After getting some games to play the Nintendo Switch, I’ve finally been able to start properly testing the console. At a review event I spent the bulk of the day playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and began to fall in love with the Switch.
Sat in a room with around a dozen fellow journalists, each gaming on their own Switch, I was completely absorbed by Zelda, and it was equally fun and comfortable to play either in docked mode using the Joy-Con Grip or in handheld mode. The Switch felt like it was fast becoming my favourite console.
However, at various points while playing, I lost control of Link. He would begin wandering off in random directions and I was unable to get him back on track using the left analogue stick. It felt like the game was being controlled by another player in the room, as if there was interference because of the sheer number of Switch consoles being used.
Related: Yooka-Laylee preview
However, as I continued to play at home, the problem persisted. At first I thought it might have been my phone interfering with the signal, but it wasn’t. It’s much more worrying than that.
When playing with the Joy-Con controllers in the Joy-Con Grip, placing my hand over the top of the left controller – where the analogue sticks are – seems to prevent the signal being sent to the console properly, and massively affects its ability to read controller input.
This problem has been reported by other journalists as well, and is incredibly noticeable in the analogue calibration testing application. Simply placing one hand in front of the controller while rotating the analogue stick shows that the console can barely track it at all.
Personally, the problem only occurs when the console is docked and the Joy-Con are being used either in the Grip or separately, but is more apparent in the former. There were times I couldn’t even sit in certain positions because the controls would be completely unresponsive.
It was significantly better when playing Zelda in tabletop mode with a Joy-Con in each hand, but it’s concerning. It seems to me that there are significant issues with the Switch Dock, as it appears to be the route cause of the signal interference issue. And I’m not exactly sure how the company can fix it, even with a patch, but I really hope it does.
Related: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This isn’t an issue with the Pro Controller based on early testing, but we’ll get to that another time. For now, I want to focus on another, equally annoying accessory: the chargeable Joy-Con Grip.
In the box with the Nintendo Switch is a Joy-Con Grip, which you can slide Joy-Con L and R into so they can be held like a traditional controller. You can’t, however, charge the Joy-Con while docked in this Grip, they can only be charged while docked on the Switch itself. That is, unless, you buy the Joy-Con Charging Grip for the princely sum of £27.99.
I received one of these from Nintendo for review, and also had one pre-ordered. I took it home, and noticed it is almost identical to the one in the box, except it includes a USB-C charging port at the top.
I then realised the charging grip wasn’t what I, or many other people, actually expected. I was under the impression that the grip would have its own batteries so you could charge the Joy-Con without being hooked up to your console over a very long cable. This isn’t the case, and makes the chargeable Joy-Con Grip a largely pointless accessory.
Here’s the thing: I still really love the Switch, but these continuous bizarre design decisions and apparent obvious flaws from Nintendo are very hard to overlook, even when playing a gorgeous and enthralling game like Zelda.
With the Switch being pitched as a home console you can take on the go, its battery life has become a big talking point ahead of launch.
After early reports of the Switch offering only a few hours of juice on the go, fans began to worry Nintendo’s new console may not be so portable. But then Nintendo provided the numbers, and confirmed we’ll be able to game anywhere from 3-6 hours, which I think is pretty impressive considering the quality of experience on offer with the Switch.
As a portable machine, I wanted to test the battery and see how close the Switch got to Nintendo’s claims.
I tested the machine at two settings. For both tests I played Breath of the Wild for one continuous hour, after which I charged the console using the supplied AC adapter for another hour to see how much charge it recovers.
For test one, Zelda was played at 100% brightness, with Wi-Fi enabled. Test two was played at 50% brightness in airplane mode. Here are the results:
100% Brightness and Wi-Fi enabled:
50% Brightness and Airplane mode
The good news here is the results are more or less exactly as Nintendo claims. Zelda is a good benchmark given how demanding it is, as it pushes the hardware hard.
When used at 100% brightness with Wi-Fi enabled, I estimate you’d get around two hours and 45 minutes. Less than the three hours claimed by Nintendo, but not by much. All sorts of variables, such as the intensity of the section of the game you’re playing, could impact that result.
In the second test, which is more typical of how most people will use the console on the go, is encouraging. At 50% brightness and in Airplane Mode, you’d get around three hours and 15 minutes – a decent 30 minutes or so extra and over Nintendo’s three-hour guideline.
