So, I gone done Switched in the end, Dear Reader. Despite having done a substantial pros and cons list, thought aloud about purchasing a Gaming Device with not insignificant limitations, and having tried to rationally assess its value to my Gaming life, it was a complete lack of self-control what done for me in the end. Even worse, after making a few in-shop enquiries – and upon finding the vanilla Switch was still quite hard to get a hold of – I panicked a bit, and allowed myself to be talked into buying a big old Switch Bundle, meaning much of the cost/benefit analysis I had done was considerably out of whack as I gleefully handed over considerably more cash-money for my shiny new toy.
And, so far…….I’m not yet entirely convinced. After all the initial stroking and saying “my precious” a lot, I’ve not really become besotted with my Switch in the way I was expecting to, and certainly not in the way I was when I first got my PS4, Wii U, or PS Vita even. That’s weird, and slightly worrying, not least because it is a shiny new toy and, generally speaking, I’m a sucker for any new toy – particularly the shiny kind. Admittedly, some of my ambivalence likely stems from paying over the odds for my Switch (as a Yorkshireman, I like to get value for money), and some of it is a product of the Switch’s lack of games (a console’s only as strong as its line-up afterall), but even so, I’m still a long way from wholeheartedly loving the Switch in the way I did the Wii U.
Worried that I might be dead inside, or even that I’ve somehow become a proper adult by accident, I’ve been trying to understand why there hasn’t been the usual level of new-toy infatuation. I mean, on paper this should be a no-brainer – Nintendo + Console/Handheld hybrid + a new Zelda Game – but, in reality, that combo’s not hitting me in the tingly bits as much as I’d expected it to. After thinking about it for a bit, I realised that the Switch is, in many ways, giving with one hand whilst taking with the other; or, put another way, a lot of the stuff that makes the Switch unique and appealing is also often a reason it can all be a bit “meh” at other times, thus making the Switch a weird, confusing beast to evaluate. Sometimes the exact feature I think is as cool as fuck one minute, for example, becomes the very reason I’m finding myself distinctly underwhelmed the next and, as such, it’s genuinely quite hard for me to objectively – and consistently – assess my initial feelings about the damn thing. As you can imagine, not having a clue what the fuck I’m on about doesn’t bode particularly well for this piece either but a) them’s the breaks and b) I’ma do my best if you’ll be kind enough to bear with me.
The Good Stuff
Given the confusing dichotomy of the Switchey shenanigans, let’s start with the relatively straight forward area of the shit what I be actually liking about the Switch. The first thing that struck me as a Switch owner was how pretty and well-made the Switch was (see again; the stroking and whatnot). Unboxing my Switch, I was immediately taken with its design, and particularly with how solid and sleek everything seemed. The Switch is about a million miles away from the bloated, plastic-ey feel of the Wii U controller (thank fuck), and it’s of a decidedly more elegant design than were previous Nintendo handhelds, I think. In terms of aesthetics and build quality, the Wii U (and the DS family) looked and felt like they could’ve come into your possession via the medium of a Happy Meal, but the Switch is an altogether more refined and mature piece of kit with smooth finishes, clean lines, and a pleasingly robust and high-quality feel to it. It doesn’t quite reach the level of a high-end tablet, but it’s not that far off, and without the joy cons attached it’s certainly possible to mistake it for a half-decent, albeit slightly chunky tablet. Even the joy cons themselves are reasonably fancy, and whilst they are plastic, they certainly don’t feel cheap and they’re well designed and good looking in their own right (I opted for the grey ones), with a decent finish and sturdy, robust buttons and thumbsticks.
More importantly, when the joycons are attached to the screen, the whole package works well together aesthetically, it’s comfortable to hold and – even more importantly – it’s comfortable to play, and even after extended sessions I’ve found no ill effects. I’ve got hilariously fat, stumpy fingers (apparently), but I’ve yet to suffer from cramps, strains or show even a hint of developing crab claw so, all things considered, I’ma call that a win.
