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Should you pre-order the Nintendo Switch? - Hands-on impressions with the Joy-cons, handheld mode, Pro Controller, and more

We'll help you decide

Should you pre-order the Nintendo Switch? - Hands-on impressions with the Joy-cons, handheld mode, Pro Controller, and more
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Following the recent Switch announcement, Nintendo kindly invited Pocket Gamer down for a playtest with the hybrid console itself - and boy were we pleased.

While there, we managed to test every function of the Switch - including the Joy-cons, handheld mode, Pro Controller, and a select few games. It was like Christmas day for us pocket gamers.

Right now, you're probably champing at the bit to learn whether or not it's any good, and if it justifies that relatively steep price tag.

While we can't provide a definitive review after such a short spell of time, we have a few initial thoughts to help you make that all-important decision: do you pre-order?

Design and functionality

When you see the Switch for the first time, you'll be surprised at the size - it's actually much smaller than it appears on our screens, measuring at 9.98 x 4.19 inches. To give you some context, that's roughly two NES controllers stacked on top of each other.

Visually, it's very appealing, with a nice matte finish and compact design. Core gamers will likely consider it the finest Nintendo's created so far, while diehards may feel it's missing a bit of the magic of former consoles.

That's an unfortunate side effect of Nintendo courting a maturer market, though you can opt for the Neon Red and Blue Joy-Cons which restores that a tad. It feels like a cheeky wink by Nintendo, aimed at hardcore fans.

You can expect new colours and limited edition versions to launch down the line as well, of course.

The dock houses the Switch nicely. It slightly peeks over the top, but doesn't sit awkwardly. We didn't manage to get a feel for it, so can't comment on the weight, but it has two USB ports on the left hand side and, we'd assume, a HDMI port on the right - sadly our view was obscured so we can't confirm.

Joy-Grip

Ah Nintendo. When you announced the Switch back in October, you really should have lead with the Joy-Cons. Don't get me wrong, the console doubling up as a handheld is cool and all, but after experiencing it for myself, the Joy-Cons buttered my crumpets the most.

Docked in the grip, the Joy-Cons perform as a standard controller. You've got two analogues, A, B, X, and Y buttons, a d-pad, left and right triggers, and share and home buttons. Pretty standard stuff.

As it stands, it's a step above the Wii U Pro Controller. The matte finish gives it a nice grip and feel, the buttons and analogues all have a satisfying click, and it's weightier.

However, it does fall slightly short of an Xbone pad or DualShock 4. First off, the square central portion of the grip digs into your hands a bit, causing some discomfort which may cause issues for some during longer playing sessions.

The triggers and L and R buttons also feel a little flimsy compared to your DualShock 4. There's no issue in terms of function - they always work - but they don't feel as satisfying to press.

Joy-Cons

Detach them from the grip though, and the Joy-Cons really come alive. Make no mistake, these are the real draw of the Switch, offering numerous different ways to play.

At first glance, you'd be forgiven for considering them a hyped-up version of the Wiimote and Nunchuk. But you're wrong - so, so wrong.

The gyroscope is far better at judging movement, and was absolutely flawless during my playtest. It really shines in Arms, a fighter in which you control your punches and grabs by mimicking your character's onscreen movements.

It can also track the controller's position relative to the TV, and includes a brand new HD rumble which can mimic the feel of ice cubes shaking in a glass, among other things. That in itself opens up numerous possibilities, and we'll see a few bitesize examples of these in 1-2-Switch.

When on the move, the two Joy-Cons can be turned horizontal and function as two separate controllers perfect for an on-the-go multiplayer sesh. They even have two triggers hidden in the slot where the Joy-Cons slide into the grip. Nifty.

Pro Controller

Those reservations I had about the Joy-Grip? All solved with the Pro Controller.

By design, it's admittedly quite similar - just without the great big square centre, and all the better for it.

The buttons feel a little bit more satisfying to click as well - particularly the triggers and bumpers, which almost rival the DualShock 4 in terms of feel.

This time around, it also includes a motion sensor, making it absolutely perfect for games like Splatoon 2. It's oh so comfortable, has a lovely weight, and is slightly see-through - reminiscent of the Game Boy Advance.

If you're planning to play the Switch primarily in front of your TV, this is an essential purchase - particularly if you're into multiplayer games.

Handheld mode

Here's a bombshell: as a handheld, the Nintendo Switch is the best I've ever experienced.

At 720p, the screen is the sharpest I've seen yet - even more so than the Vita - and the 6-inch screen feels like the sweet spot in terms of size.

I actually felt like I was playing a real console game on-the-go - a false promise that many handhelds and mobile games have made in the past.

And that's because I was. I played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe during my session and it performed exactly how it would on the TV - equally as gorgeous. Thinking of playing it on the train, in a hotel room, or in my mum's couch got my heart racing.

However, we can't comment on the battery life. It was plugged in the entire time and we weren't afforded the time to drain it.

Nor can we comment on the touchscreen, as we didn't experience it in our session. Our thoughts on those features will have to wait for the full review.

Should you pre-order it?

Until we've spent more time with the Nintendo Switch, we can't form a definitive opinion. So we're not really in a position to recommend or discourage you from pre-ordering it at this point.

However, there are a couple of points you should consider. Firstly, pre-orders are going out of stock almost as fast as the NES Mini did. If you're okay waiting for a stock refresh, then don't worry about it but those who are impatient, and sold on the idea, may want to think twice.

Then there's the problem of the launch line-up, with only four first party games landing on day one - the best of which you could just get for your dust-covered Wii U.

Virtual Console, third-party support, and Ninties may offer more value - we're yet to see the true extent - but it's looking a little thin.

And finally, there's that crucial point of price, which is slightly higher than expected at £279.99 / $299.99. That's steep considering that you can get a PS4 or Xbone for a mere £199.99 / $249.99 with a bundle of games and an enormous library of games to dig into.

Games themselves cost more at launch than on the other consoles, at £59.99 / $59.99 - that's as steep as most special editions of Xbone and PS4 games.

If you're tight on cash, it might be best to wait until Christmas when the console will likely retail for less - or at least as a bundle - and the cost of the games will have dropped a bit.

Oh, and you'll have a fair bit more to play as well.