Two weeks in the Switch is a delightful throwback

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Posted by BigSocrates (1887 posts) -

I was a Switch skeptic prior to its launch, though not enough of one to drop my pre-order, and I remain somewhat unconvinced that Nintendo has enough support planned for this thing to make it a success. That being said, my first two weeks as a Switch owner have been delightful. I can't recall the last time I had this much fun with a new system right out of the box, and it's been pretty much all I've been playing on since I got it. It is my favorite place to play games right now.

The Switch definitely has some growing pains to go through (hardware issues, a broken online system with friend codes back, bizarre decisions like locking save games to a single system) and I don't know if I trust Nintendo to resolve them, but it's a system whose vision I really appreciate and that I really want to succeed. It remind me of the way games used to be, before the slow conversion of game consoles into set-top multimedia devices that also play games. The Switch feels like where game systems would be if Sony hadn't pushed multi-media capacities with DVD and Blu-Ray capability, and Microsoft hadn't followed by making streaming apps and a large media store. It is games first games only, and though I didn't know it, that's something I've been missing for awhile now. I turn on my Xbox One when I want to relax; it's a replacement for my cable box with tons of streaming services and entertainment options. Sometimes I play a game on it, too. When I turn on my Switch it's because I want to play a video game.

Let's get Zelda out of the way.

Zelda is fantastic and obviously a lot of my positive feelings towards the Switch are because of how much I love Zelda. I'll definitely be writing about that more in other posts, but it's important to acknowledge that the Switch is mostly a Zelda machine and is strongly associated with Zelda in my mind. The Switch benefits enormously through positive emotional association with one of the best games ever made, the same way you can have affection for a place like a run down movie theater or convenience store because of the fun times you spent there with friends. There is no doubt that launching with Zelda was the right move for Nintendo.

The Switch interface is fast and simple.

The Switch features a fast, simple, interface that revolves around playing games. Sure, there are still news updates and you can perform basic functions like visiting the e-shop or checking your memory usage, but the Switch boots fast and it boots you into your game library, generally with a game suspended and ready to play. This is a system that is laser-focused on playing video games. As a practical matter this doesn't mean much; my PS4 comes out of sleep mode pretty quickly and often has a game suspended, but it changes the tenor of the interaction with the machine. The PS4 also has endless updates and patches and screens covered in advertising and social features I don't use. It's better than the PS3, where turning on often meant waiting an hour for everything to get patched, but it doesn't have the ruthless sharklike efficiency and focus of the Switch. The focus on getting me into my games quickly "feels" good, though, and reminds me of consoles in the 90s and early 2000s that were all about switch on, boot up and go, rather than "linger in the interface, rent a movie, try Playstation Now!" In some ways the Switch feels like a follow-up to the Gamecube and it reminds me of the Gamecube's quick, clean, interface. Maybe updates and patches will bog the thing down over time, but for now the Switch is a games machine first and only, and I like that.

Let's be honest. We all have plenty of devices that can stream Netflix or surf the web. While it would be nice to have those features on the Switch so it could act more like a true tablet on the go, there's also something nice about having a pure gaming device. I have my phone for email or Youtube, when my Switch is turned on I am gaming. I, for one, like the lack of distractions. It wasn't something I thought I'd like, but I do.

Note: The Wii-U was also game-focused, but (though I did not own one) my understanding was that the interface for that system was sluggish and convoluted, with certain functions only usable on the gamepad and booting into a separate Wii mode required for backwards compatibility, among other things. The Wii U also pushed the TVii service and had web browsing and other applications. The Switch has none of that, and has a responsive touch screen in hand-held mode that can be used to key in passwords or make other menu selections.

Portability is huge, even for people who don't use it all that much.

