The new hybrid video-game console from Nintendo has been out for several months now, and it's off to a strong start: The Switch is already Nintendo's fastest-selling game console.
Like so many things, its success comes as a surprise to experts in the field — the $299 console isn't very competitive on paper, and it wasn't a guaranteed success in concept:
- It's underpowered compared with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, both of which cost less.
- It has a paltry game library compared with the competition.
- Because of its lack of horsepower, major games released on multiple platforms — think “Assassin's Creed,” “Call of Duty,” “Grand Theft Auto,” etc. — won't ever come to the Switch.
But using the Switch is a surprising delight. I've had the Switch for four months, and it has quickly become a part of my daily life for several reasons.
Using the Switch feels blessedly modern.
Unlike the often sludgy experience on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, powering up and using the Switch is quick and easy. At any moment in a game, you can push the console's home button and immediately exit to the dashboard. This concept also exists on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but it's far quicker and more seamless on the Switch.
Frankly speaking, it doesn't feel like a technological downgrade from the smartphone in my pocket. Even the user interface is clean and efficient — no digging through submenus to turn off Wi-Fi or see how much storage I'm using. It's this kind of “quality of life” stuff that makes using the Switch intuitive and accessible to pretty much any user.
2. Sleep Mode turns the Switch into a game console that's quickly accessible.
A major reason people are inclined to play games on their phones is ease of use. A phone is already in your pocket and takes just a second to wake up, which lets you get in and out of apps and games quickly. The Switch takes this concept to heart with Sleep Mode, which enables the console to operate like, say, a laptop or a tablet.
Rather than turning the console all the way off, you can enter Sleep Mode: a low-power mode that enables the console to be quickly accessed later, comparable to reopening a laptop screen. No restarting the game — you're back exactly where you left off.
Though there are comparable functions on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the Switch pulls it off much more cleanly — a nod to the portability of the console.
3. Jumping into games, in general, is surprisingly fast.
I've been taking a ton of screenshots on the Switch, and getting them off the Switch requires removing the microSD card I've inserted. And every time I remove the microSD card, I have to power the Switch all the way down. Bummer!
Thankfully, restarting the Switch — even a “cold boot,” as it's known — is remarkably quick. I just tested: It takes roughly 10 seconds from all the way off to the main menu. I'd bet any amount of money that it's faster than the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
This quickness is due partially to the design of the hardware itself and partially to the medium used for games: cartridges. In both instances, Nintendo smartly prioritized the consumer experience — and it makes a difference in daily use.
4. Downloads are similarly fast and seamless, as they should be in 2017.
Much of what I've praised about the Switch's speed so far has to do with how quickly you can go from zero to in-game. Another delightful aspect is how it handles downloads.
As seen in the picture above, multiple downloads can roll at the same time. And if you need to update a game, the Switch can do so while it's running. This stuff may sound pretty standard to you — it is 2017, after all — but it's far from standard on a game console. Being able to casually update “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” while playing the game makes using the Switch a delight. It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder why it wasn't already the standard.
5. The Switch easily, quickly fit into my life.
Ben Gilbert / Business Insider
The gimmick of the Switch is simple: You can play it at home on a TV, or you can play it out in the world, wherever you want. When you're home, you slap the tabletlike console into the Switch dock. Just like that, the game is on the TV. When you're ready to leave, you pick it up and continue playing.
That gimmick, unbelievably, works. It's fast and seamless.
Here's an example from my very exciting life:
On a Sunday evening, I played a few hours of “Splatoon 2” before dinner. I used the Switch Pro controller to play the game from my couch on my TV. Around 7 p.m., I paused the game and put the console into Sleep Mode. I ate dinner with my wife while watching season two of “The Great British Baking Show” and fell asleep a few hours later.
On Monday morning, I woke up, showered, and got ready for work. When it was time to leave my apartment, I grabbed my MacBook and Nintendo Switch and threw them in my bag. While waiting for the F train, I took the Switch out of my bag and played a few levels of the game's revamped single-player campaign.
