You know that feeling you have when you wake up from a nightmare? It’s all dread and confusion at first, but within seconds those emotions melt away and relief takes their place. The monster wasn’t real — it was all in your head. That’s kind of how I feel playing the Nintendo Switch after four years of the Wii U.
When I first saw the Switch in person at a preview event last month, I couldn’t believe I was looking at the follow-up to the Wii U. As I’ve written more than once in the past, I was baffled by the Wii U from day one. Why was the GamePad so bulky? Why did Nintendo think a two-screen experience would be a good idea? Why have we gone six months without a single retail game launching for this thing?
These were just a few of the countless questions I was asking no one in particular throughout the life cycle of the Wii U. But now that production has ended and the Switch is eight days away, those questions don’t matter anymore. What matters is that Nintendo has learned a great deal from the failure of the Wii U. Think of that console as a prototype for the Switch, because the Switch is everything the Wii U could have been.
Despite the fact that I had already spent over an hour with the console before it arrived at my front door, it was still something of a surprise to see how small the box was. It makes sense, of course — inside the box are the Switch console itself (a thin, light tablet with a 6.2-inch display), the two Joy-Con controllers, the Joy-Con Grip shell, the Switch Dock and a couple of cables to power it and connect it to the TV.
Compared to the Wii U, everything about the Switch looks and feels deliberate. Nintendo clearly knew very early on what it wanted the Switch to do and how it wanted players to interact with the Switch. Therefore, even with such a peculiar design, it’s immediately apparent what each individual component is meant to do and where it’s supposed to go. The Joy-Cons are a perfect example of this.
When I first plugged in the Switch, I slotted the Joy-Cons into the Grip and navigated my way through the setup process. The Joy-Con Grip is one of the most oddly-shaped and smallest controllers I’ve ever held, and while it does take some getting used to, it’s genuinely comfortable. I wasn’t a fan of the GamePad and I have never been high on Wii Remotes, so the Grip is a nice change of pace.
After spending some time with the Switch on my TV, I decided to remove the Joy-Cons from the Grip (another procedure which I’m sure I will become second nature over time), slot them into the Switch and remove it from the Dock. The display immediately lit up with the same scene that was on my television a split second earlier and I had officially entered portable mode for the first time.
As solid as the Grip is, the Joy-Con controllers feel at home attached to the Switch. I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone from Nintendo myself, but I have to believe that the number one priority was to make the Joy-Con controllers the perfect controllers for a portable device that doubles as a full home console. In fact, the Switch is so good in portable mode that I occasionally struggle to return to the TV.
What took me by surprise was how quickly I was able to adapt to playing with the Joy-Cons detached from the Grip and the Switch altogether. You would think having two discrete controllers, one in each hand, would make gaming more difficult, but even surrounded by enemies in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I was able to dodge and slash and battle my way out without breaking a sweat.
I’ll have a lot more to say about the Switch when the review embargo lifts, but even with the console sitting in my living room, there’s still a ton I don’t know about the console. I’ve seen it’s UI (as have many of you if you’ve been keeping up with the leaks), but the eShop won’t be functional until closer to launch day. I don’t know anything about the Virtual Console, I don’t know how the mobile app works — the list goes on, but what I’m saying is that there will still be plenty to talk about come launch day.
For now, what I can tell you is that the Switch is Nintendo’s most compelling and well-designed hardware in generations. We just have to hope that the company can release games at a faster pace this time around.
The Nintendo Switch launches on March 3rd and costs $299.99.