Nintendo Switch Review: Everything to know about the record-breaking console
4 years after it launched to critical acclaim, is Nintendo's revolutionary hybrid console still worth it?
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The gaming industry has changed dramatically since the console codenamed NX was officially announced as the Nintendo Switch on 21 October 2016.
While Sony and Microsoft have both struggled to meet demand for their next-generation consoles, Nintendo has continued to go from strength to strength with the Nintendo Switch, smashing sales records and creating a hybrid device that is as comfortable at home as it is on the go.
What's more, early challenges with software for the platform have been comfortably pushed to the side, with massive epics like Breath of the Wild being joined by remastered classics like L.A Noire and Diablo 3. There are now so many games to choose from it's difficult to determine a definitive link of the best Switch games.
It's a testament to just how innovative the Switch is as a games consoles that neither the Playstation 5 nor the Xbox Series X chose to offer similar features to Nintendo's portable console, instead opting to focus on in-home graphical and speed improvements.
As we approach the traditional mid-way point of a console's life cycle, rumblings have been growing of a new Nintendo Switch Pro console, which promises to improve performance, both in terms of graphical capabilities and processing speed.
But until that arrives, we're still happy to share that the Nintendo Switch is a must-own console. Perfect for family co-op games as well as massive single player epics, the Switch continues to deliver on its promise, years after it launched.
Design: It just feels good
If this were a first impressions review, we'd be handing Nintendo the nuke codes and calling it a day. Straight out of the box the Switch is a striking console. While there's nothing too unique about the tablet itself, bar some branding on the back, ample ventilation and a kickstand, the magic begins when you slide the Joy-Cons in. Each Joy-Con slides down a rail on either side of the console until it clicks to let you know when it's secured (when powered on, the console also emits the "click" sound that punctuates every Switch trailer).
In its handheld form, the Switch's controls feel more console-like than any other handheld I've ever used. That's not surprising. Crossing the line between console and handheld is the Switch's prime objective. What was a nice surprise was the size of the Switch with the Joy-Cons strapped in. I expected the display to be much larger based on what we saw in the launch trailer, then the contrast of seeing it first-hand had me worried that maybe it was a little too small. After spending some quality time with the Switch, it feels just right.
The screen is big enough for two players to play from roughly a meter away, but not so big that the device feels cumbersome in your hands. It does feel a little edgy holding one-handed, but no more than a conventional tablet. There was definitely an adjustment period when we first received our Switch but that was more of a button layout issue than a size problem. This was also amplified by Breath of the Wild's confusing controls (god love it), so it's hard to blame the Switch itself.
Controls become a little more cramped when you're docked and using the Joy-Con grip. I've often found myself reaching over the top to hit the X button with my index finger while my thumb twiddles the Y and B buttons. It's not enough of an issue to force me to stop using the Joy-Con grip even with the Pro controller readily available (I often pick up whichever controller is closest), but it is noticeable and could be an issue with anyone with bigger mitts than my small carny hands.
The Switch dock is pleasantly subtle. It's small enough to fit in the small leftover space next to the television on my entertainment unit where the Xbox One and PlayStation don't fit.
It's also a wonderfully simple setup. The power cord and HDMI are neatly housed under a door on the back of the dock. If you're dedicated to the Joy-Cons you also have the added benefit of forgoing charging cables. The Joy-Con's natural home is attached to the ends of the Switch console, where they charge. So long as you remember to dock at the end of the night and brush twice daily you should get through life without any unsightly mess.
Performance: It's not powerful, but has got it where it counts
I'm not going to discuss the Switch's specs too much in this review. As was revealed in the months before it launched, the Switch runs on a custom Nvidia Tegra chip with similar architecture to the Tegra X1 mobile processor. No, it's not going to compete with the PS5 or Xbox Series X and there are plenty of big AAA games the Switch simply isn't able to handle (although it can play The Witcher 3 and Skyrim, and that should be good enough for just about anyone).
Nintendo was never looking to "finally enter the console race", despite everyone constantly comparing it against those two. The bottom line is: Breath of the Wild is a massive game with no load times (excluding fast travel, shrines and death) and looks amazing on both the Switch's display and my 55-inch television. There have been some noticeable frame rate drops when I devastate a Bokobolin camp with a chained explosion. Though noticeable, it's not too dramatic and the issue hasn't been exclusive to docked or handheld in my experience.
The Switch's 6.2-inch 720p touchscreen isn't as loud and vibrant as what you'd expect from the latest tablets and it suffers a bit in the sunlight but it's still manageable. Like most tablets, the Switch's display really shines when you're playing in the dark of night but even with a bit of shade it still looks unlike anything we've ever seen from a handheld console.
All of this is passable. Graphics nuts will likely scoff at the 1280x720 display but the technical layman will get a kick out of console-quality experiences on the go.
