Thursday, March 16, 2017

Nintendo Switch Review / Zelda: Breath of the Wild Thoughts

Note: this is less of a formal review and more of a random collection of thoughts and impressions after playing Zelda on the Nintendo Switch for about a week.

When details about the Nintendo Switch came out, I wanted to take a "wait and see" approach. I passed on the Wii U and that turns out to have been the right decision so I wanted to be cautious again about Nintendo's next system, despite being a pretty devoted Nintendo fanboy for most of my life. As March 3, 2017 drew nearer and as hype for the system and especially for the new Zelda started building, I eventually became obsessed (as I often do with new gadgets) and decided I must get one.. by this point it was too late to preorder and availability of the new console was (and still is) scarce.

Making the "Switch"

I waited in line at multiple Target stores early on Sunday morning two days after the official Switch release but there just weren't enough Switches to go around. Eventually I lucked out because my two friends Chris and Bianca picked up a Switch for me at a Target in the middle of nowhere (somewhere near Gilroy) on their drive back up from LA.

Target had a buy 2 get 1 game free promotion going on but I'm not sure if it would have worked on Nintendo Switch games and I also couldn't think of three launch titles that I really wanted anyway (more on the dearth of games available later). I ended up ordering Zelda (and preordering Mario Kart) through a friend's Amazon Prime account, in order to get 20% off.

While waiting for Zelda to arrive, I had to go for a full two days with a Nintendo Switch without any games. How did I survive? Well, I still actively play XCOM 2 multiplayer on PS4 so that kept me distracted, but I also used that time to become familiar with the Switch interface and discovered how to get demos from other regions. I got the Puyo Puyo Tetris demo from the Japan eshop (yay no region locking!), which has local multiplayer so even my wife Carissa was into it. Might be fun to also try out Snipperclips or 1-2 Switch with her to see if she enjoys those games too.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Not bad for a "handheld" game

The main event, of course, is Zelda Breath of the Wild and boy does it deliver. I was worried from some of the pre-launch gameplay videos that the animation looked a little stiff and that it would pretty much be the same Zelda without much new innovation. My fears were unfounded however, and Breath of the Wild lives up to the hype so far. (Please keep in mind that I'm not very far into the main game yet. These are just some of my early impressions)

Nintendo sure knows how to make a fun game. They've been doing this for so long that they are just masters of game design. The Zelda formula already made exploring fun, but Nintendo added some great new RPGish gameplay elements that make you want to explore even more. The cooking mechanic makes you want to search for cooking ingredients. The varieties of weapons (as well as having a limited amount of inventory space and fragility of weapons) makes you want to find and save up the best weapons possible (I use bombs for about 80% of my attacks since they're unlimited)... Even the clothing/armor you can purchase is more involved and interesting than previous Zelda games.

Though the world of the new Zelda is huge, lots of the things you can do are divided into smaller chunks or tasks so you definitely could pick up the game, play for a few meaningful minutes then stop. More often than not, however, it causes me to play on for far too long because of you'll always feel like, "I'll just do this one last thing before I stop playing" which leads to the next thing and the next until it's 4am and you realize you still have work the next day.

Nothing to see here...just thinking of the best way to murder this group of bokoblins in cold blood and take their stuff

Nintendo Switch Impressions

Just want to say that I love the Nintendo Switch so far, but this is the part where I mostly rant about random problems/issues I've encountered so far. I'll try to balance my complaints with the positives as well.

The Left Joycon Problem

Left joycon is out of sync sometimes
As others have reported, I do consistently experience problems with the left Joycon desyncing and almost causing me to run in the same direction endlessly (or off a cliff). Hopefully Nintendo will offer a solution for this issue. Currently, I have no plans to buy the expensive $70 pro controller, as the joycons in the grip are more than adequate for me. It is annoying though that as a workaround I have to sit nearer to the console and also make sure there's a clear line of sight between the joycon and the Switch otherwise.

Framerate Issues and Loading Screens

Playing the Switch on your TV is just as you'd expect, but I did notice some framerate slowdowns during certain times in Zelda. The consensus seems to be that Zelda runs better in handheld mode than in docked mode. While the framerate drops haven't been too bad, I do sincerely hope this is the exception and not the norm. In handheld mode, the Switch runs at 720p so if it turns out many games run better in handheld mode, that kinda takes away from one of the Switch's main selling points of having the same experience playing at home or on the go. I also was surprised to see so many loading screens for Zelda. Although they go by quickly and I'm sure the size of the game made them necessary, I hope as I progress further in the game that the loading times won't be as frequent as I fear. 

