The Nintendo Switch hardware is a fascinating specimen in that Nintendo has tried to combine essential elements of every portable and home console they’ve ever made into one device that can function exactly the same on the go as it can at home. On paper, that sounds like an absolute mess, and this is especially so when the internet gets its hands on the patents with no education on what the technical goal was. It is a strange proposition to merge the evolution of the Super NES buttons, the sticks, and triggers of the N64, the motion controls of the Wii, and mashing it all together to look like the younger brother of the Wii U gamepad on the go.
Nintendo always got their fair share of criticism since the days of the GameCube and their struggle to keep a leg in the console wars, let alone win it. It was said that they were always trying to play catchup in terms of technical hardware, that they could never be a premier platform for the likes of Fallout or Call of Duty. As it turns out, in 2017, neither are the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. While these three main console brands have their fair share of optimized software, architecture, and graphical fidelity, the truth is that to be building a custom PC machine has never been easier or cheaper in the industry. So, how can the future of Xbox Scorpio or the PS4 Pro keep up with the Nvidia 1080 GPU? That’s a laughable question. And Nintendo will have made this change to the Switch a better investment in the future, as they’ve already had a lot of crossover of indie games that release on PC or Mac via Steam, and designed for Nvidia hardware in the first place, that want to publish their games on the Switch. The Nintendo Switch in fact does run on a custom modification of the Nvidia Tegra X1 GPU chip, which is, even on the previous Maxwell architecture, considered the fastest mobile tablet graphics processor to date. Because of this build type, Nintendo defaults to one of the most simple and flexible platforms these independent games can go to for porting to a home console, and their software will generally be low powered as well, providing for longer play hours on the Switch in a portable mode than Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart 8. This will be a great platform to elevate rising independent developers and be less time consuming than building a port to adapt to Android or iPhone.
Nintendo meanwhile, sees its markets from a global perspective. While a lot of people in a western culture still play games on the couch, it’s undeniable that they still play games or consume entertainment from devices in their pockets. At one time, that was the GameBoy, now the market cornering iPhone since 2007, with a handful of portable Nintendo uses in between. This case is even stronger in Nintendo’s home nation of Japan. Mobile gaming has breathed new life into portable devices and the success has provided the opportunity for companies like Square Enix, Capcom, and Atlus to build sprawling innovative RPG games that fit into a pocket or backpack. This sensation got to such an extreme that Nintendo introduced the GameBoy Micro as the last existing hardware launch of the GameBoy in 2005. If you don’t remember it, its screen was barely 2 inches, had interchangeable faceplates, and fit into any jeans change pocket.
The Joycon controllers, the Switch’s new controller innovation, are roughly similar in size. They’re incredibly lightweight, feature responsive buttons, and have that new HD Rumble that I’ve only seen a competitive version in a controller of when the Xbox One launched. The left and the right Joycons feature the same button configuration with an analog stick each, 3DS sized face buttons, a pause button, and two shoulder buttons, but the left features a Near Field Communication Chip for Amiibo support and a screenshot button to store up to 10,000 game snapshots on social media, while the right side features an infrared sensor on the bottom akin to the Wii Remote.
The controller pieces use a button on the back of each to quickly slide off, and lock onto, the Switch console itself. Alone, the Switch looks like an 8” tablet with a kickstand on its back right side with a laptop-style fan on the top, which never seems to run too hot, even after 3 hours of heavy Zelda gameplay, which seems to boost the console’s performance from that small cartridge slot. I’ve been rather impressed with Zelda’s and the console’s ability to load the vast size of Hyrule in Breath of the Wild’s game map, and have the ability to traverse from point A to B with no loading times as long as the player doesn’t die, enter a shrine, or fast travel. The screen itself runs in an appropriate 720p resolution, which means it’ll have stronger frame rate performance when you play it on the go, and conserves the battery life.
The kickstand on the back could have used a partner on the left side for general support of the tablet as the one provided on the console feels pretty flimsy, but I’ve never broken it off yet, and do know that it can be put back into place if it snaps off. The micro SD card slot is conveniently placed underneath it and supports a pretty solid 128GB for now in addition to the 32GB. This will be necessary if you plan on downloading several games from the eShop.
Obviously, almost a month into launch we’ve learned certain things about the Switches limitations that seem to be strictly based on strange design choice for now. Namely in the lack of support for Virtual Console games for the time being, and also a similar issue to the 3DS in the seeming impossibility to carry over game downloads and save data if you wanted to, for instance, upgrade to a 1TB SD card later on. The system menu itself feels very similar to the cross-media bar on the PS4 and PS Vita, and I’m sure will feel more fleshed out as games released for the console. The online play modes have not been launched yet at the time of this review, but I at least have found that the friend’s list feels more intuitive than in Nintendo consoles of the past. The friend codes still exist, but there are also ways to add players from close by systems, or from friends you’ve had previously on apps like Pokemon GO and Miitomo from last year with a Nintendo member ID login. I can imagine that this will be expanded later on, especially with the already simple feature of photo sharing to Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
My only other main grievance with this piece of hardware is the required accessorizing. I’ve taken the Switch with me on two traveling trips, one via plane, since it’s launch, and have found that despite having a carry case for the console and couple of cables, you still have to bring with you the large USB-C AD Adaptor (the only one that will charge the console,) the Joycon grips which are highly likely to be lost, the pro controller if you have one, and (if you plan on hooking it up to a TV) an HDMI and the dock. For a console that seems to be intended to be as portable as possible, there’s a lot of requirements for a full Switch experience, and some that need to be purchased apart from the initial $300. However, I will admit that the console’s accessorizing is very flexible and open for further innovation deeper into the console’s life, for instance, if augmented reality were to take off as indicated by Pokemon GO, we could buy and attach a Joycon with a controller on it, or fit the console into a virtual reality headset. I like that the Nintendo Switch is simple to start, and has a wide spectrum of possibilities for the future, while still delivering your go-to Nintendo titles in a culture that is constantly on the move.