Review: Nintendo Switch

Normally I’m not a big fan of hardware reviews, especially early in a platform’s lifecycle, but there’s really no other time for a product when people are so on the fence about buying. As such, I generally review hardware after I’ve put a good amount of time in to where I feel comfortable giving some recommendations and long-term predictions for what the product is capable of being. Any revisions on the hardware will be reviewed separately. 

I got my Switch a couple of days ahead of the official launch and have been putting time in it daily ever since. I’ve tried to put the system through quite a few use cases to really gauge how well it performs in all the scenarios that Nintendo has promoted in their marketing and PR. Early on, the Switch has met or exceeded most expectations, but there are definitely some rough edges that will need some smoothing out in future revisions of the hardware. Ok, let’s dig into the details.

At first impression, it’s impossible to not be impressed by the Switch. It’s smaller than you’re expecting it to be, especially with the Joy-Cons detached. It looks like a small Android tablet or Kindle Fire, but it’s obviously sporting much heftier hardware under the hood for gaming. Attaching the Joy-Cons and figuring things out is easy. The software is simple, but very intuitive. Within a few minutes, you’re off and playing games or free to shop the eShop or start adding friends.

At launch, I started off with Zelda, Snipperclips, Bomberman, Fast RMX, and 1-2 Switch. I’ve since added Blaster Master, The Binding of Isaac, and some NeoGeo games. I’ll review software separately, but I have to say that the launch window software quality hinges heavily on two things: how much of a Zelda fan you are and are you going to be playing the Switch alone or with others.

If you’re a Zelda fan, you’ll be busy for quite some time, and the Switch is absolutely the ideal way to experience Zelda. Having a game of this scope on the go is impressive, and I’ve been able to sneak in gaming sessions during lunch breaks, while waiting for my car’s oil change, just before bed or just after waking up, while riding passenger in a car, and moments of downtime at home while on the couch or relaxing in the backyard. Playing on the go has been a true no compromise feeling when compared to playing the game on a full 70″ TV with the Switch in the dock. Having gone through the PSP and Vita generations, I always felt like their console-on-the-go aspirations fell short, despite being quality handhelds. With the Switch, everything works quite well on the go and you don’t feel like you’re having a lesser experience.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch

If you’re not into Zelda, you better enjoy multiplayer gaming. 1-2 Switch is a charming little game that has entertained me, my wife, my kids, my parents, my nephews, and friends. It’s probably a flash in the pan experience, but it works quite well as an introduction to the system and the Joy-Cons. Bomberman fills a similar role, and it’s definitely a good excuse to crowd around the Switch. Both games are pricey for what you get, but they’re good compliments to Zelda at launch. In my personal situation, I’ve been able to get a lot of mileage out of these games, but a single player probably won’t see much value here.

Beyond those games, indie titles and NeoGeo ports round out the launch well enough, but the launch window is nothing spectacular overall. There’s plenty more coming, but Zelda is the only real must-have for the console at this time. As far as lineups go, it’s better than average, but only slightly so.

The hardware itself feels like an odd mix of durable and cheap. I don’t quite know how to explain it. The console itself feels great. It’s solid, weighty without feeling heavy, and has a clean finish to it. The Joy-Cons are light, responsive (in my experience), and feel sturdy everywhere aside from the plastic slides that are used to connect to the console, wrist straps, or controller grips. The dock is extremely cheap, but it’s not tasked with doing much aside from acting as a passthrough to the TV and a charging hub for accessories. I wish I had more confidence in the long-term durability of those Joy-Con connection slide points, but they feel like the one area that’s less than premium on the Switch.

The screen on the Switch is actually plastic, rather than glass. While we’re getting used to glass on electronics, I understand why Nintendo went with plastic. Scratches are better than shattered screens. By now most of us have felt the pain of a shattered smartphone screen, and plastic will remove that threat…but it comes at a cost. Scratches. I would recommend picking up a tempered glass screen protector and putting it on your Switch from day one. It’s a very inexpensive piece of mind. It’s hard to say whether glass would have been a better screen option or not, but do yourself a favor and pick up a good protector.

The rest of the hardware praises and complaints are a little more straightforward. The battery life is impressive. While it won’t last as long as your 3DS, it will most likely outpace your Vita under nearly every use case scenario. Impressive battery life, considering that this thing is sitting between a Wii U and Xbox One in regards to system capability. While playing Zelda, I’ve been averaging 5-7 hours between charges, which is more than enough for most on-the-go gaming sessions. Charging via USB-C is easy, and I’ve been getting extra charge with an Anker charging pack.