I’m incredibly impressed with that this dinky little machine can to produce three hours of gaming with high-end experiences, like Breath of the Wild. And, if you were to play simpler games that don’t push the hardware as hard, I’m sure you could get far more from the Switch.
It’s why I feel like Nintendo has missed a trick by not pitching this machine as the most powerful handheld console ever. It’s really underselling the handheld side of the machine.
It’s also reassuring how fast the battery charges. Nintendo states that a dead battery will take three hours to fully charge, though my test has the battery refuelling slightly faster – albeit not from flat.
There are, however, two big caveats behind this praise. The first is obvious: while the battery life is impressive and more than enough for the average person’s daily commute, if you’re taking a long-haul flight, or planning a family day out, it may not last the entire duration. Three hours will not last for a transatlantic trip, nor will it keep boredom at bay for kids on a long drive.
Nintendo has used a USB-C port on the Switch to allow the use of portable battery packs for charging on the go, but this leads to the second issue: exactly which portable battery packs are powerful enough to charge the console quickly enough.
The AC Adapter provided with the Switch has an output of 5V/3A, and is of course USB-C. My Anker PowerCore battery pack has an output of 5V/4.8A, so I assumed I was more than equipped to charge my console on the go. However, in practice, the Switch took an age to charge. In about 15 minutes of charging while in sleep mode the console only recovered 3% battery, and that’s without Joy-Con controllers attached.
However, after running these tests, I bought a USB-C to USB-C portable battery pack, the Anker PowerCore+ 20100, and incredibly, the Switch regained 45% charge after an hour in sleep mode using this pack. The speed at which the console can recharge using a USB-C battery pack makes the purchase pretty much essential for those planning to frequently take the console on long trips. it does also, unfortunately, increase the cost of the machine.
The placement of the charging port at the bottom is also less than ideal. While this makes sense when it comes to the entire setup of the system and docking it for TV mode, it means you can’t play in ‘tabletop’ mode with the kickstand and charge at the same time. Bizarre.
Finally, it will be interesting to return to this test in a year or so. Batteries degrade, so what seems like a decent result now may be less impressive in future.
So that’s battery life covered and, now I’m a few days into my Switch experience, it’s been rollercoaster of ups and downs.
I love it one minute, then hate it the next, then come all the way back round and love it again. So far, it’s a machine with faults, but also no shortage of charm. Whether you can embrace the faults and love what it is, rather than what it’s not, will probably determine whether you’re lining up on Friday to get one.
As the issues with Joy-Con L have been focused on in a previous review diary, I’m going to look at the other aspects of the Joy-Con, which actually make them incredible pieces of kit, if indeed the tech is currently under-utilised.
When the Switch was first revealed, I worried that much of the hardware would be largely ignored over the Switch’s lifecycle. HD Rumble, infra-red and all the gyroscopic smarts of Wii MotionPlus housed in two tiny little controllers – it felt a bit like overkill. However, having played games that take advantage of this stuff, I now appreciate the Joy-Con’s versatility.
HD Rumble is a bit like virtual reality – you can’t really understand it without trying it. It wasn’t until I played the ball-counting game in 1-2-Switch that I realised how excellently it translates in the hand. It does genuinely feel like there are several tiny balls moving up and down inside the Joy-Con. The gentle “bump, bump, bump” of each “ball” hitting the end of the Joy-Con is quite amazing, and its accuracy is astounding.
HD Rumble also needs the Joy-Con to be held in your hand to work at its fullest. If playing with the controllers in the Joy-Con grip, the hollow plastic design of the grip means the rumble dissipates and its intricacy isn’t appreciated. 1-2-Switch tells players to remove the Joy-Con from any accessory before playing certain games to ensure its effectiveness.
1-2-Switch also utilises the rest of the tech, with minigames using the IR sensor for players to eat a sandwich, or using the gyroscope for the likes of cowboy quickdraw, plate spinning, air guitar and even modelling on a catwalk. However, the problem is 1-2-Switch is pretty much the only game to take full advantage of what the controllers can do right now.
