I’ve had a good 6 days or so now with the new Nintendo Switch and I can safely say it’s the best handheld unit I’ve used. Though it is meant to be a home console with the quirk of being a handheld, the Switch firmly feels like it’s the next generation of handheld console- with the added function of a dock to allow for play on a home TV/screen.
My initial impression so far is that the Switch is a solid product with a somewhat mixed target audience. However if it can overcome that aspect it’s going to be something special.
Oh did I mention Zelda. Yeah. Zelda. Buy a Switch (or a Wii U) for Zelda, that’s about all I need to say. But if you need more persuading read on…
I’m not going to get into the exact details on the Switch hardware as at the moment it’s all very speculative. What we do know is that the theoretical performance is lower than that of the direct home console rivals in the Xbox One and PS4.
Due to the architecture differences it’s difficult to draw a direct comparison but the Switch is reckoned to be producing around 1TFLOP (teraflop processing power) in the GPU department. Compared to the Xbox One at 1.3TFLOP, the PS4 at 1.6TFLOP, the PS4 Pro at 4.2TFLOP and later this year the Xbox One Scorpio estimated to be clocking in at 6TFLOP.
You can already see that in the current generation market the Switch is looking rather underpowered considering developers are already hitting limitations with the original Xbox One and PS4 hardware.
However I've basically been treating it as a 1TFLOP handheld, with the perk of connecting to a TV. When you look at the competition from the likes of the PS Vita and the 3DS, neither of these is achieving anywhere near the processing power afforded to the new hardware. For reference, the 3DS is around 5 GFLOP (gigaflop) and the Vita is around 51 GFLOP.
So, from a performance perspective we get either a sub spec home console (albeit with Nintendo’s signature branding and style) or a super charged handheld console featuring Nintendo’s top studios.
This kind of compromise in the hardware can also be seen elsewhere, not just in the GPU/CPU architecture but in areas such as storage, where the Switch features only 32GB of onboard memory, and in the overall design of the device.
It feels very much like Nintendo didn’t want to push their top ranking 3DS off its pedestal but at the same time it might be a problem if they don’t start to target the console's best aspect, which is its mobility and handheld potential.
Personally I’ve not got a problem with this. Performance means nothing if it isn’t used to it’s fullest potential, my only niggle with this is that it could (and probably will) lead to third party development suffering on the Switch much like it has on the Wii and Wii U before it.
The first impression I had when the Switch box arrived was how small it is. By comparison to other home consoles it really is tiny!
This trend continues when you get inside, the Switch itself is very small. For comparison I got out an Xbox controller and it’s not much different in size, like a Kindle or other small tablet.
It feels solid and looks amazing, there is some loving attention to design here and everything feels very well made and put together on the tablet.
I took a good 10 minutes just looking over it and examining the design and other than a few issues, for example a lack of LED’s for power, it’s a superb piece of design that would make Sony blush.
The unit has all you’d expect, power button, volume buttons, along with a USB-C charging and adaptor port on the base, cartridge slot for games and an SD card hidden behind the kickstand on the rear.
The only concern that I’ve had so far with the tablet is the kickstand, which seems to be quite flexible and I’m not sure it would live up to long play sessions. This seems to be a trending issue but I can’t see it being that much on a problem in general use though it is worth noting.
On further use of the console I have come across another flaw which is the positioning of the USB-C port. This seems like a logical position for docking etc, but when you are using the stand you are unable to charge the device in its mobile form because the port is on the underside and cannot be accessed. Hopefully some sort of other mini dock comes along like with the 3DS.
To connect the Switch to a TV or monitor the unit comes with a dock. This unit is probably the low point of the design. It feels like a cheap plastic add-on.
The unit itself houses a USB-C adaptor for the unit to plug into which then gives access to multiple full size USB ports along with an HDMI out.
There have been some reports of the unit scratching the Switch tablet screen when inserted but I’ve yet to see this. I can see how it could be happening though, and it feels like this could have been avoided if the dock was better designed.
