Nintendo's journey has been an interesting series of hills and valleys, with failure never far from vindicating success. After defining the post-Atari console scene in the States, the company from Kyoto hasn't always hit the same highs, and notable missteps alongside a continually changing focus away from performance towards innovation has left Nintendo in a somewhat precarious position. The Switch needs to succeed where the Wii U failed, then, and the stakes couldn't be higher.
With that in mind, Nintendo has delivered perhaps its most innovative console to date (which, if you think about it, is saying something). The Nintendo Switch offers a lovely mix of clever features and satisfying design that's easy to use and full of potential. The unit itself, with the tablet and the matching Joy-Con controllers, has an impressive build quality; it feels like a precious piece of gear. It makes you want to use it, to take it in your hands and carry it around with you. You want to show it off to your friends. In its own way, it's a new, improved Game Boy for the 21st century.
There are two chief ways in which a player can interact with the Nintendo Switch, but within them there are also several variables that can be tweaked to suit an individual situation. While sat in its cradle and attached to a HDTV via the HDMI cable included in the box, the Switch is very much a home console, however, once removed from its snug but undeniably plastic stand, the device can be transported wherever, and can be used in a number of different ways.
Tablet gaming is nothing new, of course, but the experience is tied together here by Nintendo's biggest generational advancement, the excellent Joy-Con controllers. These thin, palm-sized devices can attach to each side of the tablet hardware, instantly transforming it into a stunning handheld. The Joy-Cons can also be used together with the Grip included with the console, then acting as a more traditional controller. Finally, you can kick out the stand on the back of the screen and then use the Joy-Cons either together or in each hand as individual controllers to play some solo Zelda, or give one Joy-Con to a friend and enjoy some easy local multiplayer. And let's not forget that it comes with a pretty sensitive touchscreen. That's plenty of options straight out of the box, and you can also buy a Pro Controller, which brings added precision and a more comfortable fit in the hand.
If the Switch is to succeed - and we hope that it does - it'll be because of its unrivalled flexibility (and let's not forget the stable of first-party IP that's the envy of Nintendo's console-making competitors). During the time we've spent with it we've become increasingly impressed with the hardware, enjoying The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - a serious contender for best launch title of all time - on the TV in the living room, as well as playing in portable mode around the house, or even at our favourite coffee shop. Wherever you play, the hardware works effortlessly.
It's not a perfect console, though, and flexibility comes at cost, that being less performance. The Switch simply isn't a match for the PlayStation 4 nor the Xbox One, and that's the vanilla versions of each console and not the PS4 Pro or the enhanced Scorpio which will launch later this year. Switch was never going to have the same horsepower, granted, but there were those hoping for something comparable in terms of computing power. Simply put, that's not the case, and you're not going to buy a Switch because you want to play the latest titles in 4K. In fact, Zelda looks pretty old and grainy on a 4KTV. If, as a player of games, performance is important to you, viewed through the lens of being a console, Nintendo's latest offering may well disappoint. If, however, you consider the Switch on different terms, and instead focus on its versatility and prowess as a mobile platform, it's hard not to be impressed. Ultimately, it's a matter of perspective.
The Switch's flexibility is facilitated by the Joy-Cons. These slide into position on either side of the screen with a surprisingly satisfying click, in a flash turning the screen into a portable console with a crisp 6.2 inch LCD touchscreen that supports 720p (the screen is perhaps a bit too glossy at times, especially when you're playing outside, and maybe Nintendo should have gone with a matte display instead). Thanks to the many features built into each part of the controller, Nintendo has given developers plenty of ways to experiment and enhance the experiences that they will create in the years ahead.
There's the hugely impressive HD Rumble feature too, which has enough definition that Nintendo decided to make 1-2-Switch mini-games just to show off how sensitive it can be. The right-hand Joy-Con has an infrared motion camera and Amiibo functionality, and both have decent gyro sensors. The left-right setup means that turning them into individual controllers can result in one player having to adapt the way they hold the left-hand Joy-Con, but it's not hard to get to used to the change.
Attaching both Joy-Cons to a Grip turns them into a semi-regular controller, and this works well for the most part, although there has been a couple of connectivity problems associated to the left one (we've experienced issues both internally here at Gamereactor, and we've read about them elsewhere). It feels light in the hand, and the shape of the controller is a little unwieldy, but it works. Another option is of course the Pro Controller, a definite upgrade that we've used quite a lot, but that comes at a steep price.