The Nintendo Switch, on paper, is my ideal handheld gaming device. I’ve tried other handhelds, but none of them quite do it for me.
The PS Vita is a lovely piece of hardware, but let down by the support it gets from Sony – or rather, lack thereof. We were led to believe the Vita would be a portable PS3, but it turned out this wasn’t quite true; it was comparable to a PS3 but couldn’t run PS3 games. Developers couldn’t simply port over existing games without a costly rewrite, starving it of games. Sure, you can use it as a remote screen and stream games from your PS4, but only if you’re very close to the PS4 in the first place, which defeats the point.
Mobile phones, like the iPhone 6 onward, are also capable devices in terms of raw power and screen quality, but a lack of physical controls renders them unsuitable for proper, console-type gaming. Playing GTA on the iPhone is novel, but ultimately let down by having to obscure half the screen with your thumbs. There are a few controller add-ons, however not all games support them, and if you upgrade to a new phone there’s a good chance they’ll no longer fit.
The Nintendo 3DS is the only portable left; it has physical controls, a decent catalogue of games, and best of all – Pokemon. However it’s not very powerful, only has one joystick (the new ones have two but the second is hopeless), the screens are very low resolution, the touch screen uses ancient resistive technology, and the 3D effect is pointless. It’s the best of a bad bunch.
Enter the Switch.
As someone who enjoys portable gaming, it always disappoints me that I can’t take my favourite console games with me. With the Switch, that’s no longer a problem! I’m enjoying Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and now I can play it in bed, on the Tube, in my lunchbreak – wherever I want.
Docking & Undocking – 9/10
I wasn’t sure how this would work in practice, but as it turns out, it works very well indeed. You can easily pull the screen out single-handed (the base is weighted nicely), because there are no catches – and likewise, it’s very easy to slide the console into the dock. It pretty much drops in, using the weight of the screen to engage the USB-C connector. The transition from docked to portable mode and back again is as seamless as it looks in the adverts. I can even go from playing on the TV with the “Pro” controller, to undocking and playing with the Joycons without any hassle at all. Perfect.
The only negative is that there are hard moulded ridges inside the dock which will press against the screen – these really should have a microfibre covering to avoid scratching the screen. I’d also like a little more space at the top of the screen to give you a better grip when pulling the screen out.
Controls – 7/10
The Joycon controls (the ones either side of the main screen) are reminsicent of the Vita. The joysticks don’t have as much travel as on the Pro controller or on Xbox/PS controllers, but they are good enough. The D-pad and ABXY buttons have a nice, positive action. The shoulder buttons are understandably a bit small, but again, they’re good enough given the size they have to be. The D-pad on the left isn’t a D-pad but a + arrangement of buttons like the A, B, X and Y ones. Not ideal, but as it means two people can play games with one controller each, it makes sense. For playing at home I prefer the Pro controller, but for on-the-go, the benefit does outweigh the drawback.
There’s an additional benefit which I discovered today; it makes “Daddy gaming” much easier! I just made that term up, so let me explain. My daughter loves watching me play games, but she insists on sitting on my lap. This means I have to reach around her to hold the controller, but every time she fidgets, it knocks my hands. By using the Joycons, one in each hand, I no longer have this problem – I can have my hands by my sides, and still have full control! Having said all that, it does take a bit of extra effort to persuade my brain that it is a console controller despite my hands being so far apart.
Overall I think the controls are perfectly suited to a portable, although I prefer the Pro controller for TV gaming (I won’t be using the included Joycon grip).
I haven’t had much experience of the “HD Rumble” or IR sensor yet, but the motion controls are responsive. I have used the Amiibo feature to scan in Amiibo figures and Animal Crossing cards – they grant all manner of loot in Zelda: BotW – but it’s a bit hit-and-miss to find the right spot. I think the reader is under the right joystick, which means you can end up nudging your character accidentally. Also, if you have the motion control activated, it does make it somewhat harder – I’ve disabled it for now. I’d prefer to have the NFC reader on the other grip, not the one with the motion sensor.
OS – 7/10
The Vita and 3DS have quite fussy system screens – the stuff you have to deal with outside of a game. Lots of icons and options and stuff; they are flexible, but cluttered. So far the Switch seems to eschew that for a much more streamlined approach. I hope we get to see themes like on the 3DS and PS4, but for now, it’s perfectly fine. So far, it’s been very easy to set up the system and browse the e-store, and pairing controllers is also nice and simple. The downside is that Nintendo have a very confusing ID system – you need a Nintendo Network ID (even if you already have a Wii, Wii U or 3DS) and a Nintendo account, and neither of them will actually be your name on the Switch – unlike on the Xbox One or PS4. It’s more of a Nintendo issue than the Switch’s OS, but still – this is where it gets exposed.
I know some people are upset at the lack of a YouTube app or web browser; I’ve never used them on the Vita, I tend to use my phone for that, so it doesn’t bother me. I’ve tried them on the Vita and 3DS but they just don’t match the more established mobile/tablet apps. I don’t see the Switch replacing my phone or tablet, I’ll always one or both with me.
Hardware – 7/10
This is looking at the unit as a whole, not just the controls. It’s bigger than a Vita, but slimmer than a 3DS. The screen is lovely – only 720p, but as with everything else, that’s certainly adequate. A higher resolution screen would have pushed up the cost, and also made the battery life suffer. Sound is good, the touchscreen (capacitive now) responsive, and image quality and brightness is as good as I had hoped. The Joycons slide on and off by holding down a small button on the back of each controller – it’s easy to accidentally press a button but I think it’s something you’ll get used to. And as good as the Joycons are, they do lead to my one main negative impression – the connections aren’t very solid. There is some back and forth movement when playing in handheld mode; not much, but it’ll be interesting to see whether it gets worse over time. I guess it’s a compromise – having a very firm connection would have made them much harder to detach, but the Switch is intended to be split apart regularly so it needs to be easy to do.
The Switch has met my expectations. It appears to be a decent combination of home console and portable gaming, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
Anyone want to buy a Vita?