Nintendo Switch Hands-On: The Hardware
There’s a corridor just before the main hall of the London Switch event, lined with all of Nintendo’s consoles in glass cases. At first you feel humbled looking at the outlandish, unlikely designs that would cut the shape of Nintendo’s approach over the years as it cut the shape of gaming. You feel like you’re in a shrine, a hall of greats like retired jerseys hanging in the rafters. It’s only when you get to the end, to the last case, that you’re reminded of what else this corridor is: a tomb. At the very end lies the Wii U, and as I paused and stared at it, I became aware of the pressure that the Kyoto giant is under. Nintendo has responded to this pressure with a hybrid: a console that combines portable and handheld gaming.
You will feel every cent of your $300 when you hold the Switch in your hands. There is a reassuring weight to it; it feels like you’re holding something premium. That’s because you are. From the soft, firm rubber of the analogue sticks, to the weighty plastic of the body, it feels good. It’s been crafted with precision and care, and the satisfying click of the face buttons is a delight. These things are small but they make all the difference.
Seeing Breath of the Wild on that portable screen was a thing of beauty. It reminded me of the ‘wow’ moment you had when you first held a PSP; that screen shouted at you it was so pretty. The Switch recaptures that feeling, and watching something like Zelda on it is a joy. With a spacious 6.2″ screen and a resolution of 1280×720, it’s vibrant, sharp, and makes you want to bring it right up to your face to study every little detail. It’s an ideal size for a portable: just big enough so you can appreciate the power under its hood, but small enough not to inconvenience you when you’re taking it out and about.
But of course, we’re not just talking about a handheld. Slide the Switch into its dock and the picture snaps to the TV. It’s one of those things where you see the advertisement and can’t help but wonder if there is a catch. There isn’t one, it really is effortless. As soon as it slides into place the transition from handheld to home console is instant.
When playing on the TV you can use either both Joy-Con controllers – one in each hand – or attach them to the Joy-Con Grip, which gives you a more classic gamepad form factor. Neither is ideal. Holding one in each hand is similar to the Wii Remote and Nunchuk-controller; it’s fine and actually the Joy-Cons feel really nice and snug in the hand. It doesn’t beat out a ‘proper’ controller though. Annoyingly, the Joy-Con Grip doesn’t quite deliver on that front. It brings everything too close together; it’s as if you squashed a Dreamcast controller inward, and after just a couple of races on Fast RMX, my hands felt achy.
Remember when I said how brilliant the Switch feels to hold in your hands? Well, that’s true, but it doesn’t feel brilliant to actually play. I found it uncomfortable to play Zelda while on portable. Your hands are an odd distance apart, and it felt slightly awkward getting my thumbs hopping intuitively from stick to button. The little Joy-Cons are so compact that I had to fiddle about to reach the inner shoulder buttons. With odd little quirks, you can usually just get used to a strange controller – anyone who had a GameCube can attest to that – but when your hands feel cramped after only a few minutes’ exploring Hyrule Field you might be in trouble. As much as I love holding Hyrule in my hands and scrutinizing each blade of grass inches from my face, my hands were relieved when I slid it back home and picked up the Pro controller.
Unfortunately, the Pro controller feels essential right now. I say unfortunately because it costs $70. It’s undoubtedly the best option if you’re at home and playing for extended periods of time. It’s a great chunk of hardware actually, with very pleasing Genesis-esque, chunky buttons that depress very nicely with a resounding click. It’s reminiscent of the Wii U Pro controller, only it feels more satisfying and pleasingly tactile. But having dropped $300, it’s a gut-punch to have to potentially lump on another $70.
It could well be that with some time spent getting used to the switch in my hands I could adjust and get on with it better. First impressions leave me shaky – and my hands achy – but it’s less of a deal-breaker than it would be if I was solely writing about a handheld. Anyway, let’s talk about them games.