The Switch as a Handheld and the 3DS's future

Playing the Switch in handheld mode is amazing.. the screen is huge and dwarfs even the 3DS XL screen (haven't played the PS Vita much so can't make a comparison there). Playing with the joycons attached to the screen feels pretty natural to me and I have no problems playing it this way. I'm also just in awe that a game with the magnitude of Zelda can be held in your hands and played anywhere (although I'm not whipping this thing out on the SF BART or Muni public transit yet...). It will be interesting to see what happens to the 3DS in the coming months/years. Nintendo claims the 3DS still has a place in Nintendo's lineup due to its different audience and cheaper price point, but it remains to be seen how long people will keep making games for it. Personally for me, It would be hard to justify making space for both the Switch and the 3DS if I'm going on a trip, but the 3DS does have a better battery life, is smaller/sturdier, and its touch screen is a more prominent input method that developers could still take advantage of (not sure how or if touch will be incorporated into Switch games since you can't use the touch screen when it's docked). I can see the 3DS becoming a platform for 2D retro-style games (METROID PLEASE), remakes of older titles, and experimental games while the Switch gets all the AAA games and "top-tier" indie games.

Dead Pixels, Scratches, Memory, and Charging

I haven't had any issues with dead pixels or other glitches some people have reported, but hopefully Nintendo's response to customers experiencing problems will be more tactful than "Dead pixels are your problem." I definitely feel better now that I have a screen protector since there are reports that the screen easily scratches since it's made with plastic and not gorilla glass. On the positive side, it won't shatter like a gorilla glass screen. 

The three hour battery life seems to be adequate in some situations but if you're playing on a long plane flight or road trip, you'll need another way to charge it, either with a car charger or an external battery that works with the Nintendo Switch. Also, you may need a separate stand if you plan to play in kickstand mode while charging since the USB-C port is at the bottom of the Switch. With only 32 GB of internal memory, you'll almost definitely need to get a micro SD card to expand your system storage. Memory cards are cheap and the prices are always falling but it is kind of a shame that Nintendo didn't include more memory to begin. It also would be nice if Nintendo would provide more control over what we would like to go into main storage and what we would like to go to the sd card.

The Switch OS User Interface

The interface is adequate, but like Nintendo's other interfaces, it's bare minimum and feels like it was dumbed down for kids, and thus a step behind the PS4's much more polished interface (IMHO). At the time of writing there's no granular activity log like the 3DS (there is a workaround using the Parental controls though) has but hopefully they can add a real log in a future update. I like that they followed Sony and Microsoft and have a dedicated button for screen captures and easy sharing on social media, but they need to add video capture in order to keep up with the rest (which I hear is coming eventually). I've also had issues when posting screencaps to Twitter: sometimes there will be a connectivity error and you'll have to retype your post all over again. Not fun. I've also had problems downloading from the eShop... downloads can be painfully slow (not sure if it's due to network traffic on Nintendo's end or to my local connection, but I never had problems with connectivity on my PS4 like this before).

The Cost

Although the cost of the system is $300, that doesn't fully take into account the rest of the Switch-related expenses. It doesn't come with a game (it probably should have come with 1-2 Switch for free like Wii Sports did for the Wii), so add $50-60 (and $20 extra if you want the DLC for Zelda). Many will want to use the pro controller ($70) or add extra joycons ($80). Add in a carrying case ($15-$20+), screen protector ($10), and memory card (I paid $40 for 128 GB)... and you're looking at spending almost $500 in the first week of owning a Switch alone. That's in addition to, eventually paying for Nintendo's online service when it rolls out later this year. I know that it's already standard practice to charge for online play these days, but I'm still trying to get used to it. Hopefully it'll be worth it with free monthly games or other extras, but it's just another expense among many. Luckily there are reports the service will be cheaper than Sony or Microsoft's services.

Switch Games other than Zelda

While Zelda is obviously the system seller here, I was a little disappointed with the other launch titles. $50 for Bomberman or 1-2 Switch seems a bit excessive. Looking at the list of confirmed games for the Switch, I'm not seeing very many must-have games other than perhaps Mario Kart and Mario Oddyssey. From Nintendo, I'd like to see more from its classic lineup, especially Metroid or Punch-Out. From third parties I'd like to see games that could take advantage of the Switch's portable nature that other consoles can't. For example, if we never get XCOM 2 on mobile, maybe it could be ported to the Switch? Or how about GTA or Red Dead Redemption 2 from Rockstar? It's encouraging that so many indie titles were announced, but from what I've seen, I don't consider those games to be ones that take full advantage of the Switch. Many of those indie titles could have easily been (and probably are) on other systems. I'm still hoping more developers will come into Nintendo's fold and make more game announcements, especially since the Switch is selling in record numbers.


There's so much to like about the Switch, and yet still so many things that could be cause for concern. Hopefully Nintendo gracefully handles and addresses any glitches or hardware problems first. Then, I hope Nintendo and third party companies start making tons of games for the Switch to keep interest in the system going for hopefully many, many years to come. In my opinion, if Nintendo does well, it bodes well for the rest of the video game industry. Not all of their oftentimes crazy ideas stick, but when they do, they change the industry for the better.

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