Hands On With The Nintendo Switch

The first thing you notice about the Switch, Nintendo's sleek new portable console, is how small the controllers are. Each JoyCon (lol) is roughly 10cm, or about the size of a Kotaku news editor's palm. Compared to, say, the Wiimote, they're downright tiny.

Yet they're also surprisingly comfortable, not just when you stick them in the dog-eared JoyCon Grip but when you hold them separately, Wiimote and Nunchuk style. Holding a single JoyCon horizontally, which is Nintendo's recommended way to play several games (and the only way to play local co-op without a second set of controllers), is far less comfy. It's too small to hold with two hands for an extended period of time. But in other configurations, the JoyCons feel great.

Take Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example. When I played the new Zelda on the Wii U's bulky tablet at E3, I kept thinking about how much I'd have preferred a more comfortable option. But today on the Switch, whether I was playing with the JoyCons separated or joined (joyned?) together, hacking apart Moblins and climbing trees was far more satisfying. (I still cannot wait for this game.)

This morning in Manhattan, Nintendo held a Switch hands-on event, allowing journalists to get their fingers all over the new console. The list of games in attendance was sparse — not shocking for a console launch — and included some old games like Skylanders: Imaginators and Disgaea 5. I played Splatoon 2, which is basically Splatoon with new weapons. I got my hands on Super Bomberman R, which seems very much like a remake (or re-envisioning) of Super Bomberman on SNES. (Who would have thought that Konami still makes video games?) The bizarre game Arms is reminiscent of a Wii boxing game — the demo attendants even made sure we put on our wrist straps! — and seems like it will be fun for a few minutes before it gets old.

The highlight, as you might expect, was Zelda. There were two demos at the event: One with some new areas that Nintendo wouldn't let attendees touch, just watch; and a second that was the same demo I played at E3. Of course, playing that E3 demo on new hardware was a very different experience. Some quick thoughts:

  • Switching between the TV and the portable is a smooth process. When you pull the Switch out of its dock, your game will appear on the portable almost immediately. When you put it back in, it takes no more than two to three seconds for the image to display on your television.
  • It's very easy to snap the JoyCons on and off the sides of the Switch system. It's also very easy to snap them on and off the Grip controller. Each JoyCon has a button you have to hold to detach it from something, and it all works nicely, even if this thing is just begging for you to lose one of your controllers under the couch.
  • Playing with the JoyCons held separately feels a lot like playing on a Wiimote and Nunchuk, as I mentioned earlier. This is a very good thing. There's something oddly relaxing about holding your hands in different positions as you play through a game as vast as Zelda.
  • Playing with the JoyCons on the Grip feels great, like you're holding a standard controller. This is going to be the ideal way to play most games. In fact, Zelda will tell you by way of a message on the bottom screen that it recommends you play with both JoyCons attached to the Grip controller.
  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild remains as impressive as it has been since Nintendo showed it off last year. A Nintendo attendant told me that it runs significantly better on Switch than it does Wii U, which shouldn't be hugely shocking? (Clearly they want you to buy the Switch version.)
  • I can't believe I have to keep writing the word JoyCon.


    Your wrong about the controls, I haven't touched the switch controls but I can guarantee you they will be a failure. Putting face buttons directly above the analog stick does not need to be experienced directly. My previous experience and observation tells me that the B button Will be a bit harder to press because the analog stick in the way, and the X button is directly above and furthest from the analog stick which means you have to move your hand a bit to reach it. Automatic failure.
    Thumbs don't stretch up and down, they move left to right. That's why face buttons are diagonally across from the analog stick in good controllers where all four button inputs are easily reachable without moving your hand. That part is obvious.
    You can argue that Nintendos simplicity with Input in some games will mean that less buttons used, but Nintendo simplicity is one of their problems about the lack of depth.
    For eg, Mario Kart 8 will be alright, but games like Zelda will be much more of a problem with the joy con controllers

    Nintendo puts a gimmick above good controls for 4 generations now, ignoring what third parties would want from controls, and I'm sick of it. Nintendo deserves to go extinct as a hardware manufacturer. They keep ignoring what 3rd parties want from controls, and better control for gamets, at their own peril.