The Wii U’s big selling point was its ability to offer asynchronous multiplayer using the GamePad and TV screens, or offering one player multiple perspectives on an in-game event. But it quickly became neglected, and was pretty much abandoned altogether within a year, even by Nintendo’s first-party games. In games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2, there’s very little beyond the basic rumble being used on the Switch, setting a familiar trend.
One thing that isn’t worrying about the Joy-Con is their battery life. It’s quite incredible that two tiny controllers with so much tech stored inside are able to keep going for 20 hours apiece. I haven’t as yet ever needed to stick them on the Switch because they were running out of juice. As they charge when docked on the Switch, I don’t foresee players ever worrying about their controllers dying mid-game. At night you can re-attach them to the console and in the morning they’ll be fully charged – they require 3.5 hours to recharge from a dead battery.
For more traditional gaming experiences, I think the Joy-Con are great, if a little small. Playing with both Joy-Con, I often played with one held in each hand, as I found this most comfortable, like using a wireless Wiimote and Nunchuck. The buttons are easily accessible and my index fingers rest nicely on the shoulder buttons. I used to loathe the fact that Nintendo uses digital triggers, but on the Switch ZL and ZR feel perfect and have a very satisfying and responsive click.
The Joy-Con R’s Home button is raised slightly, whereas the screenshot button on Joy-Con L sits flush, making it tougher to press, perhaps to stop people accidentally capturing hundreds of screens while running around.
The face buttons on both Joy-Con are very small and sit high, but are fine to use. SL and SR, on the other hand, aren’t as nifty. For multiplayer gaming, the controllers can be turned on their side, with SL and SR replacing the functionality of the top shoulder buttons. Because they sit in the rail where the Joy-Con attach to the Switch, they don’t protrude, and you’ll have to “hook” your fingers to press them, which isn’t great. My hands looked like I was trying to make a Gareth Bale love heart when holding the pad like this, but when attaching the included Joy-Con wrist straps, things get much better, as it makes the controllers thicker.
For most single-player games, many people will probably use the Joy-Con Grip, though this can also get a little uncomfortable in prolonged play. Playing Zelda with the Joy-Con in the Grip, I found reaching for the right analogue stick in particular (or the face buttons on Joy-Con L, as they occupy the same space) caused my hand to cramp up after a couple of hours of play. The analogue sticks are very small which doesn’t help, as at times they can sit uncomfortably under the thumb.
This is where the Pro Controller comes in, which is probably the most comfortable way to play the Switch. A giant, meaty controller, the Pro pad sits perfectly in the hands. It’s also light despite including much of the functionality found in the Joy-Con, including HD Rumble, gyroscopic sensors and NFC for amiibo. It also brings over the excellent battery life to boot, with a whopping 40 hours off a single charge.
The plastic main compartment coupled with the slightly rubberised handles and larger analogue sticks make it sit perfectly in the hands, certainly more so than its diminutive Joy-Con siblings. The Pro Controller also has a D-Pad, something with the Joy-Con lack, meaning it should be very appealing to more hardcore and eSPorts players, particularly when the likes of Street Fighter arrive on the Switch. However, unbelievably for a Nintendo controller, the D-pad is probably the most lacklustre part of the whole thing.
The D-pad sticks out very far from the base of the controller, meaning for the likes of fighting games and other genres which utilise it, it could be very uncomfortable to use. I sat at home and did a few Hadouken inputs and my thumb was already hurting. It’s a minor issue, but one that will definitely be a problem for the controller’s target market.
Another minor annoyance is the placement of +/- and the Home and Screenshot buttons, in that they should be reversed. The Home and Screenshot buttons sit where the Pause and Select buttons traditionally sit on any other pad, meaning there was plenty of times when I wanted to pause a game and wondered why I was looking at the Switch’s home screen.
However, these problems aren’t huge and the controller is probably my preferred way to play the Switch at home, but what is a huge sticking point is the absurd asking price. Nintendo is asking £65 for a controller that pales in comparison to its Xbox One and PS4 counterparts, both of which can be bought for around £40 brand new.
This controller is good for a Nintendo pad, but it does nothing to justify the price tag – and it’s certainly not a significant enough improvement over the Joy-Con to encourage players to fork out the extra cash on top of their already £300+ investment.