The Switch's main feature, that it is a console and a handheld, is fantastic, and works seamlessly. I'm on record as not being a huge fan of handheld gaming, but I'm still bringing my Switch to the office with me every day, and playing it on the train when I can get a seat. Even when I don't play it it's nice to have the option available if the opportunity presents itself, and I'll definitely be using the feature during a trip I'm taking next weekend. I also have a friend who is playing through Zelda in the portable mode while his wife watches stuff on their TV, and I think for a lot of older gamers with families the ability to seamlessly use it as a portable and take it on the go is very appealing (Though obviously the Wii U had some of this functionality too.) The Switch also feels fantastic as a handheld, with a big bright screen, comfortable controls and balance in the hand, and a good build quality. Now that I have a copy of Binding of Isaac (An ideal handheld game, though it's not a personal favorite) I'll be using this feature more, and I'm really looking forward to Puyo Puyo Tetris, which is the kind of game I could see playing on my commute for many months to come. It feels good to be able to take the games with me on the go and not have to worry about missing out if my train home gets delayed or I have to sit around waiting for something at the office.

The Switch proves that (for me, at least) we've reached the point of diminishing returns on graphics

I have a Playstation 4 Pro, so there is a pretty big gap between the Switch's technical capacities and what I've become used to. I also don't care about that gap at all. Zelda has an absolutely beautiful art style and while the draw distance could be longer and the frame rate better at points, I have no complaints about how the game looks. Likewise Fast RMX may not be as technically accomplished as something like DriveClub or Forza Horizon 3, but it looks great to me and I don't miss the higher resolution textures or better lighting effects. Obviously the Switch's specs are more than sufficient to run something like King of Fighters 98 or Binding of Isaac flawlessly (though the Neo Geo emulation still needs a little work.)

Art style matters more than technical prowess. Most 2017 games with a decent budget look great, or if they don't it's the art direction, not the power of the machines they're on, that's the problem. Watching the Quick Look of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, I was reminded of this. All that visual fidelity and what they choose to model are grimy, ugly, industrial buildings. "The layer of filth on the concrete floor is so realistic!" Give me the lower fidelity beauty of Hyrule any day (I'm sure Ghost Recon has beautiful areas, but man...) Playing Uncharted 4 last year, and Titanfall 2 a couple months ago, I was very impressed by the heights that graphics have reached, but I don't enjoy the visuals of those games more than the sweeping vistas, gorgeous verdant fields, and beautifully animated NPCs of Zelda. The Switch is underpowered compared to its competitors, but it has more than enough horsepower to produce gorgeous, pleasing graphics.

The Switch is imperfect and seems rushed

I don't have a non-functioning Joy-Con (though I use a Pro Controller when playing in TV mode) or a scratched screen, but my time with the Switch has not been without flaws. The Switch has compatibility problems with my TV; twice when waking it from sleep I've lost all sound and had to unplug and replug the TV from power to restore it. the Switch also 'pings' my TV from time to time when in sleep mode, causing the TV to switch inputs and forcing me to remove the HDMi cable when the Switch is not in use. I also had a hard crash when in the system menu (though it rebooted without issue.) Nintendo is a company out of step with the times. It doesn't have Microsoft's top quality software engineers or Sony's hardware wizards, and that shows at the margins. Nintendo is a game company in a world dominated by tech giants. It is selling devices to people who have iPads and Galaxy phones, and its products are a little rough around the edges. It is also painfully slow in adding obvious, necessary, features like allowing game saves to be moved to the SD card, which is frustrating. I don't want to downplay that stuff. This is still a Nintendo system.

If Nintendo can sand off the rough edges and maintain a flow of software the Switch could be something special.

In this age of all in one devices the Switch's focus on gaming, its quick UI, and its neat trick of being a portable and a home console make for a very compelling package. Nintendo needs to fix the problems it can (The Joy-con issue may not be resolvable until a hardware revision but we can be permitted control over our saves and hopefully the sound bug and TV ping can be fixed) and make sure that the Switch doesn't suffer from typical software droughts that have plagued Nintendo systems off and on since the N64. If Nintendo can leverage relationships with indies and its own studios to give me one exciting game a month and a few showstoppers a year I could see the Switch becoming one of my primary platforms for games. This thing has a ton of potential, and I'm very excited to see where it goes from here.

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#1 Edited by Slag (7574 posts) -

For some reason after reading your previous musings the fact you are happy with it, makes me happy.

