Nintendo’s newest system has a lot of promise and potential- but nothing else for the time being.
The Nintendo Switch is a device of pure potential- this is actually something that The Verge’s Ross Miller noted in his review of the hardware. It’s actually the best description I have come across of the thing. The Nintendo Switch is an extremely well designed, high quality, high end piece of gaming kit. As I noted in my own previous hands on with the system, it’s hard to not fall in love with it as soon as you pick it up. The Switch exudes quality and a high end premium feel on every level, and it seems to be Nintendo’s best designed hardware ever. Especially coming from the toylike Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, the Switch feels like a massive jump ahead in terms of actually holding and using the thing.
The Switch manages to impress from the get go- it’s small, slim, sleek, with a really vibrant and high quality screen, and a very high end finish. The Joy-Cons are exceptionally well designed, and after more time with the system, I have come around to the Joy-Con grip (I originally hated it in my hands on time with the Switch). The dock is small, unobtrusive, and similarly high end and thoughtfully designed. The actual ‘switching’ between handheld mode and console mode – the central, core function of the Switch, from which it derives its name – is so simple, so fast, and so instantaneous, it may as well be magic. You’ll probably waste some time just taking the Switch out of its cradle, and putting it back in, again and again, just because you won’t be able to believe how quick it is. It’s so simple, but it blows the mind.
The Switch continues to impress when you turn it on, too- setup is incredibly quick and easy, and you’re done in no time. For the first time ever, it feels like the UI isn’t condescending you, and that it respects your intelligence. Everything is fast, quick, slick, and very easy. System updates are super quick- I got mine done before the launch day rush, and updating my games and system total took less than 3-4 minutes. Network integration is reasonably well done, at least on some levels (for instance, redeeming MyNintendo points for a physical copy is one click of a button- on Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Wii, and DS, it was a convoluted process involving going to the Club Nintendo site, filling in a code, and then answering some questions). Notifications for everything, from screenshot captures to friends coming online to download completions, are informative, quick, and also, a first for a Nintendo device. The battery life holds up reasonably well, although I do wish charging it could have been faster.
"The actual ‘switching’ between handheld mode and console mode – the central, core function of the Switch, from which it derives its name – is so simple, so fast, and so instantaneous, it may as well be magic."
And… that’s when you realize that’s it. That’s literally it. The Switch, for as good as it feels, is absolutely barebones right now. The OS lacks any kind of media functionality, has no extraneous functions, is missing basic things like save data management or game organization options, and trying to do a lot of things simply brings up a ‘Coming Soon!’ message- a clear indication that this is a device released before it was completely ready.
The more you poke and prod, the more disappointed you become- there are no media apps. There is none of the quirky extra functionality that made the 3DS so endearing (no AR, no StreetPass, no Miiverse, no Activity Log). Basically, you switch it on, and you can play your game- that’s about it. There’s nothing more to the Switch.
You can actually sort of get behind that (even if it is a shame that the potential for a high end gaming and media tablet is so being squandered here)- the Switch has focus, and it is focused on doing that, and that is that. But then, you realize that even with playing games, the Switch’s functionality is limited. No, not in terms of the hardware- it is, naturally, the online functionality where the Switch disappoints.
The most glaring and obvious regression we have here from the Wii U is the return of Friend Codes. You search for, and add friends, using Friend Codes again. This is baffling, because Nintendo moved away from these towards having proper online IDs with the Wii U and Nintendo Network. With the Switch, they have infrastructure in place for proper online identities- MyNintendo and Nintendo Accounts could easily be used instead of Friend Codes, but for some reason, here we are. Adding a friend is now once more a matter of inputting a completely arbitrary 12 digit numerical code. The one solace here is that Friend Codes work better now than they ever have before- there is only one system wide Friend Code (like the 3DS), and inputting a Friend Code automatically pulls up the user you are adding’s profile up. Sending them a request notifies them that they have received a request from you, and they can then accept or decline it. This is unlike before, when Friend Codes had to be swapped by both users who wanted to add each other, and then input on both systems, before friends registration was complete.
"The Switch, for as good as it feels, is absolutely barebones right now."
That is really the only good thing I can say about this- why Nintendo went back to Friend Codes at all when they have a proper network in place is beyond me. At the very least, it looks like the new online functionality interacts with Nintendo’s network reasonably well- you can add friends from any of Nintendo’s mobile games directly, as an example, and friends on any of Nintendo’s mobile games show up as recommended friends for you automatically. But the fact that my online identity is now defined to a series of random numbers that I definitely won’t remember off the bat, makes online play on the Switch have a higher barrier of entry from the get go- unlike sharing my Gamertag or PSN ID, which I will remember off the top of my head, sharing my Switch ID would entail me either remembering a 12 digit number, or switching my Switch on, and going into my Friends List to see what my Friend Code is.
Friend Codes are not the only problem here, though- there are additional issues. The Switch currently can take screenshots, but you can only share them to Facebook or Twitter- you cannot share them directly with your friends. There are no video recording or streaming options in place- Nintendo says those are coming later this year, but it’s a bummer that the system lacks them, since it’s launching with Zelda, which is probably the game best suited to being streamed or recorded. The Switch currently lacks any communication feature- you can’t message people on your friends lists at all. You can add them, check their profile, see what they are playing, and… that’s really it. This is flabbergasting, because again, messaging is a feature that was on Wii U. One has to assume that messaging will be handled by Nintendo’s mobile app, which will stand in for their online network once it launches – in fact, that is an argument that can be made for just about every feature that the Switch is missing, online or otherwise, will come in later this year. And yes, for a lot of it, you do have the OS telling you that the feature is planned for later, or Nintendo outright saying that a lot of online functionality will come later. So you can maybe tell, even if this is all an issue now, it won’t be later. The problem is, it is an issue now. Nintendo has basically launched a very promising device in a beta state.
"The most glaring and obvious regression we have here from the Wii U is the return of Friend Codes."
It’s a shame, because the more time you spend with the device playing games, the more you realize that it is very well designed, and does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it very well. As mentioned before, the actual switching is amazingly fast. As a handheld, the Switch is far beyond anything we have had before. As a console, it’s a step above the Wii U, and at least acceptable. Its versatility is unmatched- in terms of control options, and the ways that you can play with it. It controls well, its controllers feel great, HD Rumble is legitimately a surprise and a great iteration on the tech, and its version of motion controls is by far the most sophisticated we have had in a mainstream gaming platform yet. It’s a very well made system, that will one day live up to its potential.
But for now, potential is all it is. Spending $300 on the Nintendo Switch for the proposition it provides purely as a device is currently inadvisable. The only justification one could have to get a Switch would be for its games lineup- and thankfully on that front, it doesn’t look like Nintendo is going to disappoint (in fact, they have already launched the Switch with what may be the greatest game ever made- but you’ll have to wait for our official review of Zelda for more on that).
"Nintendo has basically launched a very promising device in a beta state."
In a lot of ways, the Switch feels like a premium, high end gaming handheld- because really, that’s what it is. It’s designed to be a handheld also capable of being played as a console, and be very good at that. Along the way, the Switch is portable, instantaneous, quick, slick, mature, high end, premium. It has a lot of potential to become a full featured device with more mass market appeal than most gaming systems- but right now, in this present moment, that potential is all it has going for it. Nintendo has launched its best and most ambitious hardware ever with the Switch- but it’s a soft launch, a wide scale paid beta test. We’ll have to wait a little while longer to see it truly come into its own.