Nintendo's Switch seems to have had a successful rollout. It's almost impossible to find in stores two weeks after release, and an industry analyst report suggests that the new console has already sold through 1.5 million units worldwide. And if you're like us, your social media feed is full of people recounting or screenshotting their most amazing moments in Breath of the Wild.
But while many seem to be besotted with the device, there's been rumbling about the left joy con, the placement of the charge cable, the cost of the mini cartridges, and myriad other niggling things.
Now that we've had a bit of time to mess around with the device in a variety of settings, we decided to hold an impromptu discussion about the plusses and minuses of the Switch, [get it?! because the controller has--nevermind] and what sort of play experiences seem to work best on it.
Chris Baker (@chrisbaker1337), assignment editor: I'll tee us up, since I foolishly didn't preorder a Switch. Now I'm desperately calling around to all of the Targets and Best Buys and Gamestops and Toys R Us within a 50 mile radius... Hopefully, I'll be able to weigh in before this conversation is over.
Anyway, what were your initial impressions of the hardware, and how has that changed as you've spent more time with it?
Kris Graft (@krisgraft), editor-in-chief: Right, so I posted a few thoughts about the Switch a few weeks ago, prior to the console’s commercial launch, and before its day one patch.
To sum that up, basically the hardware itself does have an innate appeal, a magical-ness about it when you use it. Even though I’d basically seen how it would work in the commercials, to actually have it in my hands, playing with the various configurations (people I showed it to freaked out – in a good way— about the tiny joy-cons), and going from TV mode to portable mode seamlessly convinced me that Nintendo has something here. Like a lot of Nintendo’s products, you don’t really appreciate it until it’s in your hands and out in the wild.
I did have some issues with it, namely a left joy-con that intermittently lost connection. I’ve seen reports that this could have to do with a Bluetooth antenna that isn’t quite long enough. This is an absolutely ridiculous problem to have, and one that Nintendo – a hardware maker – should’ve been able to avoid. That said, lots of people haven’t encountered this problem, and it seems like as long as I don’t allow my lap to block any Bluetooth signals, this dumb issue is avoidable.
Having been using the Switch for about three weeks, I’m otherwise enamored with it. I know that there have been portables that have said they offer ‘console-style games on the go,’ but this is the first time anyone has really successfully pulled it off. I like the Switch not necessarily because I want to play video games absolutely anywhere, but just the generally flexibility of the thing is so unassuming and non-invasive to my life and my schedule.
Here’s a Switch anecdote: I was at a low-key party at the end of GDC last week, and I brought the Switch. I set it up on a coffee table using the console’s built-in stand, and people played Snipperclips using the two joy-cons until the battery died.
I just thought it was cool seeing a proper mini-console with baked-in local co-op capabilities working in practice. The commercials that featured hip kids playing Switch were accurate! (Except for the hip kids part.)
One thing I am worried about is the software pipeline here following launch. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is incredible, and you can dump a ton of time into it, but after that, I wonder if Nintendo can keep stoking the hype. I’m encouraged by what I saw at Nintendo’s Switch indies event at GDC, but I wonder if the walls to their garden are a bit too high.
Lastly, while I’m brain-dumping, it is super cool that game devs can just walk around a conference, whip out a Switch, and show you the full-blown console game they’re working on.
Bryant Francis (@RBryant2012), contributing editor: I think it goes without saying I’m in love with the Switch, and in love with Breath of the Wild, so I’m mostly thrilled with how Nintendo’s handled this thing so far.
Like Kris said, console gaming wherever you want is just a mind-bogglingly good idea. I’ve played it away from home, at home, in bed, etc, and the battery life/game quality have been consistent wherever I go. I’m particularly enamored with the fact that the Switch’s less-powerful hardware (compared to other consoles) is able to make a game like Breath of the Wild look and play SO WELL.
Even on the smaller screen, surveying the landscape still gives me clues about my next destination, and I hope developers can look at the hardware and say ‘this isn’t the most powerful, but I can use these limitations,’ rather than ‘these limitations mean I can’t ship as strong a game as I can on another platform.'
I also think we’re secretly witnessing one of Nintendo’s big wins for their mobile strategy here. After the embargos came up, I saw a lot of reviewer friends complaining about friend codes again, BUT I hopped into the friend menu and was surprised to discover I could re-friend people who I’d played Miitomo and Super Mario Run with.
If Nintendo mobile games are able to act as both advertisements and network-bases for the Nintendo Switch, that’ll help their online network do well over time, I think.
A brief thought on the hardware problem: I’m beginning to think over the many, many devices I’ve bought over the years that supposedly launched with “Critical” errors and how-little they impacted the overall health of that device’s lifespan. Xbox Red Rings, iPhone 4 antennae blockage, all these things were supposedly things that should have been ‘mastered’ by hardware makers, yet stuck around for a bit.
I guess the better question for Nintendo is how is it going to resolve the left Joy Con errors down the road, and will it work with customers who can’t seem to keep a hold on that Bluetooth signal?
Looking over the horizon, I think, just like Nintendo’s last three consoles, there are questions as to how developers will respond to making games for it. First, why are some games like Rime starting to be more expensive on Switch than other consoles, and will that be a business problem?
Second, can developers properly take advantage of some of the Switch features that Breath of the Wild is showing off right now? I’d say there’s a huge platter of ideas in that game that help sell the Switch as a console, not just the Zelda game itself, and if Developers don’t adapt to those mechanics the console will struggle to form its own identity.
Third, how will games launched on the Switch fare in the middle of what is a HUGE glut of AAA games right now? Nintendo doesn’t just have a soft lineup for the rest of the year, it has a soft lineup in the face of some amazing lineups on other platforms. There’s a kind of zeitgeist Nintendo seems to like to hold in a given moment, and will it fare well with so many games hitting the market?
