In Part 1 of this series, I talked about my overall impressions of the Switch and it’s place in the spectrum of “home console” versus “handheld” gaming system. Part 2 covered some more detail about the ingenius Joy Con controllers as well as the Pro Controller, and the different modes of play that the system supports. In this part I will focus on the software, both the main system software as well as some games. I will leave discussion of the flagship Zelda game for its own post.
The system UI is fairly minimalist, but not in a bad way. In fact, it’s pretty refreshing compared to the Wii U’s overly convoluted and sloooooow UI. The main menu loads almost instantly, and suspending and resuming games is near instant as well.
Gone are the over-the-top Miiverse integration and other distractions, and Nintendo has done a really good job of making the various menus intuitive. Everything requires several fewer clicks than it did on the Wii and Wii U.
This is especially evident in the eShop. On the Wii and Wii U, purchasing a digital copy of a game was an exercise in attrition, requiring what felt like dozens of clicks and re-re-re-confirming the system that yes, I do indeed want to give you some of my money. On the Switch, buying a game is a much more seamless process, and feels a lot more like shopping on Amazon or the Steam store.
It feels like Nintendo has done a really good job of getting out of your way and letting you do the thing you’re trying to do with minimal friction, which was not exactly true of both the Wii or the Wii U. For instance, there is no more confirmation screen after selecting a title. It just starts.
There is also, blessedly, a dark theme which can be enabled via the Settings menu from the home screen. In my opinion, all software should have a dark theme option, especially any UI which is intended to be run on a big screen in the living room. Gone are the blindingly harsh menu screens of the Wii and Wii U if you’re playing at night in a dimly lit room.
One other thing that Nintendo has (finally) gotten right is that eShop purchases are tied not to the console, but to your Nintendo Account. Games can only be installed on one console at a time, but it’s nice to know that, since modern games are generally platform agnostic, your library will follow your account when Nintendo inevitably releases the Switch 2 or the Switch Mini or whatever, and you won’t have to re-buy everything for the new system (especially for Virtual Console releases).
There’s been some kerfuffle around the lack of some non-gaming functionality in the system software, namely the lack of a web browser and common streaming apps, like Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, etc (which were all present on both the Wii and Wii U). Nintendo has already stated that streaming apps are coming in the near future, and frankly I haven’t really missed the inclusion of a web browser.
Sure, I did use the Wii U’s browser from time to time to look up a strategy guide if I happneed to get stuck in a particular game, which was convenient, but I can also just do that with my phone or home PC, which have faster browsers and better text input, so omitting that function is not a deal breaker for me. I haven’t really missed it (and Breath of the Wild is a game that requires looking up hints pretty frequently).
It’ll be nice when the streaming apps are available, but again, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker. If you subscribe to those services you almost certainly already have a device which can watch them readily available. The Switch’s screen is very nice and bigger than the average cell phone, so it could be nice to use it as a “second screen” if you want to watch a different show than the rest of the family is watching in the living room, for example. I’m sure I’ll probably try that once the streaming apps are available, but I never really do that with my phone now, so I doubt it’ll be a common occurrence.
The “switching” capability for which the system is named works exactly as you would expect. Slap the system into the dock, and after about a second, the video pops up on your TV screen. Pick it up and it quickly converts to the device’s screen. Pairing and changing controllers is fast and painless as well.
Nintendo has done a very good job with this stuff, which I’m sure wasn’t easy. If you’ve ever used a dock with a laptop, you know painful this stuff can be to use. With the Switch you will quickly just take it for granted, because it just works exactly how you would expect, every time. It’s what Apple would call “magical.”
The biggest caveat of the Switch as of this writing is the dearth of available games. I purchased three along with the system: 1-2-Switch, Snipperclips, and of course The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
This is probably the one big negative of the experience of being an early adopter of the Switch. 1-2-Switch should’ve been the Wii Sports for this system, showcasing the unique capabilities of the hardware in the guise of a fun party game. The incredible success of the original Wii was in large part due to word of mouth, people picking one up after having a blast goofing around with Wii Sports at a friend’s house.
The thing that made Wii Sports fun was that while the games were largely based around a particular capability of the hardware, they were still representative of actual sports, and you could have fun trying to beat your friend’s high score, or set a new personal best. 1-2-Switch on the other hand, feels like essentially a tech demo. The “games” are generally just a single action and don’t really have any replay value. Once you play the “speed eating” game, there’s litte reason why you’d ever go back and play again.
The real problem is that 1-2-Switch is a full price game, and should really just be a pack-in (like Wii Sports was), or maybe like a $10 digital download. It does effectively show off all the various capabilities of the Joy Con controllers, but it just isn’t worth $50 and will probably not see much play time after playing each of the minigames a couple times. If you want a party game, I’d say save your money and get Mario Kart 8 Deluxe when it comes out.
Snipperclips is sort of the opposite of 1-2-Switch, it’s a really fun and effective way to show off the Switch, and it comes at a reduced price ($20), due to being available strictly as a digital download in the eShop. It’s a fun and surprisingly deep little puzzle game, and since the main game is cooperative, it’s a good way to show off the console to casual gamers and friends.
The main mode consists of a series of 1 or 2 player co-operative puzzles (if playing alone you simply switch between the two characters). Each puzzle is a single “screen” and you must figure out how to acheive some deceptively simple goal by “snipping” your characters into various shapes to form tools (like a gear to turn a crank, or a basket to convey eggs or other objects around the stage), or simply match the shape of your characters to a dotted outline.
There are also multiplayer modes including a battle mode where you attempt to “snip” the other players before they get you. It’s a cool little game and a great example of an indie title that probably never would have been distributed due to the prohibitive cost of manufacturing physical copies, but was made possible by the advent of the eShop.
There have been several reports online of issues that I have not experienced at all, and I believe have gotten blown way out of proportion given the rarity of which they are actually occurring. Those are:
Joy Con Disconnection
I have not experienced this at all. None of the controllers (left Joy Con, right Joy Con, or Pro Controller) have ever unexpectedly disconnected while playing. I even have the system perched up pretty high and somewhat behind the TV, and our couch is pretty far away due to the depth of our living room. It just has not been an issue. Maybe it only happens if you let the charge get really low in the controllers, I don’t know.
This is pretty anecdotal of course, but my Switch has zero dead pixels. I would like to believe Nintendo would replace the unit at no cost if you get one that has several, but I’ve had mine for three weeks now and there are still zero.
I think this one is probably the worst offender in terms of exaggeration. Nintendo’s hardware is generally pretty indestructable. I did purchase some of those “tempered glass screen protectors” you can find on Amazon due to reports of this issue, but I don’t think they are actually necessary at all. I’m sure if you smash the Switch into the dock really violently you could get the screen to scratch, but if you treat it with even a modicum of gentility I think you will be fine. I’d be more worried about messing up the USB-C jack on the bottom (or the connector on the dock) if you’re that hard on it.