Nintendo Switch review
After months of waiting, the Nintendo Switch is finally here, boasting a hybrid design that’ll provide both console gaming and on-the-go gaming with a single console. Is Nintendo’s upcoming console something you should get excited about, or is it full of gimmicks? We've spent a couple of weeks playing with the Switch to find out. Here’s our Nintendo Switch review.
Nintendo Switch: UK pricing and release date
The Nintendo Switch has finally arrived, with a price of £279, and is available to order now from the official store and retailers such as Amazon, Gamestop and GAME. It's $299 in the US and although there seems to be a fair bit of negative reaction to the price, we don't think it's too bad - especially if you consider that the console could potentially replace your 3DS. Also, let's not forget that Brexit has been driving the price of many tech products up so this might also be a factor in the UK pricing.
For £279 you get the main console, the dock, a pair of Joy-Con controllers, a Joy-Con grip (to connect the controllers together), wrist straps, an HDMI cable, and AC adapter.
What is a little bit disappointing is the price of accessories, because for starters an extra pair of Joy-Con controllers will set you back a whopping £74. One on its own is £43 and you'll need to buy wrist straps at £4.99 each to avoid your TV getting smashing from an airborne accident. An extra charging grip for the Joy-Cons is £25, while the Nintendo Switch Pro controller is priced at £65.
Nintendo Switch: Design and build
The new Nintendo is like no other console we've seen before and is a little hard to describe in terms of design. That's because the Switch has been designed so you can use it in various different ways, not just as a box that plugs into your TV and stays put.
The main part of the device is essentially a tablet, so requires docking to turn into a console you play on the TV, hence the 'TV mode'. Other modes are 'Handheld' and 'Tabletop' - see below. Moving the tablet in and out of the dock is easy, and you can even do it mid-game without pausing if you wish - it only takes the console a second to switch the display between the tablet screen and the TV.
With the console docked you can use the Joy-Con controllers attached to the grip as a sort of make-shift traditional controller, or use one each for some multiplayer games. You can also use the Pro controller, of course.
Undock the Switch from the, er, dock without attaching the Joy-Con controllers and you've got Tabletop mode. Thanks to a kickstand on the back of the device, you can easily set it down on any flat surface and get gaming.
This is pretty cool and not something you can do with the PS4 or Xbox One. However, it is a little fiddly in the sense that you're playing games on a relatively small 6.2in screen so you can't sit too far away and play comfortably.
It's also fiddly because the Joy-Con controllers are very small. Holding them sideways to play is awkward because of the size and the way the joystick and buttons are so close together. With one being Left and the other Right, you don’t get the same experience on each using them this way due to necessary button placement.
The kickstand itself also feels light and flimsy - it’s solid enough for a table, but we’d be worried about using it during a bumpy drive or turbulent flight, for example. Thankfully, one nice touch is that it’s designed to detach and re-attach, meaning that if you accidentally pop it off - by leaving it out when you dock the console perhaps - with a bit of luck you’ll be able to just pop it back in.
The Nintendo Switch in handheld form is what makes the console so unique when compared to the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One. While Sony offers PS4 Remote Play via PC and Mac, and Microsoft offers something similar for the Xbox One, neither can offer a fully fledged portable gaming experience like Nintendo can. With the two Joy-Con controllers slotted into the sides of the tablet screen, the Nintendo Switch is lightweight and surprisingly comfortable to hold. It resembles a thinner, more attractive Wii U GamePad with a 720p HD screen, joysticks on either side, and the standard ABXY buttons and directional pad.
The edges of the Switch with Joy-Con controllers are curved, allowing for longer play times without any kind of discomfort - although we have our reservations about the layout of the Joy-Con controllers, which we’ll come to in more detail below. The gaming experience in handheld mode is impressive, as it offers the full game on-the-go without any real compromise apart from the downgrade in screen resolution and a finite battery life.
The Joy-Con controllers, despite having a rather silly name, are actually impressive - especially the built-in advanced HD rumble motor, which boasts similar levels of precision to Apple’s haptic engine.
This doesn’t only enhance standard gameplay vibrations, but opens a whole new kind of game: in one of the 1-2 Switch mini games we tried, you use the Joy-Con controllers to guess how many ball bearings are inside your virtual box by moving the controllers and feeling the balls ‘roll’ around. This would simply not work with a standard vibration motor, but the motor within the Joy-Con controllers tricked our brains into believing there were ball bearings rolling around inside, and we even managed to guess the right number.
However, the Joy-Con controllers do have their downside - the layout is a little awkward, especially when playing certain two-player games where each person has one Joy-Con controller. As they’re used as left and right controllers for the main console, the analogue stick and buttons are in different places on each side. While one controller is fairly centred, the other features an awkwardly placed joystick and buttons, making long periods of two-player gameplay a little bit uncomfortable.
Joy-Con grip controller
As mentioned, one of the ways to use the Joy-Con controllers, and the main way to play when the Switch is in console mode, is the included Joy-Con grip.
You sort of build it by sliding each Joy-Con controller onto the grip. This creates a traditional-style controller that you hold with two hands, but it's quite an odd one. While it’s more comfortable than it looks, the grips still feel too small, and the middle section is too narrow, leaving your hands uncomfortably close together. It’s fine in a pinch, but anyone expecting to spend a lot of time playing traditional games on the TV (like the Zelda game at launch) will likely want to invest in a Pro Controller, which is a disappointing additional cost to worry about.
It's also a shame that the grip supplied with the console doesn't charge the Joy-Cons at all, - it merely holds them in place. Nintendo has made a charging version of the grip, but it’s only sold separately. Thankfully, the Joy-Cons boast a roughly 20-hour battery life, and charge whenever they’re connected to the main console, and so far keeping them charged hasn’t been an issue for us at all.
Joy-Con connectivity problem
When the Switch launched, it suffered from a serious connectivity problem with the Joy-Cons. The controllers occasionally seem to lose their Bluetooth connection to the console, which in the meantime simply continues to register whatever was the last input. They reconnect after a few seconds, but in a game like Zelda that’s often enough time for you to die as a result.
While we hoped Nintendo would fix the problem in its launch day patch, that turned out not to be the case. Instead, it simply added a new entry on its support site advising users to reduce interference by keeping their Switch away from potential obstacles like TV sets or "aquariums," and even advised users to turn off other wireless devices like laptops, tablets, and even microwaves.
However, Nintendo later announced that it had fixed the flaw - which it blamed on a 'manufacturing variation' - and that future versions of the Switch would not be affected. Anyone with an affected Joy-Con can contact Nintendo support to have it repaired under warranty. Since the flaw has been fixed, we've amended our review score up accordingly.
Nintendo Switch podcast discussion