Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Nintendo Switch

tech & games 7 min read

I’ve had a Nintendo Switch since release day, which was just under eight months ago. I’d say that’s sufficient time to have developed an informed opinion about the device, and so I’d now like to talk about it a bit.

Growing up, we were mostly a Nintendo household, and I have an emotional attachment to some of the big first-party game series, especially Zelda, Mario, and Metroid. I’ve played almost every title under each of those banners, on both home and handheld consoles. The only Nintendo machine I’ve skipped, besides certain GameBoy models, was the Wii U, and I do have a regular Wii. Regarding the competition, I’ve never owned an Xbox, but between my brother and I we’ve had every PlayStation — including the Vita — and I still have both a PS3 and a PS4. Back in the day, I had a Sega Mega Drive too (which was called the Sega Genesis in the USA).

I don’t care about tech specs. I don’t care about graphics. I mostly don’t care about first-person shooters. I hope never to play a game about either of the world wars. I very much like adventure games — in which category I include the Uncharted series — and platformers, some driving games, and anything with a compelling story. I shudder at the notion of being whatever a hardcore gamer is, because that’s not me. I don’t think I’m a hardcore anything. I just really appreciate immersion, fun, and the visible craft of creative output. That’s my position, just so you understand.

Two years from now, I’ll be forty, which is a milestone I still find bemusing and vaguely incomprehensible. I still feel like I’m pretending to be an adult. I love videogames partly because they let me suspend the pretence for a while and return to my natural state: a scared, excited child with an extremely small sphere of concern and interest.

Having said that, my spectacles are pretty thick, and my beard contains pronounced patches of grey, and when I meet other dog-walkers in the park, they want to talk about politics instead of how amazing it would be if Nintendo put the entire GameCube library on the Virtual Console. I pity them, but also fear them a little. Suffice it to say that I’m not a young man anymore.

Along came the Switch, and I was intrigued and hopeful, but also cautious at its potentially gimmicky nature. Not cautious enough to hold off on pre-ordering it, mind you, but Nintendo and I essentially have a Devil’s contract whereby they’ll keep resurrecting parts of my childhood and I’ll keep giving them money until I die.

And so here’s the buried lede, 450 words in: I love this thing, because they made it for me.

They made the Switch for middle-aged adult-children (in the nice sense of being nostalgic and emotionally immature, rather than the nasty sense of being the kind of misogynistic trash-talker that seemingly characterises the aforementioned hardcore gamers).

The main feature, of course — even the eponymous feature, if you like — is that it’s neither tethered to your TV, nor an exclusively squint-inducing handheld device. This is a fundamentally humane and grown-up move. I have a home office, but I don’t want a man cave or boy’s room or whatever you might call it. I’m married, and I like my wife. I prefer to be in the same room as her, even if we’re both doing different things and only periodically talking to each other (this is also one of the fab things about marriage). The Switch lets me shut off the TV but keep playing, without having to go to another room. I keep all my games stuff in the living room.

When undocked, the Switch is also relationship-friendly. It has the kickstand “tabletop mode” feature, and the ability to use one Joy-Con each in certain games and contexts. We’ve played Snipper Clips for hours, and we’re planning to try Super Mario Odyssey’s co-op mode, but even when I’m playing a solo game, my wife likes to watch what’s happening — and we can do that even if we’re away from a TV. It’s a big deal. She’s nowhere near as much of a videogames fan as I am, but what she does love is the enjoyment that I get out of it. That’s what she’s like. “You should play one of your games,” she’ll say, when I’ve had a long day or when I’m stressed. She actively encourages me to buy games and play them. She’s very special, and the Switch facilitates that aspect of our relationship in more contexts than any other home or handheld console I’ve used.

It’s also better for my ageing body. I’m in good shape, but I’m also ready to burst through into middle age. For a handheld device, I need a big screen so I can see things properly without getting a headache. I need proper buttons; none of your touch-controls nonsense. And I also need to be careful about putting strain on my wrists, especially since I’m a writer and have to type all day, every day. The Joy-Cons are incredibly kind to me. They’re light and comfortable, and critically, they can be used in a Wii-style split-hands arrangement, where I can keep my hands in my lap or at my side. Conventional bulbous controllers tend to require either kinking your wrists outwards a little, or pulling your elbows inwards, introducing tension in the shoulders — and you can do that if you want, with the Switch’s Pro controller. For me, the Joy-Cons are the pads I’ve always wanted.

