Cautious optimism takes center stage as one Game Rant editor goes hands-on with the brand new portable and home gaming console hybrid, the Nintendo Switch.
There’s always something special about a gaming console launch. The thrill of new, more powerful hardware coupled with the expectation of new games that take advantage of the tech make for the stuff of dreams for a number of gamers. More importantly, new hardware launches aren’t events that happen all that often, opting to only pop up roughly every five years or so for the Big N. However, Nintendo’s hand has been forced following the abysmal performance of its Wii U platform, and now consumers are being introduced to a new piece of tech known as the Nintendo Switch.
Attempting to combine the appeal of its portable line of consoles with the enhanced power of its home hardware, consumers can be forgiven for being skeptical of such a premise. Indeed, there are some issues that gamers are right to be concerned about (i.e. battery life, expensive accessories, a lack of initial software, etc.), but after holding the device myself, those worries managed to dissipate. That’s not to say they aren’t still lingering or valid criticisms about the Nintendo Switch, but – in the three hours I spent with it – the device itself looked, felt, and performed as well as fans have been hoping it would.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s brand new Battle Mode was the first thing I tried, jumping into a familiar experience made mobile by the Switch’s undocked portable form. The thing that immediately grabbed my attention is the size of the console, as it is substantially smaller than footage and photos thus far are sure to have lead many to believe. In fact, it’s comparable in girth to the New Nintendo 3DS XL, albeit a little wider when accommodating the detachable Joy-Con controllers. Even then, the screen size isn’t so small that the games running on it look like a handful of pixels, and it’s a substantially higher resolution and better quality than Nintendo’s current 3DS hardware line.
Having said that, the Mario Kart game that many will recognize from the Wii U actually runs phenomenally on the Switch’s miniature screen. Indeed, this is far and away the most powerful Nintendo handheld option ever conceived, and fans will be hard-pressed, at least initially, to spot too much of a difference between the graphics present on a television screen and the system itself. It’s an engaging thought to have console-quality games on the go, and Nintendo is delivering on that very premise.
Of course, one of the biggest reasons to pickup a Nintendo console in the past has been for local multiplayer sessions, and the Switch executes on that handily as well. Wirelessly hooking up the solo system in my hands to three others nearby allowed myself and several friends to take the thrill of the previously couch-only title across multiple screens. As it turns out, the local wireless connection between nearby platforms works quite well, with no noticeable lag whatsoever. The joy that accompanies having your very own screen for this endeavor is a great selling point, too, as the portability of the hardware gives way to the personal preferences of fans hoping to take in games without cutting down on their screen size.
The aforementioned Joy-Con controllers are also surprisingly slim, in order to streamline the bulk of the tablet-like core of the Switch. Despite this, the detachable peripherals house two trigger buttons, a joystick (which doubles as an amiibo reader), four face buttons, a plus (start) or minus (select) button depending on whether it is the left or right Joy-Con, a Home or Share button, motion controls, a Kinect-like scanning sensor, and a new feature known as HD Rumble. As a result of all this tech being crammed into the device, the low-end feel of the Wii U and even the Wii has been shelved. The hollow plastic controllers that haunted previous Nintendo owners has seemingly been done away with, as the company appears to have taken no shortcuts in providing customers with a quality product.
Given the sheer number of gimmicks jam-packed into the device, it’s surprising how small the Joy-Con actually are, but (as someone with small to medium-sized hands) they still fit comfortably within one’s grasp. Admittedly, the sliding motion required to lock the remotes into the console itself can present a slight challenge when removing them from the base unit, but overall it is a surprisingly smooth experience that justifies the out-there design that Nintendo has opted to tackle with the Switch.
Those looking forward to making full use of the couch-based home console aspect to the device will find the console docking incredibly intuitive. Upon inserting the Switch into its dock, the game will almost instantly appear on the television, while simply removing the console from the stand on a whim outputs the experience to the portable screen. It’s an impressive bit of tech with a design that comes naturally to anyone picking it up, and it’s great to see how shallow the learning curve is right from the get-go.
In closing, it’s hard to truly evaluate a gaming console with a limited amount of hands-on time, especially when each and every device is tethered to a station and plugged into a power outlet. It’s even harder to gauge how compelling the software will be in the immediate future when Nintendo itself asks that everyone refer to the titles present at the event as “demos” in the description for their videos and recaps, but the Switch is promising in its early stages. Whether or not it will maintain this excitement as people become accustomed to the console remains to be seen, but the value of the hardware will ultimately be determined by its software – which leaves cautious optimism to take center stage in the buildup to Nintendo Switch’s arrival this March.
Nintendo Switch arrives in stores on March 3, 2017.