This Week’s Purchase: Nintendo Switch
I realised yesterday that I’ve been blindly purchasing Nintendo consoles on launch day for sixteen years now. More specifically this has been happening since the Nintendo GameCube came out back in May 2002. However the journey hasn’t always been smooth; I was flat-out disappointed with the Wii and the Wii U spend most of day one installing a system update. The newest addition is of course the Nintendo Switch, and the good news is that my initial impressions are really very positive. With that in mind I though I’d take a quick break from playing Zelda to write about why that is.
In sharp contrast to the Wii U’s cheap plastic GamePad, the Nintendo Switch has a far more premium feel. The base unit not only looks great, but the image quality on the 6.2″ LCD screen is razor-sharp. Whilst there’s been a lot of discussion regarding resolutions recently (usually simplified to 720p = bad, 1080p = good), 720p on such a small screen delivers a very crisp image. In terms of pixel density the screen is approximately 240ppi, which is ever so slightly sharper than the (smaller) PS Vita screen at 220ppi. In more simple terms this means that when you’re using it to play The Legend of Zelda, which is one of only a handful of things you currently can do with the Switch, it looks absolutely fantastic.
Of course you can also hook the game up to your television and enjoy a more traditional home console experience; the Switch easily slides into the included dock and make the transition from portable mode seamlessly. Still, Nintendo pushing the console as a hybrid capable of delivering on both fronts is perhaps a little misleading. The dock itself is nothing more than a plastic stand you can connect a couple of cables to, and when the Switch sits inside it – just about sticking out of the top – it doesn’t look like a home console at-all. It looks like a handheld console sitting in a plastic stand.
This aesthetic is something I’m sure many people won’t be bothered by; it may be a little bizarre looking but it’s small and does work as expected. The other area where you’d perhaps expect a compromise is the controllers, and whilst snapping the Joy-Cons out of the screen and into the grip makes a nice sounding noise, the resulting device looks quite odd. Still, as anyone familiar with some of history’s stranger controllers (I’m looking at you SEGA Saturn 3D Control Pad) will know, the weird shape doesn’t effect how comfortable it is to use. The only real downside to the device is that by home console standards the analogue sticks are a little small and the triggers lack depth. That and an issue with the left Joy-Con occasionally losing sync, which has so far caused Link to run off a ledge and to his death exactly once.
Although flawed if you view the Switch primarily as a home console, by handheld standards the controller configuration is highly comprehensive. It has clickable analogue sticks and four shoulder buttons, so the main features lacking from the PS Vita. Sony’s device was the last (notable) time a handheld attempted to deliver home console quality gaming, and it came up short on multiple accounts (although was actually a really amazing system in other areas). However the Switch definitely feels like it has the enhancements required to succeed where the Vita failed. Most notably, as the system has the same power and functionality in both TV and handheld mode, it’s as a handheld it impresses the most. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an all-round fantastic looking game with an excellent art direction, but as a portable game it’s truly stunning.
Oh, and what if you want to play a game other than Zelda? In that case it might not be worth getting a Switch just yet. Nintendo consoles have a long history of launching with few games and this is no exception. Breath of the Wild is really good though. Better than Pilotwings on 3DS and New Super Mario Bros. U on Wii U. It single-handily makes for the best launch line-up Nintendo has had in over a decade.
Aside from games the system is relatively bare-bones and I love it. The UI is simple, clean and incredibly fast. The focus is on games and not online streaming services I’m not subscribed to. It’s refreshing to purchase a device that doesn’t bother with a sub-par internet browser or any other functionality that’s completely pointless unless you don’t own a smartphone. It’s been a while since Nintendo, or anyone else for that matter, has made a system where classic offline gaming is the focus. At the same time its flagship title is full of modern enhancements that bring one of Nintendo’s most loved series back to the forefront of videogame innovation. There’s also a new Mario game on the horizon, that’s exciting too.
One final note, there’s no Virtual Console yet either. Good. Like I’d want to pay £5 for a NES rom, again.