I just wish I felt the same. The little I've used of the switch, The Joy Cons feel really uncomfortable to me even when attacched to the tablet. I need more time with it though

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#2 Posted by ripelivejam (11873 posts) -

joycons off 4 lyfe.

good read and describes much of my feelings towards the switch. i'm probably different than others in that this feels skewed towards handheld more than console as a lot of the stuff out for it now (what there is) feels skewed towards pick up and play rather than drawn out sessions (even zelda, though a huge experience on the whole is cut into pretty bite sized chunks). i have a feeling the 3ds is going to die a pretty quiet death sooner than we think; this isn't a handheld in the classical or size sense but people lug their tablets everywhere and have huge phones so why not the switch as well?

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#3 Posted by Giantstalker (2357 posts) -

Nicely written, and I agree with a lot of what you said... I don't own a Switch, but a close friend bought one at launch so I've had plenty of chance to see it in person.

That said, I'm not sure I can agree with the your assessment of the graphics. Maybe - almost certainly - I'm spoiled by having a monstrous PC. Regardless there's a lot of very noticeable corner cutting Zelda & the Switch have to use in order to look as good as it does. Zelda's a very nice looking game but a higher resolution, or better antialiasing, would make it stand out that much more. Other features kinda fall into this bag too (maybe HDR, perhaps better draw distance/pop-in, certainly the inconsistent frame rate).

I don't think we've reached diminishing returns on graphics, but rather, the standards and expectations of good vs bad visual fidelity have become a lot tighter. The Switch doesn't come out well in this regard, but a strong art style helps tremendously

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#4 Posted by BigSocrates (1887 posts) -

@slag: I'm sorry you're not having a good time. As I said I mostly use the pro controller with my Switch and I think it's almost on par with the Xbox One and PS4 controllers (if not quite as good as either.) If the Joycons are what's holding you back you might want to consider picking up a pro, even though they are ridiculously overpriced. That being said, I don't find the Switch uncomfortable in handheld mode, and I have pretty big paws. Do you generally use portable systems? Compared to the 3DS and Vita the Switch in attached mode gives my hands more room to spread out.

@giantstalker: I am not sure whether we're disagreeing here? As I said in my initial post, I fully acknowledge that Zelda would look better with better technical performance and I definitely see the cut edges, I just think that it's not a big deal (though obviously that's subjective; it may matter more to you than it does to me). Diminishing returns doesn't mean "no returns." Assuming your Monster PC costs $1,500 or so, that's 5 times as much as the Switch (which also has the benefit of portability and built in screen and controls.) If Zelda can still look "good" to someone who is used to a system like that I'd say that we've reached the point where returns are diminishing, though not eliminated. The leap from HD to 4K is noticeable, for example, but it is less meaningful than moving from 480 to 720/1080.

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#5 Posted by Slag (7574 posts) -

@bigsocrates: oh no worries. I just got to try it out for about an hour at PAX East, so it's not like I got skin in the game yet.

I do really like the pro controller, Street Fighter II felt really natural on that. The problem for me is, I think I might prefer to play it as a handheld. Do you know if the pro controller works with it when it's undocked?

I do play handhelds fairly often. Mainly 3DSXL, I prefer it for the larger size

I think the issue for me with the Switch is that the sticks and face buttons on the joycons just don't feel great to me. The Spacing feels totally fine, it's more of a thumbs issue. I miss the d-pad a lot more than I expected.

And then there is the weird weird thing where the Switch was actually giving me what felt like small electrical shocks when I used the Joycons separately. Every time I punched in ARMS I got a small jolt. Maybe that unit was defective though

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#6 Posted by wchigo (847 posts) -

@slag: I'm pretty sure the pro controller should work when the Switch is undocked (I don't own a pro controller yet so I can't test this theory) as it would make sense to be able to use a pro controller while the Switch is in "kickstand mode." The more interesting thing is whether it will work when the Joycons are still attached, or if you would have to remove them first.

