Nintendo’s nationwide tour of the Nintendo Switch provided me with a chance to get my hands on the upcoming console. Collected here are my opinions of the system and its controllers in their various use cases:
Snipperclips was my first hands-on with the Switch’s controller, the Joy-Con. In this instance, they were used in their detached state and each player holds one half like a classic game controller. They feel quite solid and well-built. They are, however, a little small. They’re perfectly fine for short gaming sessions, but I wouldn’t want to use them in this way for extended play or with complex controls. Because each Joy-Con is small, the reaching you have to do with your thumbs is noticeable but not too awkward.
The Joy-Con strap, which makes the halves a little bit bigger and makes the internal L and R triggers easier to hit, definitely makes them more comfortable to hold and use. If you only play local multiplayer on rare occasions, splitting the Joy-Con is fine. If it’s something you do often, it’s definitely worth investing in better controllers.
Joy-Con, Motion Controls
ARMS and 1-2-Switch take advantage of the motion sensing and HD rumble technology packed into the Joy-Con. HD rumble really is fascinating, and does a surprising job of conveying a sense of touch and movement. It’s on par with — and perhaps even better than — Apple’s much-vaunted Taptic Engine. During a run of 1-2-Switch’s “guess the number of balls” game, it really feels like tiny spheres are rolling back and forth inside the Joy-Con.
The response time is great, as well. There was no perceptible lag when playing. I was able to effectively dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge while playing ARMS.
When the Switch was docked, many games on the show floor were played using the Joy-Con Grip, a small adapter that makes the Joy-Con feel more like a regular controller. It’s a comfortable device, though still a little smaller than the Switch Pro Controller and lacking its better directional pad. I don’t think I’d want to play a game like Ultra Street Fighter II with a Joy-Con Grip, but for most games it works just fine.
Switch Pro Controller
The preview area of Ultra Street Fighter II was complimented with Switch Pro Controllers. The Pro controllers were solid, responsive, and comfortable to hold. Their quality is in line with the GameCube Controller, and remarkably better than the Wii Classic Controller and Wii U Pro Controller. I was able to pull off fireballs and dragon punches with ease. I think I might still like the DualShock 4 better, but until I get to spend more time with it, I’ll just say it’s good and leave it at that.
Some of the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe demos featured the Switch in portable mode, and I got to pull the Switch from its dock while playing Disgaea 5 Complete and Sonic Mania. In portable mode, the Switch hardware is fantastic. The Joy-Con halves connect to it solidly, and when they are in place the entire unit feels like one solid piece.
The Switch, Undocked
The Switch’s built-in screen is the same size as the Wii U’s, but it is sharper and more vibrant. It’s a logical compromise — if it were larger it would likely be a higher resolution, reducing performance. If it were smaller, the reduced battery size would carry with it a shorter lifespan when undocked. The heft was a little surprising, but that may have been due to the security clamp and cables attached to it. It wasn’t actually heavy, just heavier than it looked. It feels like it would be comfortable to hold for extended gaming sessions.
It’s hard to say exactly how powerful the Switch is compared to its competitors, but it’s definitely more capable than the Wii U. There has been no official documentation regarding is specs, and until the system is in the hands of people outside of a non-disclosure agreement I don’t think anything can be said for certain about what hardware is actually inside the console.
It’s fair to say the Switch won’t outperform the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, let alone their mid-cycle upgrades. That said, it doesn’t have to. The Tegra variant powering it produces wonderful visuals, and in the hands of a good designer the Switch’s graphics will still shine. Breath of the Wild has great draw distances, for example, and everything I played had a very smooth frame rate. I’d say the Switch best represents what mobile hardware can do when focused on gaming.
Marketing aside, the Switch is more of a mobile console with unimpressive battery life than it is a home console you can carry with you. It hovers in the area of the New 3DS and PlayStation Vita in terms of battery life, so it isn’t awful. However, compared to other mobile devices, like an iPad, it’s short.
Every video game console lives and dies by the games released for it, and it will probably take a year or two before the Switch can prove it will have staying power. Nintendo is trying to replicate the Wii’s launch with a combination of Zelda for hardcore fans and party games for casual players. Let’s see if they can make lightning strike twice.
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