The screen quality is good, but not spectacular. The screen is comparable to something you would find on a higher end cell phone, but not on the top line products. Comparing to my Pixel phone or against my wife’s Samsung Galaxy, I notice that the Switch is a bit behind in regards to black level performance, sharpness, and resolution (900p maximum). The Nintendo Switch has a good screen, and they hit the sweet spot between affordable and performance. Later models may introduce improvements in the display, but the current screen is no slouch.

If you are playing a lot on the go, and you prefer to use the built-in kickstand, prepare for a handful of frustrations. First of all, the kickstand is flimsy. I worry about it breaking all the time. Not only that, it’s not centered and it’s pretty easy for the Switch to topple with a fairly light bump. Nintendo doesn’t expect you to be using the kickstand much or they grossly misunderstood the value of a more stable solution. To compound the kickstand irritation, it’s impossible to plug in your charger due to its position on the bottom of the console. Simply put, you’ll need to buy a 3rd party stand that will offer a better experience if you plan on propping your Switch up often. Several accessory makers are already stepping up to address this need.


Neon Joy-Cons in a charging grip.

Outside of gaming, the Switch currently offers no other types of user experience beyond Mii making. Apps are coming, but there’s no definitive timeline for when we’ll see YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc.. The Internet browser is also coming, and it should be very similar to what the Wii U had (which is often praised as best among console browsers). It would be nice to have these available now, but they’re coming.

“…but they’re coming” is a bit of a refrain that you hear often about the Switch. The apps are coming, Mario is coming, the bigger 3rd party games are coming, Nintendo’s paid online service is coming, and so on. While I’m very happy with the Switch so far, it does feel like it’s a couple of months premature. While the price is reasonable, it’s tough to say that there’s enough selling points right now to camp out and fight to get a Switch…but those reasons are coming. I’m happy that I was in on day one, but if you’re struggling to get your hands on a Switch or you’re on the fence about whether or not you want one right now, it’s totally fine to wait. By all indications the Switch is going to do well, and by the holiday season there should be a fairly good lineup of games available. If you happen to find a Switch, it’s worth picking up, but unless you absolutely have to play Zelda on the go, waiting isn’t going to kill you. With a spring launch, there will be some deals to be had by the holiday season on software and possibly on the console itself.

There are plenty of accessories available for the Switch. The only must-haves out there are the Pro Controller (amazingly comfortable), a good carrying case, and a screen protector. The Joy-Con charging grip is a nice idea, but the battery life on the Joy-Cons outpaces the console itself, so I don’t see a good reason to get that unless you do TONS of multiplayer gaming. A stand, as mentioned earlier, is a must if you are planning on playing on a tabletop rather than holding the Switch on the go. Most other accessories at this time are fairly disposable or of little use-case value.


The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

Bottom line…the Switch is a great little gaming device. It’s not ever going to stand up against the PS4 or Xbox One in regards to performance, but it will be fully capable of providing memorable and special gaming experiences. Nintendo will find many ways to use the hardware to its fullest, and the Switch should prove a better overall platform than the Wii U or the Wii for more standard gaming experiences while still allowing for all kinds of wacky and imaginative experiences. I’m really excited to see what the future brings for the Switch, which at this time is full of potential.

I would recommend picking up the Switch today if:

  • You MUST play Zelda now and in its best offering
  • You play on the go often
  • You’re ok putting up with some design quirks that might get improved in hardware revisions
  • You play local multiplayer often and don’t mind paying a premium on launch software
  • You often fight for TV usage between gaming and other activities in the home

I would recommend waiting a few months on the Switch if:

  • You’re not interested in Zelda or you’re fine waiting to play it for a while
  • You aren’t particularly interested in on-the-go gaming
  • You’re more focused on single player games

For the hardcore Nintendo gamer, the Switch is going to be a no-brainer. Don’t sweat it if you’re in that camp. We already know that Super Mario Odyssey is coming soon along with Nintendo’s other core franchises. Rumors of an updated Super Smash Bros. Brawl seem likely for the holiday season or for early next year. The games will be there, and the hardware will offer a zero compromise way to play them. 3rd party support will probably be the typical rollercoaster ride that we’ve come to expect with Nintendo, but indie support should be vastly improved. The Nintendo Switch will not disappoint the gamer that identifies as  Nintendo fan. If you’re in that camp, pick one up now and enjoy the ride as it evolves.