Nintendo Switch is a next-level console with only 1 must-play game

Nintendo's newest system aims to offer something for audiences both hardcore and casual, young, old and everything in between. Does it succeed?

Tablet console can be played on the go, but also connect to a TV

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the Switch's only must-play game - and critics are calling it a masterpiece. (Nintendo)

Nintendo's newest gaming system, Switch, bears the weight of some lofty goals.

The device, which is out today, aims to unify the Japanese company's home and portable markets, offering something for audiences both hardcore and casual, young, old and everything in between.

The end result is a machine quite unlike anything else in the gaming and tech gadget market, full of fresh ideas that are better executed than most products in their first iteration.

That said, with only a few games available at launch and no streaming video apps planned, it will probably be several months before any but the most diehard Nintendo fans feel the need to pick one up.

The Switch's major feature — the ability to play games on TV like a console but then take them on the go like a handheld — works seamlessly. It connects to a USB-C port on the Switch Dock, a hunk of plastic with little more than a few USB ports and an HDMI port to feed the footage to a television.

When you want to take it on the go, you simply lift the tablet out of the dock and the picture swaps to the tablet in seconds. Going from handheld mode to TV mode takes a little longer, but overall, the transition works exactly as advertised.

Mobile multi-taskers should take note: the Switch doesn't have a camera, video streaming apps like YouTube or Netflix or office productivity apps.

This is a gaming machine, full stop.

A gaming-first tablet

The heart of the Switch is a 6.2-inch tablet with a touch-enabled screen. At 720 pixels, it's not as impressive as quad-HD phone displays, but while playing the new Legend of Zelda game, everything looked sharp and the colours were vibrant. On the TV, most games will output in 1080p.

The Switch's remote-like controllers, called JoyCon, can be held in either hand, attached to the tablet or docked together in the JoyCon Grip, taking the form of a traditional controller. (Nintendo insists on using "JoyCon" to refer to both a single controller and multiple controllers.)

When connected to the tablet in handheld mode, the JoyCon form a complete portable gaming system not unlike Sony's Vita or a much sleeker version of Nintendo's Wii U GamePad.

A Nintendo Switch game console is displayed at an electronics store in Tokyo, on March 3. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

You can also hold them in your left and right hands, where they're quite comfortable, thanks to the contoured trigger handles.

But in more traditional configurations, the JoyCon feel just a bit off. The small buttons and off-centre joysticks are awkwardly placed when you hold a JoyCon horizontally, like an old-fashioned NES controller. Merging the two into the JoyCon Grip is better, but it's cramped compared to the PlayStation and Xbox controllers.

Traditionalists would do well to pick up the Pro Controller, with its comfortable handles and chunkier buttons. But it will cost you $89.99.

Battery life doesn't impress

The awkward JoyCon controllers coupled with the tablet's flimsy kickstand means the method of play Nintendo has been promoting the most — at parties, with the Switch on a table for crowds to join in — might actually be the least enjoyable way to play.

Yet the versatility stands out. A fully featured console-quality game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is playable on the go for people with a long commute or who frequently travel by plane.

Nintendo Switch control options, clockwise from top-left: JoyCons and the JoyCon Grip; JoyCons held separately; a single JoyCon held with both hands; and the Pro Controller, sold separately. (Nintendo)

The only major concern on the go is battery life. Nintendo says players should get around three to six hours on a charge, but Zelda: Breath of the Wild lasted about three hours before the system ran out of juice.

That's less than dedicated portables like the 3DS, but might be manageable as long as you're not planning on marathon sessions on a transcontinental flight without a battery pack.

Few launch games, but Zelda shines

Nintendo has been criticized over the last few months about a relatively meagre list of games that will be available Friday. The marquee titles include mini-game collection 1-2-Switch, the two-player puzzle game Snipperclips and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

1-2-Switch is an eclectic collection of 28 mini-games meant to show off the JoyCon's functions. They range from familiar (table tennis and baseball) to bizarre (pulling the JoyCon down to milk a cow).

1-2-Switch includes a number of bizarre mini-games, like pulling on the JoyCon to simulate milking a cow. (Nintendo)

Unfortunately, 1-2-Switch is not bundled with the Switch and costs $64.99 separately. With a hit-and-miss collection of games that will feel stale after a few hours, it's hard to recommend.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, however, is the perfect launch game to silence critics who might think a handheld device can't offer the full experience of a home console.

It's an enchanting adventure of mind-boggling size and scope, filled with tender moments and rousing action that will keep players occupied for well north of 50 hours.

Critics are calling Breath of the Wild the best Zelda game ever made and a must-play game on the Switch. (Nintendo)

Critics are already calling it a masterpiece.

"Breath of the Wild is a defining moment for The Legend of Zelda series, and the most impressive game Nintendo has ever created," says Gamespot's Peter Brown.

With an aggregate rating of 98 per cent, that makes it the fourth-best rated game of all time, according to Metacritic.

For now, the Switch is a fascinating product unlike anything else in the tech or gaming market. For dedicated Nintendo fans, Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be more than enough for a day one purchase.

But those looking for a greater variety of games will probably be fine waiting a few months for a bigger library of titles before shelling out the $399 for the console.


Jonathan Ore


Jonathan Ore is a writer and editor for CBC Radio Digital in Toronto. He regularly covers the video games industry for CBC Radio programs across the country and has also covered arts & entertainment, technology and the games industry for CBC News.