By now you’ve seen the ads and heard the buzz: Nintendo has put their technological wizardry into building a system that seamless straddles the line between being a home console and an on-the-go portable. There’s something so tantalizing about the premise, in a pitch-perfect way it’s an idea we’ve all dreamed of but never quite thought it would come to bare.
The Nintendo Switch, promises to let you bring party games like 1-2 Switch or Mario Kart 8: Deluxe with you anywhere you go. It also lets players steep themselves in sprawling epics like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in front of the TV
The successor to the Wii U and 3DS is finally here. Now it’s time to start digging into the lesser known aspects of Nintendo’s handheld/home console hybrid. The Nintendo Switch is packed with features and there’s a lot to parse. From its wildly different control methods to accessories, and beyond. Even the contents of the box are more jam-packed than the average console.
Undoubtedly, Nintendo will continue to innovate and develop new feature-sets and ideas inside of this hardware. It’s still early days for the console, but with a new Zelda, Mario, Splatoon, and Mario Kart all hitting in 2017, there’s already a tight library of games worth seeing. All things said and done, this is just the beginning, there will certainly be a lot more to say about Nintendo’s latest.
15 Switch is the first Nintendo console since the original DS that isn’t region locked
Rejoice! After years of Nintendo home consoles restricting games to local markets, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima announced the Nintendo Switch would be region-free. Waiting years --or in some cases, decades-- to play games exclusive to Japan is a discouraging prospect. North American gamers have always missed out on a handful of unlocalized games each console generation, like the original Fire Emblem or Mother 3. In the past, Nintendo typically allowed its portable consoles to play games from across the globe, but sadly the 3DS put its handheld line in-step with the Wii U making imports off-limits. An added bonus of having the system be region-free is that first-party Nintendo games, like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario, are more likely to see worldwide release dates since Nintendo knows we aren’t going to sit on our hands when we can import games from Europe or Japan.
14 Games run at a lower resolution in handheld mode
The tradeoff of having a powerful mobile system that can play huge open-world games like Skyrim is that games won’t have access to the raw power of the console in portable mode. To keep battery life in check, Nintendo only put a 720p screen on the Switch. Keep in mind, that’s still a crisp high-definition picture, which is a lot more than you can say about the Wii U, which only output games at 480p. The resolution is a bit disappointing when compared to the majority of smartphones and tablets which typically have incredibly dense pixel-counts. Luckily, when you’re at home sitting in front of an enormous television screen, you can drop the Switch into the dock and your game will spin-up to support a higher resolution. Not too shabby!
13 The system has 2.5 to 6 hours of battery life undocked
It’s frustrating how accustomed we are to lugging around chargers and external battery packs — and from the sounds of it, we’ll need to keep a Nintendo Switch plug sitting in our bags. When Nintendo’s last portable console (the 3DS) launched, it held 3 to 5 hours of battery life. It’s not as if the Switch is a huge departure. Still, it is a little disconcerting that the Switch might not even last long enough to cover a short flight or a long drive (but it does sound about right for commuters). At the end of the day, getting to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the go is too enticing an offer to complain about only getting three hours of battery life, but it would be nice to get a little more juice.
12 The Switch uses Nintendo’s new HD Rumble technology
Those of us old enough to have played Star Fox 64 when it came out will remember that Nintendo ushered in the era of “rumble.” After years of innovation in force feedback technology, Nintendo is preparing to retake the mantle with HD Rumble on the Switch. Nintendo claims HD rumble is so precise it compares to the feeling to shaking ice cubes in a glass. In fact, Nintendo is confident enough in the tech to have created mini-games around it. One such game has players tilting a Joy-Con back-and-forth trying to figure out how many imaginary marbles are bouncing around inside of the controller. It will be interesting to see how developers take advantage of the technology going forward.
11 You sync controllers by sliding them onto the system
Syncing controllers is never quite as easy as it should be. Rummaging around for USB wires or kneeling down to press tiny, inconspicuous sync buttons aren’t exactly elegant solutions for pairing controllers. On the Nintendo Switch, however, all you need to do is pop both Joy-Con onto the side of the console, and they will sync up right away. It’s especially reassuring that this is a painless process, since sharing Joy-Con will be commonplace -- especially considering how pricey they are (at $100 CAD for a pair). Once controllers are synced up, all you need to do is tap L and R at the same time to confirm their orientation, which lets the system know if you’re using one Joy-Con or if player 1 and player 2 each have their own set. Easy.
10 Only the right-hand Joy-Con has an IR Sensor and NFC capabilities
You wouldn’t know it from looking at them, but the right-handed Joy-Con has way more tech packed into it than its counterpart. You might not notice until you have your hands on it, but the bottom of the right Joy-Con is a sheet of black plastic (almost identical to the top of a Wii Remote). It looks so similar to a Wii controller because it basically is one: the bottom of the right Joy-Con can track distance, letting it know how close or far away it is from an object. In addition to its IR functionality, the right Joy-Con has built in NFC, meaning it’s the only side that can read Amiibo data. As long as we’re pointing out differences, both sides of the Joy-Con have different analog placement, so you might develop a preference for one side when sharing the set in two-player games.
9 The Nintendo Switch is built using an ARM processor, not x86 like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
ARM processors are optimized for portability over power, which is why most phones and tablets use ARM chips instead of x86 like traditional PC and Macs. The difference in architecture is a big part of how Nintendo can achieve the magic of having a fully portable console with HD visuals and huge sprawling worlds. That being said, it is also the reason why there’s such a gap in visual fidelity between the Nintendo Switch and other modern game consoles. Luckily, ARM is a much more popular kind of processor than PowerPC, which Nintendo used for the Wii and Wii U. Longterm, this could help expand the library of games available for the system. Still, developers will still have to do a fair bit of tweaking to get a port of an x86 game running on the Switch.
