Nintendo's modular console-handheld is over two years old now, and still one of our favorite gadgets on the planet. The game library is fantastic, and a newer version with even better battery life (at the same price) exists now that you should get -- just make sure you buy the right model. Nintendo also has the lower-priced portable-only Switch Lite, which is excellent if all you want is a handheld game experience... but for the TV and multiplayer versatility alone, we still recommend this larger-sized Switch first.
Editor's note: This review was updated Dec. 6, 2019 with an Editors' Choice award and the above paragraph reflecting Switch variations on the market. It was previously updated from its earlier March 2017 version to reflect the impressive expansion of the Switch's game library, with the rating raised from 3.5 stars to 4. Otherwise the original review follows below.
When Nintendo's Switch was first released, laying out $300 (£280, AU$470) plus another $60 (£60, AU$90) for a game -- the admittedly fantastic Zelda: Breath of the Wild -- seemed like a lot. But things have changed.
Since its debut in March 2017, the Nintendo Switch has shown that Nintendo is still willing to take risks to separate itself from the rest of the pack, and at the same time innovate in way that no one could really see coming. The Switch is a fantastic hybrid console that offers plenty of unique and compelling gaming experiences all while providing a solid amount of indie titles that seem perfect for the platform. Nintendo still needs to address its Virtual Console void but overall the Switch is already a winner.
Since its launch, the Switch's eShop has been continually populated with great indie titles that support its growing full-priced standard offerings. Breath of the Wild was an amazing launch title and remains a superb 100-hour endeavor. And it's since been joined by Super Mario Odyssey -- the platform's second must-have exclusive game in just eight months. Now players can also enjoy Mario Kart 8: Deluxe Edition, Splatoon 2, Arms and other Nintendo-only titles. For digital-only titles we really love Thumper, Cave Story, Wonder Boy, Shovel Knight and GoNNER. Those aren't Nintendo-only exclusives, nor are recent or imminent titles such as Rocket League, Doom, Skyrim and Wolfenstein II. But for many of them, it's the first time you'll be able to play them on a plane without lugging a giant gaming laptop with you. More titles are released most weeks.
Even better, the Switch is no longer impossible to track down. And Nintendo is offering a version bundled with Super Mario Odyssey and a portable case for $380. It's not a bargain, but it includes the game every new owner will definitely want at a fair price.
The Switch's instant success can be attributed to Nintendo swinging for the fences: the Switch is a hybrid console, meaning it can be played on a TV at home or on the go as a handheld. The Joy-Con controllers make the Switch a veritable Transformer: keep them attached to the sides in tablet mode, slide them off and prop up the screen on a table to play one- or two-player games, or dock the Switch in its included charging cradle to play on your big-screen TV. The idea is that you'll get the same basic experience regardless of how you play.
The Nintendo Switch is a much more elegantly designed console from top to bottom, light-years ahead of the plastic goofiness of its spiritual predecessor, the GamePad on 2012's Wii U. It feels solid in its construction -- expensive, even -- and demonstrates a mature refinement throughout. Even the operating system is clean and fast -- a stark contrast compared to what the Wii U ran on.
Just looking at the Switch's primary focus of being a practical home-and-on-the-go console, the Switch definitely nails it. There is something awesome about taking a huge game like Zelda -- or Skyrim or L.A. Noire -- with you wherever you go. It is perfect for my train commute to work, and it works well on a plane, too. And while battery life is far from marathon levels, there are solid options for charging the Switch when an outlet isn't available. Out of all the portable solutions I tested, the RavPower Power Bank became my go-to device. Its high capacity battery actually charged the Switch as opposed to slowing down battery drain.
At this point there are plenty of games to enjoy on the platform, all for varying prices. But if you're looking for entertainment beyond games you're mostly out of luck. But Hulu was unexpectedly added for US Switch owners in November, so maybe the likes of Netflix and Amazon may eventually follow.
But the bigger annoyance on the Switch is the curious dearth of retro gaming titles. A lot of work needs to be done in the Virtual Console department. Nintendo hasn't detailed how or when it will be migrating to the Switch. Whether or not any of the digital Virtual Console games you've purchased on previous Nintendo hardware will work on the Switch is also a mystery. But Wii, Wii U discs and 3DS game cartridges definitely don't work here.
It's worth noting that the console's debut was marred by concern regarding the left Joy-Con controller's reliability when using it with the Switch docked. Multiple outlets had reported issues with connectivity and performance. While I didn't experience these with the frequency that other reviewers have, I wasn't completely immune from them, either. But, Nintendo has recognized the issue and fixed manufacturing moving forward. If you buy your Switch new, it's a non-issue.
With the arrival of Splatoon 2 on July 21, 2017, the Switch also received a smartphone app for Android and iOS. The app is meant to be a companion for games on the system and a multiplayer hub where players can connect with friends and invite each other to matches. It's also meant to be the Switch's voicechat solution as wonky as it appears on its face. Yes, it's kind of awkward. But game chat is constantly-changing landscape. With the rise of third-party services like Discord being used for universal game chat, we don't necessarily think the Switch's current multiplayer situation is a dealbreaker.
Nintendo says that the Switch's online services will be free until 2018, when it will change over to a paid service for about $20 a year. That will also include special eShop deals and access to legacy games, though we still don't know how exactly that will be handled.
Because of the ever-changing nature of consoles, consider this review a constant work in progress. We'll continue to update our review as more games and functionality comes to the system.
The Switch's first five months have been impressive and now that we're closing in on a year it's easy to give it a slam dunk recommendation.
If there's anything that still gives us pause, it's the uncertainty of a Virtual Console and the still yet-to-be-fully-detailed online service that will launch in 2018.
Aside from those few lingering concerns, the Switch continues to get better week by week. Its runaway away success guarantees that it will see support from first- and third-party developers for many years to come.