    Last edited 14/01/17 9:06 am

      Your wrong about the controls, I haven't touched the switch controls but I can guarantee you they will be a failure.

      You're saying this to someone who has literal hands on experience with it? Are you actually serious? Hahahahahaha

      Also. You're*

        It's truly amazing for someone to deny long term experience and logic of controller design spanning generations. Things you've possible engaged with everyday for years on end.

        Please, Look at the controllers for PS3, Xbox 360, PS4 and Xbox one. Then tell me what they have in common and long established that the Joy-Cons don't do, before you embarrass yourself any further. No clues for you either.

        Last edited 14/01/17 10:02 am

          Sort of like how Nintendo introduced analog control on the N64 controller which people said looked funny and wouldn't work.

          Sort of like how Nintendo introduced odd sized buttons on the GameCube controller which people said was funny and wouldn't work.

          Sort of like how Nintendo introduced motion control with the Wii which people said was funny and wouldn't work.

          Not to mention this is the company that made the modern d-pad.

          I think Nintendo know a little bit about ergonomics and what works. Stop trolling.

          Last edited 14/01/17 6:25 pm

            You're right. Nintendo has introduced and pioneered a lot of things. But that does not mean their controllers have been ergonomic.

            The introduction of the joystick on the N64 controller was great, but there is a reason why that 3 pronged design was never copied/repeated.

            I never particularly found the wiimote comfortable either, if being used horizontal (without nunchuck) and neither did i find the wii u game pad comfortable.

            Being innovative is one thing, and being ergonomic is another.

            tslog isn't trolling. he raises a valid concern. the right side of the switch's controller looks like it will be awkward to use without accidentally hitting the joystick.

            it may still be good enough to play on, but it's far from the most ergonomical arrangement.

              N64 controller - thumb a bit sore when I played lots (first console) but soon toughened up. No real issues with holding it. I think every single game I had for it had the traditional controls (middle and right prong).

              GCN - was even more comfortable, just fit in your hands. Probably their best.

              Wii - never had an issue holding this, but never really played it old school sideways. That would probably get old after hours.

              Wii U - was pretty worried about this but the gamepad is very light and super comfortable. I've put in countless hours with no problem. You are the first person I have ever heard complain about it.

              Switch - no one that has actually played it has mentioned any issue. They have been developing games on it for years, playtested for countless hours and would have tried all sorts of different configurations. I'm going to say they probably know what they are doing based on their past few controllers.

            But not on portable devices. I can't use my 3DS for extended periods (without a 3rd party grip) because it's too uncomfortable. It's got the ergonomics of a brick, and the Switch looks pretty darn similar (albeit thinner). The controllers might be small and light enough to make ergonomics irrelevant when not attached, but when you're supporting the weight of the unit itself between them... I can't see this thing being comfortable to use for the average session time of a game like Zelda.

              But the ergonomics of this wouldn't be at all like the 3DS - it would be like the Wii U Gamepad. I can't play the 3DS XL without a grip either. Which is odd, because I had no problems at all with the DS Lite or the DSi, but the 3DS, man... hand cramps for DAYS. The Wii U Gamepad though, no problem at all. It never felt heavy and it never felt off. I could play for ages on that thing. The Switch looks like it'll have the same kind of feel as the Gamepad, and that's a good thing.

                Really? Admittedly, I have no experience with the Wii-U pad, but I do know it has moulded contours suited for a proper grip, right? The switch, in hte portable configuration at least, looks completely flat, which is my main problem with the 3DS... and the Switch's about 60g heavier than the 3DS with the JoyCons attached, to boot.

            Way too painfully obvious for those in denial. Anyone who willingly brandishes their cultist status with the cluelessness of an infantile doesn't deserve the below video.

            I point your attention to the 3 minute 40 seconds mark. Case closed.

            Remember I predicted all this because I'm not a cultist.


            Last edited 16/01/17 4:25 pm

      Go try it out, then talk.