8 Up to 8 Switch can connect to each other locally
One of the best features of the original DS was being able to connect locally without needing an antiquated link-cable. Well, the Nintendo Switch offers the same functionality as its predecessors, letting eight machines connect to each other at once. The biggest question remaining is if one system can host multiple players against another two to seven consoles with several combatants of their own. Imagine the chaos of a 64-player local event! Nintendo has been tight-lipped about what games will support up to eight players, but their initial trailer showcased four pros playing Splatoon each on their on unit and Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS already supported eight players at once. Here’s hoping both take advantage of a full roster when they release later this year.
7 The wrist straps have button extenders on them
The Nintendo Switch comes bundled with two wrist straps for each of the Joy-Con that come inside the box. Nintendo has been including wrist straps with their motion controls since the early days of the Wii when various reports starting coming out about people who had let go of their controllers and broken things around the house (namely their TV sets). The key difference with the wrist straps for the Switch is that they actually double as button extensions for each Joy-Con. The straps slide onto the same tracks the Joy-Con use to connect to the console. Once the strap is connected the whole Joy-Con becomes bigger and easier to hold, all-the-while is giving the L and R buttons more oomph, so they feel more like an old fashion Super Nintendo controller.
6 The Pro Controller also has HD rumble and NFC technology
There are always going to be some Nintendo fans that just want a traditional gaming experience devoid of touchscreens and motion controls. Nintendo wants to make sure that if they want to leave the Switch docked, and only use it on a great big tv with a conventional game controller, that is a valid option for them. So Nintendo pulled out all the stops with their new pro controller, as it has all the of the bells and whistles of the Joy-Cons that are bundled with the system, including their fancy new HD rumble and NFC tech. Since some gamers will only want to play with the pro controller, it makes perfect sense that it would have an Amiibo reader (NFC) so you wouldn’t need to detach the Joy-Con just to scan an Amiibo. The HD rumble is just icing on the cake.
5 Retail Neon Joy-Con have colors opposite those bundled with the Switch
Remember how we said all the fancy tech was packing into the right-hand controller? Well if you wanted to have a specific colour for that side of the console, you’d have to shell out the cash for it. What you probably didn’t know is that the retail set of Joy-Con have opposite colours of the pair bundled inside of the console. What this means if that if you buy an extra set, you’ll have a pair of red and a pair of blue for each side, letting you coordinate the look of your system! In effect, you can ad hoc your way to a blue or red controller without overspending. Since the Switch is a portable console, it will be interesting to see how much Nintendo tries to capitalize on various styles of Joy-Con to sell more controllers. Maybe we’ll even see seasonal lines of Joy-Con the way Apple marches out Apple Watch straps every few months.
4 The Joy-con grip bundled with the console is different than the retail edition
This one kinda stings. The retail Nintendo Switch is packed with all kinds of accessories: two Joy-Con, two straps, the power adaptor, an HDMI, the TV dock, the system itself, and lastly the Joy-Con Grip. Only, the Joy-Con Grip that comes with the console isn’t the same as the Joy-Con Charging Grip sold on store shelves. Basically, the grip you get in the box is just a plastic shell for your controllers, whereas the one sold in stores actually lets you charge your controllers separately from the system itself — which is a handy feature, of course. Moreover, the actually “charging” grip has the steep retail price of $39.99 CAD. At least the Switch itself charges over USB-C, so extra adaptors shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
3 Even Nintendo knows the controller looks like a puppy
When the Nintendo Switch was first unveiled, one new runway superstar was the Switch puppy. The fan-made, meme-riddled mascot is based on what the Switch controller looks like when both Joy-Con are plugged into the Charging Grip. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Takashi Mochizuki, a Nintendo designer Yoshiaki Koizumi agreed that the similarities are uncanny (notice we resisted saying un-canine). Who knows if the Switch puppy will make it into the official Nintendo canon or not, but it’s one of those darling ideas that is just so Nintendo. The Switch puppy is so adorable it spurred game designer AnnaTheRed, who works at The Behemoth, to stitch her own plushy — and yes, we want one too.
2 Save data cannot be stored on game cartridges
Another departure for the Nintendo Switch is how it stores save data. Going back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System —and all the way up to the 3DS— Nintendo kept your save files on the game cartridge itself. Interestingly, Nintendo Switch game cards are non-writable, meaning exactly that: you cannot write any new data to the cartridge after manufacturing. Nintendo has gone on to say that save data will be saved internally on the system itself, whereas big hulking downloads like DLC will be store to microSDX cards (sold separately). On the bright side, microSDX cards are a fairly cheap and standardized form of memory. Nintendo also says they’ll support up to 2TB of storage on microSDX (a size so large it isn’t on the market at the time of writing).
1 Online is free until Fall 2017
Nintendo is finally following in the footsteps of Microsoft and Sony and charging for access to some of their online services. Hopefully, this will mean more stable and robust servers than ever before, along with a bevy of new features. Sadly it also means if you own all three major consoles, you’re going to be paying three different subscriptions to play online. Nintendo has already said they’ll be providing free games on a monthly basis (albeit with some heavy caveats), but with any lucky, there’s plenty more to look forward to from them. One guaranteed bright spot in all this is that early adopters are getting access to Nintendo’s online offering for free until some nebulous time in the Fall window later this year. So enjoy all of the Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8: Deluxe you can before you have to pay extra to whip your friends online!