Share.

With the arrival of the Nintendo Switch Online Service, we take another look at the Switch a year and a half after launch.

A year and a half after its launch, the Nintendo Switch has almost entirely lived up to the initial promise it made. While I may not have brought it out at any rooftop parties, I have played major games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Skyrim on the train, had spontaneous Mario Kart 8 sessions with friends, and have still been able to sit down on my couch and play all of those games and more on a big screen. And though daily use has forced a few design flaws into the light, the Switch has easily solidified itself as one of my favorite consoles.

The Switch’s biggest selling point truly does stand as its greatest strength: being able to effortlessly bring console-quality games anywhere you go. While it seemed like a lofty goal when the Switch was first announced, it’s one Nintendo has soundly delivered on in almost every way that counts. I love how easy it is to go from playing docked to undocked and back again, and I don’t really feel like I’ve paid for that ability with the quality of the games I’m playing.

For more on our re-review process, check out the first segment of this week’s NVC in the video below!

To be absolutely clear, the Switch is undeniably an underpowered system when compared to the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, much less the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, and those sacrifices in power are especially noticeable when you look at graphically toned-down ports like Doom or Rocket League. But the fact that it’s capable of running those games at all while being portable and barely bigger than a plus-sized phone (not including the attached Joy-Con, at least) is fantastic.

Gaming on the Go

The $300 Switch’s 6.2-inch screen has a native 720p resolution, but the LCD display itself looks great in terms of image and color quality. The pixel density is high enough in handheld mode that most of the jagged edges that would stand out on even a modest TV are somewhat hidden.

Depending on how you use it, that may be the vast majority of the time. Probably 80% of the time I use my Switch is in handheld mode, largely on my train ride to and from work, and I know people who have literally never even used their dock. It feels miraculous to me that instead of the simplistic games we’ve come to expect on phones and tablets or the fun but small-feeling games of the 3DS, this device enables me to enjoy a traditional console-style game of the size and scope of Breath of the Wild away from home.

When held in your hands, the Switch’s tablet casing feels like it has been cut as close to the bone as possible without going so small that it starts doing more harm than good. At 9.6 inches wide and four inches tall it isn’t exactly pocket-sized, but any smaller and the screen would start getting uncomfortably hard to play large games on. As is, it’s a great size for most single-player games or online multiplayer – though trying to play a local multiplayer game in split-screen, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, proves why you shouldn’t leave your dock in the box.

Before release, I was sure the three- to four-hour battery life of the Switch would be a massive problem, but it actually hasn’t been a noticeable limitation for me. Even with an hour-long train ride each way on my commute, the Switch gets me through the day with a good amount of life left to spare before I dock and charge it back at home each night – and attachable USB battery packs do exist as a good third-party solution if needed.

The regular dock works fine enough, but it’s a bit dissapointing that there are no official alternatives for playing on your TV.

Dropping the Switch into that dock (which is essentially a piece of plastic with a USB-C to HDMI converter, two USB ports, and AC power connector) gives it the juice needed to blow Hyrule up to a higher resolution on a full-sized TV screen. How much of a boost varies game to game, but playing games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2 at 1080p on a TV is a tangible and welcome bump up from 720p in handheld. It can be a little disappointing when a game is unable to take advantage of this feature, such as Pokken Tournament DX, or when one starts below 720p for handheld mode in the first place like in Doom, as the lower graphical quality is much more obvious if games aren’t bumped up to at least 900p on a TV (as Breath of the Wild is).

The regular dock works fine enough, but at two inches deep and just as wide and tall as the Switch itself, it’s also needlessly big compared to some third-party options. The front of the dock covers the entire screen, which is a poor design decision on Nintendo’s part because it can scratch the Switch if you aren’t careful – a “dock sock” is a popular stopgap solution here, but it’s a solution for an annoyance that shouldn’t exist. Third-party docks have popped up to offer slimmer, less scratchy options, but there have been reports of these permanently bricking your Switch if used for prolonged periods. Nintendo has warned us to only use the official dock, which makes sense fundamentally, but it’s frustrating that no official dock alternatives or fixes have been made available.

