The Nintendo Switch is designed as a hybrid system that can be taken on the road or played at home. I got to go hands-on with the upcoming console at a preview event in January, so I can say with certainty that there are pros and cons about each playstyle. Despite some minor pitfalls, the Nintendo Switch is an overwhelmingly positive experience, and that remains true whether it’s used on the go or in front of your TV.
The Nintendo Switch is what the Wii U should have been: a home console with range. The new hybrid system connects to your TV like any other console, but it also comes with a separate screen that can be taken off the dock and brought anywhere, which is exciting when you consider upcoming titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Stardew Valley. The 720p, 6.5-inch screen is vibrant and clear, at once large enough to facilitate complex gameplay and small enough to travel. It can also be charged anywhere there is an outlet with a standard USB-C cable, and not just on the dock.
One of the only issues with the handheld mode is the battery life. According to Nintendo, it will last 2-6 hours depending on the game, but they remain tight-lipped about how much power each game will use. It’s confusing and somewhat troubling, but not significant enough to render the configuration useless. You can play The Legend of Zelda as a handheld title and that’s pretty cool.
Personally, I see this as my go-to playstyle. As someone who uses public transit every day, handheld mode feels like the most convenient way to game.
For those who don’t feel like holding the system or want to share the experience with other players, the table top mode is the optimal configuration. The screen comes with a kickstand that turns the Switch into a mini-TV. The console can be used for media apps as well as games, though many of the biggest ones – including Netflix – will not be available at launch.
The only issue that arises with the mini-TV is that it is, well, small. A game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is better with a larger screen when playing multiplayer because it can become difficult to see what is coming up on the track. It isn’t a problem with every game – Snipperclips, a cooperative multiplayer puzzle game, is slower paced and gives both players time to focus – but some of Nintendo’s biggest titles will suffer with that playstyle. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how a game like Super Smash Bros. looks when playing multiplayer in table top mode.
The setup is ultimately most useful for those with a lot of downtime away from home. I probably won’t use table top mode often, but it’s a nice feature to have just in case.
Of course, Nintendo is still in the business of making home consoles, and the thrill of playing on a large screen while relaxing on a couch is not worth sacrificing for any reason. Once the Switch is inserted into the dock, the visuals automatically appear on the TV and are converted to 1080p. While the dock is needed to play the Switch on a bigger screen, additional units can be purchased separately for those with multiple TVs.
There is really no downside to playing the Switch in TV mode. Some may argue that in a perfect world, a dock would not be necessary, and that the system could connect directly to the TV through an HDMI cable, but that fantasy is technologically impractical. It would result in a larger, heavier, and pricier system, which people would likely complain about as well.
The fact that I can take my games on the go and continue my experience at home is an enticing prospect that makes me want to invest in the system. If a game like NBA 2K has a version on the Switch, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that versatility?
The only real downside with the Switch is that the controllers are too small. The Switch comes with two Joy-Cons, which are detachable units that can be used separately or connect to the Switch or a Grip frame that turns them into a regular controller. Unfortunately, none of the three play styles feel comfortable. It’s easy to hit the shoulder buttons accidentally, yet difficult to press them when desired. For those with slightly larger than average hands (myself included), neither the Pro controller (which is also too small) nor the Joy-Cons are ideal.
Fortunately, there is much more to the console than its controllers. Although it will be a factor if you’re considering a Switch, there are a lot fewer problems than there were with the Wii U. The Switch gives you more choice about how and where you can play, fulfilling the early promise that makes the Nintendo Switch unique.
The minor issues with the Switch’s three modes do not overshadow their positive aspects. I can honestly see myself – and many others – playing the system on the bus or the train, at the coffee shop, or on a comfy couch with friends and family. Nintendo’s latest console can be played anywhere, and that makes it adaptable to any gamer’s lifestyle.
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