When developing the Switch, Nintendo had quite the job on its hands. The console's predecessor, the Wii U, failed to maintain the enormous success that the Wii enjoyed, and it flopped. Hard.
Why this happened is anyone's guess - though you could point to a lacklustre launch and third party line-up, a primary innovation that even Nintendo couldn't even figure out what to do with, and marketing that ultimately failed to explain what the Wii U was, or why we should care.
Meanwhile, Nintendo's space was invaded by the rapid growth of mobile gaming, a revitalised PC market, and Sony's dominance in the console space. With only the quietly successful 3DS pulling its weight, Nintendo had to act.
The response was to put the Wii U out of its misery and step back to the drawing board. The mission statement to provide an innovative, must-buy product that would once again capture the minds of the masses, while simultaneously clawing back the core gamers lost along the way.
Step forward the Nintendo Switch - a hybrid combination of console and handheld. It's everything Nintendo is about: portability, the TV experience, motion controllers, a focus on multiplayer, and various ways to play thanks to the Joy-con, grip, Pro Controller, and wheel attachments.
In theory, it's an excellent idea - and Nintendo isn't the first to have a stab at a hybrid console. So has it succeeded where others have failed? Is the Nintendo Switch worth your time and money? Read on to find out.
It's clear that Nintendo took a minimalist approach to the Switch's style, with the console being only as big as it needs to be. The build quality for the unit follows the standard set by the New Nintendo 3DS in that it's thin, slick, sturdy, and premium in feel. The dock matches it for width, and also contains no unnecessary bulk.
The finish is entirely matte this time, rather than the fingerprint-adoring gloss of the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. Given that you'll be touching the Switch a lot more than its predecessors, that's got to be taken as a positive.
Our unit had the red and blue Joy-cons, which were nice and bright, and felt very Nintendo. If you prefer a maturer design, you can opt for grey Joy-cons instead.
If you had concerns that the Switch would look and feel like a Fisher Price toy - and that's fair given the standard set by the Wii U gamepad - then don't fret. This is a premium design that matches the quality of the New Nintendo 3DS, and stands up well against the competition.
Our only complaint is that the kickstand is a tad flimsy, and you have to stand the console a fair distance away from you to get a comfortable viewing angle. Except it's not comfortable, as the 6.2" display is too small to view from the half metre or so the console needs to be away from you.
It's unlikely anyone will opt for this method of play as a result, which is a shame as it could have been solved with an adjustable kickstand.
With Joy-cons attached, the Switch is ever so slightly smaller than a Wii U gamepad, a touch heavier, and much thinner. Ultimately, it's way more comfortable to hold, with a nice heft and solidity to it. Equally, the smooth matte finish provides a decent feel.
The 6.2" screen is larger than a 3DS, 3DS XL, and Vita, though considerably smaller than the standard iPad, Mini, and Pro.
It hits the sweet spot between portability and comfort though, with the unit small enough to whip out on the bus, while large enough that you won't miss your TV too much when you're away from home.
The Joy-cons offer a marked improvement over the Wii U gamepad and pro controller. The X, A, Y, and B buttons are comparable to the New Nintendo 3DS, and the d-pad has been replaced with four arrow buttons. The joysticks are way more polished as well, with a nicer grip and solidity to them.
In fact, the Joy-cons stand their ground even against the DualShock 4. Every button - the joysticks included - has a lovely, satisfying clickiness to it.
Where the DualShock 4 and Xbox One have the Joy-cons beat though, is in the trigger department. While there's nothing wrong with them, the Joy-cons aren't analogue. This may not end up being a problem if the games don't require that though.
While attached to the Switch, the Joy-cons feel like a natural part of it. There's no wiggle, the fit is snug, and they're easy to slot into place.
They're also just the right size to rest comfortably in the palm of your hands, and hitting the triggers and bumpers doesn't require any finger gymnastics.
The right joystick has a bit of an awkward placement though, forcing you to waggle it with the tip of your thumb instead of the pad. We didn't encounter any issues or discomfort during extended playing sessions, and you do get used to it, but it is a slight mark in an otherwise perfect design.
Detached, the Joy-cons function the same as when they're acting as a single controller - though with the caveat that your arms can be placed in a more comfortable position.
Each Joy-con can also act as an individual controller, which is ideal for multiplayer while you're on the go, and necessary in games like 1-2-Switch. When attached to the strap, they even have two trigger switches, so you've got the buttons at your disposal when playing Mario Kart 8 and the like.
They're just a little too small individually to be considered comfortable though, and the replacement triggers housed on the strap are floaty, lacking the tactility of the real thing. In fact, you may not even feel like you've pressed them at times, as there's very little feedback.
The horizontal placement of the joysticks and buttons also feels a little off, either too far to the right or left. It's nice that the extra functionality is there, but you won't be choosing these in place of the grip or Pro Controller given the choice.
