Nintendo Switch Is a Console for Humans, Not Gamers

Could it fall on its face? Yes, sure.

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Mar 1 2017, 2:00pm

Well here we are. The Switch, Nintendo's latest console, is finally here. The internet is flooded with detailed, measured reviews right now, so rather than publish another one of those, Motherboard decided to give the machine to the least professional member of its team, Editor-in-Chief Derek Mead.

What is even more worrisome about this decision is that Derek expressed completely unqualified enthusiasm for the Switch as soon as it was announced, which is not exactly what you want in an impartial reviewer. Even worse, instead of writing a proper review, Derek decided to directly beef with Motherboard's resident hater Emanuel Maiberg over email.

What happened next will shock and amaze you.

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From: Derek Mead

To: Emanuel Maiberg

23 February 2017 at 12:09

Dearest Emanuel,

I'm on day three of a post-Switch world and I'm still obsessed with this damn thing. The simple pitch is this: Switch makes gaming fit more seamlessly into my life. Being able to yank the console off the TV when I'm bored of the couch and play the same game in the same spot seamlessly while lounging on my bed is amazing. I know that seems subtle, but it's a huge huge difference that I'm not sure anyone will get until they try it. Maybe Nintendo should let people rent these things for a few days? It also helps that the new Zelda is a fantastic game and maybe Switch will show terrible deficiencies with others, but that's all I've got to play right now.

I also don't want to write a review of this console because every time I think about it I end up veering into some digression about the technical specs, which is a ghastly tech review trope to do. I'll just say this now: technical specs are entirely irrelevant to the Switch experience. It is clear Nintendo designed the console around a gaming experience first and then built hardware to fill that need with whatever price point is desired. So yeah, the mobile battery life is only a few hours, and the controllers feel cheap, and the undocked screen is ONLY 720p, but that line of thinking misses the point so much that I worry no one will every try this thing.

Image: Nintendo

My first impression is that this thing is less a mobile device than just a home console with less friction. Yesterday I was thinking of a friend's young daughter, who's been raised on using an iPad more than their TV, and whose parents use that iPad as a distraction device just about anywhere. The Switch is obviously not a tablet competitor, but that type of interaction of kid running around the house like a maniac watching Frozen on an iPad while her dad cooks breakfast makes me think of how much better an untethered game system will work for a family. I do wonder if those people are ever going to learn enough about the system to actually spend money on it, though. For whatever reason Nintendo seems to have a lot of trouble making a very simple pitch about making a game system that works better in your life.

In any case, in lieu of a review I am proposing that we do one of your classic email exchanges to discuss thoughts on this thing. I'm curious what you think since you know a hell of a lot more about the big picture in the games industry than I do. All I know is that I read absolutely zero of the instruction manuals and feature sheets that Nintendo sent us for our review unit, and I have almost zero idea of what the Switch is promised to be able to do. All I know is that I turned it on three days ago and haven't been able to stop playing it.

One final thought starter: If you want to think about where the Switch is good, imagine trying trying to fly to your mom's house and bringing an Xbox One. You'd look like an asshole. Switch is no Game Boy but it's going to be nice when stuck in a hotel room somewhere.

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From: Emanuel Maiberg

To: Derek Mead

27 February 2017 at 16:04

Dear console plebeian,

You hit the goomba on the head: The Switch is a better device than Nintendo's messaging will lead people to believe. I'm sort of impressed by how badly Nintendo hyped this thing up leading to release, especially considering the company is coming off of the Wii U, which was messaged so badly at launch people thought it was an add-on for the Wii.

What you think is cool about it is what I thought was cool about it from the early patent filings that foretold what the device would become: a home console and portable gaming device hybrid, or in other words, a Super Nintendo that turns into a Game Boy Advance. Unlike Xbox and PlayStation, which always try to sweeten the deal by making the console a multi-purpose media center and a powerful platform for third party developers to publish games on, Nintendo's devices in recent history had a singular purpose: playing Nintendo games.

Previously, to get everything the geniuses at Nintendo had to offer, you had to buy both the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U, or the Wii and the Nintendo DS, etc. Now, all you have to do is buy one $300 device, which plays all the latest Nintendo games and is also a ticket to its legendary catalog dating back to the 80s.

I think it's still possible for it to succeed with this strategy. The problem is that the Switch is also a bunch of other confusing things: It has those Joy-Con controllers that can attach to the Switch, wrist straps, or a more traditional-looking controller shell. They can also be split between two players to make two very uncomfortable controllers that will work with some games. Did you know, Derek, that you can point one of the controllers at your mouth and that it can detect how fast you're opening and closing your mouth? Did you know that it has "HD rumble," which is supposedly accurate enough to tell whether it's mimicking the feeling of one, two, or three ice cubes in a glass?