        So your experience of using controllers for your whole gaming life counts for nothing. Is that right is it ? You anent capable of judgement in this case or you just being a fanbot. Little from column A and B.
        I always ignore observations about black bananas because I haven't tired it the lastest time. Whenever I see a black banana I think its looks great every new time......

          Unless your gaming life consist of just the last three generations of mainstream consoles, then you would understand that it's impossible to tell the ergonomics of a device until you have it in your hand.

          Also, with regards to your initial post, you must have pretty odd thumbs if they naturally move left and right while holding a controller. Most people's move most naturally in an arc that goes primarily up and down.

            I've got weird thumbs. They're double jointed, I can see myself maybe struggling. That's why I prefer Playstation controllers over xbox, but I am a rare case and also a case of learning to adapt. Or buying the pro controller.

            Last edited 15/01/17 11:37 am

      Go check out the 3DS, the analogue and d-pad are vertically aligned. In fact if anything the d-pad is slightly closer to the outside edge. I don't remember the sky falling in with that one.

      Playstation has right stick below buttons. Xbox has left stick below Dpad.
      You must hate these with a passion.

    We almost never get consoles day-one, but damnit we are so making an exception for this (two exceptions, to be exact, seeing as my partner and I couldn't agree on who would get to play Zelda first).

    No hands on with three ice cubes? Tell me, could you FEEL them?!

    Having played Breath of the Wild on the Switch and the Wii U, which console does it run better on. Gamespot is saying ran and looked better on the wii u?

    No report on the performance drop rumoured when in portable mode or the rumours it plays better on wii u?

      From what I have read the dock is just a dock. So I don't see why there would be a performance drop.

        Tablet runs off battery, it employs power saving techniques, which can hinder performance. Dock allows 100% power (temperature allowing) 100% of the time.

        They've already said how some games will run in 1080p in docked mode and 720p in handheld mode so there's obviously some switcheroo in performance when switching modes, but it seems the dock is just unlocking grunt already within the handheld rather than adding extra performance itself.

          I'd imagine it might be battery related in that case. If they're already throwing around two and a half hour battery life, perhaps if it ran at full power it'd be even shorter.

      Comparing Wii U footage with Switch footage on Fallon, the Switch ran much smoother during big explosions compared to the Wii U.

    The rumours i am talking about:

    While the CPU will run at the same speed regardless of whether its in the dock or not (1020MHz), available GPU speeds drop from 768MHz to 307.2MHz when the console is removed from its dock.

    That’s a 60% decrease in clock speed — a pretty substantial dip. Even more (potentially) worrisome, the documentation that Eurogamer got its hands on implies that “developers can choose to hobble Switch performance when plugged in to match the handheld profile should they so choose.”

    They also had some frame rate issues visible in other zelda demonstrations when undocked

    Last edited 14/01/17 11:44 am

      Yes, that drop is corresponding with the drop in pixels pushed through, I.e 1080p on TV to 720p on the tablet controller.

      Personally, I'm happy to drop the resolution in order to get more game time out of the console on the go.

      But if all you care about is the best graphics, you should probably invest in a pc, although it won't be as portable as this!

        The rumoured drop from people who played early was in fps and lag from the gpu running weaker i assume

      I was wondering about this. I am guessing the docked output is full 1080p rather than the 720p the LCD is designed for too.

    Each JoyCon (lol)

    I don't get the joke...

      Apparently it's a funny word.

      American humour is weird.

        Come on it isn't american humour. Joycon sounds stupid. But so did wiimote before that caught on. So do alot of names in tech early on

          I forever rejected that word and always call them the Wii remote.

          I'm fine with joycon though :P

      Joke is Nintendo continuing the toilet humour nomenclature of their peripherals.

        Uh, ever heard of a joystick in gaming? But these arent joysticks, they are joy controllers.
        Or am I the only one in the world to notice this?

          Fits the nomenclature but is much too brazen.

            IIRC in Japan a remote control is called rimokon, because they're all about shortening names for things into cute little portmanteaus. So JoyCon seemed like a pretty natural name for it from the get-go.

        I can't figure out a toilet humour reference in the name JoyCon. Is there something there I'm missing?

          Nah, sorry. The toilet humour only exists in my crap joke.

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