Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Rob Rants on the Switch: Is This the Nintendo We Deserve?

Rob Rants on the Switch: Is This the Nintendo We Deserve?

After over a year of rumors and speculation Nintendo revealed to us just exactly what the Switch is earlier this year. Last week Nintendo finally released the system into the wild. I’ve spent more hours than healthy with it since then and I still have mixed, but strong, emotions about the system overall.

First let’s dive into the good:

While the launch titles are not the most robust selection (for those keeping track at home it’s 1-2-Switch, Snipperclips - Cut it out, together!, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders Imaginators, Super Bomberman R, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth Plus, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, Fast rmx, and I am Setsuna) they do have a couple of hits on their hands already. Snipperclips is more fun than it should be and The Legend of Zelda has been getting rave reviews from everyone. At the time of this writing it’s sitting at a 98 on metacritic with 67 critical reviews. That’s just unheard of for a video game. More on Zelda in a bit.

The portability of the Switch is great. This weekend I was at a local park with another dad in the neighborhood and while our kids were riding their bikes we were playing Snipperclips. It was like a scene straight from a Nintendo commercial. It really was that easy and fun. While the battery life of the Switch might be questionable for more intense games. Reports of “only” 2.5 hours with Zelda this is easily solved with external battery solutions and a USB cable. I can see limited scenarios where 2.5 hours wouldn’t be long enough as a commuter device. Those 2.5 hours should be sufficient to get you back and forth from grandma’s house or work on the train.

The screen is better than expected. I was worried that it would not be big enough but there is plenty of space. It’s also not too big. You can comfortably hold it in your hands. The screen is also touch sensitive. While Nintendo isn’t pushing that as a major feature it’s nice to have when in handheld mode and entering text. Heck it’s nice to have period. When entering passwords or usernames I’ll walk over and undock the Switch for a second just to enter in text. It’s pretty convenient.

The display works well outside for some games, and not so well for others. Snipperclips with its bright backgrounds was easy enough to enjoy. Trying to complete a temple in Zelda was impossible. The display was too dark regardless of the brightness setting.

The Joycons add a new level of innovation. Having two controllers packed into the device is a great selling point for consumers that want to have multiplayer games. With titles like 1-2-Switch, and Snipperclips it’s clear that Nintendo is interesting in bring back multiplayer gaming to the home and not just online. As a parent I appreciate this. I love having games to play with my kids and not because everyone is taking turns. The Joycons do take a little getting used to due to their odd shape but I and my children quickly got a grip on the controls.

It appears the Switch might become a target for Indie development. Currently Nintendo has stated that there are 60 indie games in development for the Switch. Not all of these are new, some are ports like Stardew Valley, but this is a boon for the as yet unproven system. Others like Shovel Knight will also provide time exclusivity to the Switch. Now you’ll just need to get a bigger SD memory card to hold all these gems.

There is a parental control app that allows you to monitor what your kids, or yourself, are up to on the Switch. While the system isn't specifically designed for kids we all know a lot of them will use it so good on Nintendo for helping us parents out limiting access to social media, friends lists, and the amount of time the device can be used in a day. And don't worry if you want to sneak behind your kids and play when time is up, or reward them with extra time for whatever, you can simply enter a PIN you create to override the protection.

On to the not so goods:

There is a desync issue with the Joycons effectively making them useless when trying to play Breath of the Wild while the Switch is docked. This also affects other titles but Zelda has been the most prevalent. Your choices are to play in portable mode or purchase and play with a Pro Controller. The good news is the game still plays well in portable mode and it corrects the Joycon issue so all is not lost.

The Pro Controller is $70, a set of Joycons are $80, the Switch is $300 and doesn’t come with a game. The system only has 32g of built in memory. Bottom line everything is bit overpriced. The Pro Controller doesn’t even have an audio out jack which at this point should be standard. Both Sony and Microsoft include them. It does come with a RF scanner though for Amiibo support. If you want the Switch as a Zelda only box you are looking at $430. $300 for the console, $70 for a Pro Controller, and $60 for the game. For only $19.99 on the eShop Snipperclips should have come as a packin. That or the Switch should have only cost $250. I think this would have been a much more reasonable value proposition.

There are noticeable frame rate issues playing Zelda when the system is docked and at 900p resolution. While in handheld at 720p it’s fine. I think we all knew this system wouldn’t be as powerful as the PS4 and the XBox One but showing technological issues on your marquee launch title is a major faux pas.

The eShop and their online systems are still major question marks. Will players be able to import games or upgrade them from their Wii U purchase? Probably not. Nintendo does love their money and in the past has shown they aren’t afraid to sell the same game to a customer 3 or 10 times.

Friend codes are back. These are horrible. Nintendo should bring in some outside help here. They really keep getting their social systems wrong. They also need to add in trophy or achievement support. Gamers like to accomplish goals and share those accomplishments (humble brags?). The good news it's not too late to add those in. The Nintendo network is clearly a work in progress.

Remember that there was an app for parental controls? Where this is also an app for chat. That’s because there isn’t voice chat native to the Switch. This is another area where the Switch is showing its technology weaknesses.

Right now it’s impossible for me to recommend anyone run out and buy the Switch. It’s not a must have... yet. The only game that IS a must have is also available on the Wii U. The Switch has a lot of nice things going for it and is a decent upgrade over the Wii U but the addition of things like taking screenshots and sharing them over social media should be table stakes at this point. Not features to get all excited about. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad they have them but it’s not like anyone else doesn’t. The single biggest selling point is the portability. Hopefully they get the digital ecosystem figured out and some firmware upgrades quickly and the Switch will be worth the purchase.