When it comes to game consoles, there used to be one name to rule them all for many years — Nintendo. Sometimes down but never out, the Japanese company has a hit on its hands with the Switch.
It’s a little-known bit of trivia that the original PlayStation came out only because Nintendo hired Sony to develop a CD based game system with them, only to see Sony go it alone after a falling-out, and have the PlayStation brand become the behemoth that it is. Nintendo, meanwhile, didn’t do too badly themselves, transitioning from classic cartridge-based consoles like the Super NES to quirky disc-powered systems like the GameCube.
Along the way, Nintendo’s reputation as a more family-friendly, games-for-everyone company was cemented forever. With timeless franchises like the Super Mario and Mario Kart series, the Legend of Zelda games and more, Nintendo holds an unassailable spot as one of the greats of video games.
But they could make mistakes as much as anyone, it turned out. Riding on the success of the strangely-named “Wii” console, Nintendo released its successor, the even more strangely-named Wii U, to a resounding chorus of “meh”. They couldn’t have gotten back to the drawing board fast enough. Losing a ton of money and needing a radical idea, they decided to pursue mobile gaming — with a twist.
The result is that the Nintendo Switch, at its heart, is a mobile gaming device — a handheld that’s a hybrid between the larger Japanese portable game systems (like Sony’s Playstation Vita) and Nintendo’s own classic handhelds like the DS. But included in the box is a docking cradle that plugs into your home TV — and all you need to do is slot the Switch into the dock and instantly, it’s a home game console.
The Nintendo Switch is powerful enough to run modern games (or at least, modified versions of them) and take them out on the road with you. This has proven to be a winning formula, and this little versatile portable console that was expected to sell maybe 2 million units is now in the hands of 20 million people and rising.
What Makes the Switch Stand Out?
The Switch is a fairly modestly-powered beast by modern game console standards, with the beefy processors of the Sony and Microsoft consoles not possible here — because this is, uniquely, a console that is designed to be both plugged into your TV and taken on the road with you as a handheld game machine.
The key to this clever bit of kit is the Switch Dock, which remains plugged into your TV and the power point at all times. It’s where your otherwise portable Switch comes home to recharge, but it’s also the interface that allows the Switch to become a full-fledged high-definition console for when you want to play on your TV.
To save power, when you operate the Switch in its portable mode, it will run in a slightly lower resolution and make other compromises to visual quality as needed, without hurting the actual gameplay experience. And when you get home you can toss the handheld Switch into its dock and have your game instantly pop up on your TV — no need to restart it. Like all things Nintendo it “just works”.
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Are There Different Switch Models Available?
Nintendo’s stuck to the one singular model of the Switch for now, ignoring the current industry trend of having multiple versions of the one console at different price points. Instead, the main decision you have to make when buying a Switch is what colour you want the “Joy-Cons” (the game controllers that attach to the sides of the Switch in handheld mode) to be.
In Australia, purchasing a Nintendo Switch will set you back about $398 — not cheap, by any means, but not punishingly expensive either, considering the level of tech that’s involved here (not least the 6.2” capacitive touch screen that has pride of place on the device).
What Exclusives Does Nintendo Switch Have?
Like all things Nintendo, the Switch has its big exclusive game titles — the sort that you’ll probably already be sizing up a Switch for if they appeal to you. And these are some of the best home video games around, too — Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are just a few of the games you won’t be playing anywhere else — and best of all, you can play these on the train as well as at home! All released early in the Switch’s life, these games are already considered bona fide classics and the absolute best in their genres.
Third-party studios have also added Switch versions to great acclaim, including Skyrim, Doom, and the upcoming Diablo 3. Yes, that’s right — you can play Skyrim on the bus now! What are you waiting for?
What About Movies and TV Shows?
There’s one thing the Switch is not, and that’s a versatile entertainment device for streaming your favourite shows and movies. There are literally no major streaming apps available for the Switch — yet. Some have been promised — most notably Netflix — but the Switch has a long way to go in this department yet (and let’s face it, streaming video via Wi-Fi would probably hammer the battery so much you’d be lucky to make it to the end of a movie in handheld mode!
What Are the Key Switch Accessories?
If you’re planning on spending any length of time playing your Switch games when plugged in to your TV, you’re going to want to pick up one accessory quick-smart. The Switch Pro controller replaces the Joy-Cons — somewhat fiddly for free-handed home use — with a conventional-looking twin-stick console controller, something you’ll appreciate massively within seconds of picking it up, especially in games where precise navigation is crucial.
And really, aside from that and the $24 official carry case, the one accessory you’re likely to find yourself first in line for is a nice big high capacity rechargeable power bank — because the battery life of the Switch’s built-in battery is only around three hours when playing anything even vaguely graphically demanding. That’s not too bad considering what’s being powered is basically a small computer and backlit screen, but those use to getting half a day out of their smartphone may scoff a little.
The Nintendo Switch User Experience
While the “big console” manufacturers go for complex and busy or smooth and slick in their user interfaces, Nintendo has long been into simplicity, and the Switch is no exception. The user interface throughout is largely text-based and very clear and easy to understand, fulfilling its role of being a device to play games and nothing more.
And that’s something you want, too — this is, after all, a device you’re going to have to operate while out and about, and navigating your way through complex menu trees while fancy menu graphics drain your battery… it’s not necessary, and Nintendo knows it.
Games can be bought from the online store and downloaded to the Switch, or bought on special micro-sized cartridges (which are actually coated with a nasty tasting substance to stop infants from eating the tiny but hazardous little things!).
However, more than a few games try to save money by not including the entire game on the cartridge (which is basically just a memory card). Instead, they opt for a smaller-capacity card to save money, and expect you to download the rest of the game yourself. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on heading out with a new game in handheld mode.
What About Online Play?
Online play is available via Nintendo Switch Online, a service which up until late 2018 has been free of charge, but which will now require a monthly or annual fee. However, that fee is a fraction of what you’d pay on other platforms, coming in at about $20/year, and including a rotating selection of free classic Nintendo games (and if anyone’s got a hefty library of classic games, it’s Nintendo!)
Voice chat is handled not by the Switch itself, but rather through a companion mobile phone app. And needless to say, online multiplayer only works when connected to Wi-Fi (or a wired network if you’re at home with the Switch docked).
Can You Play Your Old Games?
Nintendo loves repackaging and reselling their classic games and, alongside the rotating free selection available to online subscribers, you can expect to see a growing range of vintage games offered for sale on the Switch’s eShop.
Nintendo Switch — Truly Mobile Gaming
Faced with mounting competition from Sony and Microsoft, and watching their dominance in home video games dwindling, Nintendo took a huge risk with the Switch. Thanks in no small part to their long experience with successful mobile game devices, they absolutely nailed the hybrid of handheld and home video gaming with a powerful yet portable console that’s got some big pluses on its side.
It’s the only device where you can play Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey, but it’s also the only way you can head out into the world with the console tucked into your bag ready to play a session of the full version of Doom when you’ve got some time (and demons) to kill.
Its lack of support for video will hopefully be taken care of in time — but that’s not a dealbreaker. This is a device for playing games, and Nintendo’s best console in many, many years.