In 2015, Nintendo renewed the world’s interest in the next generation of its gaming hardware when it announced the new dedicated system codenamed, “NX.” For nearly eighteen months, comments and speculation accelerated to the point of all but confirmed leaks of the console and its capabilities. Finally, on October 20, 2016, we learned about the essence of the Nintendo Switch and what we would expect to come of it when it finally launched in March of this year.
I bought a Wii U but not until after it hit its first year on the market. I bought a 3DS but not until two years after it first shipped. Nintendo hardware had become less desirable to me in the years that followed the Wii and DS era, feeling more like a continuation of those successes and less like a new thing. For the Switch, I lined up in the cold on launch day.
It finally felt like a new thing, and the culmination of everything that the company had learned not just in the previous generations of hardware but since the company began creating hardware. You can really see and feel the DNA of Nintendo in every aspect of the Nintendo Switch and its all of those years of experience boiled down into a single machine.
I love my Nintendo Switch.
First, I think the console is incredibly well designed. It’s sleek and carries a weight to it that signifies the power within. It’s obvious that there is no wasted space inside of the device. It looks like a competitive piece of technology in the greater landscape of devices, regardless of its status as a video game console. I think it rivals the best in mobile phone and tablet design. When compared to the previous two hardware releases, Wii U and 3DS, the Switch really sets itself apart as more of a device and less of a toy. While the 3DS saw several hardware revisions in its lifetime, with another still on the way, it never fully left the stigma of its toy-like design. The Wii U, despite its best efforts, consisted of a box that looked like a rounder version of its predecessor and a GamePad that looked like a toy for kids who weren’t allowed their own devices just yet. The GamePad in particular felt hollow and mirrored fingerprints with every touch. The Switch doesn’t have any of these problems. It looks like some of the best in class and the entire piece of hardware is incredibly small and thin.
The Switch is equipped with two controllers, right out of the box. It’s the first time that a Nintendo platform has been so ready for multiplayer since the Famicom. Where previous Nintendo consoles encouraged and even defined local multiplayer, they still required that you obtain another controller. The Switch has its two controllers, Joy-Con, attached to the side and ready for any scenario. I love that I can play the Switch with both Joy-Con attached to the sides in handheld mode, or I can slide them into the grip to form a more traditional controller. I can also use a single Joy-Con on its side and have a fully functional controller, or I can hold one in each hand and sit in any weird position that I like. The versatility of these controllers is part of what defines the Switch and really adds to its allure.
Next is the user interface. It’s still really early in the Switch’s life, and I know that inevitably the UI will see change of some kind but for now I think that what is in place is really impressive. There’s a definite lag in every other console experience I’ve had in the last five years. Thinking back to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, through their successors and competition and I can’t think of one experience where eventually I was stuck waiting on something to load. The Switch, and again, I know this is early, has no slowdown as I navigate through the menus. I can click through my games library, friend’s list, and settings and everything is really responsive and subtle. Every aspect of my interaction with the Switch’s navigation is what I wish for in other platforms. On PlayStation, the main menu slows between sections and has become more and more bogged down by unnecessary garbage across the screen. The Switch just works. It’s simple. I also love the sound effects and visual cues that indicate where you are or when you’ve reached the end of navigable space. I hate to imagine a future for this console where its become riddled with ads and the menus become unresponsive and overloaded.
I recently wrote about and often talk about how cohabitation has defined a new set of unspoken designations for playing games. My PlayStation 4 has seen far less play time collectively than my Vita, 3DS, or other handhelds. The fact is, I enjoy the proximity to my girlfriend and would rather spend time near her than away from her, and it’s something that the PlayStation 4 doesn’t easily allow for. My options are to eject myself from time together or ask her to sit idly while I play something. Alternatively, I spend time with the PlayStation 4 that could not possibly be occupied by our shared time together. When she’s still at work or out of town, I’ll dive into something for a good while. Of course, there’s always the exception to the rule and that one game that takes over for a few days regardless of anything in its way.
In the most recent months, the Switch has redefined those designations entirely. If I want a console experience, I no longer have to say, “Smell ya later,” to Katie. I guess I never had to say it in the first place. But now, I don’t have to leave the room and hole myself up in the basement or wait for times when I know I wouldn’t sacrifice our togetherness. I can bring the Switch right from the basement to the living room and watch TV or a movie, have a conversation, and still carry on in whatever game it is that I’m playing. It’s where my Vita and 3DS reigned previously that the Switch is taking over. The ability to take my favorite games with me and play them how I choose to play them is so powerful.
I love that I can toss this console in a bag and take it to a family gathering and easily entertain my family and share something new. I really don’t travel much, but I recently went for a two-hour car ride where I brought the Switch along and we killed the whole time by playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Arms. I had enough controllers by way of my four Joy-Con and the Pro controller to accommodate the whole car, even if the whole car didn’t want to play. Suddenly, that first look teaser at the Switch was coming to life before my eyes.
