Nintendo Switch – Some Thoughts After a Year of Ownership

I realised last night that I’ve had my Switch for almost a year. It’s hard to believe a whole year has passed since I finally caved and grabbed the console, not long before Super Mario Odyssey was released. In that time, though, I’ve played many hours of many games (my current library is 93 games strong) on the system and thought it about time I shared my thoughts. Something of a long-term review I supposed.

Build Quality

The build quality of Nintendo’s consoles historically has been pretty solid. Sometimes the plastics can look a bit cheap, or toy-like, but they’ve always been solid. Not brittle, not flexible. Switch is no exception, and feels like a quality, premium product in the hand. The slightly rubberised finish of the joycons and main console are pleasant to the touch. And that screen… it makes even the mighty PS Vita screen look a bit rubbish. Well done Nintendo. If I had a complaint about the screen, it’s that the lens is plastic. I understand that this is because a glass screen would be more prone to shattering when dropped, so in that respect is makes sense, however it does detract from the overall premium feel of the console, and could be prone to scratches. I installed a glass screen protector on mine, which has been fine for a year.

That said, I have discovered a weakness in the design, and that is in the clips that hold the Joycons to the side of the console. I’ve had three of the controllers replaced because they stopped holding on, and with little pressure would disconnect. On investigation it was obvious that notches had formed in the plastic clips on the Joycons themselves, creating a slope where there used to be a flat surface, allowing the controllers to fall free quite easily. My current set have been in place for a few months now with no further problems, so maybe Nintendo solved the problem with a harder material.

Battery life in handheld mode tends to be around 3-4 hours, dependent of course on screen brightness and the game you’re playing. I’ve played simple indie games in the evening with the screen brightness low for a few hours and still had juice to spare. Considering the size and quality of the screen, this is no mean feat so points to Nintendo for that.

Finally, the power supply provided is of a high quality, with a thick, heavy cable and bend protection to keep it safe where the cable meets the plug and connector. I bought a second one – one stays connected to the dock, which is in turn connected to my monitor in my office upstairs. The second power supply is down in the living room so I can play on the sofa without worrying about having to take the console to the dock in between sessions.

In Use

As I’ve said, the console feels good in your hands. I play mainly in handheld mode, and then mostly on our sofa while a film or such plays on the TV. Comfortable for long game sessions despite its large size, the rounded corners of the attached Joycons don’t dig into your palms. It’s a shame the power socket is on the bottom, as slouching on the sofa means the power cord pokes into your belly. It would be better on top, though I have sought out a right angle adapter (with no luck so far) to solve this another way.

The screen is a wonder. Great contrast with some very strong blacks and whites and lovely colours in between, and a very bright backlight to show it all off. The buttons are, for the most part, well-positioned and satisfying clicky. The joysticks too have a satisfying weight to them, though they’re not suitable for all genres of game, as they are quite short compared to those found on traditional controllers. The only problem I’ve had with the Joycons is caused by their small size, and my massive hands. It’s too easy to knock a button when using the analogue sticks (or vice versa), and the “minus” button on the left Joycon is difficult to use due to its proximity to the left stick.

The console is easily inserted into its dock, with the gameplay immediately transferred to the attached screen (in my case a 25″ 1440p monitor. The maximum output of the console is 1080p, so for me the image is a little blurred, not that I notice once I’m playing. The system clock speed is reportedly increased when docked, which can improve the performance of some games.

One of the better reasons for docking the system is the Pro Controller. Basically the same as any other games controller available today, it is a very solidly busily thing, which feels great in the hand. The buttons and sticks are bigger and better than their Joycon counterparts, and battery life is an impressive 20+ hours. It also supports motion control elements found in the Joycons and supports rumble.

The Games

The Switch library is, in a word, incredible. Also inedible, and to make sure you know it they’ve coated the cartridges in a foul-tasting chemical. I tried it, it’s true.

