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Nintendo's latest console may make gamers feel bipolar.
Nintendo Switch, which hits stores Friday, will have you slack-jawed with wonder one minute and fuming with anger the next. It's loaded with potential, but feels like it's hitting the street a couple months too early. And while the company is clearly counting on it to revive Nintendo's standing in wake of the Wii U's poor performance, it's far from certain if Switch will lure back publishing partners.
For every likable thing with Switch, there's an issue that casts a shadow. We've had a unit in hand for about two weeks and have tested it extensively — though not completely. Features such as the eShop — Nintendo's digital download storefront — and online connectivity won't be available until a Day One system update is released.
So, rather than a formal review, we've compiled a list of pros and cons users can expect if they're able to get their hands on a Switch. That's by no means a guarantee since it's likely to sell out quickly at retail stores for the next month or so, at least.
Pro: It's extremely flexible. The main selling point of Switch is its ability to transform from a home console to a portable gaming system in a snap. And on that front, it works as well as advertised. Transitioning from one style of gaming to another takes seconds and lets you continue playing right where you left off. A likely use-case is people who want to keep playing when their spouse/parent/roommate wants to watch something on the TV. But ...
Con: You'd best hope that spouse/parent/roommate isn't settling in for a binge-watching session, because the battery life on Switch leaves a lot to be desired. With "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," expect to get just 3.5 hours of playtime before you'll have to find an external power source, which can range from re-inserting Switch into its TV dock, charging with a power cord or a Mophie-style portable backup battery. That's sufficient for some people, but hardcore players or anyone who wants to play their game on a cross-country flight might get frustrated.
Pro: It feels good in your hand. While it's arguably better as an attached console device than a portable gaming system, Switch is still comfortable to hold in your hands for long periods. It's oblong and takes a couple minutes to get used to, but the Joystick controllers feel more natural in portable mode than they do in console mode on some games. It's also light enough that you won't feel any wrist strain, and it comes with a kickstand, letting you put it on a surface if you do. But...
Con: Regardless of where you take Switch in its portable mode, you have to be keenly aware of the nearest light source. The tablet's screen — and, make no mistake, Switch is a tablet at heart — is crisp, but has a real issue with glare. It's significant enough that playing a game outside is virtually impossible on a sunny day and still challenging on a cloudy one. Indoors it's generally OK, but all depends on your home's lighting layout.
Pro: Games load in a snap. If you own a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you know how quickly those can dampen enthusiasm for a new game, thanks to the requirement to copy a game to the system's hard drive before launching, which can take from 5 minutes to half an hour. With Switch, you plug in the cartridge, roughly the size of a SD memory card for a camera, and it's ready to launch immediately. (Note: Since digital downloads weren't available for testing, it's currently impossible to say whether this is also the case with games purchased from the eStore.) This might seem a small feature, but it underscores Nintendo's commitment to the player. But...
Con: While you'll be in the game within seconds, you could find that controlling them isn't as natural as you'd expect. The left Joy-Con controller had a very noticeable lag when playing "Breath of the Wild," which makes the already difficult game a lot harder. This is a flaw that may be corrected in the Day One update, but Nintendo hasn't issued a complete list of the issues it plans to address with that. It's also worth noting that the Joy-Con grip accessory included with Switch is serviceable at replicating a traditional controller when the console is hooked to a TV, but it might be uncomfortably small for people with large hands. A separate device — the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller — feels better, but it will cost you an extra $70. Oh ... and an extra set of Joy-Con controllers will run you $80. Nintendo apparently plans to make a killing in the accessories market with this generation.
Pro: It won't take up a lot of space in your entertainment center. While other consoles are behemoths, Switch has a very small footprint. That should make it easy to blend in with your other components, while still ensuring you can grab it for on-the-go play. With minimalism becoming more en vogue for home entertainment centers, this is a good nod to modern times. But...
Con: Unfortunately, the Switch's internal memory is just as small as the hardware's footprint, which, if you're planning on buying most of your games digitally, is going to be a sizable headache. The system has just 32GB of internal storage, some of which is reserved for the operating system. That means you can expect to save, at best, three or four downloaded titles, and there's already one that takes up more memory than Switch has. That's easily fixed by purchasing a microSD memory card, but some people may not realize that until it's too late.
Pro: Zelda's really good. "Breath of the Wild" isn't just a good flagship launch title, it's one of the best games in the series — one that will win over fans who generally abandon new entries after a few hours. "Zelda" games have always been made for the Nintendo faithful, though, and this one's no different. Smartly assuming that early buyers of Switch will be hardcore gamers, Nintendo gave them a title to keep them busy. It's challenging, brutally so at times, but never seems unfair. But...
Con: If you don't want a "Zelda" game, you're not going to have a lot to do in the early days of Switch. "1-2-Switch" is a fun party title, with 28 bite sized-games that makes Switch more social, but it's the only other significant option. The rest of the launch lineup is extraordinarily lean. While Nintendo says big games, including new entries in the "Mario" and "Splatoon" franchises, are coming soon, the company's track record of delays is bound to cause justifiable skepticism. The Virtual Console, letting fans play games from previous systems, won't be up and running until some unnamed date. And, unlike previous Nintendo systems, Switch is not backward compatible, meaning your old Nintendo games won't work on it.