The Nintendo Switch is an impressive and unique piece of hardware held back by a lack of software and basic features.
It's an exciting time for Nintendo fans, and soon to be Nintendo newcomers, with the launch of not only a brand new and unique video game console, but with it, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo's new home console/portable hybrid aims to rectify the shortcomings of the Wii U, while also trying to be something new - a console that works on your TV and with you on the go. And it does all these things, switching from one mode or setup to another seamlessly.
The Switch itself is actually just a compact and well-built tablet housing a 6.2-inch, 720p LCD touchscreen. And to play on it, all one needs is the pair of Joy-Con mini controllers that ship with the Switch. And this is where the magic happens.
The Joy-Cons, for their small and unusual size and form factor, are impressive pieces of game tech. They can slide into the sides of the Switch tablet and the entire unit becomes what we wish the Wii U GamePad was, or you can just hold one Joy-Con in each hand, playing as freely as you desire whether using the Switch as its own little monitor or sliding it into the dock to play on a television monitor. The Switch bundle also includes a Grip however, a lightweight plastic frame that the Joy-Cons can slide into to offer players a more traditional controller experience.
Nintendo Switch prides itself on versatility and portability.
And they're not just two halves of a controller with joysticks and buttons! The Joy-Cons can be used as individual controllers for games like the upcoming Mario Kart (we tested this at the Nintendo Switch launch event a month ago) and the Switch bundle comes with wrist straps for each that make the ergonomics of holding them individually a lot better. The Joy-Cons are also motion controllers with the added bonus that no sensor bar is needed. The right Joy-Con includes an IR sensor and both of them feature what Nintendo dubs "HD Rumble."
This gives developers a wide array of options to design all sorts of experiences, beyond traditional video games. The best example of this is of course, 1-2 Switch, a party title of sorts that includes 28 mini-games built entirely around the many different features of the Joy-Con controllers. Stay tuned for our 1-2 Switch review for more details on this title!
As a portable unit, the Switch has good battery life (2.5-6.5 hours depending on the applications used) and its interface (at least, the part we currently have access to) is minimalistic and slick, built efficiently and cleanly as the hardware itself - emphasizing the latest and greatest from the Big N.
It also does a few things differently than the competition. It doesn't take discs for instance so it's not a a substitute home entertainment center, and instead opts to use tiny Game Cards. The benefit here is that games purchased in in this format load super fast and don't require frustrating and slow updates to jump into. Games can also be purchased digitally but there's less than 32GB built-in internal memory (not enough for Dragon Quest Heroes) meaning players looking to buy a few titles will need to also purchase microSDHC or microSDXC cards.
Switch is a Premium Priced Offering
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The added costs are an important factor to consider since the Switch disappointingly does not include a pack-in game, and all of its official accessories are priced at a premium. No accessories or games from previous Nintendo products work on the Switch. To buy another pair of Joy-Cons it's $80 ($100 in Canada) for the pair or $50 ($65 in Canada) sold separately. Even the Pro Controller is $70 ($90 in Canada), which is more expensive than the PS4 and Xbox One equivalents.
And while we can't really complete our Switch review until launch day when the Day One patch goes live alongside Nintendo's still-mysterious online features, Nintendo announced that they're going to begin charging a subscription fee for online play later in the year, something we can't quite wrap our heads around yet with the lack of multiplayer games announced so far. Even stranger, this online service will require users to voice chat and lobby up using a smart phone or tablet app instead of the Switch itself so at this point in time there's a lot of unanswered questions even during launch week.
So, is it worth it? If you know the Switch is exactly what you're looking for and you don't want to or cannot play it's only must-play game on the Wii U, than absolutely if the price points work for you. Otherwise, no. Nintendo is holding back a lot at the moment for reasons that aren't pro-consumer reasons, and there are some other problems worth noting.
And Then There's The Stupid Stuff
Let's forget for a second that there aren't too many must-play games coming to the Switch this year (although a pile of indie games were just announced and Super Mario Odyssey game is coming in 2017), and that there's a big question mark around 's online services and support for apps like Netflix... for every interesting feature the Nintendo Switch is meant to offer users, there's a missing element or drawback.
When using the Switch as a mini monitor with its flimsy kickstand (really, these are the only flaws of the otherwise impressive Switch tablet), there's no way to charge the Switch since the USB-C port is at the bottom. Similarly, when playing with the Switch docked on a television, there's no way to charge the Joy-Con controllers with what comes in the bundle. There's a charging grip sold separately that can charge the Joy-Cons, but there's no solution for the Switch tablet itself in kickstand mode.
There's also no bluetooth support for audio devices and no audio jack in the Joy-Cons so there are quite a few basics missing in the hardware for players who need or desire these features, but they aren't deal-breakers in most use cases outside of a few potential errors we've yet to discuss. Oh, and you can't move or backup save data. If you move Switches, lose it, break it, etc. it's gone. No backups, no way to move data to a microSD card.
If you've been following the news around the Nintendo Switch since review units started going out to the media and influencers early, there have been a few widely reported concerns. The biggest, and one we can vouch for ourselves, is a desync issue with the left Joy-Con when the Switch is docked. We didn't get the review bundle early but managed to get a last-minute, one-week pre-release loan from Nintendo Canada with 1-2 Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and with the latter we saw this issue frequently. What happens is that every 15 minutes or so, for a few seconds the left Joy-Con will lose connection, meaning the player character will run in a straight line unable to stop, or in mid-fight, won't be able to move at all. It seems to be a common issue, but Nintendo has yet to respond or address what it might be or if a patch can fix.
One other issue, and this only occurred once for us, is that we couldn't get the Switch to turn on. We know another reviewer had a similar issue as well, and in our case, the Joy-Cons couldn't activate the Switch and the power button on the Switch itself on the Dock didn't seem to do anything. After repeated attempts and holding it down for a few seconds, it eventually fired up so we can only hope it's a one-time bug...
The Nintendo Switch is Rushed?
Even two days out from release, Nintendo hasn't shared details on how Nintendo accounts work on the Switch, how the online store and downloads function, or anything regarding online play, friends lists, communication, etc. We only know that there won't be any form of Virtual Console at launch. It's clear Nintendo dated the Switch to release with The Legend of Zelda and just in time for the fiscal year-end, and it feels that way in many respects.
We'll update this review as the Switch features start to roll out on launch day, but the silence surrounding many key features even this far after pre-orders opened, and the lack of games available outside of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, make our verdict a simple one: wait. Wait until features roll out, bugs are hammered out, and to see if this thing will have legit game support, because it does not so far from the big third parties who are hesitant after being burned on previous Nintendo consoles.
Even Electronic Arts and Ubisoft are holding back, so as long as you know what you're getting into the Switch may be right for you. And if it is, you'll have a good time if the games library meets your expectations, because the Switch is super cool, has a ton of potential, makes up for a lot of Wii U fails, is fun and impressive to hold as a mobile device, and yes of course, Breath of the Wild really is that good on it!