Later this year, I’m going on a trip for a few days. Katie keeps asking me what I’m most excited for, and I think she’s growing a little agitated that my answer is, “To play Switch on the airplane.” The reality is, it might be the thing I’m most excited about. Yeah, I get to go to a new place and see some new sights and eat some new food. While all of that will be new, it really isn’t a new experience, in a way. I’ll be doing things that I’ve already done, just slightly differently and in a different climate and time zone. The ability to play a console experience in the sky, away from my TV and setup, that’s the new experience. It too, is something I’ve pined for weirdly enough since seeing that original reveal.
Finally, the library is really what makes the Switch. The console and the idea behind it are an essential part to the Nintendo story right now, but a story is nothing without its characters. At the time of this writing, we’ve already endured the release of three major Nintendo franchises. We’re only days away from the release of a fourth. Later this year, we’ll see a new game in the Mario series, and likely some first-party surprises that are still waiting to be announced. There’s a lot of third-party support rolling out as well, many in the form of larger releases that a Nintendo console hasn’t seen in generations.
It’s a stark contrast to what both the 3DS and Wii U offered within their first year on the market, and even to the highly successful Wii in some ways. By this time in the 3DS’ life cycle, it was announced to receive a price cut and its biggest release was the remaster of Ocarina of Time. The platform launched with Pilotwings Resort, Steel Diver, and Nintendogs + Cats; as well as some third-party support. The Wii U launched with New Super Mario Bros. U and NintendoLand, along with some third-party support. It didn’t see another strong Nintendo-developed and published title until it was nine months old with the release of Pikmin 3.
The Switch already has a game in the Zelda series, and arguably one of the best to date; a game in the Mario Kart series, and arguably one of the best to date; a new property in ARMS, and one that is making its rounds to EVO Japan on the mainstage; and soon Splatoon 2, to follow up on the success of the 2015 Wii U title. It’s an impressive launch so far that doesn’t appear to be slowing down as we move toward the holiday release window. With the ability to throw a Nintendo Direct presentation up at any minute, the Switch could very well have the best launch window release schedule in any Nintendo platform’s history.
When the first-party support for the Vita dried up, indie developers found a new home for their games, and Vita owners found a new place to spend their money. As one of the few, I had an incredible renaissance on the machine as I explored the likes of what would soon become my favorite games of all time. I likely would have never fallen as deep in love with Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac had I not had them on my Vita for so long. They were perfect for that machine and for my play style, giving me the ability to dive into something fresh for as long or as little time as I liked. It was and is still one of my greater gaming memories.
Now, the Switch is stepping into that spotlight for a lot of these developers and we’re already seeing a lot of indie games sweeping across the platform. Further, I’m finding myself diving into a lot of them as they release. Again, if Bulb Boy had launched on PS4 the same week that it did on Switch, I would have missed it. In fact, Bulb Boy launched on Steam almost two years ago and it launched on mobile devices last year. I had no idea it existed until it released on the Switch, and I host a weekly video game podcast. There are a lot of games that release every day. It’s next to impossible to keep up with every single release. It’s very easy for something to get lost in the shuffle and never make its way back into the eye of the consumer. On Switch, suddenly these games have a new life.
Not only are the games more accessible by way of the short release list each week on Switch, but the audience will slowly become trained to look for these things. A hungry audience will eat what its fed but when it starts to develop a taste for it, it will begin to seek it out. I truly believe that the Switch is the next best indie machine and it’s already seen some incredible releases. Gonner launched on Switch just a few weeks ago and its remained in the Best Sellers section. It’s a beautiful action platformer with randomly generated levels and super tough gameplay, scratching the same itch that Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac created for me in years past. Mighty Gunvolt Burst released and is giving Inti Creates a second chance at the Mighty No. 9 franchise that it deserves. The game plays and looks like the classic games it drew inspiration from and it features an interesting hook of customization that changes the way the game plays. These are two of the games I’ve played and of the many that are living on Switch right now.
In combination, the Switch is home to the best that Nintendo can develop and the best that indie developers are making. It’s also where third parties are testing the ground with releases like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and WWE 2K18. By the time this console reaches its one year anniversary, it will have bested the same length’s strengths on both of Nintendo’s previous platforms in the same time, and you could argue it bests its competitors in the same amount of time. When this thing finally gets the Virtual Console added to it, I can’t imagine a greater platform.
Oh, except for one with Mother 3. It’s gotta have that too.
I’ve had to stop myself from standing up in the middle of writing this, a lot. As I write about the Switch, I think about the Switch and I think about what I would want to play on it right now and I want to leave whatever it is that I’m doing and go pick it up. I love the system, and I think it’s exactly what Nintendo needed to create and exactly the type of console that I want to play on. I wish that every game I wanted to play saw release on the system, simply because of the versatility of play. I’m eager to see where the library goes in the coming months and years, as am I excited to see what changes happen over time to the system software and hardware. Will we ever see NES controller Joy-Con? Is there going to be a Switch Lite? Can Miiverse make its triumphant return?
The future of the Switch is strong, and its present is already impressive. If you’ve yet to play one, amend that. If you’ve yet to own one, why not? I love the Nintendo Switch. It’s become my favorite place to play games, which is precisely, where I’m off to now.