With the Wii, Nintendo struck gold. By not attempting to compete with the Xbox 360 or PS3 on their own turf, the publisher carved out a market aimed squarely at casual gamers. That little white box with its goofy, wrist-strapped controllers shifted over 100 million units and became the highest-selling console of the previous generation. Innovation, vision and a keen understanding of their audience paid off and then some. It was a trick the company failed to repeat with the Wii-U — a console that lacked a clear audience, with a proposition that was murky at best. The result was a mis-fire, one that excited neither the casual nor the hardcore and shifted less than 14 million units during its four-year life.
With the Switch, Nintendo appears to have learned from its mistake. As with the Wii, the Switch has no wish to measure processing power against Microsoft or Sony. Unlike the Wii-U, though, it is a machine with a defined role: a living room console that you can pick up and play on the move.
The console itself consists of a docking station and a tablet-like device with a 6.2” capacitative touch-screen. Slip the tablet into the dock — which remains permanently attached to your TV — and you have a standard games console. Remove it and you have a portable one. Held in hand, the Switch is reassuringly weighty and feels solidly designed. The screen, which extends almost to the edges of the tablet, is crisp and sharp with vibrant colour reproduction and good viewing angles. The resolution while 1280x720 rather than the 1920x1080 of full HD, can upscale to 1080p when connected to the dock.
As a handheld, the Switch is a luxurious device to play on. Powered by Nvidia’s Tegra processor, the Switch is a step-up from either the 3DS or Sony’s Vita and thanks to its gorgeous screen, never feels like a compromise over tethered gaming. The ease with which you can slide it out of the dock and seamlessly carry on your ZeldaSession when someone else needs the television genuinely feels like a game-changer in a way that Sony’s PS4/Vita Remote Play never did. Nintendo claims a battery life of up to 6 hours but you’re unlikely to reach half that with heavy play, which is a little disappointing.
The Joy-Cons (available in dark grey or neon read and blue) are as noteworthy as the console’s portability. They can be used independently for multiplayer games like Mario Kart, slotted into a grip to form a close approximation of a traditional controller, on either side of the tablet in portable mode or, most interestingly, as advanced iterations of the Wiimote. Each Joy-Con packs both accelerometer and gyroscope (the right one also has an IR sensor) and, like the original Wii remote, comes with wrist-straps to prevent collateral damage.
The most impressive aspect of the Joy-Cons is the next-level force-feedback (dubbed HD rumble). Tiny motors provide extremely nuanced haptic feedback that is surprising in its subtlety. This is best demonstrated by some of the mini-games in 1-2 Switch, one of which convincingly pulls off the illusion that there are objects rolling around inside the Cons.
That the Joy-Cons are an outstanding feat of engineering is undeniable, but this is something unfortunately reflected in the price, which also represents the Switch’s biggest caveat: accessories are far from cheap. You’re probably going to want a spare set of Joy-Cons for multiplayer and that will set you back a cool £74.99. Meanwhile, the console’s 32GB internal memory will be devoured in moments if you plan to download digital games, so you’re going to want to shell out for a decent-sized Micro-SD card as well. The Joy-Cons can’t be charged unless they’re attached to the Switch itself, so to play and charge at the same time you’re going to need a charging grip, available for another £27.99. Want to charge the Switch away from home? You’ll need to buy a USB-C cable as well. And probably a case (£16.99).
Another advisable — arguably essential — purchase is the Switch Pro Controller. Like its Wii-U counterpart, this is a traditional, Xbox-style gamepad that does exactly what you’d expect. For short bouts of gaming it’s hardly necessary but extended sessions playing with the Joy-Con Grip can quickly grow uncomfortable. The Pro controller is a vast ergonomic improvement for those with larger hands and makes the whole experience feel far more natural. It will, however, set you back another £64.99. With all of these accessories in consideration, the Switch’s £279 price tag can inflate very quickly indeed.
Cost considerations aside, the Switch succeeds in making consumers re-examine the nature of a games console and how it fits into their lives — its emphasis on social play, versatility and portability making it quite unlike anything that has come before. As an all-in-one console that changes the gaming landscape, Nintendo’s seventh console excels. But as ingenious as the Switch undoubtedly is, the question remains as to whether there's sufficient demand for such a hybrid device to justify its existence.