We’ve been hearing over and over for months now: “Is the Nintendo Switch worth buying? Is it any good?”
Coming off the back of the failure of the Wii U, Nintendo has taken all they’ve learned over the years as the king of the handheld market and rolled that knowledge into their new console – the Switch. By now you’ve seen it in action and know the basics – it’s a home console that doubles as a portable system designed for both social gaming and extended solo sessions.
The unique nature of the Nintendo Switch means it’s going to raise some questions about who it’s aimed at and what it’s capable of. When compared to the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, the Nintendo Switch is a little underpowered, and when stacked up against the PlayStation 4 Pro it’s even worse. By the time Project Scorpio hits (Microsoft’s Xbox One update) the Switch will be firmly in third place in terms of power. But does that even matter? It’s hard to say – power alone doesn’t win console wars, but it’s not without its benefits.
The truth is Nintendo isn’t in this race to be the most powerful console, they don’t even seem to be in it to win outright. The Nintendo Switch is being positioned as the system for gamers who want to play console quality titles wherever they go. It’s clear there’s been some compromises made along the way to get the Switch to market, but if Nintendo’s gamble pays off they could carve out a sizable niche for themselves. And it’s one that they could potentially have all to themselves.
Having spent some time with the console since it came out last week, as well playing a few upcoming games at Nintendo’s launch party in Los Angeles, I’ve drawn my own conclusions about the system including a list of things I like about it and a few issues I have with the console, as well as some thoughts about Nintendo’s overall plan for it.
Below are the answers to the most common questions gamers have about Nintendo’s comeback console, including the biggest question of all – is the Nintendo Switch worth buying?
First of all – is the Nintendo Switch worth buying right now?
Honestly, it’s hard to say, perhaps harder than most console launches. If you don’t own a Wii U and you’re dying to play The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild, the Switch is worth buying but only if you’re prepared to wait for a while for new games. If you’d rather hold off until Mario Odyssey comes out later this year (we hope) or a price drop that’s totally understandable too as $300 is a lot for a console when compared to the cheaper Xbox One and PlayStation 4 bundles out there right now.
Buying a new console at launch is always a gamble, and the Nintendo Switch is no exception. My instincts tell me gamers should wait until later in the year, at least until after E3 2017 in June to see what else Nintendo has in store for the console. But I also know how hard that wait can be.
Not to go off on too deep of a tangent, but seriously if you don’t own a Wii U I’d say that Breath of the Wild is borderline worth buying a system for. It’s the best Zelda game since Ocarina of Time. So the flipside of that is if you do own a Wii U, get Breath of the Wild and sit on the sidelines for a bit longer.
What is it like playing with one Joy-Con?
Playing with a Joy-Con is surprisingly fun. At first, they look too small to be useful, but overall I found playing the Nintendo Switch using a single Joy-Con not only fun but a nice throwback to when multiplayer gaming was all about playing together in the same room.
Of course, the Switch isn’t the only console offering single screen multiplayer, in fact, there are quite a few smaller multiplayer games that let you play with friends on the couch these days. But the advantage of the Switch is having multiplayer on the go. Maybe you’re at a friends house or just stuck on a long haul flight – snap off the Joy-Cons and get a few rounds of Mario Kart 8 in. The social aspect of the Switch is going to be Nintendo’s ace in the hole.
What is the battery life like?
The big question for any portable system is always ‘how long can I play before it dies?’. Concrete numbers are hard to come by, but the consensus is that a game like Breath of the Wild will last about three hours. A 2D platformer like Shovel Knight has reportedly lasted for up to eight hours.
The two Joy-Con controllers each last around 20 hours when detached from the screen. The Switch console takes about three hours to fully charge. Thankfully the Switch uses USB-C to charge, which means you can forget all those stupid proprietary cables.
What ports does the Switch have?
The Nintendo Switch (outside of the dock) has a USB-C connector for charging on the bottom, a 3.5mm headphone jack for audio, a microSD card slot to expand the internal storage (it starts with 32GB, but with only 27GB usable), and a slot for Switch game cartridges. The console also has 802.11ac WiFi and uses Bluetooth to talk to the Joy-Con – but you can’t use other Bluetooth devices with the Switch so forget about using wireless headphones.
The Nintendo Switch dock has an HDMI connection, three USB ports (one is USB 3.0, the other two are USB 2.0), and an AC adapter port to charge the docked console. If you want to use an ethernet cable you’ll have to buy a separate USB adapter.
Do I need a screen protector? What are the chances I’ll get scratches on the Switch screen?
One of the ways Nintendo kept the cost of Switch down was by going for a plastic screen instead of glass. In fact, there’s already reports of the screen getting scratched from going in and out of the docking station.
So the answer is a definitive YES – get a screen protector! Frankly, the lack of a scratch-resistant glass screen (like most smartphones have) feels like a huge oversight. In fact, if you don’t want a screen protector, look into ways to put something soft between the Switch screen and the dock.
