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.