Overall, I feel like the Joy-Con are excellent controllers despite their small form factor. I really hope their versatility and tech are used by games throughout the Switch’s lifecycle so that they don’t become a wasted investment. Maybe this is where the indie devs will play a huge role.
The Pro Controller, while very comfortable and decent, is simply far too expensive for what it is. Maybe when its price dips below the £50 mark it can be recommended.
Now that the day one update is live, I finally have access to the Nintendo Switch’s full suite of functionality, including the Nintendo eShop and online support. However, without a multiplayer game to really sink my teeth into, there isn’t much to properly test online stability, multiplayer matchmaking and so forth. But everything else I’ve been able to test has been great.
Many reacted with apprehension when Nintendo revealed that the Switch’s 6.2-inch IPS screen would only support a maximum resolution of 720p. However, in practice, the display is a triumph thanks to a vibrant picture capable of showing off beautiful colours and art styles.
Playing Breath of the Wild or 1-2-Switch – the two games Nintendo provided ahead of launch – in portable mode is great, and in fact I’ve spent most of my time enjoying Zelda as a portable experience. I still find it incredible that I’m able to play a game as brilliant and expansive as Zelda on a handheld device, and it’s at moments like this when I realise how much I adore the Switch. I happily sat wandering the lands of Hyrule while something else was on the TV without feeling like the experience was at all lacking.
The screen also offers capacitive touch, putting menus and the user interface leaps and bounds ahead of its Wii U predecessor in terms of usability. The screen is responsive and moving around the display is quick and easy, much like using any other mobile device.
In terms of aesthetics, the UI is very similar to the one on the Wii U, offering a simple, tiled display. Simple information including games, users, news, eShop, system settings and synced controllers is all visible from the main screen. Battery and Wi-Fi are visible in the upper left corner of the screen.
Rather than the multi-tiled layout, though, the Switch opts for a single row of tiles which can be easily scrolled through using your finger. This improves visibility on the small screen and also helps reduce clutter. How this will play out as gaming libraries increase and players have to scroll endlessly to find what they want to play remains to be seen. This list automatically shows the most recently played game first, though, which should help.
The eShop also looks very similar to the Wii U and 3DS offerings, using the same orange glow and tiles seen before, only the user experience is faster and user-friendly. Checking out Super Bomberman R on the shop allows me to browse pictures, product description and I can also check out related titles without waiting an age for each thing I click to load, a far cry from Nintendo’s previous offerings.
Friend requests and notifications pop up in the top left of the screen, and then a small icon will be affixed to the relevant user on the home screen. By then clicking onto your own profile page, you can view, accept and add new friends. Another cool feature is being able to add friends based on who you’ve played with in previous games on other devices. For example, I received friend recommendations based on players I added on Super Mario Run, again showing Nintendo’s (albeit slow) adaptation to online functionality and connectivity.
On the downside, Nintendo still relies on the dreaded Friend Codes for adding new friends. Given you link your Facebook and Twitter accounts to post screenshots, it's about time Nintendo finally sorted out this ridiculous system
Overall, the user interface is basic but functional and incredibly easy to use. Considering the Switch’s broad target market, it makes sense to strip everything back and allow only the simplest of settings to be available with very minimal obstruction between the user and the games they want to play or buy. This has come at a cost, of course, with notable absentees like Bluetooth settings for wireless devices or modern niceties like a Netflix app, but the simplistic start is perfectly usable and leaves potential for growth over the console’s life cycle.
In terms of portability, the Switch itself is incredibly easy to take on the go, and the transition of gameplay from TV to handheld and vice-versa is amazingly fast. Removing the Switch from the dock sees whatever I’m playing on the TV almost instantly transfer to the console’s screen. It only takes a fraction longer for the game to transfer to TV when docking the device, and I’m pretty sure the fault lies with my Samsung KS7000 telly rather than the Switch.
Playing on the go, I found the console extremely comfortable in handheld mode. It isn’t too heavy and sits comfortably in the hands. When sitting at a table, sliding the Joy-Con off the Switch and playing in tabletop mode is equally comfortable, perhaps more so as I can let my hands rest in any comfortable position with the display in front of me.
