Think back a few weeks, leading up to the Switch launch, a cloud of apprehension in the air – stemming mainly from Nintendo’s secrecy on features – but also the limited launch line-up, the mass reports of joycon signal issues, the claims on battery life, little bugs picked up by the select few running pre-launch firmware.
Fast forward to March 2nd. The embargo lifts on Breath of the Wild, videos we’d watched, podcasts we’d eared; was this new Zelda any good? Would it live up to the hype. Nintendo had never done open-world before. Then the results came flooding in. The perfect 10s, the 5/5s, the breathtaking, the sublime. A masterpiece some said. While review scores are generally subjective, when word on the street is this hot, it’s hard not to sit up and take note. It seemed Nintendo had their smash-hit. Their new Mario 64.
Suddenly launch day is upon us and the lack of titles seemed less of an issue. In Breath of the Wild, Nintendo had a genuine system seller. What Xbox had with Halo, Super Nintendo with Mario World, the Wii with Wii Sports (yeah, really).
Switch is sold out at all retailers in the UK. The US much the same. By end of day, March 3rd, the standard version of Zelda was out of stock on Amazon. Hell, even the neon Joycons I’d pre-ordered got cancelled. Accessories were selling out left-right and centre. The amiibos were gold dust.
Cut to present day and sales figures show the Switch is the fastest selling console in the company’s history – even topping the mighty Wii. Breath of the Wild, with no doubt a very high attach-rate, was only denied top-spot in the sales charts by Guerilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn (a brand new IP offered to a huge install base).
So the first, and most important thing Nintendo got right: They purposely delayed and retooled Breath of the Wild for this moment. The result is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all-time. A game which has already rewritten the open-world rulebook. If you want to talk sandboxes, Breath of the Wild gives you more than just a bucket and spade. If you can dream it, this game generally lets you do it.
Since launch there’s been a lot of negativity surrounding the Switch hardware, and while most are valid issues, which may or may not be fixable with a software update, I feel much of what Nintendo have done well has been overlooked.
The Joycons. Those versatile little beasts. Whether attached, free, or sat in their grip; they’re tiny little design marvels. HD rumble whirrs your brain into confusion. There’s the ability to go 2-player with one console (note: please buy Snipperclips). Great portable analogue sticks and triggers. Motion controls, IR sensor, NFC reader. They’re packing a lot of tech.
The Screen. Manufactured by a small company called Japan Display Inc, it’s a 1280×720 resolution IPS capacitive touch panel, and it’s easily the best display Nintendo have ever shipped. It’s bright, the viewing angles are great, the size is perfect, and, in an age of slapping 4K screens into mobile phones, proves going for the numbers isn’t always paramount.
Whether it be undocked and on the move, or docked for that big screen experience, there is absolutely zero setup or confusion. It’s this binate experience which makes it such a compelling prospect. I was adamant before launch I’d merely use it in portable mode – a new Vita if you like. But buying the Pro controller feels like the right idea. I get home, I dock, I sit on the couch. With a push of L R I’m there. No pairing hassle, no delays, just straight in where I left off.
Currently it might look a bit simplistic, but the UX is intuitive, sleek, and very responsive. The design seems a hybrid of the PlayStation 4 and Wii U GamePad. I find the interface actually feels more ‘solid’ that the PS4, with no pop-in of UI elements/images and a general simplicity that leaves plenty of room for future updates. Indeed even a week after launch we’re still finding little easter-egg-like features such as the activity log and ‘All Software‘ button.
Nintendo always focused on what they had. There were none of the broken promises we got from Microsoft and Sony in the build-up to their launches. The focus was always on the versatility of the Switch, the local multiplayer fun, and the promise of more Nintendo franchises launching this year. The neon Joycons (which I disliked at first) are also genius in terms of marketing. The contrasting colours give the Switch identity, helping it stand-out in the ambiguity of today’s portable devices.
I’d like to mention some of the finer smart choices Nintendo made. They added a kickstand, a kickstand that may feel flimsy, but is in-fact supposed to ‘snap-off’ and be reattached (as covered by the support document on the console itself).
The decision to use microSD for storage expansion should be congratulated – especially with prices dropping all the time, and Nintendo confirming future compatibility up to a whopping 2TB.
Lastly, the use of USB-C – an industry standard connector – further cements Switch’s future-proof nature, shifting away from Nintendo’s previous mentality of creating proprietary solutions.
So while the Switch might be getting a lot of bad love on the internet, for me this is a clean break from Nintendo, and the result is something I never thought would capture my imagination quite like it has. The hybrid nature of the system isn’t just a gimmick, it’s actually a convenient and practical solution for the busy gamer.
If Nintendo can keep a steady flow of software and features coming in 2017 through to 2018, we might just be witnessing their return as a relevant hardware maker, and that’s good news for us all.