Once you turn the Switch on, this sense of maturity and finish extends to the console’s UI too, and operating the Switch is a calmer, more sophisticated affair. Gone is the cartoon-ey, jibbering scrum of Miis and in-your-face boingey-boingey sounds of the Wii U, and in their place you’ll find instead an altogether more restrained and relaxed system of menus and operation, with yet more clean lines and an aesthetically appealing interface. It’s a seemingly small thing, for sure, but I, for one, think it’s quite nice to be able to turn a console on and not be bombarded with Nickelodeon-on-smack levels of audio and visual stimuli, particularly if you are starting it up on, say, public transport or, like, in the toilets at work. It also just feels a whole lot more intuitive too, and more focused on quick, no fuss operation rather than lobbing every available diversion at you in the hope that something sticks. That might change once I’ve signed into my Nintendo doodah, but even if it does, I’m still expecting it all to be considerably more relaxed and restrained.
Anyway, so far so good, right!?
The Not So Good Stuff
Things got slightly more complicated when I started playing actual games though. Again, even though the hybrid thing really appealed to me in theory – and even though all the switching did have me giggling like a kid on Christmas morning for a short while initially – what I considered the best of both worlds one minute could easily be seen as kind of regressive the next. Popping Breath of the Wild between the TV and handheld modes was undeniably cool, as was having the option to continue Link’s adventures in bed or, erm….whilst I was using the facilities. Indeed, this maximisation of Gaming time was something I’d been very keen on from the get-go, and the Switch certainly opens up plenty of opportunities for that. Grabbing the odd half an hour of BotW when I found myself at a loose end was great – time I’d probably have spent just dicking around on Candy Crush pre-Switch – as was the flexibility of not being tied to a TV screen. This was of particular import given I was 6000 miles away from my own Gaming set-up, and having to grab Gaming time inbetween other commitments, so the versatility of the Switch was, for the most part, a definite bonus.
And yet…..at the same time, I found that versatility came at a price. Or prices, I guess. Even though the Switch’s games look pretty good in handheld mode, they’re not what I’d call mind-blowing, and it was always obvious that a) I was playing a handheld and, b) that Nintendo hadn’t completely managed to overcome all the limitations of handheld devices. Don’t get me wrong, Breath of the Wild was certainly up there with the very best of my handheld experiences in terms of size, graphics and ambition, but at no point did I ever really get the feeling handheld Gaming had made a huge, generational leap in the way I’d felt first playing the Vita, for example, where everything felt hugely more advanced than my PSP or original DS. For sure, some of the feeling-like-a-handheld stuff was physical: the tiny screen, and the weird tendency I have to try and get a better camera angle in-game by, like, physically moving the whole console and not just the thumbstick etc. Given the Handheld/Console hybrid thing though, that should’ve all easily been solved by playing the Switch on a TV, right!?
Well, sort of. Obviously I didn’t move the telly around in an attempt to change the viewing angle, so it solved that particular issue, but even on a proper TV, the Switch still seemed to offer a weirdly cramped experience. Moreover, it didn’t look particularly good – and even though the Switch claims to output at 1080p in glorious HD, everything just seemed a little…..I dunno….flat and patchy, I guess. It could be the TV I began playing it on, admittedly (my Mum’s not a big believer in the benefits/value of huge, high-spec TVs because of, like, kids in Africa or something) but honestly, it really felt like the Switch had stepped backwards. A full five years after the Wii U launched, the Switch seems to be no better in terms of graphics and display, and it’s downright fucking atrocious compared to my PS4 Pro, for example. With in-game lettering I could see pixels. Fucking pixels. Like how I could with the writing on my Master System. Because this is Nintendo, most of the Games looked bright and colourful, continuing Nintendo’s heritage of squeezing the best out of a system that seems weak on paper – but on the Switch it just seemed more obvious that this was a kind of sleight of hand, really. Breath of the Wild’s more open-world, less cartoon-ey approach, for example, seemed merely to emphasise that the bright, cartoon-ey elements of the other games (Splatoon and ARMS in particular) were likely covering a multitude of Graphical/Power/Upscaling sins. Again, nothing’s super terrible (apart from writing where you can see fucking pixels, obviously), but with the Switch arriving into (and competing with) my current Gaming Ecosystem, I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by a device that’s in many ways inferior to ones I already own, and have done for some time.
