The Nintendo Switch has been released with considerable hype and shows strong potential, but my early experiences with it have left a little to be desired. Console launches inevitably suffer from some technical hiccups and a dearth of playable software, and this one is no different. So in that sense, the Switch is far from a failure. But if you’re curious about whether the system is worth it right now, you should be aware that there are still kinks to be worked out. Unless you really need to play Breath of the Wild, or you just enjoy being an early adopter, you can probably pass on the Switch for the time being.
I was surprised by how slim the Switch turned out to be. Compared to the chunky, ugly tablet that came with the Wii U, Nintendo’s new offering lies somewhere between an iPhone and an iPad Air. It’s definitely too big for your pocket, but throwing it in your backpack / messenger bag should be no problem. Even with its small size, the sound and graphics it can produce are impressive. While they won’t look quite as good on a TV as what you’ll find on the Playstation 4 or X-Box One, they translate very well to the tablet’s screen, given you can hold it less than a foot from your face.
The controls offer a few different options. You can either equip the “Joy-cons” on the tablet itself, hold them separately (like you would with a Wii remote or nunchuk), or slide them into a separate handle. None of the options have worked ideally for me so far. The Joy-cons seem durable enough, but their connection to the various other parts of the console concerns me. They slide in pretty comfortably on the tablet, but the way they rely on hinges means I would feel a little unsafe holding the system solely by the Joy-con. The release is also a bit fussy: detaching the right Joy-con from its wrist strap nearly required the Jaws of Life.
I’ve also run into a couple significant technical problems with the system so far. Attempting to sync the Joy-cons separately from the tablet has been impossible so far, and Nintendo’s troubleshooting – including shutting off wi-fi on the other devices in my apartment – has not been effective. Worse, attempting to put my Switch into sleep mode causes it to crash, requiring a full restart. The error code provided does not show up on the support website, and customer service was not familiar with the problem I experienced. Other reports – up to and including the system bricking – have been reported.
Most of the games available at launch leave a bit to be desired except for the obvious one, Breath of the Wild. So far I’ve been able to play for about five hours, and the experience has almost lived up to the incredible review scores being seen on practically every gaming website.
The thing that most helps Breath of the Wild is the vastly different feel from previous games in the Legend of Zelda series. Many older players had grown frustrated with the series’ dogged insistence on carefully guiding you through its world, often pairing you with a grating assistant to offer frequent, unsolicited suggestions. Here, you are mostly left to your own devices: while there is technically an area specifically intended to familiarize you with the game’s systems, you are left mostly unsupervised.
If anything, with the openness of the world and the vast assortment of collectibles, I’m reminded of something like Banjo-Kazooie. I’ve heard the game be compared to Skyrim, but Breath of the Wild manages to be even less structured, offering you just the joy of seeing the world with few quests as guideposts. The idea of climbing the mountain you see off in the distance has become a cliche for open-world games in recent years, but here I feel compelled to examine everything out of the ordinary I find.
The game often feels quiet, even serene. When you do encounter hostile enemies, there is a feeling of suspense that every fight is a matter of life and death. Another departure from older Zelda games is that every weapon has limited durability. As taking out enemy camps is one of the most reliable ways of acquiring new weapons, there’s an interesting tension: do you use the strong weapons you own and hope you can replace or improve them? Or do you risk using a weaker one to conserve your resources for a potentially more dangerous fight down the road?
I haven’t been discouraged from playing, but I would describe the controls as fussy. Keeping track of your sword, shield, bow, and the Shiekah Slate, I end up cycling through a few different buttons before I land on the right one pretty often. With weapons often breaking in combat, there can be a few moments of panic each time you need to cycle to the next one, though you can pause the action to re-equip if needed. Even when there’s nothing happening on-screen, cycling through the enormous number of items you have can be a bit confusing.
Really, the best fix would be to put all the inventory management stuff on a second screen. In fact, it’s almost like the game was designed with a second screen in mind, before they also decided to make it for the Switch!
…would be to buy Breath of the Wild for the Wii U if you have the option. Otherwise, I would wait until the fall or winter to see if additional quality titles have been released. You might be tempted right now while it’s on everyone’s mind, but there are enough hurdles to getting one – let alone a fully functioning one – you’ll probably be happier waiting for a bit.