With the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo continues its impressive track record of blazing its own trial: popularizing motion control with the Wii, introducing glasses-free 3D with the Nintendo 3DS, and experimenting with a second screen with the Wii U (for all of its faults).
These choices haven’t always worked, but with the Switch, Nintendo has hit upon another phenomenal success. It perfectly bridges the gap between handheld console and home console like the Wii U tried and failed to do before it.
The way that it combines gaming on-the-go and gaming at home without leaving you leaning more toward one use than another is a credit to the Nintendo Switch team – and with the arrival of top-tier titles such as Fortnite now available on the Switch it’s a better proposition than ever.
Update: Nintendo’s paid online service for the Switch has been launched in earnest. Head over to our Nintendo Switch Online page for all the info you need to get in on classic NES games, online multiplayer, subscription costs, and more.
Whether you’ve bought one or not, you have to agree that the Nintendo Switch is a great idea, melding some of what made the Wii and Wii U appealing for gamers (even though developers had a harder time figuring out how to make the most of the latter console).
In the case of the Nintendo Switch, we have a central idea that can benefit literally every game – not just a select few that can take advantage of motion control or a second screen. Who hasn’t at one time wanted to pack up their console and take it with them?
The Nintendo Switch mostly delivers very, very well on this initial premise. You’ll find it a solid, premium-feeling handheld, which can then flip into docked mode and work more or less as you’d expect a home console to when needed.
All that praise having been said, the Nintendo Switch certainly isn’t perfect: most of the issues it has are a consequence of the way that it dares to try and do everything at once, and it doesn’t always find the right compromise. Read on to find our full thoughts on the hits and the misses of the Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo Switch: price and release date
- What is it? Nintendo’s newest console
- When did it come out? March 3, 2017
- What does it cost? $299.99 in the US, £279.99 in the UK, $469.95 in Australia
Nintendo Switch: design
- Three form factors: handheld, console (docked) and tabletop
- Lots of accessories, which are at risk of being misplaced
In the Nintendo Switch box you get the main body of the console, complete with two detachable controller sides, a grip which enables you to combine these controller portions into a more traditional gamepad, two straps which can be attached to these sides to make them into two individual controllers, and a dock that allows you to plug the console into your television.
You also get a USB Type-C power cable (with a non-detachable power brick) and an HDMI cable for connecting the device to your TV.
If you think that sounds like a lot of accessories then you’d be right: we suspect a lot of Switch owners have ended up misplacing at least one or two of them within the space of a few months.
We’ve taken to wrapping our Joy-Con straps around our Joy-Con grip just to keep everything together, but it would be great if there was some way of attaching them to the console so they don’t end up getting misplaced.
It’s a pretty novel (not to mention somewhat complicated) setup, so it’s worth delving into each of the different ways you can use the console.
Nintendo Switch: handheld mode
- Bigger than traditional handhelds
- Slightly cramped for the right hand due to right analogue stick
- Split D-pad on the left side
First up is handheld mode, which is the form factor that’s most like the hardware that acted as predecessors to the Nintendo Switch.
In this configuration you attach the two controller portions (the Joy-Cons) to the left and right edges of the screen, and you then console much like the PlayStation Vita.
In fact, the size and shape of the console’s analogue sticks make it feel a lot like a modern Vita, although it doesn’t feel as solid because of the joints that exist between the Joy-Cons and the screen.
Along the top of the device you’ve got a slot for game cartridges, a headphone jack (Bluetooth headphones/headsets are not supported), a volume rocker and a power button.
The bottom of the device is a much more spartan affair. You’ve got the kickstand for using it in tabletop mode (more on this later), which conceals a small microSD slot for expandable storage. Internal storage is limited to just 32GB, so if you’re planning on downloading games rather than buying them, you’re going to want to invest in a microSD card (capacities up to 2TB are theoretically supported).
Check out our unboxing video of the Nintendo Switch below.
The detachable Joy-Cons have a lot going on. The right hand side has the classic A, B, X, Y button configuration that Nintendo has used on and off since the SNES, an analogue stick (slightly awkwardly placed underneath the face buttons) and two shoulder buttons. There’s a small plus-shaped button which acts as the equivalent of the Wii U’s ‘Start’ button, and a home button for reaching the console’s system-level menus.
Across on the left Joy-Con it’s a very similar story, as you would expect You’ve got a minus button that acts as the console’s ‘Select’ button, a share button for taking screenshots and video (in selected titles), an analogue stick, two shoulder-buttons, and the most un-Nintendo D-pad we’ve ever seen.
