Sunday, March 12, 2017

Nintendo Switch Review

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for a console review. Because nothing really came out this week that I cared about.

The Nintendo Switch is Nintendo's seventh, yes SEVENTH, home console to come out in a little over three decades. The Switch was hotly anticipated since mid 2016 when it was just known as the NX, and now that it's here, I thought it would be only fitting to put the console to the test. I wanted to try out everything that the Switch could do and render my initial thoughts about the system here.

Now keep in my that I say initial thoughts because actually reviewing a console a week after it launched is a pretty stupid practice. Most consoles are long term devices that improve with updates, new features, and better games as time goes on, so trying to give a definitive opinion about whether a console is good or not seems kind of moot. The PS4 of 2017 is definitely not the same beast as the PS4 of 2013, so why should I judge the Switch's future on what it is now.

Now granted, that's mostly referring to the hardware and eventual updates the system will get. The features built into the system, like controllers and the Switch's many ways to play, can all be fairly reviewed, so don't expect me to be wishy-washy about those features. Keep in mind that this review is from someone who's been a Nintendo fan for life, but is certainly not a Nintendo apologist. The Wii U was an undeniable failure despite how much I enjoyed certain games, their approach to Youtube monetization is downright gruesome, they suck at manufacturing products to drive up demand at the risk of annoying consumers, and their focus on innovating for nearly every single game can either result in fantastic experiences or dramatic failures. With all of that said, let's start actually talking about the Nintendo Switch and how annoyed I was with it right out of the box.

So, I am of the mindset that when I get a new console, I righteously expect all of the components included with the console to work. If I open my console's box and see that one of my controllers is just a crayon drawing of it, I'd be pretty upset. Well when I opened my Nintendo Switch for the first time and set it up, I discovered that my AC Adapter was not working. At all. I ran tests, tried different chargers and options, but the default AC Adapter that came with my console simply did not work. It was faulty. Now this wouldn't have been too big of a deal except that the Nintendo Switch is more inline with how a handheld console works, wherein it needs to be charged in order to work. Without the AC Adapter, no charging, which means no play.

Now this infuriated me to no end having this happen to me. I know that this wasn't at the fault of the console or its design, but the blame lies solely on Nintendo for shipping out a defunct charger for a system that requires a charge. Thankfully they were able to ship me a replacement charger free of charge, but the sting was hard to ignore.

During my downtime before I could actually play the damned thing, I spent some time becoming familiar with the console's design and controllers. The Switch, as one of my best friends put it, is just a tablet. It's a screen that has a lot of fidelity to it and can either support itself on a little stand, docked into a station that connects to the TV so you can play on a TV, or can be attached to the two Joy Con controllers (more on those in a bit) on each side so it resembles more of a Wii U Gamepad. In fact, with both Joy Con's connected to the Switch, the console is about the size of a Wii U Gamepad with all thing's considered. I love how compact the console is and the different ways to play. I primarily play off of the TV, but I love all three options of using the screen.

Docking the system may be my preferred way to play (as I assume is most people's), but I also wanted to try out the system in it's Tabletop mode and Portable mode. Now for the record, all tests were done with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as my litmus test, so my impressions are based on how that one game played in both modes. TV mode was normal, but I really enjoyed Portable mode a lot more than I thought I would. Putting both Joy Cons on the console feels natural and I can play the system wherever I wanted. I haven't played it in bed, but I've played it in the bathroom, on the couch, in a car, and I even tried it out in the woods just to see if it could. The Tabletop mode was fine, but I had some major problems with it. I was playing Tabletop mode on a simple coffee table no more than three feet away from me, and I had a terrible time actually reading the text that appeared on screen. It was microscopic at points trying to decipher how strong certain weapons were in Breath of the Wild or what certain items even did. So if I had to rank the three modes, they'd be TV, Portable, then Tabletop.

Moving on to the controllers, we have the Joy Cons, two devices that I have very mixed feelings on. I love the idea and the design of them, but even from the initial reveal I could anticipate some issues holding the damned things. Not because of how small they are, because they actually fit extremely well in my large hands, but because of the placement of the analog stick.

Just looking at the design above, each Joy Con is meant to mirror the other one for instant co-op action. Slide off the Joy Cons, hand one to a friend, and you can instantly get involved in some Mario Kart 8 action or some Snipperclips puzzle antics. The problem lies in deciding which controller to hand over. I thought that I would hate using the right Joy Con because of the central placement of the analog stick, but it's actually quite the opposite. The left Joy Con has been giving me the most issue with comfort.