Joys and Cons

Whether docked or handheld, I’ve fallen in love with the design of the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. They’re available in a variety of decorative colors (the ones in the box are either gray or blue and red by default; extras and alternatives usually cost $50 each or $80 for a set) and can be used as attachments on either side of the tablet, attached to the included Joy-Con Grip handle to form something resembling a traditional wireless gamepad, or independently. They charge simply by being connected to the tablet, and they’ll last a lengthy 20 hours, which is long enough that I didn’t need to think about it often.

While using a single sideways Joy-Con is still too cramped for comfort, I am excited to use two Joy-Con together for pretty much every game now. Personally, I enjoy using them unconnected, with one in each hand: similar to the Wii Remote and Nunchuk but without the clunky cable, I love being able to casually hold my arms in any position I want while playing games. The motion controls of a single Joy-Con also manage to be an improvement over the Wii Remote despite the Switch not having a sensor bar, though you do need to hit the button to recenter it on the screen more often as a result.

The directional buttons on the left Joy-Con can’t replace a proper D-pad, but I otherwise think the shape and layout of its buttons are very comfortable. Everything is undoubtedly smaller, giving the joysticks and buttons a bit less action than those on a PS4 or Xbox One controller, but they still feel responsive and satisfying to press, and the Joy-Con’s HD rumble feature – which is capable of extremely precise vibrations – makes feedback substantial. The biggest hindrance is in the triggers, which are digital instead of analog, meaning they don’t have a subtle range of motion that would be useful in things like racing games to let you accelerate without flooring it or brake without slamming on the pedal.

One feature that feels somewhat like wasted space, however, is the IR sensor on the bottom of the right Joy-Con. I haven’t seen it used at all outside of one or two gimmicky first-party games like 1-2-Switch and some of the Labo creations like the robot and piano kits, and while it was neat, it doesn’t really feel like it adds much substance to the system.

Meanwhile there’s a notable omission on the Joy-Con: the headphone jack is only located on the Switch’s tablet, with none on the controller like that found on the current PS4 and Xbox One controllers. That, combined with the also disappointing lack of an option to use wireless bluetooth headsets with the Switch without a dongle, means it’s very difficult to play quietly while it’s docked.

Forcing you to use the voice chat app is extremely inconvenient when Fortnite just lets you plug a headset into the Switch.

That lack of a headset ties into another more troubling issue: since there is no microphone on the Switch, the only way to communicate in first-party multiplayer games like Mario Kart 8 or Splatoon 2 is by using Nintendo’s Android or iOS app. It’s legitimately one of the most inconvenient and baffling design decisions I’ve ever seen a major console maker come up with. It left me confusedly trying to figure out how to listen to both my phone and the Switch at the same time, and Nintendo’s only official solution is to buy a proprietary Splatoon splitter-dongle thing that turns your Switch into a mess of wires reminiscent of an Octoling.

And that doesn’t even address how it’s just annoying to have to deal with a seperate phone app when I just want to play a game with friends. It’s crazy how silly this voice system is, especially when Fortnite on Switch is an exception to this rule, letting you simply plug a third-party headset directly into your Switch for voice chat. This means the functionality is there, but Nintendo deliberately makes us jump through hoops for most of its games. It’s a clear example that, although Nintendo has made massive strides forward with its online functionality for the Switch, they’ve still got a ways to go.

Wear and Tear

There are a handful of physical design flaws that have cropped up from wear and tear over the last year and a half as well – largely issues no one could have predicted at launch. One of the most common is reports of the Switch’s battery expanding slightly, warping the back of the case and sometimes cracking the plastic. This isn’t something I’ve personally experienced, but I have seen it firsthand –and it luckily, it seems to generally be a cosmetic issue.

One that I have experienced on my Switch is that the latch holding my left Joy-Con onto the side of the Switch has become loose, making it easier for it to detach by accident – though thankfully it hasn’t been an issue at all while actually playing. I’ve also noticed that my kickstand – the plastic piece that pops out and allows you to set the tablet upright on a table – is starting to get loose, and I’m worried it could eventually not lock closed, or even come off entirely. Things like this make me nervous about the system’s durability, and what my Switch will look like two years from now.