Its width means it won’t sit easily in pockets, so will probably need to be carried in a backpack of some sort, which also comes onto my next point... I’m a bit OCD when it comes to my tech, and try my best to keep it in as close to mint condition as possible for as long as I can. That’s why I’d be extremely hesitant to take the Switch out without a proper carry case. I have one on pre-order, and until it arrives I’ve literally been transferring the console to and from work in the retail box.
The screen has been pretty sturdy thus far, with no noticeable scratches to report as yet, bar one slight mark on the bezel – but I wouldn’t like to test this any further.
I’ve really grown to love the Switch the more I’ve used it. I’m continuously wowed by how simple it is to boot up and within a mere couple of seconds I’m immediately back playing Zelda. Being able to have all my home and portable console gaming experiences wrapped up in one device, and the thing actually work this well, is a marvel. Once a greater breadth of compelling software hits the market, I think I’ll be very hard-pressed to put the console down.
Anyone who’s followed this review diary knows that the Switch and I didn’t get on at first. Teething problems with the Dock and left Joy-Con meant my early enjoyment of Nintendo’s new flagship console was tarnished with frustration. It made me very concerned about Nintendo’s new flagship console.
However, after spending more time with the hardware, I’ve slowly but surely been won over by its charm. The problems remain, some far worse than others, but in spite of them the Switch’s versatility and accessibility make it a joy to play at times, particularly as a portable machine. Despite some of my current concerns with the hardware, it’s hard to argue this console isn’t absolutely brimming with potential in the months to come.
If you’re like me, your first few days with the Switch will be tough going, as its flaws and shortcomings will be at their most infuriating. The Joy-Con controllers, while full of amazing technology, suffer an at-times game-breaking flaw, with frequent Joy-Con L sync issues.
When playing in docked mode, Joy-Con L often disconnects, especially when line of sight between controller and console is obscured. This is a huge problem in the likes of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as it causes Link to continue wandering off odd directions. Link can saunter off ledges to his doom, or straight into a group of enemies, to endless frustration.
It’s even worse in competitive multiplayer. Playing 1-2-Switch, I used the left Joy-Con for games which involved “running” to grab a beach flag – achieved by shaking the controller up and down, much like many people did with the Wii to cheat fitness games – and in many replays my in-game avatar simply stayed in place, showing how buggy the pad can be. This situation is made even more terrible when my opponent is a relative or spouse, who thinks that “my controller broke” is simply sour grapes.
In instances where results have little consequence, like in 1-2-Switch, these can be brushed off as brief irritations, but with Nintendo’s intention to push more towards competitive gamers, this issue needs fixing. Nintendo’s current half-hearted attempt at informing gamers of its awareness of the problem is also worrying, offering only a brief FAQ on its website to make sure we don’t stand near aquariums while playing. Thanks, Ninty, for doing nothing except let us know you had absolutely no idea about the problem before shipping.
The left Joy-Con wasn’t the only frustration I had while the Switch was docked, either. The console will randomly switch my TV over from whatever I’m watching to the HDMI port it is plugged into, even when it’s in Sleep mode. This has happened so often that I’ve resorted to leaving the console undocked when not in use, and if it’s in need of a charge I shove the USB-C adapter in the bottom of it just so I can watch YouTube without fear of a random TV source change.
Players frustrated by the Joy-Con sync problem can also invest in a Pro Controller, which in my experience is the most comfortable controller with which to play games at home, offering most of the functionality of the Joy-Con, plus great analogue sticks and also a D-pad.
But right now the controller is simply far too expensive. It simply isn’t that much better to encourage anyone other than the most hardcore players to spend another £65 on top of the initial £300+ investment.
This isn’t the only accessory demanding a chunk of cash, either – Nintendo is expecting consumers to fork out another £25-30 for a Joy-Con Charging Grip. The only difference between this and the Grip which comes in the box is that it has a USB-C port at the top, meaning you can charge your Joy-Con while playing games. Extra Joy-Con controllers can cost £75 a piece, and even a new AC adapter can set you back £25.
There are also some accessories that many will consider necessities. With the Switch sporting a mere 32GB of internal storage, a microSD memory card will soon be required for many gamers, which can cost up to £100 for the larger capacities. Then there’s the portable battery pack for those wanting to get multiple charges on a long day out, which needs to be USB-C-to-USB-C to charge the Switch quickly enough to be sustainable. We recommend this Anker pack for another £45.