I also appreciate the menu system. It does just enough of the stuff that a modern console benefits from (online updates, a game store, friend lists, news), but without the thousand other things that my PS4’s multi-dimensional clutterbomb of a UI is packed with. I have to search for where the download list lives almost every time. I have to search for the PS store. I seem to recall that updating the system software requires diving into a twenty-item-deep menu, or something. I never touch 90% of it, and I feel a bit unsettled by all the stuff that’s going on. The Switch, by contrast, is clearly a laser-focused Nintendo system, with the bare minimum of non-game trimmings. You fire it up to play games, just like every other machine they’ve made. And that’s it.

The games are really what it’s all about. Nintendo have a mixed reputation on this; sometimes it feels like they neglect their machines, either after a while, or even at the start. The Wii U didn’t sell well, and there’s some skepticism out there. I’ve never felt genuinely underserved in terms of the game library for a Nintendo machine, but I do acknowledge the variance. I feel like the GameCube didn’t have so many enticing games, though it had a number of classics. The NES and SNES had loads, as did the Game Boy and GBA series. The Wii did. The Wii U didn’t. The N64 did. The DS and 2/3DS families most certainly did. It’s too early to say for the Switch.

What we do have, though, are two of the highest-rated games of all time, already: The Legend of Zelda — Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. Both full, proper entries in their respective series, and widely reviewed as the respective pinnacles of each. We’ve also got Mario Kart, updated from Wii U. There’s a new Metroid Prime game coming. The Switch hardware is born for a Smash Bros game. I expect Star Fox, and they already announced Yoshi. There are also newer franchises like Splatoon, and I guess we can also reasonably expect Animal Crossing, and maybe Pikmin. There’s plenty of third-party interest too, and I already have Street Fighter and one of the Lego series. If that was all they did, I’d be fine with it. But there’s other stuff that excites me too.

First, there are a lot of indie games on the Switch store already; some great stuff I’ve previously seen via Kickstarter and Steam. Nintendo seem serious about it, and they’re adding titles monthly. I have more indie downloaded games for my Switch than packaged Nintendo titles. They’re also doing DLC, as exemplified by the Zelda add-ons (already good, and going to get better with new content around Christmas), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it for Mario too. There’s a lot of cause to be optimistic — and not just because they’re apparently on track to beat Wii U’s lifetime sell-through during Switch’s first year.

Then there’s the online service to come, which has already had multiple test events, and of course the Virtual Console. There’s been speculation that the GameCube library will debut — which means Twilight Princess and Super Mario Sunshine, need I remind you, plus the first three Metroid Prime games — but if all they did was re-offer the NES, SNES, and N64 stuff that’s up there already on other machines’ Virtual Console, I’d be delighted. Yes, I’ll gladly buy Link to the Past for the tenth time. I see people mocking that aspect of Nintendo, and I truly don’t understand it. I love those games because they’re my childhood, and if I’m given an option to pay someone to update them for modern hardware so that I can carry them with me, and keep hold of a fragment of the innocence and potential of those earlier years, well… take my money. I won’t pretend that Nintendo isn’t profit-driven, but I do also think they uniquely understand that the point of games can be joy and nostalgia.

I bought a Switch because it seemed like an intriguingly wacky gadget, and because I couldn’t pass up a new Zelda game. What I got was, on balance, the best videogames machine for a little kid who somehow grew up into an almost forty-year-old married guy who still loves Mario and Link. I have a load of Apple tech that I’m passionate about, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved a piece of consumer electronics this much.

It won’t be for everyone, and that’s a sad thing. It might not even be for you, dear reader — but it sure as hell is for me. The world is messed up, and I’m scared, and really I just want to close the curtains and collect coins or stars or Power Moons or shines. I want to save Hyrule again, or explore whatever planet Samus is on this time.

I want to block it all out, and quit pretending I’m an adult for a while. I want someone to care that I feel that way, and for it to be evident in every inch of their concept, and design, and execution.

For me, at least, that’s what the Nintendo Switch is, and let me tell you this: I’ll take every damned drop of it that they’ll give me.

(My friend code is SW-7630-0338-5225, by the way. Add me.)