Housed in the grip, the Joy-cons mimic an Xbox controller in design and layout. The functionality isn't a far cry from when attached to the Switch, but the palm protrusions are a welcome addition.
It does feel a bit cramped though - especially when compared to the Pro Controller, where every button is placed with perfect precision. Using the arrow keys, screenshot, and home buttons in particular feels like a stretch.
It may not be the most comfortable controller for TV play, as the Pro Controller has it beat. But if you're not willing to fork out for it, and prefer a more natural controller feel than using the Joy-cons separately, it's more than adequate.
In terms of performance, we have to discuss the Switch as a console and a handheld separately, as it does vary.
As a handheld, the Switch has a 6.2" capacitive touch screen with a resolution of 1280 x 720. That's a sharper resolution than the Wii U gamepad's 6.2" screen at 854 x 480, the Vita's 5" screen at 960x544, and the New 3DS's 800 x 240 resolution screen (sized at 3.88" for the regular, and 4.88" for the XL).
And it shows. I viewed the Switch and Vita Slim alongside each other - the Switch's closest competitor in terms of screen quality - and the Switch was noticeably sharper, crisper, and had bolder colours.
In fact, it really is a comparable experience to your TV in terms of screen quality. The only difference is in the resolution, but we'll get into that during the console portion.
The Switch is also a more than capable gaming device, housing a customised Nvidia Tegra X1. To put that in context, it's a marked improvement over the Wii U, but not quite up there with the PS4 and Xbox One.
Rounding it up, you've got 32GB of inbuilt storage, support for 2TB more via a microSD slot, and a battery life ranging between three and six hours. This was about accurate during our test with Breath of the Wild, which gobbled up half of the battery in 90 minutes of play.
To put it simply, the Switch is arguably the finest handheld to date. You won't find one with a finer screen, performance, capabilities, or comfort. It doesn't just feel like a fun addition to a home console, but a fine handheld in its own right.
The Switch is also an excellent console - and setup is surprisingly easy. Connect the power adapter and HDMI cord to the dock, drop your Switch in, and turn to the appropriate channel. That's it. No faff, no fuss.
That speed and ease of use goes right down to the OS and UI as well. It boots up instantly, and there are minimal menu screens. It just wants to get you right to the playing games bit.
When plugged into the dock, the console aims for full HD 1080p resolution and is capable of 60fps. The exact numbers will vary depending on the game though, and our experience with Breath of the Wild was actually better on the handheld.
On the TV, the resolution was 900p upscaled and it ran at 30fps, with regular choppiness and frame rate drops when in busy areas like forests and towns.
Curiously, these issues weren't present while playing on the handheld mode. We got native 720p, so it was sharper and crisper, while the performance didn't seem to skip a beat.
While we give the console mode a big thumbs up in terms of setup, ease, and capabilities, the experience will differ between games. The same may also be said of the handheld mode, mind, so it's a case of watch this space.Verdict The good
As it stands, the Switch is more than capable both as a console and a handheld. Neither modes quite steal the centre stage - that spot's taken by the fact it proves more than capable as each of its iterations.
It's an innovation you may not realise you wanted all along, and you will use it. It's just so easy to take the Switch with you when you leave the house, or fancy having an early night. Slip it out of the dock and you're good to go.
After a while, that becomes so natural that you won't think about it. And as both styles of play work near perfectly, you'll have no problem playing either way.
It's not quite a flawless machine though. The kickstand is flimsy, and will only be used for multiplayer sessions on the go, or as a last resort, and the battery length leaves a lot to be desired.
It'll be fine if you stick to lo-fi indie experiences, but we bought this primarily to play Zelda on the bus, and the fact it runs out of juice so quickly isn't quite good enough. Those who travel a lot are going to need to invest in a power pack.
The problems also stretch to TV play, with the console faring worse in terms of performance while playing Breath of the Wild docked.
There are too many unanswered questions surrounding that to flag it as a legitimate concern right now though. Can a patch fix it? Will similar problems occur in other games? Will we see performance hits on handheld and not on TV? We'll have to wait and see.Conclusion
The Switch has more than achieved what it set out to do - and that's provide a stellar gaming experience no matter where you are. It does that with aplomb, and with a far nicer design than Nintendo has proved capable of in recent years - bar the New Nintendo 3DS.
There's also scope for growth. We haven't got the full line-up of games yet, but it's already looking pretty promising - particularly in terms of third-party and indie support.
We'll also likely start seeing much more out of the Joy-cons in future releases. They could well be the Switch's secret weapons, offering control innovation not seen since the Wii.
It's a promising start for Nintendo's latest console, and with much more excitement still to come the Switch is definitely one to keep your eye on.