There’s a new gadget that you can count on to soon zoom to the top of people’s wish lists: the Nintendo Switch.
The Japanese game company is releasing the Switch, a brand-new $300 video game console, on Friday. For months, the device has been generating buzz because it is two gadgets in one — both a console that can sit in your living room and one that you can easily take with you on the go — making it extremely versatile.
Last week, I took possession of a Switch from Nintendo to get a closer look at what the hype was all about. At home, I put the Switch on a dock to play games on my big-screen television. Over the weekend, I took the Switch off the dock for a trip to Los Angeles and used the gadget’s embedded screen and attached controllers to play games while out and about.
Playing with the Switch was a blast. The hardware is well designed and capable of delivering powerful graphics. And early Switch games I tested made clever use of the included motion controllers.
So what’s to lose? There won’t be many games available for the Switch on Day 1, with only 10 titles releasing alongside the device on Friday. There were also some bugs in the unit I tested, including one that made the device fail to power on for a day.
The Switch also lacks some important features like compatibility with Bluetooth earphones, and is mediocre as a portable gaming device, with short battery life and an O.K. screen. And don’t forget: The Switch’s predecessor, Wii U, was also a multipurpose console that had a screen-embedded gamepad for portable use when it was released in 2012. That product flopped, so buying a Nintendo system today is a risk compared with buying a Sony PlayStation 4 or a Microsoft Xbox One.
Still, getting the Switch is a risk worth taking. Its games offer an intimate form of gameplay unseen on rival consoles, and over all the system’s versatility makes it worth the money.
Superb Hardware and Setup
What I hated about Wii U was how much space it took up. Not only was there a console box, but there was also a superfluous, bulky touch pad controller, along with all the Wiimotes, the rectangular controllers, which had to be charged between gaming sessions. In a recent purge, I packed the system and its jungle of power cables into a trash bag and gave it to a friend without even asking for a burrito in return.
With the Switch, Nintendo appears to have learned as much as it could from the negative feedback about Wii U. The setup of the Switch is a breeze: You use two cables to connect a dock to your television and a power outlet. From there, you mount the Switch to the dock so the image shows up on your TV.
On the sides of the Switch are strips with physical buttons, which are actually detachable wireless controllers called Joy-Cons. Press a button to remove them, and voilà, each strip is a controller for two players. If you want to take the Switch somewhere, just reattach the Joy-Cons and remove the device from the dock.
The Switch hardware felt sturdy and well made. The controllers smoothly slide on and off the device, and docking the Switch is as easy as dropping it in and letting it snap in place.
Great Early Games
There is no better way to get acclimated to the Switch than playing the game 1-2-Switch. The game, which is generally designed for two players, asks each gamer to take a Joy-Con and use its motion sensors to compete in various absurd activities.
There are more than two dozen minigames in 1-2-Switch, including one in which players compete while milking a virtual cow. While milking the creature, the players are instructed to lock eyes. The move is not necessary to win the game, but it illustrates how much of a novelty eye contact has become in an era that has people glued to smartphone screens, reading tablets, televisions and computers.
Another challenge in 1-2-Switch has a player swinging a katana blade and the other slapping the controller to catch the blade. A boxing minigame has players competing to throw straight punches, hooks and uppercuts as quickly as possible.
After milking cows, swinging samurai swords and drawing guns on each other, adults who try Switch may remember the joys of the hand-slap game they played in grade school. Children may learn for the first time that face-to-face interaction will always beat a Snapchat video, text message or emoji.
The Switch accommodates loners, too. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example, takes players through a vast open world, in which our hero, Link, prepares to battle the villain Ganon, solving puzzles, riding horses and climbing mountains along the way. The graphics, music and tricky puzzles make it stunning and addictive.
Buggy Software and a So-So Portable
Naturally, there are problems that Nintendo needs to fix with the Switch.
In one instance, after my Switch was put in sleep mode, it failed to turn back on, even after the device had been charging for hours. This problem persisted for an entire day, and only after the device was left unplugged overnight did it wake back up with a low-battery icon. I suspect the software froze while the gadget was asleep, making it impossible to reboot until after the battery ran down.
Nintendo said that it was looking into the issue and that a software update on Friday would improve overall system stability.
The Switch is also not a great portable. Measuring about 9.5 inches wide, it is cumbersome to hold for long durations. The picture quality on the built-in screen is unremarkable: When being used as a portable, the system displays a lower pixel resolution than when it is docked for use on a TV. It also gets lots of glare in a well-lit living room.
Finally, battery life was short. I was able to play three hours of Breath of the Wild before the Switch ran out of power. That is dismal compared with a Nintendo 3DS XL, a portable gaming device, which has about six hours of juice while gaming.
Most people would be better off buying a Switch after Nintendo bolsters the system with a larger library of games. But the early signs for the Switch are promising, with coming titles like Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2 and a new version of Minecraft coming out eventually.
Gaming enthusiasts won’t want to miss out on the Switch. Though it may be an average portable gaming device, the Switch excels as a powerful and compelling home console. With 1-2-Switch, Nintendo also already has a killer app that is a must-play for gamers of all skill levels.
In fact, a friend who helped me test 1-2-Switch professed that she had never won at any video games. So when we played the boxing game, I was confident I would win after years of taking professional boxing classes. Yet when the points were tallied up, I was shocked to see she had beaten me to most of the punches.
The biggest deterrent to buying the Switch could be how tough it will be to get your hands on one. Nintendo said that it planned to make two million systems available worldwide this month — but if my fun experience with it is any indication, it might be hard to find one left on store shelves.
(The New York Times)