Which brings me back to the Hybrid thing – because certainly that mitigates the above somewhat. The Switch is, for the most part, a much better handheld than my PS Vita, so as a whole package averaged out that, plus the inherent novelty of the hybrid-ing that the Switch brings to the table, means I’m still getting something for the cash-money I just threw at the Dude (and Nintendo) in the store. Afterall, I bought the Wii U long after my PS4 and Xbox One, and whilst it was vastly inferior to those (in terms of power, graphics etc), the quirky charm of the console and Nintendo’s unique approach to Gaming created a definite niche for themselves – so there’s every reason to think the Switch will too, right!?
Possibly. Probably. But a big part of the reason I can’t say for sure right now brings me to the current roster of Games which is, if we’re being honest, pretty piss-poor. Breath of the Wild is, in many ways, a great launch title for the Switch (demonstrating, amongst other things, Nintendo’s ambition and attempts to redefine Handheld Gaming) but, on the other hand, it’s also a slow-burner so it’s not grabbing me and, consequently, I’m not totally buying into the “play anytime, anywhere” thing as much as I’d hoped. Splatoon 2 and ARMS are great Nintendo titles, for sure, but they’re Short-burst type Games too, so whilst they are hitting the “play anywhere, anytime” sweetspot to a point, they’re not really hitting the “lose yourself for an entire plane journey” one. In short, it’s all adding to the general feeling of “meh”; or, to put it slightly more eloquently, even though the games are decent enough in their own right, they’re not yet enough to convince me that the Switch was a must-buy. Had I fallen in love with Breath of the Wild in the same way everyone else seemed to I’m sure that would have fundamentally changed that perception (more on that in another post, probably), and future Game releases may retrospectively alter it too but, for now, I’m decidedly underwhelmed with the whole Switch package at this early stage. On the more positive side, the battery life isn’t as much of a problem as I feared it would be – it tends to be on the upper side of the (hilariously vague) 2-6 hours estimates, and I’ve bought a power bank for longer journeys – so when Nintendo do release a Game that truly grabs me, I’m all set for those extended sessions on a plane/hiding in toilets.
The Possibly Good Stuff/Conclusion
Despite my general ambivalence, I can still just about convince myself that the Switch will establish itself in my Gaming life, given time. Obviously a few great Nintendo releases will make all the difference but, moreover, I can see the potential of what Nintendo were aiming for with the Switch and how I might come to appreciate that more and more. The hybrid thing might not be a true game changer, but it gives me options that are slightly better than exist with my current Vita and Remote play ones, and even the relative size and weight of the Switch’s passthrough box means I can take that with me when I travel, and having a genuinely portable console is an undeniably cool thing. This in turn highlights the general utility of all the “clicking in and out” engineering of the Switch’s controller set-up, and what could be seen as gimmicky is elevated to genuinely useful and smart when it means I can get a decent approximation of console Gaming on my longer trips to the UK. I mean, anything that actively mitigates Console Gaming withdrawal is objectively a good thing, right!? Whilst I would’ve loved to have been blown away by the Switch, and for this piece to have been an excited paean to Nintendo’s newest, paradigm shifting device, this is a relationship that’s going to take time to develop, I think. For sure, the Switch hasn’t wowed me, and many of my first impressions are decidedly meh, but there have been little glimpses of brilliance too; wee snapshots of how and why I’ll eventually come to really love the little bugger.
Maybe I have accidentally become an adult, but the flip-side of losing the new toy infatuation thing may well be that the Switch and I develop a more solid, long-lasting relationship built on something a bit more substantial than gimmicks and a short-lived wow factor. And that, in and of itself, is an important step for Nintendo given they’ve often wowed people with gimmicks and doodahs that’ve fizzled out (or been entirely abandoned) over time so, actually, in a weird way, my lack of early days excitement might just be the most exciting and innovative thing about the Switch.
Or something. Look, I did say it was all a bit confusing, innit!?
TL; DR – The Switch is all a bit confusing, innit!?