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Nintendo Switch wants to be your only game console, bridging handheld and TV (hands-on)

/ Updated: 2 March 2017, 1:12 am AEDT
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Editors' note (March 1, 2017): Our Nintendo Switch review is now live.


Last October, Nintendo revealed the Switch: a bold new game system that's portable (like a Game Boy or 3DS) but also connects to a TV. It's designed to be a powerful Nintendo game system you can also take on the go, with a pop-out kickstand and wireless motion controllers that snap right into place.

Like the Nintendo Wii back in 2006, what some see as its gimmicks could make it a must-try for many around the world. Assuming it can justify its newly announced $300, £280 or AU$470 price when it arrives on March 3, 2017, of course.

Nintendo Switch: Everything you need to know

This January, Nintendo announced that price, release date, and the answers to many of our most burning questions about its modular game system.

Here's everything else we know about the Switch so far.

What's it like to play?

We got to try the Nintendo Switch for several hours in New York and London. Scott Stein and Jeff Bakalar played a handful of games, along with Andrew Hoyle over in the UK.

Expectations are high for the Switch, and if you're a Nintendo fan you might be hoping that this tablet is a magical mix of the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS combined. Based on our early gameplay hands-on, impressions were solid but mixed. The Switch tablet is compact but a little chunky compared with an iPad. It's larger than a phone, smaller than a Wii U GamePad controller. Its screen is bright and crisp, and its controllers really small, but tightly laid out. (More on the controllers here.)

The early games seemed promising -- the newest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, is a day-one launch title. It looked like it'll be a great game, but occasionally ran choppy in demos. Splatoon 2 looked as good as the original does on the Wii U, but we only got to play it in tablet mode. Other games featured simpler graphics and fun multiplayer ideas, like the puzzle-solving collaborative game Snipperclips and a weird party game for two players called 1 2 Switch. The Nintendo Switch is clearly designed to be a multiplayer experience: it ships with two controllers in the box.

But, for a game system that's debuting in less than two months, we didn't play all that many games. And Nintendo didn't show off any of the core features of Switch, like other apps or streaming services. And, oddly, Nintendo hasn't gone into any detail on how the Switch can tap into retro Nintendo games. It's a capable game system, but is it an amazing one...or more of a really clever gaming toy? It's hard to tell.

But what is the Switch?

A modular game system that can play its games connected to a TV like a regular games console, or as a tablet-style handheld with its own controls. The 6.2-inch screen can be propped up on its own kickstand, with detachable controllers that each act like their own miniature Wii Remote motion controllers. (But they're way more sophisticated: read more about them below.)

How's the battery life?

Nintendo estimates you'll get between 2.5 and 6.5 hours of battery life at a go. "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be played for roughly three hours on a single charge," says the company. That might not sound like a lot, but you can use a standard USB Type-C phone charger cable to keep it topped up -- or just slot it into the dock at home.

Nintendo

How can it be both a handheld and a TV game console?

The "Nintendo Switch Dock" is where the Switch lives when it's in your living room. The tablet slides into the dock, and then seems to instantly switch into a TV-connected mode. This is a bit like the Nvidia Shield tablet, which had a similar play-on-TV, play-on-the-go idea.

How quickly can you switch modes?

Nintendo's preview video shows people playing games on the TV, then popping the tablet out and playing on the sofa. Games should instantly switch, and play in either mode. On the TV screen, the Switch can output a 1080p (1,920x1,080-pixel resolution) image, even though its internal screen is 1,280x720-pixel resolution.

nintendoswitch.jpg

The Switch in both of its forms.

Nintendo

How do the controllers work?

The Switch has a flexible idea of controllers: two "Joy-Con" side pieces slide onto the edges of the Switch tablet, adding four buttons and an analog stick on each side, plus shoulder buttons, just like the Wii U GamePad. But when these are slid off, they can become standalone Wii remote-like controllers, held sideways to play games. They can charge while attached to the tablet, or when attached to the optional $30, £28 or AU$40 Charging Grip controller -- which has its own USB port.

Are they just tiny Wii Remotes?

They're a bit more advanced than that -- and since you get two, you can easily hand one to a friend for two-player mini games. There's buttons and a stick on the front of each Joy-Con, but also a pair of hidden ones on the inside.

They've got haptic feedback. (Example: Nintendo says you can shake a controller and feel like there's ice cubes moving around inside a glass.)

The right one has a built-in NFC pad to detect Amiibo and other connected toys, and the left one has an infrared sensor so it can detect motions in front of it.

Lastly, there's a "Capture" button that Nintendo says is for capturing screenshots you can share on social media.

The Joy-Con controllers also slide into another accessory, the Joy-Con Grip, turning them into a full controller separate from the tablet, or into a Joy-Con Strap (you know, a strap so you don't throw them into your TV), which extends the hidden buttons so you can hold one in each hand like boxing gloves and bend your fingers to press them.

If I remove the controllers, how do I hold the screen up?

It's got a built-in kickstand, too. The Switch can stand up on a table, and games can be played with the wireless controllers like a mini console.

Does it have a touchscreen?

