After years of studying patent filings and dealing with rumors surrounding the design and features of the console, Nintendo has finally released its latest video game system to the masses. Known as the Nintendo Switch, the new hardware pairs the premise portable gaming with the extra power of a home console. In the eyes of many, it's a dream come true, and after spending many hours with the Nintendo Switch, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding the new platform. With that said, it is still lacking software at this point in time, and that will ultimately determine whether the tech is worth picking up for many consumers.
Since it becomes challenging to gauge the value of a platform based on what's still to come in terms of games, we can instead focus on the hardware. The console itself swiftly delivers on the promise of a console-quality experience on the go, with one major detractor for anyone hoping to take it on as a full-fledged portable gaming system – the battery. Now, anyone that just wants to enjoy Breath of the Wild en route to work won't have any concerns, as they have roughly three hours of juice to carry them through their trip as the venture through Hyrule. That battery life also varies dependant on the game in use, with a total of six hours worth of play time for anyone willing to detach the Joy-Con and boot up a less demanding game.
Still, three hours, in the case of Zelda, certainly won't be enough for those six-plus hour plane rides or road trips, although power outlets are traditionally present or available in some capacity for anyone serious about having something to do whilst mobile. There are options for players to keep the battery charged, although standard mobile phone battery packs are a little too underpowered to help out with extended play sessions – meaning consumers will have to make sure they pick up a 15 volt charge pack. Even when the unit does power down, the Switch will actually pause the the progress of the game being played, so gamers won't lose any of their progress.
Aside from battery capacity, it's still some impressive tech that only lacks processing power when compared to the likes of Xbox One and PlayStation 4. These comparisons seem more trivial given that Nintendo itself is the company that often drives the appeal of its own consoles, but it will inevitably impact the third-party games that publishers opt to port over to the Switch. This could be a major concern moving forward, and it all stems from the lack of comparative power from the hardware. However, it's just as powerful as it needs to be to receive titles like FIFA, but the system itself will have to sell well in order to ensure further support – and that's still a bit of a gamble at this point in time.
That's not to undercut what is present in the final system, as the Nintendo Switch still renders immense games easily. This becomes clear when playing single-player titles like Zelda, but the local multiplayer values that Nintendo is infamous for holding close shine through immediately in the layout of the console's control scheme. Featuring a new type of controller called the Joy-Con, these snap-on, snap-off remotes can be used to share the experience with a friend (handing one person either the left or right Joy-Con) whether on the couch or transit.
Setting side the multiplayer mindfulness of the Switch, the intuitive and well thought out design also allows gamers to transition between home and portable gaming sessions seamlessly. Docking the system and removing the Joy-Con is an easy process that instantly swaps the experience from the mobile Switch screen to the television. Locking the Joy-Con back into the unit and removing it from the dock is just as simple, and the sharp click that emanates from each Joy-Con controller as it is locked into the Nintendo Switch console is unexplainably euphoric sound. Now, the latter is a silly point to make, and one that should hold no barring on whether or not the unit is worth dropping $299.99 USD ($399.99 CAD) on, but it's a fact nonetheless.
The Joy-Con itself also functions rather remarkably for such a teeny bit of tech. The right Joy-Con features an inferred camera of sorts that can detect motion and even hand gestures, as well as the ability to scan amiibo figurines just by tapping them on the joystick. On the other hand, the main gimmick of the left one is that it features a Share button, which is actually quite practical for those that have been hoping to show off their gaming prowess on social media. Meanwhile, both Joy-Con feature 'HD Rumble', which allows for the controller to feel like it has measurable units within it.
The example Nintendo utilized to best describe the Joy-Con's HD Rumble is that players can feel individual ice cubes within a glass upon shifting it back and fourth. This technology is intriguing, although there isn't really a meaningful application of the technology yet. Hopefully that changes in the near future, as it has the potential to really impact various experiences and games going forward. For now, it will just have to remain a potentially promising feature on the new hardware.
It's also important to note that there have been reports of the left Joy-Con having connection issues. Several outlets have reported on this problem, although it never presented an issue during this reviewer's rigorous hands-on time with the Nintendo Switch. Despite the fact that I personally have never encountered this technical hiccup, the bug has allegedly been popping up across several units and could directly impact those end up buying the Nintendo console.
Meanwhile, the online setup for the Switch is in its infancy at this point in time. Utilizing a primitive digital storefront to download new games, there isn't much variety or intrigue. That will surely change when the company rolls out the Virtual Console and its paid online services later this year, but it's far from anything to write home about at this point in time. The online friend system is also a little dated, opting to rely on counterintuitive Friend Codes, locally connected devices, recently played with users, and recommended account connections through the mobile Miitomo and Super Mario Run apps. Nintendo has promised that it will update this down the road, but it all comes together to make for an overly barebones offering at this point in time.
The real appeal of the Nintendo Switch comes in the practicality of its handheld mode. Laying in bed and playing a console-quality Zelda is a desire that hasn't really made itself known until the opportunity presented itself. Hopping in a car and playing Snipperclips with a friend on your way to a neighboring town is a sort of a socially-driven thrill that provides a much more engaging trip sans continuously refreshing an Instagram feed. There's a lot of potential in Nintendo's latest console, but the real question is whether or not the company will fully realize it. Only time will tell how great the Switch will be, but it's a promising first step.
Nintendo Switch is available on March 3, 2017