The name Nintendo still conjures fond memories of long nights playing Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda games. After missing the mark with its Wii U console, Nintendo has launched the brand new Switch hybrid console and tablet. I spent 72 hours getting to know it better. Here's how that went.
Day 1: Consoles were designed for plug-and-play setup, and the Switch is a snap to get going. It’ll take about 20 minutes to make your way through the startup menu, configure the motion-sensor Joy-Con controllers (and get those protective wrist straps connected), and then start playing.
Immediately, I noticed how Nintendo has borrowed from its previous two consoles (Wii and Wii U, as well as its Nintendo 2DS). The Immediately, I noticed how Nintendo has borrowed from its previous two consoles (Wii and Wii U, as well as its Nintendo 2DS). The Switch is like a “best of” collection of what worked on those previous devices, including intuitive motion controllers, gorgeous 1080p HD visuals on a big screen, and a vibrant 6.2-inch 720p multitouch screen. I connected the Switch to my Samsung KS9800 Ultra High Definition TV with the pack-in HDMI cable. Although Switch doesn’t support 4K resolution, its games look crisp and vibrant on this TV.
Like the name implies, the Switch is both a portable tablet gaming device and a home console, once you plug the tablet into the base that connects to any HD TV. The gameplay experience is seamless when you pull the tablet out of its base and your game immediately continues on-the-go.
The Switch doesn’t come with a pack-in game (which is a departure for Nintendo and for the console business in general), but Nintendo included a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch in the press box. Consumers who can track down a Switch around launch (GameStop is the only retailer to confirm they’ll have Day One supply in stock) will likely be sold with bundle options (GameStop has a console with three games starting at $438).
While Sony and Microsoft store their games on Blu-ray Discs, Nintendo has opted to go retro by supporting very small cartridges. While I didn’t have to blow any dust out of them to get them to work, this storage format does have one negative side effect: The Switch only comes with 32 GB of internal flash memory, and 6.1 GB of that is dedicated to Nintendo’s operating system. A game like Zelda will take up another 13.4 GB of storage. So you’ll need to invest in external MicroSD cards, which go for about $150 for 256 GB.
Switch launches with 11 games (over 100 are in development), but none is bigger or more anticipated than the new Zelda. It’s been years since a new console game in this bestselling fantasy role-playing franchise has been released, and this new title is definitely worth the wait. With brand-new open-world gameplay that features beautiful cel-shaded graphics, this game will keep you entertained for weeks, if not months, on end. So it was certainly more than enough to entertain me on the first day.
Day 2: I decided to take the Switch out and about for a trip to the car dealership to get my oil changed. While the device is definitely portable, it’s bulky and not pocket-sized. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It has a great ergonomic design when you plug in the Joy-Con controllers to each side. It’s also unique enough that people will ask you what you’re playing, so get used to that.
It takes approximately two hours to fully charge the Switch, and one charge will last about three hours. While this is fine for short flights or everyday commutes on the bus or train, it’s not the type of battery life today’s Nintendo 2DS gamers are used to (that device gets five to nine hours) or tablet or smartphone gamers.
I stuck with Zelda on this trip, as much because it’s such an addictive game as for the lack of other gaming options pre-launch. One of the reasons Wii U never took off was the lack of killer apps, and Zelda gives Switch that bump right out of the gate. A look at Nintendo’s release schedule shows a steady flow of big games, including a pair of Mario titles (the souped-up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and the platform game Super Mario Odyssey), Platoon 2, and Pokemon Stars.
Day 3: I decided to focus on 1-2 Switch on the third day, a game that harkens back to the inclusive fun-for-everyone gameplay of the Wii pack-in game, Wii Sports. This collection of over two dozen mini-games is the type of party game that showcases Nintendo’s innovation in attracting gamers of all ages to the television. One big difference with several games in this compilation is that they open up multiplayer gameplay sans the video screen. The Joy-Con controllers come jam-packed with bells and whistles, including a cool HD rumble feature as well that alerts the player when an invisible Ping-Pong ball is being hit, as well as a motion-IR camera that senses the shape, motion, and distance of objects in front of it. Nintendo turns this technology into fun gameplay like sword fighting mano-a-mano or having a quick-draw gun shootout. While Zelda is the game that will ultimately sell Switch, 1-2 Switch is the game you’ll be playing with family and friends.
The Switch name also refers to the small but incredibly complex Joy-Con controllers, which can be used alone (one in each hand) for one-to-one action in games like the boxing title ARMS — which adds an arcade twist with arms that stretch for powerful punches. (I was able to preview this fun exercise-style game at a New York City Switch reveal event.) They can be plugged into a Joy-Con Grip to transform into a more traditional controller, which is the best way to enjoy Zelda’s deep gameplay on a big screen. And they can be used connected to or independently from the tablet for single or multiplayer gaming. (I recommend the $33 Joy-Pad Charge Grip, since this allows you to charge the controllers while you play — and this is something that would have been nice for Nintendo to include in the box.)
After helping to resuscitate the struggling video game industry back in the ‘80s, Nintendo has thrived and survived these many years thanks to its great gameplay and iconic characters. Nintendo Switch is a step forward from Wii U, a console that failed to replicate the innovation and success of the Wii. But it’s a console that will cost you. On top of the console, you’ll need to invest in memory cards, additional controllers, games, and other accessories if you’re even an average gamer.
That said, Zelda fans and Nintendo loyalists will be happy with this latest device. And Nintendo’s support of indie developers (over 60 games announced) opens up a lot of exclusive and creative titles for this year and beyond. If the price doesn’t scare you away, Switch is a step forward for a company that has continued to reinvent itself to stay relevant in a truly competitive landscape.
[$300 with no pack-in games; $400 and up with various bundles; Nintendo.com]