It was late at night. I was sitting up, watching the Ashes on a second screen. My fiancée was relocating to bed, where she was going to knock out more Fire Emblem before retiring for the night.
She’d just notched over 100 hours on her save, getting a decent way through a second playthrough. And that’s what she intended to continue playing, except for one small problem. I popped the Switch into the dock for her, the TV and the Switch turned on — and then everything went black.
Both of us have been fortunate enough to avoid any serious hardware errors. I’ve had a Switch since day dot, while hers was acquired last year during the $300 Black Friday sales. Both have held up admirably since then, except for mine which has a few cracks around the fan grill and some awfully loud fans when playing handheld. For the most part, both consoles work just fine.
But on the weekend, that delicate status quo was completely shattered.
My partner propped herself up in bed, and grabbed her Pro Controller. I was in the room anyway, watching cricket on a second screen, so I offered to pop the Switch into the dock for her.
The TV turns on. The Switch menu appears. All seems fine. I went back to my chair, watched Stokes tonk another boundary or two, and carried on my way.
For whatever reason, she was busy on the phone, so the Switch timed out. That’s not a problem: I’ll just go wake up the Switch by hitting the power button.
Small problem: nothing happened. That’s weird, I thought.
I took the Switch out of the dock, and hit the power button. Still nothing. Popping it back into the dock caused the green light to flash on and off once. I hadn’t seen that happen in the two years I’d owned a Switch, but I’d heard stories early on in the console’s lifecycle about the “dreaded green flash of death”, and immediately my brain knew things were dire.
I remember what it was like last year when Rae told the office that her husband had deleted her 200-hour long Horizon: Zero Dawn save. My fiancée wasn’t that far into Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but it was a New Game+ playthrough of her second house.
That’s some serious shit: there are statues that survived the original war, love lines to be resolved, stories left untold, lengthy recruitment pitches to students in other houses unfulfilled…
“Just give me a second,” I told my partner, undeniably sparking a small degree of panic. Consoles either turn on or they don’t — and consoles always turn on. Especially ones under a year old.
The Switch has taken a few bumps and falls, but it was working only seconds before. So why wasn’t it now? Some quick searching on the internet suggested some basic troubleshooting. Maybe the console had run out of juice. Implausible given that the TV turned on and the dock is basically a plastic charging station with TV out, but it’s a better option than panicking, so I hooked it into a laptop USB-C charger and a USB cord coming out of my PC.
No dice. “Is everything OK,” my partner, whose facial expression was a fraction more concerned at this point, asked. I told her what I knew had happened — the console wasn’t turning on — but in retrospect, that was probably the worst reply.
“Why,” the most obvious and natural of questions followed. I didn’t have an answer.
The next most common problem was that the console had locked up upon returning to sleep mode, which sounded pretty logical. The resolution was to hold down the power button for 12 seconds — although others suggested a few seconds more than Nintendo’s official advice, just to be safe. The power button should then work normally afterwards, rebooting the whole console.
It meant the most recent progress on my partner’s save would be gone. I asked if she’d saved, and she said it was fine, so I proceeded to count down the seconds.
After about 15, I let go of the power button and then pressed it a second time. The Nintendo logo was supposed to flash up after that.
But, of course, it never did.
The next step: Maintenance Mode. It’s kind of like booting into Safe Mode for your Switch, a pre-boot menu where you can re-initialise the console with or without deleting save data or, failing that, update the console entirely. The last option didn’t seem relevant, but restoring factory settings seemed a bit of a nuclear option as well. The save data would still be kept, but my fiancée would need to re-download every game that wasn’t on a cartridge.
I eventually bit the bullet and gave it a shot: Fire Emblem could be re-downloaded quickly enough. The key was the 100-hour long save file. As long as that was intact, the rest of the data could be restored in due course. So I pressed the volume up and down buttons, and then the power button, hoping that this time I’d eventually see some kind of life emanating from the Switch screen.
15 seconds passed. Still no light from the console. Another 15 followed. Everything was still black. “Oh no,” I thought to myself. For sure the Switch will need to go in for repairs. I tried a second dock in the lounge room to no avail, and connecting to two different Switch adapters wasn’t the answer. My Switch worked just fine on both, so I knew the docks and chargers weren’t damaged, but in situations like that you try every possibility you can think of, even the ones you know won’t work just so you have the satisfaction of having tried.
“Is everything OK,” my fiancée asked, a little quieter, almost pleadingly. Please be OK, I could hear in her voice, because that matched my internal monologue as I went through The Idiot’s Troubleshooting Guide: the bit where you redo all the steps you just did, but add an extra second or five when holding down buttons, just in case you read everything wrong and that extra button press is the one that makes the difference.
Naturally, it doesn’t.
After about half an hour of wrangling with this, I resigned myself to the fact that the Switch probably couldn’t be saved. The save data was going to get wiped, and the most responsible thing to do to arrest that travesty was to eject the SD Card. Maybe taking the card out might prompt the Switch to wake up; maybe it might prompt a different error upon starting up. At a minimum, it’d mean the save data and other downloads would at least be saved if the console had to be shipped off to repair.
It was at that point that I noticed something, the first sign of a breakthrough in what had become a depressingly tense evening.
Upon flipping the kickstand, which hides the SD port on the back, I discovered droplets of moisture underneath. That made total sense. My partner had been playing Fire Emblem in the bath — several times, actually — and while the Switch obviously hadn’t been dropped in the bath, it was a hot bath. Condensation meant some moisture could have crept into the Switch’s internals and shorted out the USB-C port, or just stopped other parts of the console from working.
Having realised this, my heart then sank a little further: what if all I needed to do was just let the Switch dry out, but I’ve gone and fucked that up by plugging it into laptop chargers, Switch docks, and just trying to add more electricity and power into the mix? Fuck. Fuck.
All you can do in this situation is wait, which is often the last option anyone wants to make. Waiting feels like a non-option, but whenever water is introduced to electronics, it’s usually best to take a breather.
So I let my partner know there was water on the SD card — made sense to both of us — and that, regretfully, her time watching Ashe singlehandedly counter waves of armies would be on hold for the evening. I popped the Switch over on a table, kickstand out just to let that area dry a little better. I crawled into bed and rolled over, hoping against hope that the last option would be the one that finally worked.
And thank fucking God, it did. My partner’s 100-plus hour save was intact.
There’s still a bit of a nightmare where the JoyCons randomly disconnect while attached to the console, but that could be a problem with the JoyCon that shipped with the console, more condensation, or the controllers needing an update. And maybe just a bit of contact cleaner will sort it all out. But hey, at least Fire Emblem pops up on the TV just fine.