The launch software lineup is also thin outside of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – although that’s now my favourite game ever. Players may find game experiences lacking out of the gate, especially if you’re looking for reasons to split those Joy-Con and share the experience with a friend. However, this complaint will no doubt soon be rectified by the wave of exciting games set to launch in the Switch’s first year, including plenty of interesting indie titles.
After all this, it would seem like I’d be encouraging consumers to avoid the Switch, except I’m not; I still think this is a machine worth investing in for many, especially families with young kids. But for others, it might be best to wait until there are more games to sink your teeth into, and also for Nintendo to offer fixes for the current hardware complaints.
In many ways, Nintendo is very much the Apple of the gaming industry. The Switch isn’t trying to compete with the PS4 or the Xbox One in the quest to reach hardcore gamers, nor should it. The Nintendo Switch is targeting people who used to be, and wish they still were, hardcore gamers, but then life got in the way, pushing video games lower down the list of priorities. The Switch is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a gaming one, and coupled with its accessibility and versatility, it’s a phenomenal piece of design.
I’m continually mesmerised by the fact that I can play incredible titles like Zelda on the go. Playing Breath of the Wild on the big screen at home before heading into work, only to then be able to take the Switch off the dock and instantly that game is on the gorgeous 6.2-inch display in my hands… It’s amazing.
Also, when the left Joy-Con decide to play nice, the new controllers are wonderful to use, and the idea of immediate local multiplayer built into the machine is genius. I’ve spent more time with my family playing Snipperclips in the past week than I’d played any other multiplayer game in the several months before, simply because the Switch is so easy to use. Immediately after taking the Joy-Con off I have two controllers ready to go, and a game ready to play.
A huge criticism of the Wii U was its obscurity – the general consumer had no idea what it was or what it did, and Nintendo has done a complete 180 with the Switch to brilliant effect.
However, in much the same way as those wanting to invest in the ecosystem tend to have to pay a little extra, that seems to be the case with the Switch. The initial £279.99 outlay looks cheap, but be prepared to invest significantly more if you want to experience this new console at its fullest.
The more I’ve used the Switch, the more I’ve grown to adore it. When it works, it’s the most exciting, creative and versatile console I’ve ever used. As someone who has less and less time to play games in his spare time, having a console that can literally follow me anywhere is brilliant. I would never have been able to put so many hours into Zelda had it been on a traditional home console. Nintendo’s creativity has come with some pitfalls, but I’ve learned to adapt to them, and am more than willing to because of how good the Switch currently is and can be going forward. This is a console that will surely only get better with age with new software updates and a bulkier software lineup.
I’m pretty confident in saying this will be my go-to console for 2017, and any multiplatform games – not that there will be many of them – will mostly be played on the Switch.
I feel like Nintendo has been the most forward-thinking of the “big three” hardware manufacturers. While Sony and Microsoft chase the top end in performance, Nintendo is chasing me, as a consumer, by adopting the core attribute that’s made Netflix, Amazon and others so successful: convenience.
Sure, it’s not as powerful as other consoles on the market, the left Joy-Con can often work only when it wants to, it’ll cost a bomb to get the full kit, and the dock is terrible. Yet I can’t help but love the Nintendo Switch for its versatility and the fact that it really speaks to me as an avid gamer who knows time to pour into my love and passion is becoming shorter by the day.
If you seek the apex of gaming experiences, played in the highest visual fidelity with graphics so good they’ll make your eyes bleed, then of course the Switch isn’t for you. If you’re simply looking to have some fun with some amazing games, with a console that can be played wherever you are and that comes with two controllers in the box so your kids don’t have to fight over whose turn it is, then you could do worse than get this machine.
As a gamer with less and less time to play games at home, I’m able to look past many of the Switch’s current faults and love it for what it is. Personally I can’t put the Switch down right now. For others, getting past the problems isn’t proving so easy, and some of these issues may be too big an annoyance as things stand.
Software is also a little thin as things stand, so if the line-up doesn’t currently speak to you then maybe this is a console worth looking at in a few months’ time when the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, ARMS and Super Mario Odyssey have all joined the party. We’ll revisit this review when that time comes, and hopefully the other issues will have been resolved.
As a home console, it has some problems, but as a portable, I can’t put the Nintendo Switch down.