The train arrived, and I tapped the power button on the top of the Switch, putting it into Sleep Mode again as I found a seat in the car. The train left the station, and I started playing “Splatoon 2” once more. A few paint-covered levels later, I was at the 14th Street stop and, thus, near Business Insider's office in Manhattan's Flatiron District.
I put the Switch to sleep once more and put it back in my bag. Seamless!
6. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” is one of the best games I've played in years.
If you're one of the 13 million Wii U owners out there, go ahead and skip right over this. You can play “Breath of the Wild” on your Wii U.
For the rest of us, “Breath of the Wild” is reason enough to buy a Switch. It's an incredibly impressive game, at once subverting expectations of what a “Zelda” game is supposed to be and questioning the expectations of the entire video-game medium.
To call it a delight is to undersell how good “Breath of the Wild” is — it's a game that demands conversation with other players. Did you see this? Have you been here yet? What's this about?“Breath of the Wild” is the purest distillation of the “Zelda” series, enabling you to explore to your heart's content. And being able to play it nonstop, whether I'm waiting for the subway or lounging on my couch at home, is wonderful.
I'm hard-pressed to suggest anyone drop nearly $400 — between the $299 Switch and the $60 game — to play a single game, but this is one of those rare treats that everyone should play as soon as possible.
7. “Super Mario Odyssey” looks completely bananas.
Just as “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” was an evolution of the long-running, celebrated “Legend of Zelda” franchise, “Super Mario Odyssey” appears poised to challenge and evolve the “Super Mario” formula.
“Super Mario Odyssey” is an open-world, nonlinear “Super Mario” game — along the lines of “Super Mario 64” and “Super Mario Sunshine” — but if you're thinking “Grand Theft Auto,” that's not entirely accurate. Instead of one huge world, “Super Mario Odyssey” is segmented into regions. New Donk City, above, is one of them: It's a massive open environment you can explore to your heart's content. There's no timer; your only limitation is survival.
I played “Super Mario Odyssey” in June, and it was a blast. The game arrives on October 27 — just in time for the holidays.
8. Nintendo has a mess of other great-looking games in the pipeline, from a new Yoshi series entry to a full-on new Pokémon game.
The Switch has enjoyed nearly monthly major releases of first-party games, starting with “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” in March and continuing with “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” in April. That march will continue through the end of the year, with “Arms,” “Splatoon 2,” and “Super Mario Odyssey” all on their way.
And other good stuff is on the horizon: New games featuring Yoshi and Kirby in the works for 2018, and a new Pokémon game for the Switch — Nintendo goes so far as to call a “core” Pokémon game — is expected to hit store shelves sometime after that. Fans have been asking for Nintendo to make just such a Pokémon game for one of its home consoles basically since Pokémon launched.
It looks like Nintendo is learning from its failure with the Wii U, supplying a steady beat of big games that can be played only on the Nintendo Switch.
9. Being an in-game photographer is easier than ever.
Taking glorious screenshots is easier than ever with the Switch, thanks to the console's built-in screenshot button. The button works instantly, capturing whatever you're looking at on the screen, whether you're using the Switch as a home console or a handheld.
I'm partial to it because the nature of my job is constantly taking and uploading photos for articles. It's nice to easily be able to capture images of games and the operating system and then take them off using the microSD card. But it's just as easy to share those screenshots on social media directly from the Switch, which is great for people who might not be in the business of writing about video games.
More importantly, the speed at which the screenshot function works empowers tons of in-game photography. I feel obligated to capture tons of screenshots simply because I can so easily.
11. And finally — crucially — the Switch is affordable, at $299.
The Nintendo Switch, brand-new, costs just a hair more than the years-old Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Even if you buy it with a game — and you definitely should buy it with a copy of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” let's not kid ourselves — you're likely paying less than $400, including tax.
That's a lot of money, no doubt, but it's a surprisingly reasonable price for a new video-game console in 2017. Consider this: The original Super Nintendo cost $199 at launch in 1991. That would be about $350 today.