Controller drift killed my love affair with the Nintendo Switch

We've drifted apart.

Mark Serrels Editorial Director
Mark Serrels is an award-winning Senior Editorial Director focused on all things culture. He covers TV, movies, anime, video games and whatever weird things are happening on the internet. He especially likes to write about the hardships of being a parent in the age of memes, Minecraft and Fortnite. Definitely don't follow him on Twitter.
Mark Serrels
4 min read

Nintendo Switch's Joy-Con controllers aren't doing their job.

César Salza / CNET

I've been playing video games since I was 5 years old, but the Nintendo Switch was the first console I ever truly fell in love with.

I adored the SNES, of course. And the PlayStation 2. I was a huge fan of the Xbox 360. But that love was mostly inspired by the games I played on them: A Link to the Past, Metal Gear Solid 2, Halo 3. I don't remember ever truly looking at the box of components sitting underneath my television and getting googly eyed.

But the Nintendo Switch was different. When I say I "loved" the Nintendo Switch, I'm talking specifically about my love for the device itself, not the games stored on its hard drive.

There was something special about the Switch. On many occasions I've described it as the console that poured itself into the gaps of my life. As a busy parent of two chaos dwarfs masquerading as children, I find the flexibility of the Switch makes it a one-of-a-kind device. Whether connected to a 65-inch LCD or used during an early morning commute on the bus, playing on the Switch felt like a seamless experience.

I've played my Switch everywhere.

I've played it on the couch, I've played it on the train. I've played it on red-eye flights. I've played it in bed minutes before falling asleep.

But nowadays, thanks to drift on the Nintendo Switch's Joy-Con controllers, I barely play my Switch at all. Nintendo is apparently in the process of prepping an updated, "Pro" Nintendo Switch designed for 4K gaming, but unless they figure out the drift situation, I'm not sure I'm interested.

Drift -- a game controller issue that affects analogue sticks -- has ruined my Nintendo Switch. It makes my on-screen characters move when I don't want them to. It randomly scrolls through console menus and generally makes gaming impossible. It renders everything I do on the Switch 100% more frustrating. 

Catch my drift?

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Drift

There are ways to fix drift. Some require taking the controllers apart, which is risky.

Patrick Holland/CNET

What causes drift? Dust trapped in the controllers is usually the culprit, but worn-down contacts, found inside the controllers, are also thought to cause the issue.

Regardless, it's a common phenomenon affecting huge amounts of controllers and it absolutely sucks. Anecdotally, it has sapped my love for the Nintendo Switch and replaced it with a contempt and apathy I'm struggling to get past. 

By the time my first set of Joy-Cons started malfunctioning, roughly a year or so after I first bought the console, Nintendo was already -- to its credit -- offering free repairs. But instead of sending the controllers off to be fixed, I did what any self-respecting idiot would do: I simply bought another set of Joy-Cons. My reasoning: I had no idea how long repairs would take, and I didn't want to wait. I was having too much fun. 

When the second set started to acquire drift, I simply went further in the hole. I bought another set. And another. 

At last count I have four full Joy-Con sets -- that's $300 worth of Joy-Con -- and all besides one suffers from some sort of drift. An astonishingly bad ratio. It's gotten to the point where I'm not sure which controllers have drift and which don't, so I just… barely use the Switch at all. When I do, I play on the TV using the Switch Pro Controller I bought to avoid using my only clean set of Joy-Cons.

I've spent around AU$400 ($300, £220) on four additional controllers for my Nintendo Switch. These things aren't cheap.

Watch this: Nintendo Switch Pro: Why 4K and a large OLED is a big deal

At this point I should state that not all Nintendo Switch controllers are plagued with drift. I know some who own multiple sets of Joy-Cons without issue. Also, as a father of two children -- born hellbent on destroying every object I hold dear -- I'm willing to accept my personal situation has contributed to the problem. One of my newly purchased PS5 controllers also has drift.

But the Switch is a toy. It's partially marketed to time-poor adults like myself but designed specifically for the small, grubby hands of children. Nintendo needs to do better here. This is an issue that's yet to be resolved, and without a cast iron guarantee it won't happen again, I won't exactly be queuing up for any kind of Nintendo Switch Pro if and when it's eventually released.

Back in the present, I'm mourning the console I once loved. I rarely have time to sit on my couch and dedicate uninterrupted hours to the latest games on the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. The Switch was an escape, designed for people like me, who stole their gaming minutes in the chaos. Now that outlet is gone -- and I miss it.

Now the Nintendo Switch, a device that once pushed the boundaries of what was possible, the console that poured itself into the gaps of my life, is just a bland collection of components, gathering dust beneath the TV like the other consoles I don't have time to play.