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#7 Posted by BigSocrates (1887 posts) -

@slag: I tested out the pro controller in undocked mode. It works fine. Obviously you can't really play that way without somewhere to set the Switch, so I'm not sure what the use scenario is, but I guess if you're in a cabin with no TV or something it would make sense? Tabletop mode always seemed a little strange to me as an idea. I am generally either in a place where I would want the machine docked to a TV, or a place where handheld mode is more convenient. Maybe if you want to play at work and just prop it up on your desk, that would be another use case?

To answer Wchigo's question, you do not need to remove the Joycons. I left them on and the pro controller worked fine.

The Switch has never given me any electrical shocks so I think that was a faulty unit. I agree not having a D-pad is a BIT weird, but it's not all that different from the classic Sony segmented Dpad design, and I mostly use analog sticks anyway. This thing will probably be an RPG machine (as all Japanese handhelds eventually become, for obvious reasons) so maybe having no Dpad will be more frustrating then, but I think the four buttons on the left Joycon are close enough for me that I could adjust to them.

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#8 Posted by OhBabes (126 posts) -

Pretty much agree with everything the OP said; I'm enjoying my Switch immensely and haven't played anything on my PS4/laptop since I got it.

Of course, all I've played is Zelda, so that game is a huge part of the appeal....but isn't that kind of the point of having a games console? To play really good games like Zelda? Bit much to expect a few games of that calibre on release - just one game of this quality is (evidently) enough to make a console a success in the early days.

I'm looking forward to the Virtual Console (or equivalent), Minecraft (we'll see how it actually plays, I didn't care for the limited draw distance and performance of the Vita version) and Stardew Valley.

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#9 Posted by HermanBloom (128 posts) -

I am a bit astounded as to how much I am loving my Switch. Zelda has an awful lot to do with it though. I bought Snipper, and 1-2 Switch, and I haven't booted up either of them.

I really thought I would have an issue with the controls when it is undocked, but I haven't even used it on my TV since the first day, so I very much agree with your Portability section.

Honeymoon period though, obv.

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#10 Posted by jaycrockett (786 posts) -

Every time I pick up my Switch and turn it on, and I'm instantly back in Zelda, it feels like magic. I expected that to wear off, but it hasn't. No idea what the prospects are long term, but for now, kudos to Nintendo.

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#11 Posted by MrBGone (51 posts) -

Switch has been a positive surprise so far. Great at portable couch co-op. Been playing fast rmx a ton.

Favourite platform right now.

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#12 Edited by RetroMetal (647 posts) -

I'm 100% in agreement.

I can't get enough of the system, I'm just hungry for more content. Especially Virtual Console.

Also, let me say that I purchased FAST, Shovel Knight and Blaster Master all when they were available and I still haven't played anything but Zelda. LOL

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#13 Posted by nnickers (365 posts) -

As someone who wakes up most weekday mornings and plays Stardew Valley on my PC before heading to work, hearing that the game will be coming to the Switch and the prospect of just waking up and playing in bed is the first concept to really sell me on the Switch.

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#14 Posted by buffaloseven (128 posts) -

I've had a Switch for a couple of weeks now, and I agree with pretty much everything you said. As someone with young kids, suspend/resume is fantastic, and as someone who works 12+ hours shifts, being able to throw it in my bag and bring it with me to work is fantastic.

I find I compare it to my AirPods. Are they the best sounding headphones ever? No, not even close. Do they have the most features? Again, no. But they have a portability and flexibility that is almost unmatched and has made them my favourite headphones I've ever owned. I get the same feeling with the Switch: it's not the most powerful, and sure it's missing some things, but the inherent flexibility in how you use it combined with it being "good enough" has quickly made it one of my favourite game-playing machines.

I really hope Nintendo finds success in it and that it can find healthy support in 3rd parties (which should be a lot easier with Unreal Engine 4 & Unity support). I think they've managed to find a space where they're relevant as they sit alongside Sony and Microsoft and not quite be directly competing with them.

