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Nintendo Switch hardware review

Nintendo’s new console is out this week, but is it worth the money and what’s going on with the online features?

Nintendo’s brand new console is set to be released on Friday 3rd in the UK, and at £279.99 that’s a purchase that no one will want to make lightly. We’ve already described the Switch and its abilities in detail during last week’s hardware preview, but now that the embargo has lifted we’re allowed to do a proper review. Except… we can’t really because the online still isn’t working.

Our understanding is that the day one patch needed to access the online features and eShop won’t go live for anyone until Thursday evening or Friday morning. Which leaves us without anything very new to say about the Switch. We have been playing it for almost a solid week now, but mostly on The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. We’ve also played 1-2-Switch and Just Dance 2017, but those are the only other games that have been sent out to journalists so far. (Without the eShop we can’t access any of the downloadable indie titles.)

We’re not big fans of ‘reviewing’ a console though, and certainly never give them a score. Especially as this overview will be more incomplete than we’d like. We’ll update it, or do a separate article, when the online goes live, but for now this is everything we can tell you about the Nintendo Switch…

 

Remind me again, what is the Switch?

The Switch is Nintendo’s new console and the successor to the failed Wii U. Its main selling point is that it’s both a portable and home console in one.

In handheld mode it looks and works not dissimilarly to the Wii U’s GamePad, except the handheld mode is the console – the only other hardware is a small dock into which you place the Switch when you want to use it on a TV. The dock looks quite stylish from a distance, but is mostly just an empty plastic shell with a couple of extra USB ports.

Placing the Switch in the dock does increase the resolution, and gives a small potential power boost, but only because restrictions are lifted from when it’s in handheld mode – since there’s no worrying about running out of battery.

The dock is also used to recharge the two Joy-Con controllers, which happens automatically when they’re attached. The Joy-Cons can be removed and used wirelessly, either one in each hand or one per person for simpler multiplayer games.

The Joy-Cons can also be stored in the bundled grip – which turns them into something resembling a normal joypad. There’s also a separate charging grip but that costs £25.

 

What are its launch games?

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild - this giant is smarter than he looks
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild – the Switch’s biggest launch game

Incredibly, Nintendo are still announcing new launch games even today, albeit downloadable indie titles. This is the current day one line-up, with an asterisk indicating a download-only game. Although at this rate no list is going to be definitive until we see the eShop for ourselves.

Our review for Zelda and 1-2-Switch will be live tomorrow, and Super Bomberman R hopefully on Friday. The reviews for the other games will depend on when exactly we get access to the eShop.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild (Wii U/NS)
1-2-Switch (NS)
Super Bomberman R (NS)
Skylanders Imaginators (NS)
Just Dance 2017 (NS)
Snipperclips – Cut It Out, Together! (NS)*
I Am Setsuna (NS)*
Shovel Knight: Specter Of Torment (NS)*
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (NS)*
FAST RMX (NS)*
New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (NS)*

The following is a list of notable games for the rest of the year, although as you can see few have a specific date. Nintendo also announced a suite of new indie games last night, which you can read up on here.

Spring – ARMS (Nintendo)
Spring – Sonic Mania (Sega)
Spring – Lego City Undercover (Warner Bros.)
28 April – Puyo Puyo Tetris (Sega)
28 April – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo)
Summer – Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)
Autumn – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda)
Christmas – Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
Unknown 2017 – Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Nintendo)
Unknown 2017 – Ultra Street Fighter II (Capcom)
Unknown 2017 – Minecraft (Mojang)
Unknown 2017 – Project Sonic 2017 (Sega)

 

What’s it like to use the Switch?

Although it’s impressively thin the Switch does seem quite long before you pick it up, but when you do it doesn’t feel at all awkward to handle. The main console, with the Joy-Cons removed, is almost exactly the same width as a 3DS XL and holding it feels light and well-balanced. This is partly thanks to the little ridge under the shoulder buttons of the Joy-Cons, where you can balance your forefingers – much like the Wii U GamePad.

The Switch feels very much like the console that the Wii U should have been, with the ability to take it absolutely anywhere with no limitations. The 720p resolution multitouch screen looks fantastic and can also be stood up vertically thanks to a little stand at the back, which is also where you plug in the microSD cards (game cards go in a slot at the top).

Using the Switch like this is called tabletop mode. With the idea being that you remove the Joy-Cons and use them separately, one in each hand. Many of the Switch’s multiplayer games only need one Joy-Con per person, since they’ve both got an analogue stick and six buttons (four face buttons and two shoulder buttons).

We'll have to wait until there are more in the wild before we test this kind of set-up
We’ll have to wait until there are more in the wild before we test this kind of set-up

This is where some people might start to have a problem though, as the Joy-Cons look worryingly small in your hands. Although you do get a pair of straps with the console that slightly increases their size and makes the shoulder buttons easier to reach. We actually found them fine though, and although they look small and weedy the problem seems to be largely psychological, as we haven’t seen anyone have any issue with them in practice.

