One of the defining moments of my childhood were my family’s road trips to Disney World. Cramped into a packed minivan, my father would — and still does — drive the 18 hour car trip from New Jersey to Orlando, Florida without hesitation or rest stop. All the while, elementary school Louis could be found in the back seat desperately trying to catch the light of street lamps on his purple Game Boy Color as I played The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons.
That scene has evolved — with the evolution of Nintendo’s hardware, so was there accommodations to the ways I played. Game Boy Advance SP brought rechargeable battery and backlight to make those car trips more endurable. Nintendo 3DS brought some of the best third party software, notably the 2D Castlevania titles, to broaden my horizons outside of Nintendo IP.
This last week I took that 10 hour trip from Nashville to Disney World with my Nintendo Switch. As my fiancée swapped out for her shift driving, I curled up in the familiar place of my back seat with my Nintendo Switch, turned on the console, and started playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The dichotomy between my nostalgia and the tech in my hands was simply amazing.
If you aren’t a stranger to DualShockers — or the gaming scene online — you likely have a solid foundation on what the Nintendo Switch is. Nintendo’s latest home console, the Switch is essentially the final form of the Wii U. The concept, which takes the best aspects of it’s predecessor, lets players switch from console mode to handheld mode in an effortless fashion. Simply picking the console out of the Nintendo Switch’s dock activates the magic trick, as the video moves seamlessly from screen to screen.
Along with the impressiveness of the console-to-handheld feature, Nintendo must get credit where credit is due on the build quality of the Nintendo Switch. A far cry from the Hasbro-like feel of the Wii U Gamepad, the Nintendo Switch feels solid and impressive, even by modern standards — a first for Nintendo. If asked to describe it, I often find myself saying like a midway point between the New Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita.
Specifically, the removable and attachable JoyCon controllers feel lightweight and toy-like, keeping in a similar (yet more refined) consistency of Nintendo’s past heldhelds. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch feels like beast in its own right. The console is solid, heavy, and has a modern architecture. The screen itself, prominently displayed is a gleaming 720 p display that shies away from murky colors and uneven backlight seen on the Wii U.
The same quality build translates to the UI, which is by all means adult with low-key elements of Nintendo quirkiness. The user interface feels streamlined to prominently feature games and not much else. Clearly inspired by both iOS and PlayStation 4’s UI, the console is easily navigable, a breeze to set up, and largely serve its purpose. The system is whisper quiet when running, and has numerous clicks, snaps and dings — a feature that seems uniquely Nintendo.
As for size, the console amazingly seems both way bigger and smaller than I personally imagined. As a handheld device, the console feels roughly double the height and length of the PlayStation Vita. And while this leads to an impressive looking display, especially on the go, the device seemed impractical as a pull-out-and-play device on public transportation. The battery, when playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the highest brightness lasted roughly 3 hours before needing a charge.
Aesthetically, the console is both minimalist and inviting. When docked, little can be seen of the console besides a piece of the bezel that extends beyond the consoles home.
One of the more confounding aspects is why Nintendo decided to market the Nintendo Switch as a home console. Whether it was to justify the $299.99 price tag, or to leave the floor open for continued support for Nintendo Switch, it makes one thing clear: Nintendo Switch is in direct competition with other modern home consoles. Though Nintendo has tried to separate themselves from that equation since the Wii, in a battle over your wallet people will need to make hard choices.
When speaking in terms of power, game support, and value proposition, it is essential to this review to note that both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One succeed time and time again on points where Nintendo stumbles. With processing power that tends to chug throughout its launch game, Nintendo Switch can’t match the beauty, texture detail, or framerates that the three year-old competitors are able to accomplish for Horizon Zero Dawn or Rise of the Tomb Raider. It becomes immediately obvious that third party series that focus on groundbreaking graphics and technology — Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Battlefield — won’t be finding a home with Nintendo this generation.
This distinction is even more profound when crunching the numbers — the budget-friendly gamer can grab the other, more powerful consoles with much larger game libraries for $50 cheaper. If someone is on the market for one console to act as their primary portal into gaming, the Nintendo Switch is a bad value when looking at tech, media options, or game variety.
Thankfully, people aren’t limited to just one game console. Most people on DualShockers reading this review likely juggle between a couple different consoles for both their home system and handheld. And while I couldn’t recommend Nintendo Switch as someone’s primary console, the device does make an exemplar companion console. For the first time in years, my PlayStation Vita has started to amass a layer of dust as my attention has shifted to cutting down Bokoblins and exploring Hyrule in Breath of the Wild.
Online capabilities seem quick, yet limited. While Nintendo has made the leap to an account-based purchasing system, gamers will still find antiquated systems like Friend Codes rear their ugly head. Like all things on Nintendo Switch, everything seems to be either bare bones or streamlined, based largely on your point of view.
My largest complaint with Nintendo Switch, however, is that in attempting to be both a home console and a handheld console it makes substantial compromises, and doesn’t manage to fully succeed doing either. For instance, when taking the Nintendo Switch on the go, it is much larger than what can feasibly be played in transit, requires a bevy of accessories for full functionality, has a fairly-short battery charge, and has the shoddiest kickstand I’ve ever had the misfortune to touch. Meanwhile, docked at home Nintendo Switch is severely underpowered as compared to its latest and greatest competitors, and suffers gameplay delays because of it.
Far too often, the Nintendo Switch feels like it is teetering the line between streamlined and under-baked. And as more features emerge, it seems like the Switch is leaning towards the latter. While I have enjoyed my experience with the Nintendo Switch so far, it is almost impossible to recommend it as someone’s primary console.
In the grand scheme of things, I can’t foretell exactly what Nintendo Switch will look like a couple of years from today. Whether its library branches out from Nintendo exclusives to support third party games, indie titles, or exclusives, little can be said one way or the other. However, it is obvious that Nintendo is taking steps away from their old direction — the Wii U, and many of the design choices made with it, seem like a far cry to the modern Nintendo. With a growing focus on graphics, functionality, and a step away from “gimmicks” like glasses-free 3D, Nintendo Switch feels like a return to form in ways we haven’t seen from the Kyoto-based company in over a decade — yet still many leaps behind modern competitors
While the Nintendo Switch can’t stand toe-to-toe with modern console One on price, console lineups, or multimedia functionality, Nintendo is clearly trying to court since-jaded fans and core gamers with their latest console. And whether you find yourself within the camp as a Nintendo fanboy or someone hoping for Nintendo to give up the console race altogether, the Nintendo Switch has potential — it’s up to Nintendo to show how far that potential can reach.