It’s been about a week since Nintendo’s hybrid handheld/home console, the Switch, shipped out. One of many units came to my doorstep, and since then, I’ve been playing it as much as this job allows me to (so, more than I should, but let’s keep that between us). The pressure was on for Nintendo coming into the Switch launch, badly needing to bounce back from the sales disaster that was the Wii U. But, sales have been strong early, and for good reason — while imperfect, the Switch is a very well conceived console that not only lends itself to great and smartly designed games, but can potentially be improved (like the PlayStation 4 Pro) without requiring you to get a whole new console.
Then again, the most important point of all might be games. A console is only as good as its games, especially the games that can’t be played on any other system (I’ll get a separate review out later, but Breath of the Wild is fantastic). There aren’t too many besides Breath of the Wild right now, but that will change as the year goes on. All things considered, the good outweighs the bad so far, and the bad won’t necessarily be bad forever.
The box contains the Switch (a 6.8″ tablet-shaped device), the two small Joy-Con controllers, the console dock for use with a monitor or TV, a Joy-Con controller dock to make the small controllers more like one classic controller, and the USB Type-C charging (which is a bit short) and HDMI cables. There are also two slide-on wrist straps for use with the two Joy-Con controllers.
The dock’s only purpose is to throw what’s running on the Switch onto a bigger screen in 1080p (the Switch’s display is 720p). The dock simply connects to the USB Type-C port, then routes video through that connection to the HDMI cable — ultimately, it’s just a good way to avoid having to put an HDMI port on the Switch itself, which would have made the console a little bigger and would have made it harder to fit the cooling fan and vent (both of which work well — I haven’t noticed any heat problems with the Switch). The only bummer here is there’s no GPU acceleration in the dock to help games run smoother in 1080p. With Sony and Microsoft both making souped-up versions of their current-gen consoles, I can’t help but feel like eventually, Nintendo will go that route by releasing a dock with an external GPU — it’d be a shrewd move, because it would allow current Switch owners to upgrade without having to buy a new console. I have no idea if they’re planning that, but I’d be surprised (and disappointed) if that wasn’t the plan.
When using the dock, the two small Joy-Con controllers can either be held separately in your hands or attached to a controller dock for a more familiar gamepad-like controller. Either way, the controllers are wireless, and while I’ve seen reports that the left Joy-Con can have connectivity problems, I haven’t experienced that issue. For me, holding the controllers separately was a little more comfortable — the controller dock is oddly shaped and too narrow, although those with bigger hands may end up preferring the controller dock. Nintendo also made a Pro controller, which is shaped like a traditional gamepad (and has a D-pad), but costs $70 extra.
The Joy-Con controllers have a lot going on. Both have trigger buttons, shoulder buttons, and joysticks. There’s no D-Pad, because the two controllers are meant to be (close to) mirror images of each other — instead, both have the familiar button quartet (above the joystick on the right, below on the left). Below the buttons and joysticks, the left has a screenshot button, while the right has the home button. There are also + and – buttons (right and left, respectively). Pop the two controllers off the console, and you’ll see two tiny shoulder buttons on the side, too. Those are there because each individual Joy-Con controller can be turned on its side and used in the same way as a classic gamepad, although the controllers are way too small for this to be comfortable for extended gameplay. There’s an IR sensor on the right controller, but the most novel addition is HD Rumble. HD Rumble allows you to shake the controller to get a feel for something (shaking a glass of ice cubes actually feels like shaking a glass of ice cubes, not just a vibration). Cool, but Nintendo will need to create more games to take advantage of it.
The Switch becomes a handheld when you pop it out of the dock. Whatever’s running on the Switch will keep running uninterrupted, so you can go straight from playing on the TV to playing in bed. I don’t want to understate this, because this alone is almost worth the whole price. It’s awesome to have a console this flexible. There’s a 3.5 mm port on top of the Switch for headphones, but there’s no option for wireless headphones. One more note — it’s a tight fit in the dock, and without caution, the screen could get scuffed up during removal.
You can keep the controllers detached when in handheld mode, too, but they can also be slid onto the Switch in case you’re going to be playing on the bus or subway and need a traditional handheld-style console. However you play, playing the Switch on the go works great — the only problem is the kickstand on the back. It feels flimsy enough to break, either because of an accident or because of continued use. It also doesn’t help that the charging port is on the bottom edge of the Switch, which makes it impossible to charge the Switch and play it using the kickstand at the same time (unless you come up with a DIY solution). It would have also been nice if Nintendo has included a carrying case — they have one, but it’s an extra $20 at retail.