I carry the thing around in a big wool sock and finally had the nerve to play it on the beleaguered C train this morning, fearful someone would try to snatch it.
This is Nintendo’s new console, the Switch, and I’ve had it since Tuesday evening. Not much time, really, so what can I say?
I can say that it’s small. Small enough to fit into a large wool sock that now serves as the console’s carrying case and screen protector.
The Switch is the tiniest console I’ve had, skinnier than a Wii, the previous lightweight leader. But this tiny console enables me to play the most advanced-looking Zelda game ever made on the C train and also as I lay on my bed while my newborns are asleep in another room (I play with headphones, and we’ve got a night nurse, so no child neglect there).
It’s a marvel, this little machine, though I already feel ridiculous tossing it and my 3DS in my bag. Nintendo swears the Switch isn’t going to replace the 3DS. I’m skeptical. I can’t justify hauling around two Nintendo portables, even if I’m someone who wants to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright. I’m a madman and an outlier, I know.
I’ve barely hooked the Switch up to the TV, but doing so is the system’s best magic trick so far. It impressed my wife and maybe the night nurse when I showed them. The babies were less enamored, but they’re not even eight weeks old.
The transfer show went over better in the office, where experienced Kotaku editors could properly assess that, yes indeed, that is damn impressive that you can pull the Switch from its TV holder and immediately have the game running on the screen that is now in your hands. The signal transfer is faster when you go from TV to portable mode, as you’ll see.
You can detach the handles-the Joy-Con controllers—on a Switch to use them as handheld controllers. You can clip them onto a grip so that they feel, bolted to the grip, like a single traditional game controller. I’ve not done these things much, though, because I’ve been playing in what they call handheld mode.
My colleagues Jason and Kirk have used the controllers detached and they report a problem: the left Joy-Con sometimes fails to perfectly track their movements in the Zelda game. It seems to lose sync. We’ve asked Nintendo what’s up. Maybe they can fix it in a patch. Maybe Jason and Kirk got bum units. Maybe, I helpfully suggested the other day, having reliable left Joy-Con syncing is available as part of Zelda’s season pass.
I’ve now mentioned playing the Switch on a subway, in my bedroom and in an office, which is the big point about this thing: console-style gaming anywhere. Well, make that Nintendo-made console-style gaming anywhere, or even more specifically at the moment, make that This-One-Zelda-Game-Style-Gaming anywhere, because Nintendo hasn’t even sent 1 2 Switch over yet. Just Zelda.
Without 1 2 Switch, there’s a lot I can’t test yet. Can’t test the rumble in the controllers that well. Can’t hand one of the Joy-Cons to another person to use one Switch for two-player local multiplayer. Can’t try out the sensor in one of the Joy-Cons that can somehow distinguish the shape of things at which it is pointed. Can’t dust off my junior farmer skills from my youth and have a go at virtually milking a cow. Can’t play the “Baby” mini-game that turns the Switch into a crying infant that you must place in a crib while contemplating featuring your own progeny in a comparison video.
Because it is a modern gaming product, the Nintendo Switch needs a day one update. Without it, I can’t get online, can’t get to the eshop, can’t even… well, this is weird:
According to the above screen, I can’t yet distribute software updates over local wireless to other users. Was anyone even expecting to be able to do this? I believe it tells us something about how much Nintendo expects Switch players to be meeting up with others to play games together, and it’s forward-thinking of them to anticipate that this hypothetical group of players might not all have the latest updates and might not be near a WiFi signal to snatch it. At least, I think that’s how this works. This is all an educated guess given that the feature isn’t live yet.
Back in 2012, shortly after getting a Wii U, I was invited to attend a dinner of top Nintendo of America executives. I’d tried the Wii U out at home, and while I enjoyed Nintendo Land and appreciated, among other things, its tease for an F-Zero game that was surely to come, I was shocked at how slowly the system booted and how sluggish the operating system was. I brought this up and got blank looks. Oh, they knew. I’m sure of it. Soon enough, Nintendo would be promising patches to speed things up, but it left me wondering: have the good people at Nintendo lost their way in terms of making home consoles if they can’t even get their new system to run smoothly?
It’s now early 2017 and the Switch boots quickly and changes menu screens with finger-tapping rapidity. That’s great. I’m encouraged, and they haven’t even patched the system. Could they make it even faster? Impossible!
But… because I am impossible to please, I look at the Switch and I’m wondering: where’s the fun in this operating system? Sony can get away with making the PlayStation feel like an appliance, but I expect something more playful from Nintendo. This is the company that packed a little face-shooting augmented reality game into the 3DS along with a small role-playing game that used Miis you collect from nearby 3DSes. The Wii U didn’t have any pack-in games but it had a plaza full of tiny Miis that run around and chatter as you browse the operating system. Both systems tracked the minutes and hours you played of a game. I’ve not seen anything like that here. The Switch feels more like an appliance, but maybe the day one patch will add some fun? I hope so, but am not betting on it. Most people probably didn’t play Face Raiders or Find Mii and the Wii U Mii plaza might be part of what slowed that console to a chug. Better off without, perhaps.
There’s not much more to share yet. I was only sent one game. That will freak people out, but launches are like that. This stuff barely comes together in time and then early adopters crawl from one gaming oasis to the next. For now, I’m awaiting the day one patch and playing more Zelda. And I’m waiting for someone on the C train to react. No one did this morning. Give them time. No one’s ever seen a game console like this before.
Tomorrow: I will provide preview impressions of every game I have for the Switch.