Instead of the classic cross D-pad Nintendo has utilized since the NES, the left Joy-Con instead has a set of four circular buttons that are identical in shape to the face buttons on the right Joy-Con.
This decision, which appears odd at first glance, has actually been made so the left Joy-Con can be used as an individual controller, with the D-pad acting as face-buttons in this configuration (again, more on this later).
Nintendo Switch: console mode
- Connects to your TV via an included dock
- Docking process is seamless, and can be done mid-game
The second form-factor is console mode. You place the main portion of the console in the included dock, which connects the device to your television – you’re then free to detach the Joy-Cons to control the Switch from a distance.
The way the console transfers the viewing experience from its own screen to the television is as seamless as it could possibly be. You don’t even have to pause your current game, as everything happens in real time.
Detaching the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons can be a little fiddly, admittedly: it’s done by holding a small button on their backs and sliding the controller up.
The TV dock is around the same size as the Nintendo Switch’s middle portion. Around the back you’ve got a USB Type-C port to provide the console with power, an HDMI port to connect it to your television, and a USB Type-A port.
On the left-hand side of the console are a further two USB ports, mainly used for charging your Switch controllers as you play wirelessly (more on this shortly).
If you want to use the Switch with multiple televisions throughout your home then you can buy additional docks, which make it easy to transition from one screen to another, plug-and-play style.
Nintendo Switch: tabletop mode
- Screen can also be detached and propped up on a table
- Great for two-player gaming, but four players on the console’s small screen is a push
The final form factor for the Nintendo Switch is what Nintendo calls ‘tabletop mode’. Using the kickstand that’s attached to the back of the screen, you can prop the console up on a table and then detach the Joy-Cons for some semi-portable gaming.
In theory this is a perfect fit for long journeys on public transport where you have a tray table to place the console on, but we found it a bit of a mixed experience.
It’s certainly lovely being able to use the Joy-Cons in the grip rather than having them attached to the console – the grip provides just enough extra plastic to make the controllers much more comfortable in the hands, and having the console a little further away from you means that your sitting posture feels a lot more natural.
Tabletop mode is also great for multiplayer gaming. Detaching both Joy-Cons to allow two people to play against one another is a pleasure: it makes the Nintendo Switch perfect for whipping out at small gatherings where you’ll already have everything you need for a multiplayer session.
However, there are a couple of issues that prevent the console from fully capitalizing on this rather intriguing tabletop mode.
First is the kickstand. Although it’s rubberized, which means that the console doesn’t slide around, it only supports the console at a single height: if your tray table is a little closer to you then there’s no ability to prop the console up so that it’s facing you more directly, and instead you’ll be stuck with the screen pointing at your chest rather than your face.
Second is the Nintendo Switch charging port, which is inaccessible when you’re using it in tabletop mode. During a recent train journey this meant that although we were in the perfect situation to use tabletop mode, we ended up using the console as a handheld so that we could make use of the charger next to our seat.
Finally, when it comes to multiplayer gaming, the screen is just a little too small for more than two players. Four-player Mario Kart is almost impossible due to the size and resolution of the screen, and we found ourselves trying to put our face mere inches from the console to be able to make out more distant details in the game’s tracks.
Overall it feels as though tabletop mode is better suited to short periods of use, which is a shame when it feels like it should be the de facto way to use the Nintendo Switch over long periods.
Nintendo Switch: set-up
- Set-up is simple enough
- Console needs to be told whether Joy-Cons are being used together or separately
Setting up a brand new Nintendo Switch is refreshingly simple.
If you’re using the device as a handheld then simply attach the Joy-Cons and press the power button. And… er… that’s it.
If you want to play games on your TV you’ll need to plug the dock into the TV via HDMI, and hook it up to some power via the included USB Type-C power lead. The console then easily slips into the dock.
Pairing the controllers is a little more complicated than with other devices because of the fact that they can either be paired or used separately. The way you tell the Switch which controllers you’re using is to press both the L and R shoulder buttons in whichever configuration you’ve opted for.
So if you’re using the Joy-Cons individually, you can press the buttons on the Joy-Con straps to indicate that this is the case.
On the software side, the console asks for the standard combination of Wi-Fi details and user account set-up info. These details are a doddle to input on the console’s touchscreen (the keyboard isn’t quite as good as a phone’s but it’s much better than the typical console experience).
After that’s taken care of you’re able to play games off a cartridge, or games that are saved in the Nintendo Switch’s memory.