The Nintendo Switch is 4 years old. I got mine on day 1 so that means I’ve had it for four years, or over 10% of my life. It definitely doesn’t feel new to me, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been with me that long. Time flies.
For me the Switch has been both a good console and something of a disappointment. Breath of the Wild is my favorite game, so it’s hard to argue with that as a major point in its favor, and I’ve played a lot of other really good games on it, from Mario Odyssey and 3D World+ Bowser’s Fury to Xenoblade Chronicles to Animal Crossing New Horizons. It has had enough highlights to justify the money I spent on it, and to have provided a bunch of fun and meaningful experiences.
On the other hand there are months that go by where I don’t touch it. The Switch has a huge number of games available for it, but many of them are ports that I’d rather play elsewhere with better graphics, loading times, and achievements/trophies (not that I really care about those, but they’re a nice extra.) It’s generally the last place I’ll go to play games if I can avoid it, and I almost never use its headline portability feature. I had hoped that the Switch would be a new kind of Nintendo system; one that married the heavy hitters of their home consoles to the constant stream of software and experimentation of their handhelds. It hasn’t. Instead for me it’s been like the N64 and the Gamecube and the Wii. A place to play the big Nintendo games, which I’ve loved, and a few other things you can’t get elsewhere, but more of a complimentary console than one of my main places to play games. I have a friend who took up gaming during the pandemic and bought a Switch to play Zelda and Mario…and then he bought a PS4 and hasn’t really looked back. If I didn’t already have a PS4 I might have done the same, even though there’s definitely enough available on the Switch to make it a solid primary platform for people who value portability more than fidelity of graphics and UI quality. I’m just not one of those people.
The following are some pros and cons for my own personal experiences with the system. I realize they are not universal.
- The Switch’s best games are among the best I’ve ever played. Zelda Breath of the Wild felt like being a kid again. Bowser’s Fury and Mario Odyssey are the best 3D platformers I’ve ever played. Mario Kart 8 is clearly the best kart racer ever. The Switch’s highlights are unassailable.
- The Switch does have a strong library of smaller complimentary games. Hades was probably objectively the best game from 2020 that I played. I had a ton of fun with Picross and Crypt of the Necrodancer. I’m sure Cadence of Hyrule is awesome. If you want to play Switch there’s always something new and fun on it. It just might be on something else as well.
- The Switch Pro Controller is great. Nintendo basically just said “What if we just make an Xbox controller with motion controls built in but no analog triggers” and then they did it, and it’s fantastic. Comfortable, lots of battery, durable, nice looking, by far my favorite Nintendo controller of all time.
- Nintendo has made efforts to modernize some practices, such as having an actual account instead of all software tied to hardware, decent and somewhat readable digital game sales, and a nascent retro game subscription service. Switch Online is very reasonably priced.
- It’s a portable and a console. So…yeah. That’s neat. You only have to buy one machine to get access to all of Nintendo’s output, and you can take your console games with you on a bus or play your bus games on the big screen. This was a more valuable feature about a year ago, and hopefully will be more valuable again in the future.
- The Switch has not been the hotbed of Nintendo innovation I was hoping for. My favorite games have all been from franchises that existed for decades, and while they’ve taken shots with new IP like Arms it hasn’t really landed. They haven’t even put out much of the indie-type stuff they did on the 3DS like Boxboy and Pushmo, which are two of my favorite 3DS games. There’s a Boxboy game for Switch, but no Pushmo, and not a lot of innovative small stuff. If you look past the Wii U ports then Nintendo’s development record on Switch is kind of spotty, and definitely lower in volume than I’d hoped.
- Nintendo has modernized a little…but not nearly enough. You can use Micro SD cards but there’s no external storage even though the Switch proper (as opposed to the Lite) has lots of ports and could easily support an external hard drive if they wanted. Basic UI features are missing like the ability to organize games in folders or stay logged in to the store if you want to make multiple purchases.
- Switch online sucks. It sucks as a service. It sucks how it’s implemented. The voice chat makes no sense. The friend codes are dumb.
- Switch retro offerings are very limited compared to the Virtual Console of the past. NES and SNES game selections include a lot of heavy hitters but also some serious junk, and are not extensive. Everything else is a la carte and kind of random.
- The Switch has not been the system that made me enjoy portable gaming. I don’t like the Joycons as controllers at all and they feel flimsily attached to the machine in a way that feels cheap. Obviously Joycon quality has been bad for a lot of people. Some people obviously love the Switch in portable mode so this is very much a YMMV situation, and my personal history with portables is not a positive one.
- The Switch is seriously underpowered at this point. That doesn’t matter so much for first party games, which are generally designed to work within the hardware’s constraints and still look great (though Bowser’s Fury can get framey at times, as can BOTW) but a lot of third party games struggle. For someone who plays primarily in docked mode this, plus Nintendo’s bad digital rights policies and other issues, makes the Switch a less appealing place to play games that are available on other platforms.
Four years in the Switch is what it is. It’s a console I’ve enjoyed and played intensely when it had some new game out that I wanted to play, but one that I rarely turn on to peruse the library like I do with my PlayStation and Xbox. There’s plenty of stuff to enjoy on it, again I think that this could easily be someone’s only gaming platform without them feeling deprived in the least, but most of it can be found elsewhere.
The thing that I find disappointing is how little Nintendo has evolved over the last 4 years. Its game output is still relatively low compared to prior eras, and lacking in smaller and more original titles. The UI and account management system still lack incredibly basic features. The retro selection is anemic and packed with plenty of filler. Most of these are issues that could be fixed relatively easily (game output is obviously more difficult than something like adding folders or picking up the pace of NES and SNES releases) but the system is selling well and Nintendo doesn’t want to change. That’s just part of the price of admission.
I like the Switch. I think it was worth the money. If you accept it for what it is then what it is is pretty great. I was just hoping for some things that it looks like we’ll never get.