Nintendo’s newest system, the Switch, is set to debut in little over a week on March 3. Some of us at The A.V. Club are already fully on board and have theirs pre-ordered. Others are a little more hesitant. But thanks to a squandered genie’s wish, Gameological editor Matt Gerardi is the only one among us who has access to the handheld/home console hybrid. While he hasn’t had a ton of time with Nintendo’s new baby, in the land of the Switch-less, the guy who’s had one for three days is king. So Internet Culture Editor Clayton Purdom and staff illustrator Nick Wanserski decided to harass Matt with their questions about the system like the anxious children they are.
Matt, the first time you had a chance to play the Switch, it was tethered to a wall to prevent some possible jerk from running off with Nintendo’s newest system. Now that you have one at home, how does it feel? The main selling point of the Switch is that it can be configured for any imaginable permutation of home or portable play, with parts completely modular and versatile. Does it feel solid enough to withstand all the swapping out required of the system? I have bad memories of Transformers I had as a kid whose legs would give out after the umpteenth change and just hang flaccid. And is it comfortable?
It’s definitely way lighter than it was back at the reveal event when it was jammed into a metal cage and loaded down with tethers. I was afraid it might be a little too heavy to be comfortable for long play sessions in “portable mode,” where the two controllers are locked onto either side of the Switch’s touchscreen, but it’s been a pretty comfortable experience so far. It’s heftier than a 3DS XL and Vita, but not so heavy that it really strains your hands. I was a little worried about the ergonomics of the thing as well, but the Joy-Con controllers have enough curvature to them up near the shoulder buttons where your index fingers should claw around the sides that it feels just about as natural as a 3DS.
As for solidity, it for sure feels like all the moving parts should be able to live with all the sliding and locking you’ll be doing. Dropping the Switch into the dock, which then sends audio and video to your TV, is far easier than it even was at the reveal event. It just kind of naturally falls into place, and if you’re dropping it in to charge—meaning the screen would be off and the console is in sleep mode—the screen lights up for a few seconds with a little battery meter peeking out over the top of the dock to let you know it’s charging. I thought that was a great little touch.
As for the Joy-Con, they slide in and out of place nicely and give off a really satisfying click when they’re locked in. That’s one thing I’m loving about the console as a physical toylike entity in itself: It’s kind of fun just to do all that transforming, and Nintendo put its usual eye for pleasing detail into those tactile little elements. In fact, If you have the console on and attach a Joy-Con, the system will actually play that bewitching little snap sound that starts off the trailers and commercials for every Switch video. It’s brilliant.
There are two pet peeves I have among all the moving bits. First, the Joy-Con straps. Unlike those stupid Wii Remote safety straps, they don’t just tie on to the controller and dangle. The straps are attached to a hunk of plastic that slides onto the edge of the Joy-Con, helping to raise the shoulder buttons a bit and making the whole thing a little more comfortable to hold if you’re handling it horizontally like an NES controller. But holy hell are they hard to take off. They lock in place with a little latch, but even after opening that, you have to put in a ton of force to get the thing off. That seems like a logical given it’s a (usually unnecessary) safety measure, but I’m yanking to the point that I feel like I might break something. My bigger gripe is with the “kickstand” on the back of the Switch itself, which you’d use if you want to stand the tablet up on a table. It seems flimsy as hell, like it could be pretty easily snapped off if you aren’t careful. It’s definitely the scariest piece of the whole thing.
Have you walked around with it much? Have you played something in bed, while cooking, at a coffee shop? I’m curious how it feels that way. I’ve never been big on taking tablets or mobile systems out in public, as it seems to be begging for a robbery, but I love having something (namely, Persona 4) to pick at while doing things around the house.
Also, I know you’ve got very limited online capabilities right now, but I’m curious if there are suggestions of what might be in place in the future. Where will the children post their inappropriate drawings of Yoshi?
