In the Field with the Nintendo Switch


Among the many things that ran through my head as I watched Nintendo’s late-night unveiling of its latest console, the Switch, was an unfortunate sense of déjà vu, as the company reps showed off several games that either relied entirely on or prominently used motion control. “We’re doing motion control?” I couldn’t help but think. “Really? Again?” Though I was ultimately excited by what I saw in that presentation, I was still a bit apprehensive about the decision to once again rely on what seemed like gimmicks. But, less than twelve hours later, as I found myself holding a pair of “Joy-Con” in my hand and swinging my arms strategically in a match of the 3D fighting game ARMS, it all made sense. I finally understood what they were going for.

I understood what they had been trying to go for, the past 11 years.

Nintendo Joy-Con with Joy-Con Straps

I’ve always loved Nintendo, and I think I probably always will... but our relationship has changed over the years. The SNES was the first home console I played; the N64 the first I owned. I waited in line overnight in the freezing cold for a Wii. And for many years, I was a Nintendo apologist. Any time anybody was annoyed by one of its many strange or (let’s face it) bad decisions, I would come rushing to the company’s defense. I was annoying. I got over that.

I got over that because I had to, because Nintendo has, for the past decade or so, made it hard to be an unabashed fanboy. The company is still home to some of the best developers in the world, but it can be hard to appreciate the quality of the world when it’s mired in all sorts of weird business decisions. I mean, did you know the Wii U has already been discontinued? I like my Wii U. There were some great games for it. But it’s dead now. And it’s been replaced by, honestly, what it should have been the whole time.

The Switch is what the Wii U wanted to be. The Wii U was a home console that you hooked up to your TV and could use with a tablet-like controller. The Switch is a tablet that can be used with controllers and be instantly hooked up to your TV. It’s a console/portable hybrid.

Like the Wii U, the Switch is centered around a 6.2" screen. However, said screen is no longer resistive (meaning no styli required) and is higher-resolution. At only 720p, its pixel density may pale in comparison to your average smartphone, but Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks great on it, as did all the other games I saw in my several hours of hands-on time.

Nintendo Switch in Handheld Mode (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild)

To be clear: The visuals you’re going to get out of a Switch are not going to compare to a PlayStation 4, let alone a PlayStation 4 Pro, looking more in line with high-end tablet games, which makes sense, because the Switch uses Nvidia’s Tegra hardware to power the system. (This also means that, overall, they will look better than what you’d get on the Wii U. It’s kind of incredible how far mobile graphics have come in such a short period.)

But what makes the Switch the “Switch” is the multiple-use cases for which it’s been designed. Here is a system that you can use on your couch, on the commode, or on the train. When in front of your TV, you can put the Switch into its docking station, which over-clocks the internals and allows the system to output higher-fidelity visuals than it can when functioning on its own (thus far, this mostly shows in a significant bump in resolution). On each side of the Switch is a “Joy-Con” controller, and they can be easily slid from the Switch’s side rails, where they can be put into a grip like a traditional gamepad or used separately. There’s no particular benefit to one or the other; it’s purely a matter of comfort. Using them together feels natural, but there’s something nice about using them separated. I remember the first time I ever used the Wiimote/Nunchuck combo and could control the game with my hands by my sides. I felt so lazy, but it’s so satisfying. This is that to the Nth degree, since there are no longer any wires. Put your hands wherever you feel most comfortable, and game on.

Nintendo Switch in Tabletop Mode

Or, you can use the Pro Controller. You should probably use the Pro Controller.

I say this for two reasons: 1) It’s just great. Like the Wii U Pro Controller before it, the Switch’s just feels good to use. The controllers for all the consoles this generation have been very good, and this is no exception. But, 2) The Joy-Con are fine overall, but because of their multi -purpose design, they’re not really “great” at anything. They’re good at most things and then not good at some other things. But critically: they don’t have a proper D-Pad.

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

The D-Pad that we know and love was a Nintendo invention. That and the analog stick are certainly two of the biggest contributions Nintendo made to video game control methods. The Pro Controller has a very good D-Pad (something I can say definitively after several rounds of Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers). The left Joy-Con, where you would expect to find a D-Pad, instead has something more akin to the yellow “camera” buttons that the N64 controller had in lieu of a second analog stick. They’re just four buttons that match the other four face buttons, except they have arrows on them instead of letters. Just as one person, this is annoying, but it makes sense when you realize that everything Nintendo is doing is ultimately about the multi-player experience.

For years, Nintendo has been the only company to really champion couch co-op. Part of this has been a result of Nintendo’s lackluster online capabilities (something they hope to change with the introduction of a paid service), which meant that online play was never even kind of a viable replacement, but also, the company just made games that thrived on getting people around the couch together. The Switch takes that to an extreme: For simpler games, you only need one Joy-Con to control, and you can give your second to a friend. Then, the two of you can play together, no extra purchases necessary. And since this is a portable, as well, you can play multi-player games… anywhere. On a bus? Pull out the Switch’s built-in kickstand and just start playing Snipperclips. That bus ride will be over in no time, because Snipperclips is amazing. (And though the battery only lasts an estimated 3-6 hours on a charge, Nintendo has finally eschewed proprietary ports and will charge using a USB Type-C cable, so you can charge it along with your phone or other device.)

Other games, like 1, 2, Switch, make heavy use of the Joy-Con’s other capabilities, like the motion control and the high-end haptic-feedback system. There’s a mini game where a certain number of metal balls are “placed” inside your controller using this “HD Rumble” feature, and you have to move it around like a box to guess how many are in it. I never guessed right (always off by one), but it was incredible how much it felt like there were actual balls rolling around inside my controller, to the point where I put it up to my ear, expecting that I could hear them rolling around. (The demonstrator laughed at me. Whatever.)

Nintendo 1-2-Switch

Most of these games not only don’t require you to not look at the screen, they require you to not look at the screen. It’s like they made an entire series of games based on the concept of Johann Sebastian Joust. It’s kind of awesome. (The only unfortunate thing is that it’s not packed in, because it feels very much like the Switch’s version of Wii Sports or Nintendo Land. Ah, well.)

Beyond that, the shockingly fun ARMS proved that the biggest impediment to the adoption of motion control was less the concept than the execution. In ARMS, you use one Joy-Con in each hand, and the way you move them causes your character to move, block, or attack. With still-painful memories of Wii Boxing in my mind, I expected to be disappointed, but I was blown away. I played several matches and watched dozens of others try it out, and everybody was surprised at just how much they liked the game and how well it played. They’ve finally got motion controller down. Better late than never… maybe?

And, of course, the other games were fun, too. Breath of the Wild, in particular, is going to be excellent, and I cried literal tears of joy when I saw the trailer for Super Mario Odyssey (and then tears of sadness when I didn’t get a chance to play it).

Nintendo The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Look, it’s Nintendo—a company that knows how to make good games. The best games, really.

We’re less than two months from the release of the Switch, and a whole lot of mysteries remain, but now that I’ve had a chance to really get some hands-on time with the system, I’m a lot less concerned about some of those specifics and much more hopeful for its future. There’s a lot of potential here, and they sold me on it.

Nintendo Switch

By going in this hybrid-portable direction, Nintendo has become interesting again. It’s yet another big gamble by the company. I’m genuinely excited to see where it goes from here.


Super Article. It really gives you an in-depth Nintendo experience.

Really great article. Still on the fence about buying it but I'm sure I'll give in and buy one. I just love new consoles.

Nice article. Still waiting for the preorders to open up on B&H haha. :P

yeah i keep reloading the switch page waiting for the preorders