Yep: It's a real, phone-style 6.2-inch 1,280x720-resolution capacitive touchscreen -- no more Nintendo DS-style stylus for this system. We're not sure how much Nintendo will embrace touch, or if it means iPhone and Android developers are going to start putting games on the system, but it's definitely there.

Here's everything you'll get in the box.

Nintendo


It comes with everything you need in the box.

Worried that you might have to buy a lot of little pieces to actually get the Switch to transform? Don't be: it comes with the tablet, dock, two Joy-Pads, the gamepad dock, the straps, an AC adapter, and even the HDMI cable you need to hook it up to a TV set. You can get a different version with one red and one blue Joy-con (instead of the grey ones) for the same price.

Update, January 17: It turns out the Switch doesn't come with the Charging Grip, only a plain Grip that doesn't charge the controllers. To charge them, you have to plug them into the tablet or buy the accessory.

There's a cartridge slot -- and a micro SD card slot.

Besides downloading games, the Switch will have its own little proprietary card-based cartridges. It doesn't support any DVD or Blu-ray-style discs, but it does have a microSD card slot to possibly expand its 32GB of internal storage.

It's not backward compatible with earlier Nintendo systems.

Nintendo has confirmed that Wii U discs and 3DS cartridges won't work, even though the shape of the cartridges looks a bit similar.

It won't replace the Nintendo 3DS handheld.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime assured us in an interview that the 3DS is sticking around. Which makes sense, because the Switch ain't cheap (among other reasons).

What games will it play?

Nintendo's upcoming Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be a launch title on March 3, and it's just the start. Nintendo says there are over 80 titles in active development, including:

  • Splatoon 2
  • Super Mario Odyssey - a different Mario game set in the real world? Coming Holiday 2017
  • Fire Emblem Warriors
  • The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2
  • FIFA
  • Skylanders Imaginators
  • Minecraft
  • Arms, a cartoony multiplayer boxing game that uses the two Joy-Con controllers wirelessly -- spring 2017
  • 1-2 Switch, a two-player party game that uses one wireless controller each
  • A new RPG from the Bravely Default team
  • A new Shin Megami Tensei game
  • A new game in the No More Heroes franchise (from developer Suda51)
  • NBA 2K18
  • Super Bomberman R
  • Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers
  • Has Been Heroes
  • Just Dance 2017
  • Disgaea 5 Complete
  • Puyo Puyo Tetris
  • Rime
  • Steep
  • Fast RMX
  • Syberia 3
  • Sonic Mania
  • Project Sonic 2017
  • Lego City Undercover
  • I Am Setsuna
  • Rayman Legends Definitive Edition
  • Dragon Quest Heroes I and II
  • Dragon Quest X and XI

There aren't a lot of games at launch (and that's intentional).

"Launch day is not the be-all and the end-all," Nintendo of America's president told CNET. "It really is the steady pacing of content that continually reinforces for the people who bought into the platform why they made a smart choice, as well as what compels people who might be sitting on the sidelines to jump in."

The release schedule for the Nintendo Switch is pretty spread out -- not a lot of games at launch.

Nintendo

You should be able to play Switch games even if you bought them in another country.

Nintendo says it won't be region-locking any of its own games. In the past, that used to be the norm for many Nintendo handhelds, but more recently Nintendo had been adding locks. It's good to see them gone.

Local multiplayer is alive and well, but you may have to pay to play over the internet.

Local multiplayer games can be played on up to eight Switch systems without an internet connection -- but Nintendo's online multiplayer will require a paid subscription after the first month. We guess it was only a matter of time after Sony and Microsoft asked players to cough up the cash.

It's got Wi-Fi and three full-size USB ports in the dock.

There's two USB ports on the front of the Switch's docking station and one inside the dock. While the Switch has speedy 802.11ac Wi-Fi, you can also plug a USB to Ethernet adapter into one of the ports for a wired internet connection.

Inside the Nintendo Switch's dock.

Nintendo

It supports surround sound.

When plugged into the dock, the Switch can output 5.1 surround to your TV or home entertainment system, according to Nintendo.

Additional controllers aren't cheap.

If you lose one Joy-Con, it'll cost $50 (converts to AU$65, £40) to replace. A pack of two will run for $80 (roughly AU$100, £65). The Charging Grip pad to pair the two Joy-Cons together in the shape of a regular game controller, and also charge them (with a USB-C cable) will retail for $30, £28 or AU$40.

Nintendo's more traditional gamepad, the Switch Pro Controller, will cost $70 (converts to AU$95, £60).

It's powered by an Nvidia Tegra processor.

Nvidia says the Switch uses a custom Tegra processor. Nvidia Tegra processors have previously powered the Nvidia Shield gaming tablets and other mobile devices, but Nvidia promises this processor is "based on the same architecture as the world's top-performing GeForce gaming graphics cards," adding a revamped physics engine and other tools. Nvidia's Tegra processor might sound like it'll be less powerful than a full "normal" console, but it's hard to tell how advanced the Switch will truly be until we play more.

Nintendo seems to have developers on board this time around.

The list of partners unveiled by Nintendo is pretty extensive: in addition to the partial list of announced games above, take a look at this who's who of developers who've signed on below.

nxpartners.jpg

Some of the partners developing for the Switch already.

Nintendo

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