It's a big moment for Nintendo.
This Friday, the Japanese video game giant is launching its latest console, the Nintendo Switch. It's the company's first new console since 2012's Wii U — a console best known for being Nintendo's worst-selling of all time.
It's not quite a make-or-break moment for Nintendo, but it's not far off. The company could sure use a hit.
With the Switch, Nintendo has the foundations of a great game console.
I've spent dozens of hours with the console during the past week, both at home on my TV and out in the world as a portable system. I can happily report that, in my experience, it's a speedy, modern piece of hardware that is well worth its $300 price tag. In the same breath, a warning: The Nintendo Switch is woefully underserved by software.
This is the duality of the Switch in March 2017, at launch. It's a console worth owning, but you should probably wait a few months to buy one.
A quick overview: The Nintendo Switch is a $300 video game console set to launch on Friday, March 3.
The console is a hybrid home console and portable console. The games you play at home are the same when you take them on the go — that's the whole sell point of the console: "Play games everywhere."
In this sense, the "console" is just a tablet that can be docked or taken on the go.
This is the Nintendo Switch, the 6.2-inch tablet in the middle. The controllers on either side are modular; they can be slid onto the tablet, thus turning it into a handheld game system.
The Switch seamlessly moves between home console and portable console. You simply slide the tablet into the dock, and it's on your TV.
Switching between TV mode and handheld mode works exactly as advertised — it's simple, intuitive, and brilliant. Being able to pause a game on my TV, snag the Switch out of the Dock, and keep playing is a convenience I didn't think I needed. Turns out it's a tremendously nice bonus. I've been playing "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" on my morning commute, picking up where I left off on my TV the night before, and it's a real delight.
Also, if we're being honest, being able to bring the Switch to the bathroom is something that millions of people are going to embrace. Kinda gross? Maybe. Logical? Certainly.
In a world where everyone has a supercomputer with a high-definition touchscreen in his or her pocket, the Nintendo Switch feels modern. It's fast, pretty, and well built.
Despite Nintendo's occasional missteps with hardware, the Switch is a strong step forward into modernity.
The Switch itself — the tablet — has a bright, vibrant touchscreen. A rail along each side makes it easy for the gamepads to slide in, and detaching them is just as simple (with a small button on each).
Using the console's operating system is just as simple, quick, and intuitive. It uses a basic tile system for games — all your games are right in front of you, in large colorful tiles. Jumping into your photo album of screenshots from games, for instance, is incredibly quick, as is jumping back out.
Most impressive, the console turns on and shuts off as fast as an iPad or a MacBook. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it's a revelation compared with the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. It's a tremendous delight being able to turn on the Switch and jump into a game in under 20 seconds. The console turns on faster than my TV can.
The one misstep, from a hardware perspective, is the mediocre game pad included with the Switch.
To speak about the Nintendo Switch's "game pad" is a misnomer. There are really two game pads, called Joy-Con. The Joy-Con are actually excellent. They are well-built, responsive, and easy to use. I spent most of the time using them distinctly, disconnected from the game-pad-style shell that Nintendo includes with the Switch. I recommend you do the same.
As seen above, though, there is a more standard game pad as well. The idea is that you slide each of the two Joy-Con game pads into a holder, called the Joy-Con Grip, and it becomes a more traditional game pad. Does anything about that game pad above look "traditional" to you? To me, it looks like a square with buttons on it and two little handles on each side. As it turns out, it feels that way, too. It's uncomfortable to use and slippery to hold, and it can't even charge the Joy-Cons.
It's not an outright bad game pad when the Joy-Cons are attached to the Grip, but it's far from good. Do yourself a favor and keep the Joy-Con detached, or shell out $70 for a Pro controller (a genuinely traditional-style game pad, along the lines of the PlayStation 4 controller).
The Switch's big launch game, "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," is outrageously good.
Don't consider this a full review, because it isn't intended as such, but the first game for Nintendo's new console is one of Nintendo's best games in years. I'm technically only allowed to tell you about my first five hours with "Breath of the Wild" — those five hours were phenomenal. I can't tell you whether the 20-plus hours I've played beyond that are as good, better, or worse, but rest assured you've made the right choice in buying it as a launch game. You are in for a treat.
Now, the one massive caveat: There are very few things to do on the Nintendo Switch right now.
Nintendo's new console may be fast, and it may be decently priced at just $300, and it may have a new, massive, excellent Zelda game as a launch title, but it has some tremendous limitations.
The gorgeous "Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" is the only marquee launch title on the Switch. It's the only major game launching with the console on Friday, the only game you'll "need" to play for many months. No equivocations, no caveats — the games lineup for the Switch is remarkably light.
Things improve as the year goes on:
-An updated "Mario Kart 8" arrives in April. -A new "Splatoon" game is planned for the summer. -A new, 3D "Super Mario" game is planned for "holiday 2017."
That's pretty much it (at least so far).
The Switch isn't about to replace your iPad. It can't play or stream videos or music, and it can't browse the web.
The Switch is a gaming console and nothing else. It won't play Netflix, or stream Spotify, or even play Blu-ray discs.
This is a console aimed at folks who already have those problems solved and simply want a means to play Nintendo's biggest games. At least that seems to be the case thus far — Nintendo says it has no plans to bring any of that stuff to the Switch. Moreover, ahead of launch, the console doesn't even have a digital storefront (Nintendo's "eShop"). I've been able to play games on the Switch and do nothing else. To that end, it's very capable and very limited.
Between the extremely slim lineup of games at launch and the lack of any other functionality, it's hard to suggest buying the Nintendo Switch at launch.
No major third-party games — like the new "Mass Effect," for instance — are heading to the Switch. The console itself doesn't do anything that other, less expensive game consoles can't do. The Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 cost less, are more powerful, and have massive libraries of excellent games. Aside from the Switch's main gimmick — turning into a portable console — and Nintendo's first-party game lineup, there's no standout sell point for the Switch.
It is, in essence, a very expensive "Legend of Zelda" machine.
That may be enough to sell the most hardcore "Legend of Zelda" fans, but it's far from mainstream appeal. The question quickly becomes, "Do I want to pay nearly $400 to play a single game?"
The answer for me — and many others I'd bet — is no, no I do not.
By holiday 2017, there will be many more reasons to buy a Switch. Consider waiting!
This feels like a "soft launch" for the Nintendo Switch, in which early adopters and the most dedicated Nintendo loyalists are being catered to but the mainstream consumer should still wait and see what happens.
The new "Legend of Zelda" game is enough to satiate longtime fans, but it's a tremendously difficult game that could turn off more casual gamers. The lack of stuff like Nintendo's long-running Virtual Console, a service full of Nintendo's most popular classic games, speaks to that "soft launch" — there isn't even a paid online service on the Switch yet (it's planned for launch in "fall 2017").
If you're a huge "Zelda" fan who has been playing Nintendo games your whole life, the Switch is worth buying right now. For everyone else, wait six months — by then, you'll have a new "Mario Kart" game, a digital storefront for buying games, and maybe even a price drop.