Looks like Santa brought me a gift early. A peace offering, he called it. I see through his lies, though. I made my way out of his devil’s workshop with the loot in hand. Always careful, always wary, I checked it over for traps a hundred times. I’m still not sure there isn’t any sort of trick to it. But still, it’s hard to turn down a brand new Nintendo Switch.
It’s odd, but there’s a lot about the Switch that doesn’t translate over until you see it in person. I think part of that may be coming from Nintendo’s recent track record with consoles, where, while they didn’t quite overpromise and underdeliver and definitely have some quality experiences on there, still always felt like they should be something more than they were. The Wii didn’t have quite the detailed motion controls everyone hoped for, the Wii U didn’t have the games that took the hardware features to the limits, there was just a small amount of untapped potential with both of them.
It’s still new enough that I might yet be getting a touch of that new car smell off of it, so I may be changing this opinion in the future, but so far, it feels like the Switch is living up to every bit of what I expected of it.
Let’s start with the base hardware. The thing is tiny. It’s a little bit thicker than your average tablet, but not by much. It doesn’t seem like there’s much room for the actual console in there, it’s all taken up by the screen. And yet it does. It packs quite the powerful machine within that small space. Graphics aren’t quite as good as the PSBone, but the few games I’ve played off it so far are able to to build things a definite step up over last generation, all within full and complex settings that, much like most of the rest of Nintendo’s offerings, are processed with very little stuttering and load times. Resolution on the Switch screen itself isn’t as high as on TV obviously, or even on many tablets, but it’s still high enough to make things look niiiiiice.
So if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a gorgeously huge sexy mangod. And that means I have gorgeously huge sexy mangod hands. A lot of Nintendo’s offerings don’t fit comfortably in my hands. The Wiimote’s sized pretty nicely for me, but I have difficulty positioning myself comfortably on the Wii U’s gamepad and the 3DS will actually cause me pain if I’m playing it for too long. When I first saw how tiny the Switch’s controllers were, I was worried I’d be running into the same thing here. Especially with the placement of the d-pad and buttons, I did not have much hope for good things there. Yet, I don’t know what it is about their design or ergonomics, but I’ve played for hours at a stretch and had absolutely no problems with it. Slotting the controllers into the… uh… controller attachment… the one that holds them like a traditional controller, that gets a little tighter than I’d like, but it’s still about as comfortable as the average Playstation gamepad. Playing with both of the joycons free has been my preference, and that’s about as liberating as it gets. The controllers are surprisingly small and light, but have a decent rumble to them, and they actually have better motion sensors than the Wiimote did. They’re lacking an IR pointer, which was the best part of the Wiimote, but I’ve still been able to finely aim things just using the motion controls.
One downside, the system has the weakest wireless receiver of any machine I’ve encountered lately. I keep my TV a couple of rooms away from my router, and although my laptop, consoles, and phone all have absolutely no problem connecting there, the Switch has a tenuous connection with the internet there at best. It’s a good thing the system’s mobile, because I had to take it all the way across my house just so it had enough reception to properly download anything. I thought it was broken at first. On top of that, I don’t know if this is a problem with the receiver or the controller, but the Switch does not always have the best connection with the right joycon. If I let my hands drop to my lap, or my aforementioned mangod hands cover up part of the bottom of the controller, my body will block the console from getting signal from that joycon. If that happens in the middle of a hot fight or tough platforming section, it pretty quickly spells doom.
Moving it from console to handheld mode is even easier than I dreamed. Thing doesn’t so much plug into the tv mount as it does rest comfortably on the connectors, so taking it out is a process that’s needlessly simple. It does take a bit of doing to mount and disengage the controllers, but nothing much really. And just like with the Wii U, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy having a mobile console, but surprisingly, I do. I never thought my lifestyle required it, but it is really handy being able to take my game into the other room when the orcs across the street get too whiny about how I spoiled their latest pillaging run or when my hordes of amorous suitors won’t stop calling me to the bedroom. Get to take care of those mild meatspace annoyances, while still bringing my all important virtual worlds with me.
Of course, no matter how good the console is, it’s all about the games on it. The console is a tool. It’s the artist’s palette, the playwright’s quill, the videographer’s camera. It’s necessary, yes, and determines a large amount of what the creators are capable of, but it’s really the creators themselves that determine what’s done with it. And there, I’m cautiously optimistic.
