For the first time since the Wii U launched — and subsequently fizzled — in 2012, Nintendo is making a new video game console. It’s called the Nintendo Switch, and it’s a $300 home console/portable console hybrid.
You can play it at home, you can play it on-the-go. You can do both!
The console is the tablet. You slide it into a dock, and it’s a home console. You slide on the two “Joy-Con” controllers, and it’s a portable console. Simple!
The Switch is nearly here — it’s scheduled to launch on March 3, which you may notice is pretty soon. As such, Nintendo offered us a chance to try the system at a January 13 press event in New York City. I was there! Here are some thoughts on that experience.
Here's a clearer view of what Switch looks like in that mode. It's a 6.2-inch tablet with controllers ('Joy-Con') attached on each flank.
Before I say anything about the console, I can say with confidence that 'Splatoon 2' was a delight to play.
Unfortunately, it highlighted a bizarre focus of the handheld Switch: motion controls. Since the Switch is a screen, tilting it as a means of controlling a game -- as is the case with 'Splatoon 2' -- means not being able to see what's happening on the screen.
Thankfully, most of the games shown at Nintendo's event played to the strengths of a handheld. 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' is a great example of that.
The delivery of 'Mario Kart' on Switch is straightforward: It's the same game, but now it's on a portable, handheld console.
The game looked sharp and played well. My one gripe with using the Switch in handheld mode is that my hands occasionally cramped from gripping the system while pushing a variety of buttons.
For you, however, that may not be a problem. Perhaps you plan on buying a Switch and using it exclusively as a home console? That's certainly an option.
This is the Nintendo Switch gamepad. The two sections of Joy-Con are attached to a plastic shell, called the Joy-Con Grip. This is part of the modular nature of the Switch. They literally slide on, along a rail.
Pushing the little circular black button is how you release the Joy-Con. They're tucked slightly out of the way to avoid accidental detaching. I found it easy to detach and re-attach them, though it quickly became a juggling act of where to put things.
Lest you forget: The Switch is a tablet. It's got a touchscreen, even. The Joy-Con pieces slide onto the tablet and it becomes a portable game console.
Here's a side view -- it's really easy to slide the Switch into the dock. It has a satisfying click. I encountered zero issues doing this over and over.
And here's what it looks like while docked. The Switch's screen automatically turns off when it docks, and the image output seamlessly jumps to the TV.
Frankly speaking, the gamepad is not great. It's oddly shaped. The Joy-Con Grip -- the gamepad-shaped holster -- feels cheap. It's a serviceable gamepad, but doesn't stand up to those offered by Microsoft and Sony.
And here's another option -- in this mode, you've basically got a two-player game console with you anywhere you go. Pretty rad!
Using a single side of the Joy-Con as a gamepad feels a bit strange. Each side is set up slightly differently, and the controller is nigh-miniature compared with a standard gamepad.
Alas, there is a more traditional option -- if you're willing to drop an extra $70. This is the Nintendo Switch Pro controller:
The 'Pro' moniker is a misnomer -- in 2017, this is the standard for video game controls on a home game console. It's a comfy, easy-to-use gamepad. I played the new 'Legend of Zelda' game using one, and felt right at home. It's unfortunate that this gamepad costs an extra $70 -- it's the best control method for the Switch that I used.
But let's not end on a down note. The Switch costs $300, and for that price you're getting a pretty neat game console. It's a powerful portable game console, and a competent home console.
The game line-up at launch on March 3 is a little skimpy, but the new 'Legend of Zelda' looks fantastic and is purportedly huge.
And 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' is just around the corner on April 28 -- now's as good a time as any to remind you that 'Mario Kart 8' is the best 'Mario Kart' game ever made, and 'Deluxe' is fixing the one problem that game had.
Then, this summer, 'Splatoon 2' is planned for launch. If it's anywhere near as good as the original 'Splatoon,' it's going to be a killer game.
Most importantly of all, a crazy-looking new 3D Mario game is planned for the holiday season. It's called 'Super Mario Odyssey,' and it's the next game in the lineage of 'Super Mario 64' and the 'Super Mario Galaxy' series.
The Switch isn't going to replace your iPad -- it's a dedicated gaming machine to the point where it won't have many multimedia functions at launch, Nintendo's Kit Ellis told me. Don't plan to watch Netflix on the Switch, for instance.
Having used the Switch for several hours, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to everyone. It's still a $300 investment for the system itself, before buying any games or extra gamepads. That could be a hard sell if you already own an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4.
That said: If you want to play any of Nintendo's classic franchises, from 'Super Mario' to 'The Legend of Zelda,' you'll need a Switch. That could be enough for lots of folks!
Personally, I'm inclined to buy one based on convenience. Being able to play 'big' games -- the kind of stuff you normally play on home game consoles -- anywhere I want is a major bonus for me. I can deal with hand cramps from the Joy-Con gamepad, and it's not so difficult to bring a wireless Pro controller with me.
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