Based on its current wear, I’m not too sure how my Switch will hold up two more years from now.

The Switch comes with 32GB of internal storage, which is pretty small. To be fair, most Switch games don’t take up a huge amount of space – Splatoon 2 is about 3GB and Super Mario Odyssey is around 6GB, though Breath of the Wild is a much larger 13GB – so that was enough to cover my downloads for awhile. But eventually I ran out of space and had to buy a micro SD card to add via the slot under the kickstand, which can expand the Switch’s storage capacity by up to 512GB. I imagine most people will need one at some point (unless you’re only buying physical games, though even games like Doom require a healthy installation size if you want to play multiplayer), but it’s by no means a necessity out of the gate.

Control Options

The $70 Pro Controller is another pricey peripheral option, but its more conventional design makes it an excellent option for games like Fortnite that require a bit more precision. I know people who also prefer two Joy-Con on the included grip, and many who are excited to plug their GameCube controllers back into the Switch with a USB adapter for Smash Bros. With classic NES-style controllers coming soon (available only to online subscribers) and a custom Pokeball Joy-Con coming to Pokemon Let’s Go, the Switch offers a surprising variety of official controller options.

This is one of the system’s greatest feats: it’s brought meaningful choice and preference to console controllers in a way that’s not a just a gimmicky steering wheel shell – though it does have that, too. You may not agree with me that playing with two disconnected Joy-Con is great, but you likely have a controller scheme you prefer. The PS4 and Xbox One have special (and expensive) variations on their controllers with extra buttons, but the Switch really empowers you to find the set-up you like the most – though my condolences do go out to the unfortunate younger siblings out there who will surely get stuck playing Smash Bros. with a single right Joy-Con. RIP.

The right Joy-Con also has a built-in NFC reader, bringing back support for scanning Amiibo – of which there are too many to count. The craze for Amiibo has died down somewhat since they were first revealed, but they also seem to be more casually integrated into the Switch’s games now, usually amounting to some extra items or sometimes little bits of DLC. The boosts are almost always optional and small, so Amiibo can be easily ignored if you want, but they are still some of the nicer Nintendo figurines available even without the in-game benefits.

“But is it Coming to Switch?”

“Is it coming to Switch?” has become the semi-ironic battle cry of this console generation, but it’s a question I find myself unironically asking every time a cool new game is announced. Porting a game to Switch is certainly easier said than done, but the industry has clearly heard this cry as well.

The past year and a half have seen an indie renaissance on Switch.

Third-party developers are flocking to Nintendo’s newest system at nearly unprecedented rates, and the pre-launch concerns about the Switch’s potentially slim lineup (a problem that plagued its short-lived predecessor, the Wii U) have been replaced with an unstoppable onslaught of cool stuff to play – some of it new, but much of it ported from other systems. Soon we’re even getting unexpected ports like Civilization 6, Warframe, and a bunch of blast-from-the-past Final Fantasy games.

The past year and a half have seen an indie renaissance on Switch as well, with fantastic games like Stardew Valley, The Binding of Isaac, and Hollow Knight all getting ports. Dozens and dozens of amazing games that may have been PC exclusives or just come out elsewhere during the Wii U’s less indie-friendly era are now on the eShop, quickly building up a comprehensive and incredible library on the Switch.

And that’s speaking nothing of the downright impressive list of first-party games Nintendo has been pumping out over the past year and a half. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey were, hands down, two of the best games released in 2017 (both received 10s from IGN’s reviewers), and Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids was a surprising tactics hit. On top of that, Nintendo has had an impressive multiplayer lineup too with Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, Arms, and a straightforward but still excellent port of Mario Kart 8.

By contrast, the Wii U went months without anything new worth checking out, but between major first and third-party games Nintendo has done a great job of making sure those same drought conditions never happen on the Switch. And with Super Mario Party, Pokemon Let’s Go, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the horizon for 2018 (and Metroid Prime 4, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Animal Crossing, and more Pokemon all slated for 2019) that healthy first-party support is showing no signs of slowing down.

