I couldn't help feeling a bit of trepidation when I preordered the Nintendo Switch a few weeks back.
In the wake of the Switch's disappointing unveiling to the world, my first thought was, "Nintendo is going to mess this up again." The price, the battery life, and the launch lineup were all disappointing. Even the console itself didn't seem as cool as I initially thought. If not for the fact that I play games for a living, I might have held off on preordering. Instead, I took a deep breath and decided to take the plunge.
Having now actually played the thing, though, I feel a bit better about my decision. I missed out the first time, as Nadia and Jeremy got to go to Nintendo's big event in New York while I had to stay home and write cranky op-eds. But the other night I finally got to try out a Nintendo Switch, and happily, I liked it quite a bit.
The Switch was on display with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at last night's first showing of Defenders of the Triforce—a new escape room based on the Zelda series. After the event was finished, a bunch of us crammed into a narrow queue and waited for an opportunity to get some quality time with Nintendo's new console.
My first thought as I stared at the Switch in the display case while shuffling toward the front of the line: it's smaller than I expected. I've obviously seen it in pictures and videos, but it doesn't really hit you until you've seen it in person. Thankfully, the screen takes up a good chunk of the real estate, giving it the look of a slightly smaller than average tablet.
Once I got up front, I finally got to hold it for myself, and I was pleased by how solid it felt. Nadia has already shared her hands-on impressions of the Switch, so I'm not going to be able to add too much to what she's already said, but that was one element that jumped out at me. It also felt good in my hands, and the Joycons attached seamlessly to the sides.
The Breath of the Wild demo at the event was pretty much the same one shown at E3 last year (albeit a lot sharper, though that might be just my imagination), so I spent a bunch of time messing around with the console itself and the controllers. I dropped it into the dock and was pleased by how quickly and seamlessly it transitioned back to the television. I put out its kickstand and played with the Joycons (Verdict: They were fine, but it felt like I was holding two wireless Wii Nunchuks, and I disliked the Wii's Nunchuks).
What really opened my eyes was how good the Switch Pro Controller felt. I don't think I've ever been on record regarding my feelings about the Wii U Pro Controller, but I really hated it. It felt like a flimsy piece of plastic, the analog sticks felt all wrong, and the D-pad was all but worthless for retro games that required any degree of precision. Much as I disliked juggling the awkward Wii U GamePad, it was very much preferable to my Wii U Pro Controller.
The Switch Pro Controller is so much better than all of that. It feels great in my hands, and the matte finish works better than the glossier look of the Wii U controller. It feels like a bit of a hybrid of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers, mixing the button placement of the former with the feel of the latter. It's thinner than either of them, though, in part because the curve supporting the shoulder buttons isn't nearly as dramatic, and I'm perfectly fine with that.
Playing with the Switch Pro Controller made me realize how cumbersome Nintendo's controllers have been over the past decade or so. The Wii Remote was a stroke of genius in the way that it resembled a traditional television remote, but when it came to playing more traditional games, the remote and nunchuk setup often felt less than ideal. For quite a while, the best alternative was the Wii Classic Controller—a peripheral that felt like a flimsy toy. Some years later, Nintendo released an updated version of the Classic Controller, and while it was better than the original, it still paled in comparison to the competition.
Nintendo's controller problem is typically the most apparent when playing something like Mario Kart 8. Playing at a friend's house, we traded around the Wii U Gamepad, with everyone else having to live with Wii Remotes (some of them sans nunchuk). You can probably guess who won most of the time. Suffice it to say, sub-optimal controllers have been a pain for quite a while now. If I could, I would use the GameCube controller for everything on the Wii U.
This issue should be alleviated somewhat on the Switch. The Pro Controller is great, and even if you can't afford one out of the gate, the Joycon Grip Controller is reportedly quite serviceable. The biggest problem? The Pro Controller will run you a cool $70, which is pretty steep when you consider that the competition averages closer to $50. That's a pretty big outlay of cash if you're looking to get three more controllers for Mario Kart or Smash Bros.
Cost aside, though, this is the first time in quite a while that I've really been impressed by Nintendo's hardware. It feels like a legitimate piece of tech and not just a toy—the kind of console that might actually feel like it's worth $300 and change. It still has plenty of question marks, particularly when it comes to third-party support, but the hardware itself is legit. As far as I'm concerned, it's passed the first test.