The Nintendo Switch Vs 40 Hours Of International Flight

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the team in our New York office. The best part of that was the burgers and beers! The worst part was having to spend 40 hours on a plane going from Australia to the US and back.

Or so I thought.

Even a couple of years ago, the thought of spending that long on an aircraft would have filled me with a sense of impending dread. I'd have split my time jiggling an audio cable to maintain the busted audio in my armrest, trying and failing to sleep, and playing some janky-arse Civ on my ancient laptop, waiting seven minutes between turns.

This time things were different and I had a blast, all because I had a Nintendo Switch with me. And, to get around the device's battery limitations, I was flying both ways on a Qantas A-380, which had dedicated power outlets under each seat.

This is a situation where the Switch's USB 3.0 port came into its own. I have a Pixel XL phone — my phones are my other long haul mainstay, thanks to podcasts — which also has USB 3.0, which meant that instead of bringing a bunch of proprietary chargers and cables with me onto the plane, I only had to bring the one cord that I could share between devices (and which could rapidly charge both).

On the initial 14-hour flight from Sydney to LA, I had the Switch plugged in, and so could play as long as I liked. On the shorter five-hour flight from LAX to JFK, where I had moved to a 747 that didn't have power (the USB ports in the arm rests weren't powerful enough to juice the Switch), it still lasted around three hours thanks to a dimmed screen and reduced battery usage of aeroplane mode.

From a pure hardware perspective, the coming together of airline convenience and console technology, that's impressive. But what constantly struck me while playing the game on an aeroplane was that I wasn't just playing a portable video game. I've done that plenty of times, and even the best of them have concessions: They're relatively simple, or have downgraded visuals, or are re-releases of games you played on a console years ago, you know the deal.

But here I was playing one of the best console video games of 2017. It was here, in my hands, uncompromised and in all its glory. Every hour or two I'd just sit back and marvel at the wonder of it. I was sitting in a metal tube halfway across the Pacific playing Breath of the Wild and it was as perfect and gorgeous as it was on my 55-inch TV at home.

This would have been fun for a couple of hours if, like previous Nintendo handhelds, it had shipped with a weird custom power cord that I'd never have packed in my cabin bag over my more practical phone and laptop chargers. Packing something as convenient and universal as USB 3.0, though, is what I think really made the difference here. I think I played Zelda for around six to seven hours on both of the longer 14-hour legs of my trip, and two to three hours on the shorter cross-country flights, which for a game of that scale meant I wasn't just dicking around for a bit before my battery died, but could really sink my teeth in and get a lot of stuff done.

I too played my Switch sitting against a wall at an American airport. Only I was alone and exhausted, not sharing the moment with a cute stranger.

I've had a Switch since launch, but have mostly spent that time playing on my couch, because when you work from home and don't have a daily commute, that's the only place you tend to play games. So I'd never tested or appreciated the portable benefits of the console.

Going from one extreme to the other, and with my last handheld experiences being the technically weak (relative to everything else in this conversation, at least) Nintendo 3DS and the poor little PlayStation Vita, I just wasn't prepared for the leap.

It's changed my entire way of looking at the Switch. I'd previously seen its portability as a nice little bonus, something I'd use occasionally if I ever caught the train or was spending the weekend away. Now I wonder how long the 3DS has left, because it was no harder putting my Switch in a case (well, a sock) and throwing it in a bag than it was a 3DS. Only here I was playing full, proper console games.

It's also changed the way I approach long trips! Like I said up top, I usually hate travel, because in my mind I'm always obsessing over the amount of time left until my destination, which usually leaves me feeling somewhere between restless and downright irritable. With a long, proper game to sink my teeth into here, that was suddenly no longer a concern. I was 100 per cent devoted to exploring Hyrule, and where previously I'd have watched minutes tick by in agony, entire hours melted away as I explored shrines and overcame Guardians.

Turns out you can't actually do this.

About the only thing I didn't like about playing on a plane was that the Switch's first trailer had lied to us. It showed a man playing Skyrim on a flight with the Switch's main unit resting on his tray table while he played with detached Joy-Cons. After a couple of hours of playing Zelda with the whole Switch in my hands I wanted to try that out so I could rest my arms, but found that while the console was in aeroplane mode it was unable to communicate with detached Joy-Con, and so my only option was to play with the controllers on. Hardly a deal-breaker, I know, but still a weird thing to come across considering how important that feature had been in the initial trailer.

UPDATE: I am told you can play like this if you dig down into the settings once aeroplane mode is enabled! Carry on, Nintendo and your advertising partners.

I'm not saying this is my first substantive experience playing video games on a plane. I've had plenty of fun playing everything from Civ to Fire Emblem to Persona 4 on other long flights. But I am saying that this is easily the best experience I've had playing video games on a plane.

And that was me, playing Zelda the whole time, alone. Imagine if I'd sat next to someone with a copy of Mario Kart...