Nintendo’s first-party games have also shown that stylized art can produce extremely attractive results from the comparably weaker system, and plenty of 2D games like Celeste or Night in the Woods look just as gorgeous here as anywhere else. It’s only in the higher-end AAA games like Bethesda’s Wolfenstein 2, Skyrim, and Doom ports that the Switch’s graphical deficiencies are glaring.

Sadly, those deficiencies have kept many new third-party games off the system entirely. Most of this year’s biggest games, like Monster Hunter: World, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Red Dead Redemption 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, or Battlefield V, are MIA, and others like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (and last year’s Resident Evil 7) are only getting half-measure streamed versions that are only available in Japan. It’s something every Switch buyer needs to be aware of, especially if it’s going to be your only current console, because even though you’ll have plenty of exclusives to play you’ll be left out of a good portion of multiplatform gaming.

The flood of fantastic games coming to Switch is great, but it’s also made the eShop hard to navigate.

While the flood of exciting games is a good thing, it has its drawbacks as well: namely, the Switch eShop is a mess. It doesn’t feel like it was designed for the amount of games currently arriving on it, and navigating is a hassle as a result. It’s easy enough to find something if you know what you’re looking for, and “too many great games” is frankly a pretty good problem to have, but the eshop doesn’t empower you to browse for that cool new stuff past what’s recent or popular. It’s rapidly heading toward the same frustrating fate that Steam users on PC have been dealing with for years. And as our libraries expand, being unable to customize the order in which games are displayed on your home screen becomes less and less forgivable.

Nintendo Entertainment Gaming System

That messy shop means you pretty much have to do your game research online before diving in – and by online, I mean on your phone, PC, or almost literally any other internet-connected device, because there’s no internet browser available on the Switch. The Switch is not (to borrow Nintendo’s own term) an entertainment system, it’s a video game system. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that it’s missing features that people have come to expect from a console or the tablets that the Switch resembles, and that all of its competitors have.

Things like social and messaging features, achievements, home menu themes beyond black or white, and apps for streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, etc. are still nowhere to be found (with the exception of a Hulu app), the latter of which is an odd step backwards from the Wii and Wii U for a console that makes so many other steps forward. True, most of us have so many other ways to watch Netflix at this point that not having one more literally doesn’t impact us in the slightest (and it certainly doesn’t make me enjoy playing Zelda on the train any less) but if you want the Switch to be your only console you’ll need a separate streaming device to compliment it.

The Switch’s new online service is similarly pared down, but considering that it costs a third of what Xbox Live Gold and PS+ do, it’s justifiable. For your $4 a month, $8 for three months, or $20 for a year you get cloud saves (a glaring omission Nintendo has finally added), the ability to play multiplayer games online, and a way to essentially activate a limited form of game sharing between consoles.

Other than a rotating selection of old NES games (with three new ones being added monthly), you don’t get a selection of free modern games every month, but there are few other goodies like in-game cosmetics and the promise of discount offers in the future. Similar to the lack of entertainment apps, the Switch simply isn’t attempting to offer what the PS4 and Xbox One do, but the lower price makes that easier to swallow.

Thankfully, the online play that we’re now paying for has been stable and strong in every game I’ve tried – apart from most of them having temporary problems around each game’s launch, which is often the norm on any platform nowadays. Nintendo has battled connection and lag issues in the past, but it seems like those fights have now mostly been won.

The Verdict

A year and a half after release, the Nintendo Switch has delivered on its initial promise of allowing us to play high-quality games both at home and on the go – it just hasn’t gone much further than that. Being able to play its absurdly impressive (and still rapidly growing) library of both first and third-party games seamlessly on a TV and a handheld device is just as great as I hoped it would be, even if some design flaws have cropped up since we first got our hands on it. The Switch doesn’t have all the entertainment and social features people have come to expect from a home console, but that doesn’t stop it from being a disruptively good gaming machine with some of the best exclusives of this generation.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*