It lacks a lot of the AAA third party titles found on the other consoles, as is typical for Nintendo, however it is backed by an impressive array of indie titles (both on the eShop and retail cartridges) and some fun first party games.

So far I’m not that impressed with Nintendo’s own releases for their console. Super Mario Odyssey (one of the main titles I bought the system for) is ok, but not my favourite of the series by a long shot. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is likewise far from my favourite in its series, though it has its charms, particularly when you let go of expectations and fall into the world.

Too many of their other releases are re-releases from Wii U’s library, and too many of those are released at full price despite being several years old at this point. Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Hyrule Warriors are amongst the offenders, though the latter two are at least priced at €40 (against a standard retail price of €65) which offsets their age a little. They are both considerably more enjoyable on the Switch too.

Nintendo blame inflated cost of indie games on the cost of their proprietary cartridges, which a publisher must purchase from the big N. They also suggest that the higher prices on the eShop compared to Xbox and PlayStation stores is due to price matching the retail cartridges. Considering that the same business practice was in use on bother Wii U and Wii before this, both of which used optical discs, I’m going to call that a lie. It’s a shame that some games cost around 25% (sometimes much more) over the same game on other consoles. Sometimes the strength of playing on the Switch is enough for me to repurchased my favourites with Nintendo tax, sometimes it isn’t. I suppose the marketsupports the prices they set, so we won’t see a change any time soon.

There are many great indie games on the system. Axiom Verge, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, Owlboy, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Celeste, Mutant Mudds, Super Meat Boy, Salt and Sanctuary, Not A Hero, Super One More Jump, Shovel Knight, and Poly Bridge are some of my absolute favourites. My absolute favourites at the moment are Hollow Knight and Dead Cells, two 2D “Souls-a-like” games that have beautiful art and clever design. Quite a few of these games come to cartridge, often at a premium – most are around €20 to download, but cost €30-40 on cart, though several have added value in the form of printed manuals, art books, and other fun gifts.

One reason I prefer physical media on Switch over a download is the lack of storage space on the console – 32GB, much of which is taken by the operating system. Thankfully the Switch supports Micro SD, which has come to a point that a 128GB card is quite affordable (to anyone that can afford the console and its games) so all is not lost. You should, however, be aware that one way publishers are cheaping out on cartridges is to provide only half the game, with a several gigabyte download required to play the game. I personally have decided to avoid these games altogether, as a point of principle – I won’t support such business practice, and I prefer to reserve my storage space for the games I want to download that aren’t available on cartridge.

Labo

One final thing to discuss is Labo. Released earlier this year, with more packs to follow, Labo is a lot more than “a pack of cardboard” that many dismissed it as. The pack I purchased has many toys to build, with the cartridge complaining both software to enjoy the toys and detailed videos to help you build them. Using features of the Joycons, including the infra-red camera and HD Rumble, you can control a cardboard car, or (my favourite) play a cardboard piano. Such is the ingenuity of Nintendo, they’ve even updated Mario Kart 8 to support the Labo motorbike handles, which is quite cool.

It’s not for everyone, but as a father with a young son I look forward to him growing up and being interested in building the rest of the kits with me.

Conclusion

I think I’ve said all there is to say about the Switch. It’s a fine bit of kit, and my favourite way to enjoy the many fine indie games that are supporting the industry today. It’s a shame that Nintendo have their heads up their bums with their (re-)release schedule, and there seems little hope after over three decades that they’re about to wake up and smell the coffee, but at least we have a fine system on which to enjoy many fine games that are available. It’s strange how trends form, because Wii U was an equally strong console with some fantastic (and new) first party titles, but it was ignored. Switch was destined to be a success even before it was released, and that has borne true. It’s almost as if people can’t think for themselves. But still, I’m happy that Switch has turned the tide and sold many millions of units. Hopefully it means we’ll see a more solid release schedule in the years to come, with some original titles instead of it being the Wii U2.

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