Smith: Switching to Another Console, the Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

After months of scanning Amazon and local store shelves, I finally purchased a Nintendo Switch console.

When the system was released in March, I wasn’t even sure I would buy one. Nintendo already fumbled the ball with its previous console, the Wii U, and it was only natural to assume they would do the same with the Switch.

Amazingly enough, they didn’t, and the Nintendo Switch has been sold out at local retailers for months. It’s only due to a recent resupply from Nintendo that I was able to find a Switch online (packaged with the new “Zelda”) without paying $100 more than the retail price.

Much of that has to do with “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” which many critics have declared best video game since the medium was invented. The rest comes down to a smart, straightforward marketing campaign that told the public exactly what the Switch is — a high powered, mobile console that connects to your TV when placed in its charging station.

To be honest, it’s like a smaller Wii U, but that system wasn’t mobile. When the Wii U came out, a lot of people didn’t even know what it was. Was it a new console? An add-on for the Wii? An extra controller with a screen in the middle?

Though I was happy to see Nintendo do so well after struggling for so many years (more profits means more exclusive Nintendo games, after all), I was still skeptical.

Then Nintendo stole the show at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June, and I was finally convinced to open my wallet. “Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle” looks like an amazing hybrid of turn-based gun combat and “Super Mario Bros.” characters, and it comes out Tuesday.

Even more killer games are slated for the rest of this year and next year, including “Super Mario Odyssey,” “Xenoblade Chronicles 2″ and “Metroid Prime 4.”

As usual, it wasn’t the tech that sold me, but the games. The Nintendo Switch isn’t quite as powerful as the competing PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but it has something that the other two will never have — original, high-quality Nintendo titles.

Of course, the tech is pretty cool as well.

Unwrapping the Switch

The first thing that struck me about the Nintendo Switch is how tiny it is. Featuring a 6.2-inch screen with detachable controllers (Joy-Cons), it’s quite large for a handheld, but feels like a miniature tablet in your hands. A very sturdy tablet, thankfully.

The Joy-Con controllers feel even smaller, which allows you to hold one in each hand as you play. Each one has an analog stick, and the two controllers can be turned into one regular controller by attaching them to a plastic base, which is included.

It’s a pretty slick operation, and the rumble feature in the two Joy-Cons is the most advanced and subtle use of the application yet.

But as soon as I started using the combined controller, I knew I would have to shell out $70 for the much sturdier Switch Pro Controller. While certainly not cheaply made, the Joy-Cons feel far too fragile for extended game sessions. I’ll likely sink over 100 hours into “Zelda” alone, and I don’t want to snap the analog sticks in half.

The game cartridges are even smaller, and you have to unsnap a minuscule plastic flap to insert them into the tablet, which takes some practice while it’s docked. The tablet doesn’t fit into the docking station nearly as snug as you think it would, wiggling around at the slightest touch. It’s far too easy to insert the tablet off-center, and even when you do it correctly, it doesn’t always connect. Slightly lifting the tablet and then lowering it again seems to fix this problem.

Despite these frustrations, the Switch is most definitely a snazzy piece of technology. While not up to the resolution standards of an iPad, the tablet screen still sports a 720p resolution. The games are displayed in high definition 1080p on TVs, and the new “Zelda” game runs at a noticeably higher frame rate than the Wii U.

The Games

We all know “Zelda” is a masterpiece. But what about the rest of the Switch library?

It’s fairly thin right now, but that’s to be expected of a new console. I rented every Switch game I could get my hands on, and am happy to report that “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” is an even better version of the original that previously came out on the Wii U. My wife and I can’t stop playing it.

But it’s still a re-release.

The other big game for the Switch is the appropriately titled “1-2 Switch” — a collection of WarioWare-style mini-games designed for two players. Unfortunately, most of the games have no visual element, and the novelty of each wears off almost immediately due to their simplicity. While “1-2 Switch” does a fine job of showing off the rumble feature of Joy-Cons, it’s just not very fun.

I also tried “Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers,” which I knew I would love. But it’s a slightly enhanced re-release of a game that came out for the PlayStation 3 several years ago, which in itself is a graphically remastered version of a game that came out in the early 90s. Charging $40 for it is unconscionable. You’re better off downloading “Blaster Master Zero” for $10 — a delightful remix of a classic 1980s Nintendo game that actually improves on the original.

Right now, the Switch is not a must-own console. But it will be by the end of the year, and I’m glad I got mine before then.