Chris Kerr (@kerrblimey), news reporter: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I completely agree with everything Kris and Bryant have said.
I was smitten with the concept of the Switch when I clapped eyes on it during that reveal trailer back in October. On paper, the notion of a console with enough power to play the likes of Breath of the Wild and Skyrim, but with the flexibility of a handheld was music to my ears.
Not because I've gone through life knowing the only way I'll ever feel complete was to fight dragons on a plane, but because the Switch seemed to be a device that would work around my schedule. As much as it pains me, the older I get the less time I get for video games (and I'm only a 23-year-old pup), so being able to pick up Zelda for 30 mins when I'm on the train back to Manchester was actually a huge selling point.
Beyond that, I absolutely adored the hardware design. I know it's what Nintendo does best, but I was genuinely taken aback by how well the idea seemed to click into place (pun very much intended). The touch-screen tablet, the dock, the nifty little Joy-Cons — I had a real craving to get my mitts on the tech itself, and it's been a long time since I've been able to say that about any console.
I mean sure, I love my PlayStation 4, but was I really clamoring for another gigantic lump of plastic in my flat? No, because I'm not a lunatic.
Now that I've spent a week with the Switch I'm pleased to say my enthusiasm was completely warranted. I think the highest praise I can give Nintendo is that the system works exactly as advertised. The joy of clicking the Joy-Cons into place and taking the Switch off-road for some Hyrule-based shenanigans still hasn't worn off. And while I'm not naive enough to think the honeymoon period will last forever, it's strange that I still get just as giddy using the Switch as I do watching others play it.
Case in point: I had to travel back home last weekend for a family shindig, so I brought the Switch along. While I was there I thought my younger brother and sister might want to take Snipperclips demo for a spin. I was right, and they predictably spent the next half an hour utterly entranced by the system - which I'd set up on a table using the kickstand. It's a similar story to the one Kris told, except mine actually does feature hip kids.
That's the thing about the Switch. There are plenty of people who might scoff at the idea of a console-handheld hybrid, and sometimes I feel like an overenthusiastic tele-salesman when I write the words "it really does work!" But that's the truth: as a piece of hardware, the Switch is a thing of pure wonder that delivers on all of its promises.
Unfortunately, the best console in the world would fall flat without the software to back it up, and that's currently where the Switch is struggling. Sure, Breath of the Wild is amazing, but it's telling that I'm actually afraid to sink too much time into it for fear of running out of games to play.
So far then, it's a case of so good. And I'm quietly confident that Nintendo will manage to support the Switch going forward. Even if the system becomes an indie haven peppered with the odd triple-A release and first-party delicacy, I'll consider it a sound investment. Will that be enough for everyone else? I'm not sure.
Alex Wawro (@awawro), news editor: We've got a lot here already and I agree with pretty much all of it, so I'll skip past all my early impressions of the Switch (it's pretty great! I wish the Joy-Cons and the kickstand were a bit less breakable!) and get right to the best bits: the sound effects.
If you're a game developer, I think it's in your best interest to have your game on a platform that's fun and intuitive to use. I don't think the Switch's user interface is terribly intuitive at the moment -- it's easy to navigate if you don't have much to peruse, and likely to get bogged down if you install a lot of software -- but it is super fun to move through, thanks in large part to the charming noises it makes. I like them so much I went and captured a video of some of my favorites:
Good, right? I think we too often talk about game hardware in terms of power or value; charm is underrated.
Of course, the Switch's charm won't be worth much in a year or two if Nintendo can't keep it updated with a steady stream of fresh software. The 2017 Switch software lineup seems kind of unbalanced, with a handful of popular Nintendo first-party games (Zelda, Mario, Splatoon) releasing alongside a grab bag of new and old games from developers of all sizes.
I think the first-party stuff will sell consoles, but the offbeat release schedule and pricing of the third-party stuff makes me a little nervous about the long-term viability of being a non-Nintendo dev releasing games on the Switch.
We already know that Nintendo is making a show of being more selective (for the moment, at least) in which indies it allows onto Switch, and that developing for the hardware isn't a huge headache -- but will Switch owners buy non-Nintendo games in significant enough quantities that the platform is attractive to third-part y developers a year (or five) from now? I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Kris Graft: Like I mentioned briefly, I’m concerned for the Switch when it comes to software – it seems to have decent support, but it’s hard to tell how the higher profile releases will be spaced out. Release timing will be crucial in building and maintaining the Switch’s momentum, because once the Zelda hype dies down I’m not sure what will keep the buzz going between now and the fall.
That said, let’s be honest, Zelda hype SHOULD NEVER DIE DOWN.
Ahem, so I do think that Nintendo’s “Nindies” indie reachout could play an important role in keeping a steady stream of games coming to the Switch, even if those games are not “system sellers,” per se. Sony used the same strategy in the early of the PlayStation 4, when there was a dearth of big-budget “triple-A” games, and Nintendo could do the same to a similar advantage.
While Nindies’ somewhat restrictive “quality before quantity” tack might be frustrating for some developers who want to get on the console, I do see that Nintendo is nevertheless open to receiving pitches, giving more attention to quality games that haven’t yet come out on console.
I spoke with one Nindie dev (I swear I’m not adding “Nindie” to my everyday parlance) at GDC this year, and he said it took him about one month to bring his Windows PC build to the GDC build. And on a related note, Damon Baker, Nintendo’s indie guy, specifically said in an interview, “If it’s on Steam, then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be on Nintendo Switch as well.”
Ease of porting combined with the Switch’s home-to-portable capabilities are an exciting combo to me, and probably a decent amount of other folks.
Ok I need to get back to Thunderblight Ganon.