Nintendo Switch: Nine months later

It seems like it was only last month that my new Nintendo Switch arrived via UPS, the result of a lucky preorder, made online within a tiny window of availability at GameStop.com, when “Switch Fever” was at its worst. Alas, that was last March, and it’s now December.

At the time, how the Switch would fare in the market was anyone’s guess, although judging by the early excitement, it seems obvious in retrospect that it was destined for success. The past nine months have borne that out. So what’s it like owning a Switch at this point?

Before I answer that, let’s just get something out of the way: I’m not Nintendo’s target demographic. I’m well past the age sweet spot of a gaming console, let alone most of the actual games. As a result, my perspectives are probably not all that germane.

That being said, I bought the Switch initially for one game, and one game only: Splatoon 2. I was obsessed by the original Splatoon on the Wii U, so Splatoon 2 (and consequently, the Switch) became a “must have.” (More on my impressions of Splatoon 2 in a separate post.)

So I had something to do in the time between the release of the Switch, and the release of Splatoon 2, I ended-up buying Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That game has since been named game of the year by some, and it was (and is) a thoroughly engaging, world-class game that shows-off everything there is to like about the Switch — namely the fact that it’s a home game console that happens to go rogue mobile on-demand.

Once I completed Zelda, Splatoon 2 was released, and bit by bit I’ve also added other games to my collection. In the nine months since it arrived, I think I can summarize my impressions of the Switch as follows:

  • The Switch’s primary selling point (which I just mentioned) is that it’s a home game console that has the ability to go mobile, and it’s delivered on that promise. Much to my surprise, I play the Switch mostly mobile lately (even if that means around the house nowhere near its dock). In fact, I don’t think I’ve connected it to its dock (and hence, the big screen TV) in perhaps three months. How well any particular game works mobile vs. docked (I’m talking gameplay here, not functionality) depends on the game itself, but for instance, Splatoon 2 offers a pretty great undocked play experience. Zelda, however, is best played on the big screen.
  • Battery life when playing mobile sucks — something that pretty much everyone criticized when the console came out. It’s just one way that…
  • …it feels like Nintendo has designed the Switch with technology that is, across the board, at least one or two generations behind — and that includes the battery. (And the memory. And the screen. And the processor. And…) There’s never been any intent on Nintendo’s part to truly compete with the PlayStation or Xbox, but it seems like they could have used more current tech in some areas and created a better experience — although likely raising the retail price in the process.
  • Build quality for the Switch could be better. In my case, the dock creates rub marks at the bottom of the screen, the internal fan has become a bit noisy over the months, and the back panel has become slightly warped over time. Subjectively, it just seems a bit flimsy. In an age where people are used to Apple-like build quality, Nintendo misses the mark — again, likely to keep price points where they want them. However, it’s no less disappointing.
  • Wireless (WiFi) functionality has been wanting. I have no idea “if it’s just me,” but wireless connections are not as rock-solid as I would have expected, even with a perfect signal in an optimal situation, and just getting connected to a WiFi network and/or maintaining those configurations seems far more painful than it ought to be. Hotel WiFi that requires authentication is particularly painful; it can take several minutes for the Switch to get to a point where it prompts for web authentication, and sometimes just simply fails completely. So with both hardware and software, I would say Nintendo has really missed the mark on WiFi.
  • Game availability, something widely criticized on the Wii U platform, has clearly not been an issue for the Switch. Big, banner, blockbuster games have been plentiful and regularly released, with a lot of smaller digital releases as well, including tons of indie developer support. If Nintendo can sustain this momentum, which seems like it would be a challenge, I can’t imagine anything but continued success for the Switch. We’ll see how it goes in 2018 and beyond.
  • Nintendo still can’t seem to make enough of the Switch hardware to meet demand. I suspect that this is, in a twisted way, a very good thing. Let’s hope the momentum continues — it’ll be best for everyone in the long run if it does.

Despite some of the complaints above, my Switch ownership experience has actually been pretty positive. I take the unit with me when I travel on business, or whenever I expect to have time to waste, and really enjoy simple time-waster games (e.g., Namco Museum), as well as more involved ones (e.g., L.A. Noire) while away from home. The living room experience with some games (e.g., Zelda: Breath of the Wild) is equally enjoyable.

I don’t get into the pastime of some with a need to compare Switch games side-by-side with PlayStation and Xbox versions — the Switch will always be inferior in those cases. For what it is, and what it does, the Nintendo Switch is a fun, affordable, engaging and versatile gaming platform — one I have no regrets about buying into.