I’ve been a little hesitant to take it outside the apartment (for obvious reasons), but I did drop it in a bag and walk it over to a nearby park to play a bit there. It’s a little too big to fit into a pocket, plus the Joy-Con really bulge out and would make a tight squeeze like that kind of scary. It’s a lot like carrying around a Vita, a device with a beautiful screen that you’re just absolutely terrified of scratching up. I can see myself getting a case for it, putting it in a bag, and possibly playing it here and there on train commutes, just like I did with Sony’s misunderstood little wunderkind. It’s a good bit wider than the Vita, though, which makes just standing around playing somewhat more awkward if you’re doing it for anything longer than short bursts while—say—cooking, but if you’ve got your wrists leaning on a table or nestled in your lap, it seems perfectly fine.
As someone who lives with their partner and shares a TV, the thing is pretty awesome. You’ve been able to do Remote Play from a PlayStation 4 to a Vita for quite some time and the Wii U obviously had some of the same capabilities, but neither of those options have been provided picture quality or stability that’s as good as pulling the Switch out of the dock and playing some Zelda on the couch when it’s time to cede the big screen.
So here’s the deal with internet stuff right now: The options for things like the shop and sharing screenshots show up in the main menus, but the system is not currently capable of connecting to anything over the internet. I always get prompted to update its firmware, which can’t happen because Nintendo hasn’t flipped on its servers yet. There will be a day one update for everyone to download and install when they turn their Switch in for the first time on March 3. I can’t even find an option to log in with any of my dozen Nintendo user accounts. I’m assuming that’ll be done through the online shop once that’s live.
And no, sadly, Miiverse does seem to be well and truly dead. The closest you can get to user-made wackiness is adding a little purple, jaunty-angled text to your screenshots before sharing them with others. But you can still make Miis and share them with “nearby” Switch owners. Thank God for that.
Is the Switch wi-fi only or will there be an option for a data plan? I’ve never utilized a plan myself, thanks to our nation’s ample supply of hotspots, but I guess it’s possible someone will want to check their global Mario Kart rankings in that dead zone between coffee shop and office.
Also, you compared the Switch screen to the Vita, which has a lovely OLED screen. How does the Switch screen look? We know so far you only have The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, but how is the experience between your giant home screen and the Switch’s handheld?
There’s definitely no data plan, but Nintendo is talking about offloading a lot of its online functionality to your smartphone via an app—voice chat, messaging between friends, some sort of lobby or party system—so it’s possible that some low-impact stuff like leaderboards might be viewable that way. Otherwise, yeah, you’re just going to have to settle for connecting to a wi-fi hotspot or tethering to your phone and hoping the connection is fast enough to get some Mario Kart going.
As for the screen, it’s not OLED. It’s a 720p LCD screen, but it really does look great. The only issue I can possibly see people having is the size of the text. The system’s menus are fine, but it’s pretty tiny in the one game I’ve played so far. It’s not unreadable, but I could see it ruffling some feathers in the future just like it did when the Xbox 360 and HD visuals were first coming into play. I can’t say anything about that game specifically right now (tune back in tomorrow morning for when I can), but like a lot of people who played with the tablet in person, I’m pretty blown away by how vibrant and sharp games look in motion when running on it. When you dock the Switch, the video gets upgraded to 1080p, so there’s a bump in detail there but it’s not terribly noticeable.
Well, I guess the big question that Nick and I, and presumably many readers, have been kicking around is: Is it worth buying? My general stance on every Nintendo system ever is yes, if only for the Mario games. I also have a Wii U, so I can play Zelda when it comes out.
So if you can remove the presumable excellence of that game from the equation, does the Switch make sense to purchase on the promise of “best handheld ever”? Or would you even categorize it as such?