    You can't play with the joy cons on a flight? That's a shame - because 2 player Mario Kart would be boss on a plane.

      I was just about to comment.

      "Imagine if I was sat next to someone with a copy of Mario Kart..."

      It wouldn't make a difference, because you just stated you can't play with detached joy-cons?!

      Luke's got it wrong. Joycons are just bluetooth which is fine whilst cruising (ie. when you're allowed to use such devices). Sure it might blow through a little more battery, but who gives a stuff.

      I had a few races and a few battle mode rounds with my son a month ago on a flight to Bali. There were many interested onlookers. Probably sold a few Switches. Hope my cheque's in the post Ninty.

        You know it's funny, I reckon this thing definitely sells itself.

        I had a MarioKart tournament at work during lunch the other day. Pretty funny when you end up with a crowd of middle aged office workers all trying to get the controller.

        There were many a remark about what this was and where to get one etc.

    I have a co-worker who has a Pixel XL and just this week was running into the problem that the Pixel's charger can't charge a Switch. Should have enough power but it looked like it was detecting a "non-standard" charger and preventing it from working, Apple style. Luckily I had my actual charger with me so it didn't interfere with our after-work Mario Kart session, but you definitely will want to check stuff before you travel, as some stuff may not be as universal as you expect.

      I haven't had any issues with charging my switch with my Pixel charger. I'd even say it actually charges faster than when I place it in the dock.

      Strange, I also have a Pixel XL and the charger works great on my Switch. Works with the Pro Controller also.

        I'm in the US, so it's a US switch and Pixel, maybe different?

        He may also have been trying to plug it into the dock and power the dock through it. I'll ask tomorrow.

          The US Nintendo Switch is exactly identical to a Nintendo Switch anywhere else in the world, right down to the firmware.

          There is a little random variation in electronics, and this goes for phone chargers especially because they're built with very high tolerance thresholds to keep them cheap. What most likely happened, is the charger wasn't outputting enough current for it to detect as charging (but very probably was anyway, just very slowly). You have to remember the Switch charger can output at up to [email protected] - it's why it looks and feels kind of chunky. Also don't forget BotW is super power hungry even in portable mode.

    I can imagine settling in with a copy of Dark Souls for a long-haul flight would make it an entirely different experience.

      I am very much doen for portable souls.

    I have a USB charging cord for my 3DS, it gets the job done.

      Same. $9 on sale from EB, best charger purchase I've made in a while.

    There's a setting that allows wireless controllers to work. Look for that setting after you turn on airplane mode. It would be either in the same screen or in the controller settings screen

    Luke Plunkett - Mind reader/Santeria practician.

    Man I have been seriously thinking about this for a week now. Should I buy a switch and BoTW for my upcoming international flights? Well yes I should apparently!

    Wait until the last few days before my flight and then bam, grab a Switch+BoTW for... $300? That seems correct...

    This article was clearly written for me, many thanks Luke *thumbs up*

      don't forget the TRS Scheme. check it out on google. I did this last month and it covered the cost of MK8
      allows your to claim back tax on elec items your taking overseas for entertainment.
      purchase within 30 days of your travel.
      All needs to be one 1 receipt from 1 vendor, and you take all the items and the receipt to the TRS counter at Sydney airport and they process it. All tax back- via your bank account but it can take a few weeks. You are silly not to do this if your travelling close to purchasing your switch.

      Do some research, its super easy and like I said I got about 65$ back.

      Hope this helps.

        It helps immensely, even more incentive to buy one now. :)

        Thanks dude!

        Its within 60 days now, not 30 days anymore.

    "While the console was in aeroplane mode it was unable to communicate with detached Joy-Con"

    Wow... that's a big oversight in design. In Android/iOS you're able to turn on airplane mode and then just bluetooth. Can you do that in the Switch os?

      Well since the switch doesn't have a mobile radio in it, surely just turning off wifi achieves the desired result.

        This is also true (assuming the Switch allows that, I don't have one) :)

      You actually can. In the settings menu, once you turn on "Flight Mode" you can turn on each setting individually (There's settings to manually turn on Controller Connection (Bluetooth), WiFi, NFC or any combination of them)

    I thought you only needed aeroplane mode on during takeoff and landing these days? I know for a fact that wi-fi is allowed at the very least, because so many inflight entertainment systems are built on it. My understanding was that the only thing you're not meant to have is cell signals, which the Switch doesn't have anyway.

    Last edited 30/06/17 12:17 pm

    Oh lordy, Mario Kart or Rocket League even, hell of a way to pass the hours.

    Played BOTW on the plane the other day.

    Some random dude comes up to me.......

    "Hey man, you got Mario Kart? I've got a Switch too and my son and I are playing Mario Kart. Want to play?"

    "Dude......I don't "Play Mario Kart. I live it. It's on."

    So there we were playing Mario Kart, me, some dude and his kid and the guy sitting next to me had my other Joy con on a flight to Melbourne. Got many curious looks and more than a few questions.

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