The left Joy Con's design works well in theory, mirroring an NES gamepad almost to the letter, but the left analog stick is actually too far to the left for my liking. There's a little groove underneath the top parts of each Joy Con that is used for grip when playing on a plastic frame (it's a plastic piece of hardware that allows both Joy Cons to slide together and be played like a traditional Gamecube controller. It's pretty comfy overall, even though it takes a bit to get used to), but because the grooves just out so much, it makes it uncomfortable to hold the left Joy Con because your fingers are gripped around a tumor that juts out awkwardly.

If it sound like I'm being overtly critical of certain features, I'm not trying to be, but these are legitimate features that need to be discussed. We're going to have this console for several years now, and if there's a chance to redesign certain features or aspects in newer hardware iterations, it's better to be specific and on point that meandering and fine with whatever Nintendo throws at us. Also, on a side note, people have been experiencing connection issues with their left Joy Cons, forcing them to reset the connection constantly. I've never had that problem personally, but since that's apparently built into the design of the left Joy Con, why wasn't this tested out even more and further ironed out?

The Switch's interface is refreshingly simple and clean, making for a beautiful scene to look at. Your home page is literally the games you have on the console, a news feature, the eshop, settings, and the power button. That's all there is and it's so easy to follow that a monkey could do it. I know that a lot of people are annoyed that there's no Netflix, Hulu, or Youtube at launch, but again, most consoles didn't have these features at launch, so it's not a big deal. And besides, if you have those programs on every other device you own, who cares if it isn't on one?

I do miss the fact that there's no web browser. I never personally used it, but back in college the only way for me to log into my wifi is to go through a web browser, so that creates a bit of a pickle for people that could only connect to wifi via a browser. Oh, and even though this is a tiny issue, I miss hearing some happy Nintendo tunes whenever I boot up the eshop or main menu.

Turning on the console is remarkably simple. You just need to press the power button whenever you want, and you can put the console to sleep whenever you want. This is a feature that's been on the PS4 and Xbox One for years now, and it's nice to see Nintendo adopt this style of powering on and off. Also, since the Switch is a handheld, you just need to turn the system on and you can instantly hop right back into the game, no load time required.

Because the Switch's advertising has shown off a lot of its portability, I wanted to also test out the charge for each the console in Portable mode as well as the Joy Con controllers. Nintendo says that the Switch's battery can last anywhere between 2-6 hours depending on the game and the Joy Cons can last for over 20 hours on one charge. The Switch's battery life lines up with what Nintendo says it does, though if you're taking a guess for how long a game can run on the system before shutting down, shoot on the lower end of the spectrum. Breath of the Wild was able to run on portable mode from 30% to empty in a little over an hour, so that would put gameplay about 3 to 3 and a half hours. The Joy Cons though barely lost a charge. I didn't plug them into the system to charge for almost three days and close to 8 hours of total playtime and I don't think they even came close to losing 25% of their total power.

People have been fairly critical about the Switch's launch lineup saying that there weren't any games for release. The Switch had about 10 launch games as opposed to the PS4's launch having nearly two dozen games. I've said it before and I'll say it again, quantity does not matter in regards to quality. Looking at the PS4's launch lineup, the only games that I would call good would arguably be Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, and many gamers who picked up the PS4 would hardly call them great games (outside of Black Flag, cause that one's actually really cool).

The Switch's launch lineup is small, yes, but I would argue that it actually has quality titles. The three best games for the system on launch day were Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, a timed exclusive expansion of Shovel Knight, Snipperclips, a really fun and intuitive co-op puzzle game, and of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The first two games may definitely be subjective, but there's no denying the sheer appeal and quality of Breath of the Wild. I'm working on a lengthy review for it as we speak, and I can safely say that it justifies the purchase of a Switch just to play it... except that it also realized on the Wii U, negating a lot of that "need to own it" mentality.

So on the whole, I enjoy the Switch. Big shock, I know, but it's a genuinely compelling piece of hardware. It's a melding of a console and a handheld, which I adore, and I think that if Nintendo can get third party support for more than the first year of the console's life, I think that they could have a strong long term console. I would wait to pick up the console by say maybe the Holiday season, Summer earliest, but you'll want to definitely play a Switch at some point in your life.

Oh, and $80 for a new controller Nintendo? Highway robbery. Maybe $60, but definitely not more than a new game.

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