I didn’t pre-order a Switch.
With it’s relatively small launch lineup, I think we can all agree that Breath of the Wild was the reason to be excited. That being said, I’ve never been a huge fan of Zelda and the footage leading up to its release didn’t leave me feeling that I would be missing much. Then reviews started to roll in. Then the panic set in. As a lifelong gamer, and now somebody involved games journalism, I had to play Breath of the Wild no matter the cost.
On March 3rd I woke up and remembered that it was launch day. I made myself a cup of tea, booted up Horizon, and resigned myself to the fact that it would be months before I played Zelda, and I sure as shit wasn’t going to spend $200+ on a Wii U, a dead console, to play one game. I don’t know what gave me the thought, but I went to Target’s website in the off chance that they still had them in stock in-store.
And they had them.
I called. “If you get here in 15 minutes, we should have one for you.” I don’t think I’ve ever put on clothes that quickly, except for the time my cat jumped out of our living room window at 3am. I called a Lyft and told the woman that I was in a hurry, that I’d give her a $10 tip if she could get me there as fast as possible. She was pretty into that idea.
We pulled up at Target and I sprinted to the electronics section, the security guard eyeing me as I did so. By some bizarre twist of fate, there was no line, but instead a pile of new Switches behind the counter. The guy in front of me in line didn’t know which game to buy, Zelda, or Bomberman R, so both the Target employee and I explained that he would never forgive himself if he went for Bomberman. Then I bought my Switch.
Eleven days later I have not regretted my purchase. It’s difficult to give impressions on the hardware because the game I’m primarily playing on it is, in my opinion, one of the greatest ever made, but here we go:
The console feels expensive. It does not feel like a toy as the Wii U does. It’s hand is just as quality as any other mass market consumer electronic.
I’ve found that I use tablet mode far more than I thought I would. I play Zelda in bed first thing in the morning when I wake up. I play Zelda on the bus. I play Zelda while my girlfriend uses the TV. I’m only able to do so because its screen is large enough that it doesn’t compromise the play experience – the screen fidelity is strong to boot. I loved my Vita before I sold it, but I never felt that I could fully invest in what I was playing because it just felt like a half-step towards the promised “take AAA games on the road.” Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’ve lost my ability to bury my face in a more traditional handheld for hours as I did with Pokemon Blue, Advance Wars, or Final Fantasy Tactics A2 so many years ago. While the Switch’s controls are rather diminutive, I’ve never found myself hamstrung by their size.
It has been consistently reported that the left Joy-Con loses its sync frequently, sometimes so much so to ruin the playing experience. It hasn’t happened to me once, maybe I’m just lucky.
I took the chance to to pull off both Joy-Cons for multiplayer when we had guests over to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. While I initially scoffed at the marketing Nintendo provided of people hanging out on a rooftop in NYC playing Mario Kart together – I had a similar experience. Everybody in the room was genuinely shocked that it was a possibility, and Snipperclips was the perfect conduit for the experience. We laughed and shouted and spilled beers, the entire room a part of the game, even the people not holding controllers.
I actually really like the Joy-con grip configuration, the size of the controller really reminds me of the Gamecube, and that’s a good thing. After playing BotW extensively, PS4 and Xone controllers feel sort of unnecessarily chunky.
For my purposes, the battery life has been a non-issue. As long as I throw it on the dock at night, or bring my charger with me if I’m really trying to get some hours out of it, I’m fine.
The kickstand, as reported elsewhere, feels extremely flimsy. If used on a hard, flat, surface though, it’s fine.
While the Joy-Cons slide and click in to the tablet beautifully, the same cannot be said about the Joy-Con grips. Perhaps they loosen over time, but in my experience they often feel stuck in place, and when they need to be removed, require enough force that it feels like you’re going to break them.
The first thing you need to purchase for your Switch, even before Zelda, is a screen protector. On the first day of travelling with my Switch, I shoved it inside of a soft beanie (that’s a stocking cap if you’re not from the Midwest) and threw it in my messenger bag. What I hadn’t thought of is the errant USB cables floating around in there with it – one of them leaving a very small scuff on the screen. Buying a screen protector might sound like a no-brainer, but as somebody who has never used one on their smart phone and never had issues with it scratching, I can’t recommend it enough.
The button layout, swapping X for Y and A for B, while consistent with Nintendo’s past hardware, makes swapping between any other traditional controller and the Switch an absolute nightmare. You know how you’ve spent most of your life pressing the button directly beneath where your thumb rests for most actions? Yeah, that means “go back” on the Switch, rather than “go forward.” I can’t stress enough how difficult it is to break that muscle memory, and moreover, how fundamentally confusing it is to swap between the Switch and another gamepad on the regular.
The Eshop, while clean in its UI, commits a handful of cardinal sins. First, you need to enter your account password every time you access the Eshop. I decided to pick up Shovel Knight, Master Blaster 0, and Snipperclips one evening and was baffled when I realized there was no way to “add items to cart.” Each and every game needs to be purchased individually. That sounds like a small gripe, but it’s 2017. The issue is compounded by the fact that you need to enter your credit card information for every purchase. That meant buying a handful of games, which would take under a minute to do on PSN or Steam, took closer to ten minutes. I totally understand that much of Nintendo’s audience is very purposefully, children, and obviously there need to be safeguards in place. But if I’ve removed all forms of parental controls, because I am not a child and do not have one, then you need to cut me a break.
All in all I am absolutely in love with the device. The sensation of picking up the Switch and taking it with you is transformative in a way that is difficult to describe. Switch’s greatest boon is that it’s a handheld that is not just capable of playing massive AAA games, but that Nintendo is poised to commit to doing so. The Vita promised that experience, the issue being the disparity between its own horsepower and its home-bound brother, the PS3. In this comparison, the Switch is by nature, both of those devices.