Just another place where the Switch fits in. Image: Derek Mead/Motherboard

No, you did not, because you're too busy playing the latest and greatest Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the shitter, which is what this machine was built for. Nintendo even made a TV spot in Europe stressing the point, and if I was its advertising guru that's where I'd spend all my budget. All the other features are just hiding the prize.

Here's the other thing: I'm 100 percent with you on the specs. That's not why I'm getting a Switch (I have a PC behemoth for that). But let's say that you finish Zelda and then it takes another six months until the next interesting Nintendo game comes out. Let's say that your friend's kid only gets three good Nintendo games a year. Is that enough, or will she just go back to Minecraft at that point and let the Switch collect dust? Because that's probably as many games you're going to get. I'm fine with it because I'm an old and bitter man who doesn't have much time for consoles anyway (I played maybe three or four games on my PS4), but is that a device that keeps the company in the black and its investors happy?

Does it make sense to buy a $300 console that you'll end up using to play only 3-9 games?

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From: Derek Mead

To: Emanuel Maiberg

27 February 2017 at 18:07

Your points are all good but I'm really annoyed that you're giving me homework with these questions so I'm going to talk about maps instead.

My favorite mechanic of any video game is when you explore something and the map is UNVEILED as far as your eyes can see, which is usually a brief radius around your current location. The possibility of opening up the Zelda map with this type of exploration, especially in a game that rewards/requires obsessive exploration of every nook and cranny on the map, was extremely exciting. But it doesn't work that way! And because I wasn't paying attention/did not grok when the game explained this, I spent the first 15 hours or so wandering around in the dark while leaving myself breadcrumbs in the form of "stamps" on the map of anything interesting I could find in my binoculars.

Of course on Thursday night I found out that you have to climb these godforsaken towers in each region on the map to download map data onto your ancient smartphone device to have maps, so I spent a few hours doing that which felt VERY GOOD and also super annoying because I had to backtrack a bunch. But that's OK!

Image: Nintendo/Derek Mead

About those binoculars: When you're zoomed in while playing Zelda, for example while using binoculars or aiming an arrow, you can aim both with the joystick that controls the game camera AND by moving your controller around with its motion sensor. This is super intuitive when you've got the controllers on the Switch in mobile mode, since the screen moves where you aim it. It's actually really awesome! But in my favorite Switch mode—which I call Cozy Boy Mode, and entails using each of the joysticks separately with your arms dangling to your side like a drunk seal on a couch, but which is so much better than holding a normal controller in your lap or whatever—it's really awkward and annoying.

But if we're to sum things up, I'd give just about zero shits about the motion control if anyone ever pitched it to me as a feature. It's very intuitive to have it exist—I actually didn't understand what was going on for awhile, I thought I was a shaky aimer but was just waving my hands around without realizing—but it's not something you sell a console with. This sums up the Switch experience I think: It's super intuitive and seamless to use, but that's not easy to turn into a commercial.

I brought the Switch with me on a weekend trip and it was so great to play in the car that I definitely see this doing well with families if anyone ever realizes the potential. It also got great reviews from all my dumb friends who played with it in various mental states, so that's a plus. The flexibility of playing this thing is 100 percent not a gimmick in my opinion, and having one Nintendo device as opposed to two, as you mentioned, is just fundamentally something that needed to happen.

Your question is the most important thing here though. I'll buy a Switch if I can get two Zelda-like games a year, just because I've grown up into being a filthy disgusting casual and really just want something I can pick up whenever I feel like not watching TV, and this is a way better proposition in my mind than a PS4 or Xbone, just because I travel a lot and it'd be nice to bring games with me. That said, if Nintendo only delivers three good games a year, this system is doomed. I may have said this before but it is very worrying to me that they sent us this thing for review with only one launch title.

I haven't read any press about this device, what does The Industry think? And you're going to start diving heavily into it now that I've finally given it to you right?

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From: Emanuel Maiberg

To: Derek Mead

28 February 2017 at 10:12

I can tell you haven't been playing video games too much for the past few years because 97 percent of video games these days are about climbing towers to fill in parts of the map.

Your question about how the Switch will be received by the The Industry, aka the "is it 60fps 1080p?" Industrial Complex, is difficult. There will be many great and exhaustive reviews on the net today that will give readers idea of exactly how the Switch performs as a piece of hardware and sound advice on whether it's worth $300 today and for whom. I will read them because I am a nerd, but I'm willing to wager that few if any of them will echo my opinion of it which is that the Switch is......extremely good.

