Nintendo Switch

This was all set to be a story of how much the whole family were enjoying the Nintendo Switch. While that’s true, there’s another side. We’ll get to that but let’s start with the good stuff.

Long story short: after just over a week, we’re all getting a lot out of it. The games are fun, even my three year old gets a kick driving Princess Peach around what looks like Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph.

I should probably qualify our enthusiasm. I’ve never owned a games console before. I play Real Racing 3 and Monument Valley on my iPad; I have played Worms (a lot) and various others going back to Bomb Jack on my Sinclair Spectrum. I’m not on the same page as the people comparing frame rates and polygons per second unfavourably with the Xbox and PS4.

What I do care about are fun games, preferably multiplayer — sat around the TV rather than online — that can be played by all ages without requiring much effort to get started.

We’ve mostly played Mario Kart connected to the TV, using the steering wheel accessory, in two player mode. I was tempted to get a couple more joycons so all four of us could play together until I saw how much they cost!

Overall it Just Works. Even a software update was quick and simple. (Top tip: when setting it up, do it handheld rather than docked with the TV. That way you can enter your Wifi and account passwords with the touchscreen keyboard.) The graphics are beautiful (probably more a function of Nintendo’s designers than hardware prowess) and the sound adds to the experience, in contrast to many iOS games where it’s irritating or distracting.

Away from the TV, the screen size is great for handheld play though the console is a little thick and heavy compared with an iPad. I found that it’s a little too small to comfortably play multi-user but it does work and when the TV is in use it’s good enough. Maybe that’s to be expected but you can’t blame me for thoroughly play testing it!

For the first week problems I saw were largely quibbles or recent launch issues.

In the “quibbles” column is the little door that covers the cartridge slot. While the rest of the console feels well made, the door feel loose and cheap. Worse, if you pull out the cartridge without first quitting the game it complains, just like a Mac does when you yank a USB drive out. Since Nintendo have control over both the hardware and software you’d think there might be a better solution.

Also, the dock is, if not wrong, then at least a bit odd. It’s the same height of the console itself which means that when you put the machine in it, the top sticks out by a couple of centimetres. It’s not broken since it’s fully functional, it just doesn’t seem very elegant.

Under “recent launch” I’d put some of the pairing issues I’ve seen with the joycons, especially when trying to use the sticks separately in Mario Kart. I’m hoping, presuming, that this is a fixable software glitch.

As I hinted at in the first paragraph, in the second week things took a turn for the worse. I fired up ARMS but couldn’t start it.

After a while debugging, I figured out that the L button on the left joycon no longer worked. I was pretty relaxed about it initially, assuming it was a software glitch that could be fixed by some combination of fiddling around and searching the internet.

I tried re-pairing the joycons. Disconnecting and reconnecting. Restarting the Switch. Checking for software updates. I tried resetting the Switch back to Factory Defaults. Nothing.

Scouring the internet, I found that this was quite a common problem with early units and that people were having to return them. This sucked.

As I hate call centres, I fired off a quick email to support. In hindsight this was the wrong approach. It took nearly a week for them to respond and when they did they said it would cost £35 to repair. Not only was this poor service but it goes against consumer protection laws!

I picked up the phone and called support, girding myself for a long call and a fight. Neither materialised, thankfully.

The call was picked up straight away and was answered by someone not religiously following a script. She connected the dots to my email and, after prompting, explained that the email meant that if I’d dropped the joycon and broke it that way I might have to pay; it was CYA text masquerading as the main message.

Then she volunteered that, so soon after purchase, I might be better just returning to the retailer. (I knew that this was the correct process but I had still been hoping that you could control-alt-delete the joycon and magically get it working again without sending it anywhere. Anyway, it’s good that I didn’t have to press for this.)

Amazon, of course, had no difficulty accepting a return. However they did have a problem sending a replacement unit, indeed they contacted me to say they had no idea when they would get any in stock.

The perils of being an early adaptor of an in-demand product I guess.

This whole experience has also shown an odd shortcoming in the software that I’d not previously noticed: there is no way to back up your game progress. The Switch is internet enabled (obviously) and is quite insistent that you create a Nintendo account, but nothing gets saved to the cloud.

The Switch also has an SD card slot but there’s no way to copy state over, just screenshots as far as I can tell. (Maybe I’m too old but I’m not sure I get the importance of game screen shots. Why is there a hardware button dedicated to it?!)

As of yesterday, there’s a happy ending to my first few weeks with the device. Amazon got a new batch of Switches in stock sooner than they were expecting so, until I get around to returning the original unit, we currently have two machines.

We spent a while last night, er, testing the new joycons with ARMS and I can confirm that they work as expected. This morning we combined the joycons from the new console with the working one from the old and had a three-player game of Mario Kart. This pushes me ever so closer to buying that second set of joycons…

So despite the problems, we all still like it. That, I think, says a lot.