I’m not keen on the dock, it feels rushed and poorly thought out, especially with the placement of the USB-C port on the main unit. Having this slightly slanted without a front block would be a much better idea and allow not only charging but the use of the screen if needed.
The Joycons are something interesting. They are small detachable controllers that can either slide onto the sides of the tablet to allow for a portable gaming experience, or be plugged into a cradle to form a more traditional controller.
The left and right Joycons are designed to be almost mirrors of each other, which is frustrating as it removes any real d-pad from the design, but this is due to the two Joycons allowing for local multiplayer on the same device. This is pretty cool and might well be worth the trade-off for a d-pad.
The left and right controller are nearly identical however the right hand controller also allows for NFC/Amiibo support.
The controller is decently sized for a portable device. The sticks and buttons are quite small but comfortable enough when attached to the unit itself.
Attaching the Joycons to a dock to form a controller feels like a compromise as the size of the sticks and buttons don’t work well as a home console controller. Compared to the current handheld offerings though they are a revelation.
I’ve found so far that my hands are far too large for the buttons and sticks on this, this might be just because I am an adult male or I could have freakishly large hands.
This leads me to the saving grace for anyone who isn’t 10 years old or from Japan.
The Pro controller (at an additional cost) is much, much better in the home console space. Comparable in size to the PS4 and the Xbox One controller it fits far more into the standard controller range with larger sticks, buttons and a real d-pad.
Personally I much prefer the staggered stick placement of the Xbox controller designs and it’s nice to see Nintendo bringing a solid controller to the scene after the relative dearth we’ve had since the Gamecube controller.
I feel the Pro controller is a must buy for anyone wanting to use the Switch in the home console space or for anyone with real sized hands.
I have not used the in-built controller dock since testing and wouldn’t go back from using the Pro controller to using this. Obviously on the move is a different experience as you don’t want to lug around an extra controller with you!
I’ve seen a lot of negativity concerning the Switch’s operating system, like it being basic and missing functionality.
However I have to disagree from a personal standpoint.
So far I have found the basic operating system clean and user friendly. Setup is simple, as it usually is with Nintendo systems, and it feels like a very natural progression from the Wii U and the 3DS; a sort of combination effort.
The main space is dedicated to your tiles, game, apps etc that will no doubt be coming once the store is more populated.
Beneath you can find news, eshop, album, controller, system and sleep functions.
At the top is the users tab, in which we find all the information about the currently logged in user's online status, current games, friends and so on. All very generic and simple.
This is a far cry from the overly complex Xbox One and PS4 UI’s and it feels quite refreshing if not light on functionality. It gets the job it sets out to do done, and gets it done well and with minimal fuss to the user.
From an online perspective the Switch is currently in its infancy. We are promised that the online services will be getting more development over the next few months.
At a later date I’ll come back and evaluate this further but at this time it isn’t in a complete enough state to confirm.
At the end of the day the Switch feels like a solidly designed piece of hardware. It has a few issues here and there but nothing that is going to cause someone who treats a £250 piece of hardware with some respect.
I am personally in love with my Switch and it feels like some recaptured Nintendo glory days could be on the horizon if they can capitalise on the hardware and push the mobility of it.
Moving seamlessly between Zelda in my man cave to the living room, to the toilet is amazing, and certainly more entertaining than thumbing through Facebook whilst having a number two.
If you like Nintendo consoles and games this is a no brainer, it’s a must buy.
If you like your JRPG’s, mobile games and fun, it could be a must buy as the catalogue expands.
If you are a soulless human being who is waiting on the next CoD then it’s probably not going to be for you… but who likes to innovate anyway right?
Oh and did I mention for anyone on the fence that it has Zelda? And at this point a Zelda that is trending at 98% on Metacritic? Making it the 4th highest reviewed game in all time on the site? So far I think it’s better than Ocarina of Time and that is saying something.