What's the difference between a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? One plays Uncharted, the other Halo. One your mates might own, the other they probably don't. One is a big black box that sits under your TV, the other is also available in white.
Nintendo’s Switch is not like those consoles and that is what makes it so special.
The idea behind the Switch is simple: a gaming machine that plays as well at home as it does on the go. One console to rule them all, if you like. It’s what the Wii U was aiming for and fell so spectacularly short of. This time, Nintendo has got it spot on. The hardware is immensely fun to handle and the games so far are stellar, but... a few niggling doubts about the Switch remain.
Of course they do. This is a Nintendo console we’re talking about here.
Nintendo Switch games: Zelda and Mario lead the way, but what’s next?
Before we get to the superlatives, let’s talk about the biggest reservation you should have for the Switch: what you'll be able to play on it.
So far, this console has Nintendo’s holy trinity of Zelda, Mario Kart and Super Mario all lined up for its first nine months of existence. Even though Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a remake and Breath of the Wild can also be bought for Wii U, that's still a huge deal. Nintendo’s big guns are all going to be on Switch by Christmas, and they’ll be best enjoyed on that console thanks to its added power and portability.
Plus, they’re set to be joined by several popular third-party titles as well such as Minecraft, Skyrim and a new FIFA. Big kid or small, you’ll have plenty to play on Switch by the time Santa and Rudolf reunite this December.
So what about that launch line-up of just 12 games? Honestly, I don’t think it’s something you should fret about. One of those games is the absolutely enormous Breath of the Wild, and the rest are pretty good as well. Quality not quantity is what you get from the likes of 1-2 Switch, Snipperclips, Shovel Knight: Torment of Spector and Fast RMX.
Speaking as someone who bought a Wii U at launch, third-party support in 2018 and beyond is a far greater concern. Nintendo’s last console hit stores alongside the likes of Batman: Arkham City, FIFA 13 and Assasin’s Creed: Black Flag. After that first year or so, players looking for something non-Ninty had to settle for Bayonetta 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles X, or buy a PlayStation 4. Worse still, the most notable game Nintendo released for its flagship console last year was Star Fox Zero. And it was rubbish.
Will things be different this time around? I'm cautiously optimistic. A slew of developers and publishers are said by Nintendo to be working on the console, with the people behind everything from Call of Duty to Dark Souls to Rocket League all included. Even more significantly, Nintendo is expected to be pooling the majority of its Wii U and 3DS development teams into one to ensure a steady stream of first-party exclusives.
Until the annual E3 games show in June, when Nintendo and third-party developers will be unveiling more about their big titles for the holidays and beyond, we won't know if that is actually the case. You can either take a leap of faith now, or hold on to your money and find out later.
Nintendo Switch design: Portable perfection
Sega’s Dreamcast proved that making a great console doesn't guarantee people will make lots of great games for it, but the fact remains that the Switch’s hardware really is brilliant. More than a machine that nails Nintendo’s ‘play anywhere’ concept, it’s exceptionally well-made and the kind of console that you want to spend time with.
I just can't see this thing gathering dust under my TV. Not when I can sneak in a fresh trophy in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the train into work, or take a few more steps towards slaying Calamity Ganon in Breath of the Wild.
A large part of this pick-up-and-play appeal is thanks to the Switch’s classy build. Rather than sticking with the the cheap, shiny plastic that Nintendo has been running with for the Wii and Wii U, this console is made from glass, metal and matte plastic. It’s a premium machine, which is just as well given it’s more expensive to buy than any other portable and most home consoles.
Design-wise the Switch is laid out in the same manner as a PlayStation Vita or GameBoy Advance, with its Joy-Con controllers slapped on either side of a 6.2-inch touchscreen. Despite not being capable of full HD resolutions, this 720p display is an absolute delight. Big, bright and capable of some stunning contrast and colours, it makes Breath of the Wild look every bit as good in the palms of your hands as it does on a telly. Text can sometimes appear a little on the small side, but otherwise I can’t fault the thing.
Whereas playing a game on the Wii U’s GamePad had you itching to get back to your TV, this is comfortable to use while travelling or while your better half enjoys a bigger screen instead. At 295g the Switch doesn’t weigh down your hands, while its battery life of between three and six hours depending on what game you’re playing can handle a long-ish journey without running flat.
You don't need to be holding the Switch to play it away from the TV either. Simply flick out the kickstand on its backside and hook up one of the console’s controllers, of which you've got a fair few to chose from.
Oh, and we almost forgot, cartridges are back with the Switch. Why? That portability factor. They’re about the size of an SD card and slot right into the top the console under a flap. Don’t blow on them if they’re struggling to load though. That still won’t fix anything.
Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons: Nintendo’s made a new Wiimote
From the Wiimote to the N64’s Rumble Pack, Nintendo loves making weird controllers and inventive add-ons for them. The Switch does absolutely nothing to buck this trend, but crucially the Joy-Cons, their numerous Grips and the Switch Pro Controller are all up to scratch.
The Joy-Cons are the two controllers that you actually get in the box with your Switch and, like I said before, they usually sit on either side of the Switch’s screen. If you're playing the console in handheld mode that's where they'll stay as well. Although you play through most games using both Joy-Cons in tandem, they share the same generous array of inputs: a control stick and six buttons sit on top of each pad, while two trigger buttons sit on top. If you detach them from the main Switch there are also two more buttons placed on their side.
I know what you’re thinking, that sounds like a lot of buttons. In practice it’s almost exactly the same number that you get from a PS4 or Xbox pad.
Because of the Switch’s portable nature, its buttons are smaller than what you get from a standard home console controller and they have less travel as well. Basically, they’re on par with what you get from a 3DS, so using them all in tandem still comes naturally. Even when you’re having to see off a horde of bloodthirsty Bokoblins in Breath of the Wild.
As well as being packed to the rafters with inputs, each Joy-Con has several motion sensors built in. Slide them out of the console and they basically work as a revamped Wiimote that’s super-lightweight and tucks right into the palm of your hands. They feel barely there when you’re playing minigame bonanza 1-2 Switch or cartoon fighter Arms, and that’s a really good thing if you enjoy the sight of your mates trying to pull off ludicrous dance moves or pretending to be a gorilla. The photos look that little bit more damning on Facebook.
The only time you’ll notice you’re holding a Joy-Con is when their HD Rumble kicks in. Realistically, this feature could have easily been called ‘slightly better rumble than normal’ as it allows you to differentiate between subtle vibrations. I doubt that one would have gotten past Nintendo’s marketing department though. Anyway, the important thing is that HD Rumble works and you can crack a safe in 1-2 Switch by telling the difference between the two. So far, that’s the Switch’s only game to use the feature though.
What’s so gurn-inducingly brilliant about the Joy-Cons is that they ensure the Switch is multiplayer-ready from the moment you unbox it. Since each one can be used as a basic, separate controller, you don’t have to buy a second set to invite a mate around for a spot of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, 1-2 Switch or Super Bomberman R. They’ll have to invent a distant and now-deceased or apocalyptically important work presentation to avoid your company.
Finally, a quick note on the wireless syncing issues some reviewers have experienced with their left Joy-Con. We’ve not had that problem pop up. If it appears to be widespread in launch hardware after the Switch’s Day One patch then we’ll amend this review accordingly.