Why? Well, like you said, now that I stole the Switch from you and had the opportunity to play in the comfort of my own home, I see that it's killer feature here is that it just works.

This might sound insane if you haven't been deep into the gaming world for a few years now, but the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are not easy to use. The chances of you being able to pick up a game at the store, put it in the machine, and start playing is essentially zero. There's always a system update or a day-one patch, and user interfaces for these machines are so bloated with features I don't need that the whole experience is slow and infuriating.

The Switch needs a day one patch too, but I saw you go through the setup process, which seemed very easy, and now that it's done, the Switch can go from zero-to-Zelda in about two seconds.

Here's a lifehack: Put the Switch next to your bed instead of your phone. Really you should be reading a book, but we both know that's not going to happen, so you might as well relax while roaming the Hyrulian plateau than let Trump drill his nightly hole into your brain via Twitter. It's such an easy and pleasant experience. All I have to do is push the on button and bam, I'm back in Zelda right where I left off. Same for the morning. Instead of picking up the phone and looking at Twitter first thing, wake and bake with some Zelda.

You might be able to get a technically comparable gaming experience this easily on your iPhone, but the games are not as good and it's hard to enjoy a game on a device that is also a portal to hell. The 3DS offers portability, but not at this quality. Basically, I can't think of another gaming device that more seamlessly fits into my life. Couch, train, plane, or Cozy Boy Mode in bed—the Switch can be there for me, and it's beautiful.

Xbox, PlayStation, and the PC don't offer that. I'm still going to do these things because I'm the kind of guy who enjoys a specialty $300 controller for a farming simulator, but Nintendo is always trying to reach a wider audience of people who just want to have fun, rather than the subculture of people who flex with water-cooled, overclocked CPUs.

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From: Derek Mead

To: Emanuel Maiberg

28 February 2017 at 11:40

This is surely the first time we've ever agreed on something, which is kinda terrifying. I will say that I finally lugged Motherboard's Xbox One home to finish playing Doom and relax by driving cars in circles for hours in Forza and I casually dread turning it on every time because it either needs updates or just takes forever to load a game. It takes something like seven minutes to get Doom playing—probably less but it feels like it's FOREVER—which is something that's always turned me off, as lame as it is to complain about. Instant-on is fantastic.

That said, we've been so posi on the Switch that I think it's time to talk about some of the things that are shitty about it, starting with the controllers. I have huge hands so let's all keep that in mind, but these things feel small and chintzy and the motion control gyros don't always center very well depending on how you're moving about with the game. I also find taking them on and off the screen to be finicky and I wonder if it would end up breaking. In handheld mode, the device is pretty slim which makes for hand cramps. In the ideal scenario I'd just leave the controllers on the screen all the time and have a second pair of slightly larger controllers for when it's docked, but even if that's possible it's just adding cost to a system that's already 300 bones.

Image: Nintendo

We've been talking about the portability of this thing, which is definitely there, but it's no mobile device. It's too large to bust out on the subway, and the battery life on the screen is around 3 or 4 hours while playing Zelda. I could see busting this out on a plane, but I'd think of it more as a portable console than a mobile device. It'd be a nice respite from TruTV in a hotel somewhere, but not something I'd necessarily whip out to pass time in the cab from JFK to my house. Your mileage may vary though, especially if you've got kids on a long car ride.

I also am very curious as to how many actually good games come out for this console. Zelda is such a deep, beautiful game that rewards the kind of methodical exploration that goes perfectly with a console that can really be played whenever and wherever you're in the mood, so of course it'll shine on this system. But I imagine that aside from RPGs that really nail the platform, Switch is going to struggle. To take the aforementioned Doom and Forza as examples, I don't see how Switch could compete in either of those segments, where graphics and precision controls are the most central selling points. Can this console survive solely on more classically Nintendo-style games? I'm very bearish, but am always open to being proven wrong.

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From: Emanuel Maiberg

To: Derek Mead

28 February 2017 at 06:06

Look, man. You're right about all of that. The prospects for this thing are even more grim than you think if you look too close, but now you're falling into the very specs trap you're trying to avoid. The hardware isn't strong enough. It's not going to have enough games. Those joysticks suck ass. It's all true.

I just want to be happy, OK? And Zelda before bed makes me happy while trying to launch Resident Evil 7 makes me want to do my taxes.

Could it fall on its face? Yes, sure. All the investors and gamers seem to think this. But the Switch is a machine made for humans, not gamers.

Correction: This article previously misstated that the Switch uses a proprietary charger. The Switch uses a USB-C charger. Motherboard regrets the error.