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Nintendo Switch First Impressions

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Nintendo Switch I’ve been excited about the Nintendo Switch since it was announced, but I put off buying one because my disposable income last year was pretty tight (due to a career change, an expensive lens purchase, backing several ambitious crowdfunding campaigns and a trip home to Europe), and I was waiting to see if Super Smash Bros - my favourite Nintendo franchise - would make it to the Switch.

Now my income has recovered and Super Smash Bros has been announced. In the meantime, several of my colleagues bought Switches and universally love them.

To me, the selling point of the switch isn’t having the same games on the go and on my TV - I don’t own a TV (very intentionally - I’d rather save the money, space and attention a TV requires). I simply love the idea of console-caliber games in a handheld form factor - all the more because I don’t care to invest in a TV or a desktop gaming rig. With the Switch I can get the best of both worlds - no big hardware to weigh me down (physically or metaphorically) and AAA games.

So a few days ago I finally pulled the trigger and bought a Switch (grey Joycons - the red/blue combo looks nice, but I like my electronics black or grey) and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I won’t write a full review (there’s enough of those by now), but I wanted to share my impressions after a weekend of playing:

The Good

  • The initial setup experience is really smooth - I was gaming within 5 minutes of opening the box (which included applying a small software update)
  • The hardware feels very well built (notable exception: the kickstand - see below)
  • I like the UI - it’s minimalist and smooth, and navigates well via touch screen or Joycon. I love the quick-settings. The OS almost feels like a streamlined version of Android in many places, which I approve of.
  • The graphics are amazing and the performance is consistently smooth. I know you can get superior graphics on a modern gaming PC or home console, but I’m not going to buy either, so I’m very happy that I can enjoy such beautiful graphics on my handheld :-)
  • I unabashedly love the Joycons. I can see how they might be too small for larger hands, but they work wonderfully for me (I have small to average-sized hands). I love using one in each hand for a slightly healthier grip and posture. I never bother attaching the grip or straps included in the box and I certainly feel no need to buy a Pro Controller.
  • Mario Kart 8 (my only game so far) truly feels like a home-console title on a handheld. My last Mario Kart was the 3DS version (which I loved as well) - the Switch version is a notable upgrade in terms of gameplay and graphics. It’s full of eye candy, and very fun to play (though I’m mildly bummed that it comes with all courses pre-unlocked - unlocking those yourself was half the fun in previous games). I’m looking forward to trying the Switch’s split screen multiplayer.

The Meh

  • For my sensibilities, Nintendo bundles too many accessories with the Switch. I have little to no use for the dock or any of the Joycon grips/lanyards, yet I paid for all of them. Worse, I have to store them and the ridiculously oversized box in my tiny Tokyo apartment (or throw them away and lose potential resale value). I wish Nintendo borrowed a page from Apple’s playbook here: include only the bare necessities in the box and make everything else separate purchases (ideally not at Apple prices).
  • I dislike the charging port’s location - it’s impossible to charge the Switch while using the built-in kickstand. I get that Nintendo put it at the bottom because that’s where charging ports usually are and docking the Switch “upside-down” would feel weird, but it’s nonetheless annoying. Fortunately, I found a folding stand that elevates the Switch enough to plug in a cable while playing.
  • Battery life is OK, I guess? I need to try different games (such as Breath of the Wild, which is reportedly quite power-hungry), but so far I’m neither disappointed nor impressed. 2-4 hours on Mario Kart (depending on brightness) seem adequate but not outstanding. I’d take a marginally thicker body (2-3mm) in exchange for another hour of battery life.
  • Charging is pretty slow if you’re used to USB-C fast charging. It doesn’t bother me at home (where I have lots of outlets and the stock power brick), but I’m concerned that it might be inconvenient when I’m out and about or travelling.
  • Why no bluetooth audio? I don’t really miss it much - bluetooth audio has fewer advantages on a handheld console than on a smartphone (which is often playing audio while in my pocket and I’m in motion) - but it’s an odd omission, as the Switch has bluetooth hardware (to connect the Joycons).

The f***?!?

  • I love that Nintendo designed the Switch with a kickstand. Being able to set this thing down on a table, give your friend a Joycon and share a game of Mario Kart (or whatever) is such a neat feature. But the execution is pathetic. The damned thing is flimsy and hard to pry open - I’m afraid I’ll break it every time I pop it open. It’s also small and off-center, which makes it prone to tipping. Forget about using it on your bed or sofa, or any other surface that’s not perfectly flat. Of course I can use my folding stand (see above) - but with Nintendo advertising the set-down-and-play nature of the Switch, it’s embarassing that the built-in stand is this bad. I wish Nintendo had copied the Microsoft Surface’s kickstand - that thing feels like a luxury car door and stands rock-solid on just about any surface.

Conclusion

Minor niggles aside, I love my Switch - it’s a great fit for an unencumbered, minimalist lifestyle: you get AAA games without a TV or desktop gaming rig. I already have a list of games I’m looking foward to after Mario Kart 8: Zelda - Breath of the Wild, Doom, Skyrim, Super Mario Odyssey, and of course Super Smash Bros. I’m very happy I made this purchase (in fact I wish I could have made it sooner). In recent years, I have rarely been excited by new hardware1, but the Switch feels almost magical. That said, I do hope that Nintendo will iterate and improve the hardware in some key aspects - a better kickstand a bigger battery/increased power efficiency would make me upgrade in a heartbeat.


  1. Two notable exceptions: AirPods and the GPD Pocket.