If anything the analogue sticks feel a bit too big in handheld mode, as the stalk holding them up is very thin and you can feel the underneath of the stick’s circular top a bit more than on other controllers. This doesn’t seem to be a problem though, just a difference.

If you want as traditional a joypad as possible there’s the Pro Controller. Its analogue sticks are much closer to the Xbox or PlayStation controllers, and it has a proper D-pad (the D-pad on the left Joy-Con is split into four, so you can use them as face buttons when it’s your only controller). The Pro Controller is a hefty £60 though, and, because the Joy-Cons don’t have it either, there’s no analogue triggers for the rear shoulder buttons.

 

Everything* you need to know about the Nintendo Switch

Super Mario Odyssey - Mario gets real
Super Mario Odyssey won’t be out till Christmas

How good are the graphics?

It’s very hard to tell. The only game we’ve played so far with complex graphics is Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and that started life as a Wii U game, so it’s not a very useful test subject. The Switch version does have a higher resolution and smoother frame rate than the original though, proving that the Switch is at least a little more powerful than the Wii U. But we’ll have to wait a bit longer for some better examples, especially as Nintendo has released so little information about the Switch’s innards.

Has the Switch really only got a 32GB hard drive?

The Switch hasn’t got a hard drive at all. Instead it has just 32GB of internal flash storage, similar to the Wii U. The only way to expand this, that’s been announced so far, is with a microSD card (so not the normal sized ones).

What’s the battery life like?

Nintendo originally claimed two-and-a-half to six hours, depending on the game you’re playing. They specified three hours for Zelda, and that’s been exactly right in our experience.

I heard that you need to use a phone to play and talk online, is that true?

There certainly is a multiplayer app planned, but whether you can do all the same things through the Switch itself is unclear. Super Bomberman R is the only game we know to be online at launch, but since the day one update isn’t live yet we can’t test it. It’s certainly possible that Nintendo may limit voice chat to the app, as sweary online gamers have always been a worry for them as they try to maintain their family friendly image.

What's going on with the Switch's controllers?
The desynching problem is the biggest is still a mystery

Is the Switch backwards compatible with the Wii U?

No, it’s not backwards compatible with anything. Although that’s somewhat understandable given it has no disk drive and the internal chip is completely different to the ones in previous Nintendo consoles.

Will the Virtual Console be available at launch?

No, although Nintendo has vaguely hinted it will be coming later. Rumours suggest there’ll also be emulated GameCube games for the first time, but that’s not confirmed.

What was that I heard about the Joy-Cons not working sometimes?

There have been a number of reports of the left Joy-Con desynching during normal play, i.e. losing contact with the console and having to be re-paired with it. This only takes a second but is obviously highly irritating. Although it didn’t happen for the first several days we have experienced the issue once now, although it was unclear what exactly caused it. The problem seems to be if there’s something in between the Joy-Con and the console, including your hand. But whether there are also Bluetooth interference issues or some kind of fault with the initial units is unclear. Nintendo remains predictably closed mouth on the issue and many are hoping the day one patch will nip the problem in the bud.

 

*warning: does not include everything

 

The Verdict

Nintendo Switch - two consoles in one
Nintendo Switch – there’s never a final verdict

Despite the last-minute rush to get the online working for launch day we’re still hugely impressed by the Nintendo Switch. In terms of design and construction it’s one of the best things Nintendo has ever done, and despite the lack of games we’ve had to test it on we feel the hybrid nature is already fully justified.

Playing Zelda on a TV and then instantly carrying it away with you, whether it’s a lengthy train journey or just a trip to the toilet, fundamentally changes how you play games. In particular, it will be a godsend for those that normally fight over the TV or generally have trouble fitting gaming into their current lifestyle.

Those videos of unfeasibly attractive models starting impromptu games of 1-2-Switch at a party look cheesy but the basic idea works just like that in real life. With games like Super Bomberman R you can bring the Switch with you as a portable, prop the screen up in tabletop mode, and instantly start playing two-player games without the need for any other peripherals.

But the most serious question remaining is the same one not only from last week, but since the console was first unveiled: will there be enough games? Not knowing how the online will work is one thing but the uncertainty over the Switch’s ongoing line-up will, rightly, be the sticking point for many. Especially given the almost non-existent third party support from major publishers, and Nintendo’s general lack of communication in the last few weeks.

This is supposed to be a hardware review though, so we’ll give the only verdict we can: the Switch is an excellently designed console that has huge potential for the future of both Nintendo and the video games industry at large. We’re fully convinced hybrid consoles are a good idea and look forward to future games that take more advantage of the Switch’s unique features.

There’s no guarantee those games will actually ever happen though, and so anyone buying a Switch at launch runs the same risk as any early adopter. But at the moment, and despite the chaos of the launch, we’re more optimistic about a new Nintendo console now than we have been in decades.

 

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