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#15 Posted by kcin (899 posts) -

The biggest takeaway for me after owning the Switch since launch is that the battery life is a complete nonissue for me. I haven't encountered a use-case where the three hours that I get out of it was too little, and it retains battery life when in Sleep mode extremely well, relative to other devices. It's a full afternoon of gaming.

Additionally, the point about the UI being extremely snappy is MASSIVE. If I put water on to boil, or my partner and I pause the TV so she can use the bathroom, or whatever couple-minutes-long reason for a break pops up, I can turn on the Switch and be hunting for Shrines within, literally, 5 seconds at MOST. This is a massive difference from any other device I own: PC, XB1, PS3, etc. Hell, I think it's even faster getting into a game from Sleep mode than my 3DS. It's changed how I approach games, which are generally something that I set aside time for.

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#16 Posted by Yesiamaduck (2280 posts) -

I cannot overstate the importance of the suspended gameplay feature and how well it's implemented on this console. I pull out my switch, turn it on and in 2 seconds I'm back in my game, pure witchcraft that it can do this with such little impact to battery life. I was a switch sceptic and even when I bought one I wasn't sure how much I'd love it as a portable but I think it's a fantastic portable device, way better at than it seemed it would be pre-launch. Since the tomorrow corp games have come out (human resource machine for example) the hybrid aspect of it had begun to shine, I love using it as a gaming tablet for touch screen games as well as a traditional handheld!

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#17 Posted by sammo21 (5577 posts) -

Suspended play has been around since launch on ps4 and other handhelds before that. Less a win for Nintendo and more, "Grats on not screwing THAT up to too."

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#18 Posted by Yesiamaduck (2280 posts) -

@sammo21: suspend play on ps4 never felt that great and whilst I sold my Vita near launch and rarely used a 3ds I don't think I've ever seen suspended play executed as flawlessly as it has here.

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#19 Posted by buffaloseven (128 posts) -

@sammo21: I take it you don't have a Switch? I haven't seen suspended play done nearly as well anywhere else. It's not a case of Nintendo not screwing it up (ugh...friend codes), but rather implementing it better than anyone else has so far.

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#20 Edited by Hunkulese (4225 posts) -

@buffaloseven: Guessing you don't have a Vita or a 3DS. Suspend play is flawless on both of those. It's a basic requirement for a handheld these days.

The only thing they could do to improve it would be to find a way to let you suspend multiple games at once.

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#21 Posted by buffaloseven (128 posts) -

@hunkulese: I have a 3DS and you're right, it's quick. That said, the solution has fewer variables (clamshell closed = sleep) and much less to suspend. The 3DS standby time is also terrible.

The Switch is about as fast as you can make it when accounting for accidental button presses while sleeping, has to store way more, and has far superior standby time.

I have no doubt Nintendo probably used the 3DS solution as their starting point and then iterated on that.

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#22 Edited by sammo21 (5577 posts) -

@yesiamaduck @buffaloseven: lol I own a Switch, thank you. Again, its a case of "I really hope you'd get this right" opposed to a modern marvel of gaming. Ps4, Vita, and 3ds have pretty amazing suspend play features.

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#23 Edited by WetRacoon (30 posts) -

@sammo21 It's always a little chuckle worthy when I see Nintendo getting congratulated for implementing a feature that's been around for quite a while. As someone else noted here: "Grats on not screwing THAT up too." No offence intended of course, it's not a new phenomenon. Happy people are enjoying it. Now just hope Nintendo doesn't pull a Nintendo.

EDIT: I accidentally tripped and fell into the Destructoid comments section where a few people were talking about how "incredible" the instant screen shots are on the Switch and how every other console and the PC are way slower. Mind boggling (screenshots are instantaneous on Steam). Then I noticed they were also touching one another. My eyes are still burning.

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#24 Posted by BigSocrates (1887 posts) -

@sammo21 said:

Suspended play has been around since launch on ps4 and other handhelds before that. Less a win for Nintendo and more, "Grats on not screwing THAT up to too."

This is not particularly important but I do want to say that the PS4 did not have suspend at launch. The Xbox did but PS4 didn't get it until 2015.

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