NINTENDO SWITCH REVIEW-IGN
BY VINCE INGENITO
The Nintendo Switch isn’t unlike a NASA spacecraft, in that nearly every part of it has been specially designed to pull double or even triple duty. The system’s modular design means that it has to function as a traditional home console, a portable system, and stand-alone touchscreen tablet with wireless controllers. Getting a piece of hardware to do that much while also making it easy to use and understand would be an engineering miracle, and although Nintendo has come close in some regards, it has fallen well short in others. Overall, the Switch is an attractive and powerful but oversized portable gaming system that struggles to be a convincing or reliable home console.
The first thing that struck me about the Switch is the overall quality of its look and feel. Regardless of whether you go for the neon blue and red set or the more subtle gray pair, the handsome matte finish of the two included Joy-Con controllers feels almost silken, begging to be touched. The console itself – the central tablet piece – is almost alarmingly small and thin when placed next to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or even the Wii U, but its mostly metal construction gives it a sturdy, substantial heft. At the same time, it’s still under a pound with both Joy-Con attached, making it comfortable to hold for long periods. (See the full dimensions and weight breakdown in our Nintendo Switch Wiki.) Even small details like the way the Joy-Con snap into place on the included Joy-Con Grip to form something resembling a conventional controller convey a premium feeling – the kind of gadget lust that has eluded Nintendo for generations now.
Dock and Grip
The Switch’s dock and the Joy-Con Grip are little more than two simple pieces of plastic that allow this handheld to dress up like a home console. The dock itself is as barebones as can be; it’s essentially just a combination HDMI and USB passthrough/charging station. It definitely works as advertised: within a couple of seconds of dropping the tablet onto the dock the picture transfers right over to the TV, and after detaching the Joy-Con (or syncing a separately purchased Pro Controller) you’re ready to play. The transition back to handheld mode is just as seamless – just grab the Switch out of the dock – which is definitely impressive. Even the time from startup to actually launching and playing a game is surprisingly short, and resuming from sleep is nearly instantaneous.
The Grip completes the Switch’s console transformation, housing the left and right Joy-Con to form what feels like the most traditional controller Nintendo has made since the Super Nintendo. This Voltron-esque configuration won’t be beating Sony’s Dual Shock 4 anytime soon, but it’s far more comfortable and functional than I’d imagined it would be from just looking at it.
The smallish face buttons are sufficiently clicky and easy to hit, but the lack of a traditional D-pad or full-sized analog triggers will put it at a disadvantage for certain types of games. The Minus button (think Select or Back) is very oddly placed, though: it’s so small and so close to the left analog stick that I can barely hit the button without nudging the stick.
peaking of the analog sticks, they work well enough but are notably limited in range of motion compared to competitors’ controllers because of their short height. It’s easy enough to adjust to these tiny quirks, but even once I did, the Joy-Con never felt quite like home the way a great controller should. The other notable limitation of the Grip is that there’s no way to charge the Joy-Con while they’re attached – if their charge runs out (after what Nintendo claims is 20 hours, but we’ve yet to successfully run them down) you must re-attach them to the tablet to charge them. Alternatively, you can buy the $30 Joy-Con Charging Grip.
The Switch’s 6.2-inch, multi-touch, 720p LCD screen is a beauty. Color production is vibrant, and it’s bright enough to be played in indirect sunlight. Its generous viewing angles are a huge boon too, with a sweet spot large enough to make keeping an ideal picture easy. And even if you stray out of it, the picture remains visible in a roughly 120-degree arc – which is necessary when you’re playing multiplayer games in tabletop mode. Its touch functionality is leaps and bounds beyond the Wii U’s too, making it feel in line with the kinds of touch interfaces we’ve all grown accustomed to interacting with on iPads and Android tablets. There are areas where I could tell Nintendo had to make compromises to hit that $299.99 price tag, but the screen wasn’t one of them.
Apparently, the left Joy-Con is an area where Nintendo could’ve spent a little more. I’m not the only person experiencing de-syncs with it relatively often when playing with the Joy-Con detached (in or out of the Joy-Con Grip), leaving inputs temporarily unread until it reconnects a few seconds later. I’ve seen it happen occasionally with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Link died more than a few senseless deaths this way – but more often when playing 1-2-Switch, which has several mini-games that require you to cover most of the Joy-Con with your hand, potentially interfering with its signal.
I even had this problem playing from the Joy-Con Grip a mere 10 feet away from the Switch console, forcing me to scooch up further on my bed in order to maintain a reliable connection. Distance appears to be a factor. I didn’t have any problems when I played the system in handheld mode with the Joy-Con docked directly to the hardware, though. In fact, for a variety of reasons, this became my preferred way to play (more on that later).
Individually, each Joy-Con can be turned sideways to be used as a simple controller. But their tiny size and awkward layout have to be fought against even when playing the most basic of games, like Super Bomberman R. Attaching the included wrist straps to them extrudes the shoulder buttons, making them a bit easier to hit, but they still require too much pressure to hit comfortably. Also, the left and right Joy-Con aren’t symmetrical. One has the buttons awkwardly pushed towards the center, while the other does the same to the analog stick instead, which means neither are in any way ideal to use.