Is the screen any good?
Screen care issues aside, the 6.5-inch display runs at 720p and looks great – much better than what Nintendo fans are used to from the Wii U. It does run at a lower resolution than say most smartphones, so it’s going to lose in side-by-side comparisons, but the image quality is right where it needs to be for a $300 system. Bright, colorful, and usable outside in indirect sunlight (for the most part at least).
Does it have an online service like Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus?
Yes, but it’s limited. For now, playing online with other people is free, but it will soon cost around $30 a year (pricing isn’t final yet). For that you get online gaming and a free classic Nintendo game (i.e. Super Nintendo or NES games) every month – but you don’t get to keep it. Basically, they loan you a game and you can choose to buy it. It’s pretty barebones for a yearly fee.
To chat with friends you’ll need to use a Nintendo app on your smartphone, the console itself has a headphone jack but you can’t use a headset with a microphone on it. Why? Ask Nintendo. The same app will handle most of your online needs (such as sending game invites). It’s a backward move for sure, but this is Nintendo so it’s one small step at a time.
Nintendo said they have third-party support for the Switch, so that’s an improvement over the Wii U… right?
The truth is Nintendo have bragged about third-party support since the GameCube era, and ultimately failed to deliver. Let’s go back just one generation to the Wii U reveal in 2011 at E3. Reggie Fils-Aimé, CEO of Nintendo of America, was on stage promising support from Activision, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., EA and SEGA for the Wii U.
Years later we got a handful of good third-party games, but also a ton of bad ports and low-quality kids games. Meanwhile, big franchises like Battlefield, Grand Theft Auto, and Metal Gear Solid (to name just a few) skipped over the Wii U.
Take the image above – on the left is the third-party support Nintendo promised for the Wii U in 2011, the right is what they’re promising for the Switch. On the surface, it looks like an improvement, but you may notice the Switch list seems a little padded out. For example, Havok, fmod, Criware, Unity, and Autodesk are not developers – they’re engine and developer tool makers. They don’t make games, they make the things that people use to make games.
John Riccitiello, former CEO of EA in 2011, took to the stage for the Wii U launch and declared EA’s full support for what Nintendo was doing. Six years later they released a total of four Wii U games.
My point is this – I can’t predict the future, but going off Nintendo’s track record I’d say you shouldn’t expect games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Prey to show up on the Switch. We all saw that big list of third-party developers pledging their support to the Switch, but every gamer should remain skeptical at this point.
So, is the Nintendo Switch worth buying? The answer is yes for games like Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2; the type of games that Nintendo does best, not for the big-budget third-party games. When Nintendo come out swinging they usually hit a homerun, and I have zero doubt they’re going to make amazing games for the Switch. But don’t be mad if Grand Theft Auto VI or Fallout 5 don’t make it to the Switch.
Are there any other games worth considering?
Scheduled to come out in the first half of 2017, I’ve spent some time playing Arms and have really enjoyed it. It’s like boxing in Wii Sports, but with robots. The one-to-one motion and the ease of moving around the field with the Joy-Cons were really impressive.
There’s also Snipperclips, which is a great little puzzle game you can pick up right now and play with a friend using one Joy-Con each. Lastly, there’s an updated version coming to the Switch later in the year for those who haven’t played Skyrim yet.
More games will come in time, but it does look like 2017 could be a slow year for Switch owners, so be prepared.
What does the future hold for the Switch?
The Switch is both the smartest and the riskiest move Nintendo has made in quite some time. Smart because they needed to differentiate themselves from their competition and have undoubtedly done that. Risky because they’re not the best home console on the market and are competing against a sea of people already locked into playing games on their smartphones.
For gamers it’s a no-brainer – a real handheld is always better for games than a smartphone, but the Switch has to convince more than just Nintendo loyalists to make up for the ground they lost during the Wii U era.
All signs point to the Switch servicing a niche audience, but really I think most gamers would be okay with that. I mean the GameCube wasn’t exactly a runaway success, but it also gave us Wind Waker, Smash Bros. Melee, Metroid Prime, and Super Mario Sunshine.
Whatever the case may be it’s exciting to see Nintendo go all in on a console again. The Switch is not a half-step like some of their previous consoles, it’s them willfully eating into their handheld market and changing the home console strategy in the hopes of stay relevant.
The Switch has a big burden to bear and could determine the future of the company. If this ship sinks there’s every chance Nintendo could leave the hardware market completely. But with a legacy stretching back over 100 years, it’s hard to not want to see Nintendo come out on top or at least put up a good fight.
The real question is this – how many people are willing to accept the trade-off of raw power for a new way to play games? How many of them will think the Nintendo Switch is worth buying? Only time will tell if consumers are ready to make the Switch.
Did you buy a Switch at launch? Or are you planning on getting one down the line? Let us know in the comments below!