The wait is almost over. After months of rumors, a massive launch event in January, and an onslaught of Internet memes, the Nintendo Switch is finally here. The hotly anticipated game console from the house that Mario built hits store shelves on Friday, March 3, 2017, and we have spent dozens of hours playing around with it. Much like Cuba in 2015, the embargo has been lifted at long last, and we are finally free to give you our review of Nintendo’s latest console.
Based on the commercials thus far, it seems like the perfect console if you’re the kind of person who brings expensive electronics to pickup basketball games or if you’re a wealthy millennial living alone in the biggest one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. But what about those of us who got dunked on and aren’t allowed back on the court? What about those of us who live in a Harry Potter-style hidey-hole underneath Jessica Chobot’s staircase? Is the Nintendo Switch worth our money? Should our bodies be Reggie? After spending a substantial amount of time with the console, my answer is yas, but with some pretty major reservations.
What’s in the box?
When you unbox the Switch, you’ll be up and running in no time flat. It comes packaged with the following items:
- Nintendo Switch console
- 1 Joy-Con controller for each hand
- 2 Joy-Con straps
- 1 HDMI cable
- Dock to connect to TV
- Joy-Con Grip, which is basically a traditional video game controller on which you can mount the Joy-Cons.
- AC Adapter
In short, it’s a decidedly small package, and the console is deceptively light. If you’re worried about taking it out of the box and immediately losing both the console and the Joy-Cons, you’re not wrong. It weighs a mere .88 pounds when both controllers are attached, and if you have big hands, you’ll feel like a giant playing puny human video games. Thankfully, you can either attach the Joy-Cons to the Switch console and use it like a more comfortable version of the Wii U’s GamePad. Alternatively, you can attach the Joy-Cons to the Joy-Con Grip, which feels like a smaller version of an Xbox controller, and has actually been my preferred method for playing in TV mode at home on my couch.
How does it handle?
What the Nintendo Switch lacks in internal storage space (32GB hard drive with additional SD card support), it makes up for in versatility. Nintendo has made a lot of hay about how you can easily go from using the console with your television, where it displays in 1080p, to using it on the go as a handheld console, where it is locked to 720p. Graphically speaking, I haven’t noticed a drastic difference between the two, but I know it’s important to many gamers out there. Playing it in bed at 3AM, I was quite impressed by how good it looked and how comfortable the console was in my hand. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ran just a seamlessly on the handheld console as it did when connected to my television, and there was practically zero latency when I switched between the two modes.
One thing that you should be aware of is that you may need to have an unobstructed line of sight between your controller and the console dock, or else the Joy-Cons could potentially desync. You may experience some seriously wonky motion control glitches similar to a misaligned Wiimote if you aren’t properly lined up. For a moment, I thought Link was having a stroke, but then I realized I just needed to sit up on my damn couch.
How long does it last?
With such an emphasis on portability, battery life has been a topic of intense scrutiny with the Switch. You won’t be having flashbacks to the days of the Game Gear, though. Nintendo asserts that the Switch will last between 2.5 and 6 hours in portable mode, depending on how you use it. According to a video by GameXplain, the Switch lasts for approximately 2.5 hours while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on maximum brightness and with wi-fi enabled. Without any software running, though, FamilyGamerTV managed to get five hours and 12 minutes out of the Switch. While playing in TV mode, my Joy-Cons withstood an entire day of pretty intense usage before eventually flashing the low battery signal. Your mileage may vary, but it sounds like you’ll want to keep your AC adapter at the ready, especially if you’re going to be marathoning Zelda on the go.
What’s coming on day one?
Nintendo has promised a substantial day one update, which will include access to the eShop, adding friends, SD card support, software updates, sharing screenshots over social media, and other important social networking features. Since they weren’t available during my review period, I can’t comment on them just yet, but they seem to be pretty par for the course.
How are the games?
With the Switch, Nintendo has decided to give us a cart rather than Mario, by which I mean that all of the games are now on tiny SD card-sized cartridges that you will almost definitely misplace and/or that will be stolen by crafty mice. The only launch title that Nintendo sent to reviewers is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it is a phenomenal game with endless replay value, an expansive open world, addictive gameplay mechanics, and a compelling plot that welcomes both newcomers and series vets alike. Our full review will be coming to the site later, but this is easily one of the best launch titles I’ve played on any system, and will sit alongside the likes of Super Mario 64 and Halo: Combat Evolved as one of the greatest launch titles of all time. However…that’s pretty much it.
Apart from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s slim pickings for the Switch’s initial library. There are first-party exclusives like Super Bomberman R and a crop of promising-looking indies like the throwback JRPG I Am Setsuna and the action-adventure castle crawler Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, but overall it feels like a weak launch slate. We’re getting a smattering of multiplatform releases that seem like they’d be best played on other platforms, and big ticket games like Splatoon 2, Pokémon Stars, and Super Mario Odyssey are on the horizon, but feel more like we’re waiting for Godot than actual releases.
Will this kill the 3DS?
The Nintendo Switch occupies a fascinating space within the video game console market as Nintendo is positioning it as both your go-to entertainment system whether you’re at home or on the go. It’s trying to be a super cool hybrid like a manticore, which is like a winged scorpion lion, but only time will tell if it lives up to its mythic reputation or if it winds up being sadder than Nina Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist. (I know, I know, too soon.) One thing I can say for certain is that this is bad news for the Nintendo 3DS. My esteemed colleague Malik Forté explained on a recent episode of Nerdist News Talks Back how this is the beginning of the end for the 3DS as the Switch does everything that console does, but better. Enjoy your time together while it lasts.
Should I buy the Switch?
I’ll leave you with a simple test to determine whether or not you should buy a Nintendo Switch. Before you pull the trigger and buy one from DanktorWho69 on eBay, make sure you ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I need to upgrade from my 3DS and/or Wii U?
- Do I have a biological imperative to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as soon as humanly possible?
- Am I a patient person?
- Do I hate having $300?
If the answer to one or more of those questions is “yas,” then the Switch just might be for you. It is a tremendously fun and innovative video game console that unfortunately feels a bit undercooked compared to the competition. While it will appeal to Nintendo’s core fanbase and dazzle early adopters with the Zelda of it all, I have serious concerns about its longterm viability until we see more robust features, more and better games, and the freakin’ Virtual Console. Launching without the Virtual Console seems like a fool’s errand; literally everyone I’ve spoken with has said that if they could play old GameCube, N64, and SNES games on the Switch, they’d buy it in a heartbeat. Until then, I can’t recommend buying one unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fan.
Rating: 3.5 New Donk City-style burritos out of 5 (made with psychedelic mushrooms and Italian mustache hairs)
What do you think of the Nintendo Switch? Will you be picking one up? What games are you most excited to play or would you like to see? Let us know in the comments below.
Editor’s note: This review was completed using a Nintendo Switch console provided by Nintendo of America.
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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter ( @Osteoferocious).