Hoo boy. I’ve only had it for three days at this point, so I wouldn’t quite feel comfortable rendering a definitive verdict like that quite yet (we’ll have a more formal review closer to launch), but from my limited experiences so far, I’m comfortable saying I would buy it, regardless of whether I had to for work. As nice as it sounds in theory, I’m really smitten with the reality of how they’ve gotten this TV-to-handheld process to actually work. Being able to take Zelda and play it in bed or on the couch or even out in the wild (sorry) for a bit and to have it not really sacrifice the quality of the experience at all has been really pleasant. Yes, $300 is a lot and to get the most of out it, you’re going to be paying even more for accessories, but considering the price of the Vita at launch was $250 (or $300 if you bought one that came with a data plan) and that this has a screen and build quality that’s just as nice while its guts and capabilities are more advanced, I’m starting to think it’s not too outrageous of a price to ask.
As for “best handheld ever,” I think you’re right to question whether it’s even worth categorizing it that way. In terms of how I think a lot of us actually use handhelds—as second screens to idly play repetitive stuff like Pokémon around the house while the TV is busy with Netflix or something—it’s been fantastic. But even if it were widely available, I wouldn’t be quite as comfortable taking it with me on the go as I am my 3DS. That could change with use, but it’s too early to tell. Maybe it’s a matter of separating “handheld” from “portable.” After a couple of days, I’d say this thing is a great handheld, but maybe not very portable. I have to get it out of the house some more, though.
But I want to ask you guys: Do you think the Switch is worth buying? How have you been feeling about it and do you have plans for it?
I’m sort of torn. It is shiny, and I’ve always loved a good handheld. For me, it becomes worth it as a Nintendo console when there’s a new Mario game—I cannot tell you how excited I am to run through New Donk City—and it becomes worth it as a mobile console when there’s a good RPG or strategy game to take on trips or to pick away at while watching football. And since I’ll get by with the new Zelda on Wii U, I think I’ll be fine waiting, if only for a few months.
On the other hand, the chances of me eventually getting one are 100 percent. We’ll see how compelled I am in the event that I come across one in March, but for now, my plan is to hold off.
Unlike Clayton, I never did get the Wii U. It sure looked cool, but I was always on a wait-and-see holding pattern, uncertain if it was ever going to turn into a real must-buy system, and it just never did. But acknowledging up front that I’m easily impressionable, I’m pretty excited for the Switch. Firstly, as far as I’m concerned, Nintendo could essentially dub its hardware Zelda machines for how I play them. Breath Of The Wild looks beautiful and compelling enough to pick up after skipping a generation. Secondly, having two kids, it looks like a real fun family system. I’ll buy one and consider it an investment in my family’s video game future.
Nintendo’s being savvy about combining its strong handheld record with its somewhat flagging home console systems. My only concern is that part of the success of the Game Boy and DS/3DS systems is due to the games being relatively inexpensive to make, which allowed developers to take more chances. Do you think the Switch is going to support a wide range of titles at a variety of prices? Making every release a $60 purchase will do a lot of harm to the system’s success, I think.
That’s a really great point, Nick. I’ve said in the past that I think one of the things Nintendo needs to do to keep Switch afloat is let its internal and close partner teams experiment on smaller projects—as it did with things like Pocket Card Jockey and Pushmo for the 3DS—and make this console a really great place for independent developers to call home. We’re already seeing a bit of both those things with games like Snipperclips, which was a fully independent project before Nintendo brought it into the fold, and the ocean of indie games, both new and old, that are already announced for the console. The reality is independent games will never sell consoles on their own, but if Nintendo can keep up this kind of dedication to smaller teams and get the kind of independent support Sony has enjoyed with the PlayStation 4, then I think Switch will have plenty of lower priced yet innovative and worthwhile stuff for owners to dig into between marquee releases. Plus, those independent games have a better shot at cleverly implementing all the wacky features built into the Joy-Con than anything coming out of major publishers.
I think that about does it for this Nintendo Switch check in. I’ll be back tomorrow morning to talk about Zelda, and you should also be on the look out for a neat little video of some A.V. Clubbers taking the console for a spin at a recent Chicago event. And stay tuned for our final Switch review next week as we close in on launch. In the meantime, if you have your own Switch questions, I may just be able to answer them down in the comments.