Nintendo Switch - Hardware Review

In what was possibly the softest console launch in my more than three decades of gaming, the Nintendo Switch finally released last week. The compact console comes full of interesting ideas, but some questionable design choices make this a system that is going to appeal to a very distinct audience. Thankfully my family falls into that audience, and we have gotten a tone of mileage out of it in its first week since launch, but there is a lot of room for improvement here as well.

When you first unbox a console, there is this moment where you are usually studying the controllers, the gaggle of cables, but most importantly the often large unit itself. Adjustment number one is wrapping your head around the fact that the Switch is essentially a tablet with controllers and a dock. To that end the design is actually pretty fascinating as it packs a pretty solid punch into such a small package. Taken on its own merits, the Switch is interesting and doubles down on the idea of portable gaming technology. Say what you will about the Wii U, but the DS has been printing money for Nintendo for a long time and the Switch is banking on similar adoption.

However, if you compare the Switch to other consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, obviously the Switch is going to lack graphical punch. If you dock it and plug it into your television screen, it just is not going to have the same visual umph, which is fine - but something that simply needs to be stated. Even playing a masterpiece game like the newly released Legend of Zelda illustrates this as the visual style of the game is absolutely gorgeous. Blowing grass and cloudy skies thrown against a vivid color pallet make for an immensely appealing game visually. At the same time, textures are simple (for example Link's shirt is lacking in details and moving cloth), animations are basic (facial expressions are not terribly emotive) and the framerate drops (especially in populated areas like a village).

The cards that the games come on are also likely going to be somewhat limiting. It will be interesting to see how attempts at more realistic visuals pan out. Nintendo has a knack for making visually appealing titles for their first party properties, but no one is going to confuse Mario Kart with the technical prowess of Forza's graphics. Audio might also see some limitations. There is some voice acting in Zelda, but I suspect you won't find many games with voice acting throughout. I recall games like Ni no Kuni having huge space allotments just for spoken audio. So, these are the hardware limitations examined fully right out of the gates.

That being said, as limited as the Switch appears when compared to other consoles hooked up to a television. Conversely, when compared to the 3DS or even a Vita, the Switch looks pretty darned impressive. In fact, at a glance when it has the Joy-Con controllers docked on either side, it rather resembles a large Vita.

Setting up the Switch was incredibly simple, which is handy because there is really squat diddly in the way of written directions. Thankfully the system walks you through all of it on the screen. Setting up the dock is just a matter of running the AC adapter to an outlet, the HDMI cable to the television and finding a spot to put the dock. The Joy-Con grip is a simple plastic 'shell' that the controllers can clip onto either side of, offering some contours that allows for a fairly narrow but effective controller. If I am being completely honest, I was not enamored with the Joy-Cons themselves. The left one is at least more comfortable than the right one, with an oddly centered stick that is just not as comfortable when playing a game with it. I tried playing several games with the unattached and it was just never as comfortable as latching it onto the Joy-Con grip (or better yet, using the Pro Controller).

There is a good deal of functionality built into these two controllers. The fact that they can essentially be Voltron and a single control solution is nice, as is the ability to split them off for some very basic multiplayer control options as well as the internal HD rumble, which is surprisingly cool. The controlled, location-based rumble is a nice effect that has the potential to add a subtle touch to a game. The right Joy-Con also has Amiibo detection right around the stick and there is motion tracking in them as well. All in all, there are some cool options, they are just a little on the small side for my liking (but at least they are very lightweight). It is worth calling out that numerous people have experienced issues with the left Joy-Con de-syncing, but we never experienced that ourselves. I spent about 9 straight hours playing Zelda on Sunday and never once had a disconnection issue.

In terms of using the actual system, the Switch drops into the dock cleanly and immediately shows up on my screen. All good there (though I swear the dock does something a little odd now and then with one of my HDMI switchers that has automatic signal detection. Ever since connecting the Switch to it, there have been a handful of times where I will be playing PS4 or XB1 and the screen goes blank and the switcher device changes input to the Switch - as though it is pushing a lightweight signal even in sleep mode.). Pulling it out and sliding the Joy-Con controllers down either side until you feel the faint, satisfying click works well also.

Since acquiring the Nintendo Switch, it has been in almost constant use in our house. I've been using it on my television, while my oldest two children have been rotating it out into the living room or bedroom. Since the Switch powers off of a USB Type-C cable, my son has that plugged into a USB port on his surge protector in his room and is playing it at night. The versatility here is solid and probably one of the console's best selling points. If I was a single guy with just a television and no need to share my systems with others? I suspect some of the Switch's charm would be lost on me, but with a family of gamers who move all about the house? The Switch has become a fast favorite despite its limited library.

Now I'd like to talk about software. The home system is clean and easy to use. Connecting this to my Nintendo account was a snap. Ditto having multiple accounts on the Switch and jumping around between them. Getting set up on our wireless network was easy and in general everything is pretty logically laid out. Not having the Virtual Console available right out of the gates seems like a serious oversight as the Switch is perfect for playing some classics on the go and having a large collection of already-made old school Nintendo games would have eased the blow of such a limited library upon release.

Obviously the new Zelda title is the must-have app (and it completely lives up to all of its positive billing). Yesterday we had a chance to post a review for the latest version of Shovel Knight, which feels right at home on this system. However, with only about a half dozen titles on launch, and one (1-2 Switch) that feels like it should have been a pack-in or sold for maybe $20 to help spur the imagination and get people more excited for the console's versatility, this slow launch period does not make the Switch a must-have console for most people. In fact, the best games for the Switch are ones that can be played on other platforms right now, and one of its most anticipated upcoming games (Mario Kart) has been available on the Wii U for a couple of years now. This coupled with the de-sync issues (reported by some people) give the impression that the Switch as somewhat rushed out of the door.

Note from PY:  
Interestly enough, my brother and I who split the cost of a Nintendo Switch haven't seen that issue but have seen a whole other one. Instead of using the standard controller we also split the Pro Controller with Breath of the Wild and while sitting in its dock, with the controllers attached, the system would overheat. It overheated.

It wasn't just once but multiple times until we detached the controllers from the main and stuck a fan beside it. The fan wasn't needed after it cooled off but not having it all attached in the cradle at the same time to charge up was a bit disconcerting. On a final note, I am a bit annoyed that there's also no way to actually charge the core controllers other than being attached to the main unit or buying another peripheral to do the charging for you. That part seems ill thought out. At least the pro we could have charging from the USB port in a laptop on the coffee table. I would say as a whole, 6.5~.75/10. But this isn't my review!

All in all Nintendo's new hardware is good, but it has flaws. The controllers are cramped, the Pro Controller should be analog, not digital, the hardware is going to pale when compared to the PS4 or XB1 and the internal memory should have been larger than just 32GB (and frankly it was less than that due to the operating system). All of those negatives aside however, my household happens to be the target audience here. We love Nintendo first-party games, we tend to make use of the tablet (the Wii U's second screen functionality has and still does get lots of use in our household) and the system software seems cleaner and more advanced than prior Nintendo operating systems. It is still a little too soon to get a good feel for the network options, but adding friends is already quite a bit easier than the bygone Wii days. I for one am not ready to deem the Switch a failure or a success - obviously it is way too soon to do so, but the hardware has plenty of potential. It is just a little hard to fully see that with such a limited release lineup.

Hardware Information

Video Game Console


Article by Nick