The Nintendo Switch: An esports tech review
The Nintendo Switch, Nintendo's newest hardware and successor to the Wii U, is coming out in parts of the world on March 3. Nintendo fans hope this console has a better future than it’s predecessor, the Wii U, with a strong lineup of games slated to be released over the coming year and beyond. Yet, how good is this console? Can it join the likes of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in becoming a competitively viable esports console?
A Quick Overview
The Nintendo Switch is Nintendo’s newest system that will be released on March 3, 2017 for a price of $299/£279. Its main pull is that the Switch is a home console that can be taken out of the dock it sits in to play games on-the-go.
The system comes with the console itself, the dock that lets you play games on a TV, two joy-cons (controllers) and all of the other essentials that come with most video game consoles, such as an AC adapter and an HDMI cable.
The system is set to be the first home console that can be played on-the-go and in your home, as Nintendo looks to build on their casual and hardcore market by offering something different than its competitors.
Please note that for the purpose of the review we will be looking at the console from a competitive stand point. I want to say first and foremost that the console is great, I love it and it is not only comfortable and fun to play but one of the best consoles in recent memory I have had the pleasure of using.
Can it become a console esports platform?
This depends on what is defined as an esport, and more importantly, if it can compete with other consoles. The PS4 is the biggest esports console out there, currently being used for most fighting games and Call of Duty esports as a whole. The Xbox One is also used when it comes to Halo, Gears and Killer Instinct.
But what about Nintendo? Even the Wii U was used for Splatoon and Smash Bros. It is certainly likely that this system will be used moving forward, as Nintendo seems ready to venture more into competitive games.
I have stated many times in the past that Splatoon 2 could easily become an esport if given the right interest and investment, and Smash Bros is likely to appear in the future. The audience is there, Nintendo just needs to find the means of capitalising on it or finding the right partners to do it for them.
Therefore, I feel the question shouldn’t be whether it can be an esports platform, but if it can become a sustainable console that can be used across the board for multiple games; not just Nintendo properties, which feels very unlikely. However, that is not to say it can’t be a success in its own right, because it is far too early to tell at this point.
Nintendo systems have always been used for Nintendo properties; we aren't going to see Call of Duty suddenly become a Switch-only esport, but the future does look bright for the console as a whole.
What is the system like?
The Nintendo Switch console itself features a 6.2 inch, 1280x720, capacitive multi-touch display with a 720p resolution when taken out of the dock. When used for TV purposes, that resolution goes up to 1080p with a crisp finish. It is hard to imagine how such a small system can do what the Switch can. This really shows how powerful the system is; it can never really match up to the PS4 pro or the future Xbox device only known now as "Project Scorpio," but it doesn't have to. The Switch is its own system that serves as a niche, something that can become its selling point to be a second console, or the first for some families.
I would love to see Nintendo release peripherals in the future to add onto the Switch. With the dock being a separate entity, there is no reason that Nintendo couldn't release an entirely new dock years down the line for people to buy that takes the system into the 4k territory. There is more than likely going to be an updated battery version with a better screen and more durable, kid-friendly console (aka, something like the 2DS) in the future; I'd put money on it.
But, back to the console, it is heavier than I first thought, weighing in at about 297g, but also, it's more compact. When you take off the joy-con controllers from the side, the screen itself fits snugly into a pocket and the joy-con’s can fit in another. I wouldn’t advise it, but it is possible.
There is an aura of simplicity in the design of the console itself and the system’s UI. The Wii U and Wii were criticised for having too much, but the Switch goes for something simpler. The front page has everything you need to access: the game library and then options for eShops to buy virtual games, news, etc. There's no weather channel, no vote channel, or any other kinds of fluff. Even the Mii channel that allows you to create your custom character to represent you is put into system settings, out of the way and out of mind. Nintendo is looking to make itself a gaming system, throwing away social options, which may not be for everyone, but for those coming for the games, that's what they're getting in this system. Don't expect to buy it to watch movies on the go, even Netflix and social media apps won't be supported on launch, though that doesn't mean they won't exist in the future.