I’ve been a die-hard Nintendo fanboy for most of my life, up until Nintendo had that phase in the middle of the Wii generation where I wasn’t in the target market anymore. Then, Nintendo’s consoles just became one of the myriad array of gaming devices to me. My loyalty dropped, but in so doing, my world broadened. There were a lot of experiences out there, and once I started exploring them, my gaming habits became a lot more diverse. And I’m glad for that. Nintendo still makes some great games. They cultivate some fantastic experiences, and are truly one of the best developers in the industry. Their games are what’s kept them in the console race for so long. But, as the Wii U has shown, if you’re buying a Nintendo console, you have to be prepared to only get Nintendo games for it.
And that does take a lot of faith. And it’s one of the reasons why I was so cautious to pick it up until recently. I did get a Wii U at the very end of its production, but even now, after all the games have come out for it, the only creators that have put out a number of games I care about for it are Nintendo themselves and Platinum Games, who were contracted with Nintendo for those. I wasn’t willing to do so again, dropping a couple hundred on the Switch and only have Nintendo’s properties for it. But I did so, and so far, Nintendo’s the one that’s had any major releases for it.
Why did I do so? Well, for one, the Switch is showing more promise than the Wii U had. A lot of people claim that the Wii wasn’t a ‘real gamer’s’ machine, because they’re dumb. The Wii didn’t have the major releases the consoles of its generation had, but it had a lot more smaller, creative, experimental titles from a wide variety of developers, all of which brought some really nice quality to the console. The Wii U didn’t have that. Its sales numbers meant that niche titles being brought to the system had a long way to go to reach the levels where they could draw a decent profit, whereas PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 had a much more stable install base. I’m trusting in Switch’s surprisingly high sales thus far to take it closer to where the Wii was. It seems to have come out of nowhere for a lot of developers, much like the Wii did, but I’m hoping that once again, they’ll take notice of the Switch’s place in the market, and be bringing a lot more of the types of gaming experiences we saw a couple generations ago to us. It’s a gamble on my part, particularly as Nintendo has always struggled with relationships with other developers, but one that I’m hoping will pay off.
That gamble is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Nintendo seems to have more of a cohesive vision for this console. They’re still marching to the beat of their own drum, like they always do, but they seem to have much more of an idea which way they’re wanting to go. And they’ve been bringing the games to back it.
I’m imagining it’s going to take me a while to build my Switch library. I’m a notorious bargain hunter, and the Switch is still so new that game prices haven’t dropped yet. Moreover, with the biggest releases for the console coming from Nintendo, who are very aggressive in maintaining their games’ prices in a way few other publishers could manage and in the face of conventional economics, I might have to be on the prowl before finding deals I’m satisfied with. I’ve only picked up two games so far; Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. But those games. Some of the best I’ve played recently.
Nintendo gets a lot of flak for running wild with the franchising, which is ridiculous, because they mix their gameplay models up withing these franchises a lot more than nearly any other developer out there. Breath of the Wild is a great example of that. It is very, very different than most any other Zelda game you’ve played before. So much so, that it feels like it could be its very own game. It’s a 3D Zelda that largely eschews the gameplay model the series has been using since Ocarina of Time, building something completely new out of it. And although the mechanics, storytelling, styling, everything like that are all so new they’ve still got that new car smell, the game still feels a lot like playing the original Zelda 1 way back in the day did.
And Super Mario Odyssey. I’m not going to go the full review here, you can probably catch what I would say any other place on the internet. But I will state that I get the same feeling playing this as I did from Ocarina of Time back in the day. You can tell this is something very, very special as you’re playing it, a rare piece of excellence that only comes around every so often. This is the best Mario has been since 64, and given how great some of the other games to come out have been, that’s really saying something. I would be surprised if this has as much impact on the medium as Ocarina of Time did, we’re just not in a place where that’s generally going to happen anymore, but I do get a similar feeling that this is a game people are going to be talking about and coming back to for a long, long time.
Beyond that, there’s some fun stuff to look forward to, even outside Nintendo’s standards. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Shin Megami Tensei V, whatever Octopath Traveller ends up being, there’s some real promise with this console. I really, really hope it ends up seeing that through.