The real problem I have with the Switch is the battery. Nintendo quoted an approximate battery life of 3 hours with more intensive games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and around 6.5 hours with less intensive games. I've managed roughly 2 hours and 40 minutes with each undocked session of Breath of the Wild . 2 hours and 40 minutes isn't bad for a huge game like Breath of the Wild but it's not the main issue.
When you see that worrisome flashing red light on the 3DS, you simply find the closest charger, plug in and be on your merry way.
That's not the case with the Switch. We hit about 5% battery when we reached for the USB-C cable plugged into the wall. While the Switch assured us that it was charging, the battery continued to drain. The only way to keep playing is to head back to the dock.
This is a bitter pill to swallow for a console that's marketed for its versatility; the console that's big sell is the seamless transition between handheld and couch-based gaming. This isn't an issue when docked (thankfully) as the Switch gets to offload the display.
The last downer when it comes to the Switch's hardware is the onboard 32GB of storage. Which a ludicrously small amount of memory for a $469.95 console that's already announcing games that take up half that. Your only option here is to purchase additional memory in the form of a microSD card. Thankfully, that's any microSD card, unlike the PS Vita's expensive proprietary cards.
32GB is still cheap. The smallest iPhone 12 comes with 64GB of onboard storage. My PS5 (which I constantly have to delete games from) comes with over 500GB. You could theoretically boost the Switch's memory with a 2TB microSDXC card but the additional cost there is really going to dent your credit card balance.
Nintendo Switch games
The Nintendo Switch saw over 100 titles released for it in its first year. The list included stalwart franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario and Bomberman but also a huge selection of quality indies like Shovel Knight.
It has since expanded to more than 3,500 games globally. A huge number of those titles are from smaller indie studios too, so there's plenty of variety in the types of games you can play.
The other highlight of Switch gaming is the re-release of classic titles, with games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Final Fantasy XII. Being able to take some of this massive epics with you on the road is what really makes the Switch stand apart from the newer PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
So should you buy the Nintendo Switch??
- Buy it if: You want to enjoy gaming at home or on the go.
- Don't buy it if: graphics and framerate are your benchmarks for quality gaming.
There's no doubt about it, Nintendo has created a masterpiece with the Switch. Building on the experience you had with the Wii, Nintendo's console is a perfect hybrid - marrying portability with power to deliver huge, complex games on a device you can use while commuting or on holidays.
With rumours of the Switch Pro's imminent launch, there's potentially some justification in holding off picking up a Switch right now. But with the arrival of new hardware, older hardware typically gets a discounted price, which means you can grab a bargain on the current Switch.
Either way, you owe it to yourself and your family to own a Switch.
Pricing and availability
Nintendo Switch hardware
The Nintendo Switch comes with the Switch tablet, a dock with HDMI output and two Joy-Con controllers. Here's everything you need to know about Nintendo's hardware.
With all these detachable parts, what is the Switch exactly? Technically the tablet at the console's core is the Nintendo Switch. The console itself is exclusively sold in a package that includes the Switch Dock, two Joy-Con controllers and all the required cables.
Nintendo Switch Price
|Nintendo Switch Console Grey||$469.95|
|Nintendo Switch Console Blue and Red Neon||$469.95|
Thanks to our 10% Goods and Services tax, the Nintendo Switch is a little pricier in Australia than it is in other countries (but New Zealand has it worse).
Before the official announcement, the Switch's specs were undoubtedly the hottest topic when it came to wild rumours. While we know a lot more about the console itself, there's still a lot we don't know, like exactly how powerful the Switch's custom Nvidia Tegra chipset is. Here's what we do know about the Switch's specs.
|Processor||Custom Nvidia Tegra-based system-on-a-chip (SOC)|
|Expandable memory||Up to 2TB (Micro SDXC)|
|Audio||2 speakers, 3.5mm headphone hack|
|Battery life||3 - 6 hours|
Whether it's placed in the dock, tabletop mode or handheld, the Joy-Con controllers are an essential part of the Switch's hardware.
The Joy-Cons come in grey and red/blue neon variations. They are also compatible with various accessories, like a charging grip and wheel frames. Here's how much they will cost you in Australia.
The Nintendo Switch's Joy-Con controllers share a similar button layout to the Wii U gamepad, with the exception of a share button and altered joystick placement.
The Joy-Cons boast new features like HD Rumble and an IR Sensor. The former simulates real-world sensations, like rattling ice in a glass, and the latter can identify movement, shape and distance. For example, you could play scissors, paper, rock and the Switch would be able to identify the action of moving your hand, how far it is from the sensor and which action you chose.
The Joy-Con controllers are quite small when separated. Here are the specifications for the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons.
|Battery life||Approx. 20 hours|
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