. It’s an amazing evolution for the series and everything I had hoped a contemporary Zelda game could be. Performance-wise it does slow down and drop a few frames here and there, but otherwise it’s gorgeous, uniquely styled and surprisingly detailed. It’s also quite difficult. There’s much more of a demand for strategy than any other Zelda game I’ve played. Best of all, there’s no discernible difference in visuals or performance when going from TV to tablet. (The lower tablet resolution looks fine on the small screen.)
Ironically enough, Breath of the Wild is one of the best Nintendo launch games in history, but it’s paired with one of the most bare-bones console debuts in recent memory.
At the Switch’s launch event in New York in January I really enjoyed my time with the co-op puzzle game Snipperclips. Shovel Knight is a great indie platforming game that you should also consider if you haven’t already played it yet on another console.