The system is not backwards compatible. You can't play Wii U, 3DS or previous virtual console purchases on the system at all and Nintendo hasn't said how eShop will be treated in the future. The Switch will also offer free online services until autumn, when an unknown payment system will be implemented. No one has an official idea of how much it will be or what it will include, though rumours have been spiralling around the internet that it will be less than $20 a year.
What are the system's biggest issues?
Note: Most of these problems can be fixed via. either a day one patch or future patches and should be taken with a grain of salt.
Other than the common de-sync issue with the left joy-con and the lack of media options, internet browser or anything that makes it a viable all-purpose media platform against it's competitors, the main problems come from still not knowing much about what is actually in the hardware itself.
Nintendo has not officially confirmed what makes the system tick, or what is powering the inside, and we can only speculate about the Nvidia Tegra-based chipset that is meant to be somewhere inside the Switch.
Then, we get to what the system lacks:
- No LAN port means a reliance on Wi-Fi unless you buy a LAN adapter.
- No optical way of using wireless headsets.
- The charging port being on the bottom is inconvenient; you can't charge while standing up with the kickstand.
In short, it feels like the Switch is trying to be too many things at once, only able to do most of what it is trying to do perfectly, but not without lack of trying and being above the rest.
What games have a possible future in esports?
There are a few games announced and rumored, some that could potentially show up and those that are obvious inclusions that could have a future competitively.
For starters, some of Nintendo's newest intellectual properties, such as Arms, a fighting game that was recently revealed with the system, was one of the games that was being voted by members of the public to take place at EVO 2017, the world's premier fighting game tournament, losing out to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in the end.
ULTRA Street Fighter II is another game coming to the Switch, yet the likelihood of an older game, remastered, having a community where Street Fighter V and the Capcom Cup exist is very unlikely.
Then, of course, you have Splatoon 2 and Smash Bros., with Splatoon 2 being a game I have personally put a lot of work into explaining why it has a good chance of succeeding as an esport, which you can read more on here.
Pokémon has always been a handheld game, but with this Switch being a hybrid system, the possibilities of the main series Pokémon game on the Switch are endless. A full 1080p HD Pokémon game with local wireless and online play would benefit the already massive scene and offer something fans have wanted for years.
Is the controller viable?
The joy-con controllers are far from the best controllers ever made. They are somewhat small, so people with bigger hands may have issues using them.
I feel if any games are going to be used by the system competitively in the future, then a professional controller is the way forward. It feels and acts like a standard controller, much like an Xbox One controller, with the joy-cons more suitable for standard play.
That isn't to say the joy-cons are bad; far from it. They have enough tech in them to make an apple product say, "that is a bit too much," but for competitive gaming, they can be a bit lacking. I also found the left joy-con to be unresponsive at times, and if in the heat of battle, you don't want to suddenly stop moving or have a part of the controller not understand your input.
The joy-cons work and are fantastic, but for the purpose of this review and what we are looking at the system for, the Pro controller is the way forward.
The Nintendo Switch is a powerful gaming system that has a great future if Nintendo can continue to maintain it and garner third party support. It has a niche, something that people will see and love, and can be marketed easily. It's a gamer's dream that needs crucial support to prosper.
It is a remarkable piece of equipment that has a bright future to come. I'm keeping my hopes up that Nintendo learns from the mistakes of the Wii U and that we see the next installment of Smash Bros. (or a port of the Wii U game) in the near future.
Lastly, for what it is worth, please don't buy this system based on hype. It'll never live up to the expectations your mind generates for it.
With all that in mind, the Nintendo Switch gets a final rating of:
*Please note, this review is based on the Switch without online features, as at the time of the review, online support isn't active, so we can't review that section yet.
*Nintendo Switch was Provided by Nintendo
Adam Newell is a journalist for @GAMURScom and can be contacted in ways displayed below. If you have any tips or want anything covered, be sure to let us know:
All Images and videos come from Nintendo.co.uk and Nintendo's official YouTube account.