I played Nintendo Switch for a week and here's what I learned

USA TODAY - There's a reason video game systems are sometimes referred to as “home consoles.” They're certainly not the easiest gadget to lug around.

Sure, it's doable, once you've disconnected the appropriate cables from your TV set, wrapped them up and likely plopped everything into a bag. But clearly, home consoles like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One were meant to stay put.

This makes Nintendo's approach with the Switch, its seventh home video game console, so intriguing. Imagine never having to leave your home video games behind, whether it's for a work commute, a vacation, or just because you want to go to another room.

The Switch goes on sale March 3 for $299.99, and if you didn't pre-order the console, it will be available at several retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart.

Having played with Switch for about a week, its portability is enticing. It's as close as we've gotten to the “home console in your pocket” concept. However, serious questions remain, like the type of long-term support it will receive through third-party software and its vision for digital entertainment.

Switch also stands out in two other big ways: its much smaller than the traditional console, and it ditches the disc format for physical games in favor of small cartridges, similar to its 3DS handheld. As with other consoles, users will get to download some games online.

In Switch, Nintendo hopes to recapture the glory from its most successful console ever: the Wii. It sold more than 100 million units over its lifetime and was considered a phenomenon with its novel motion controls. But the Wii's immediate successor, the Wii U, is largely considered a flop. It sold roughly 13.5 million in more than four years.

Switch appears to take quite a bit of inspiration from the Wii, both in the early games available on the platform and through some of the console's key functions.

The core of Switch is very much like a tablet, with a 6.2-inch touchscreen capable of high-definition video. Setting up Switch is easy, and the touchscreen controls work really well, to the point where you wonder if Nintendo could sell mobile developers on adding games to the Switch lineup (or maybe we see a game like Super Mario Run make an appearance). The storage inside the device is small — 32 GB — but you can expand that up to 2 TB with a microSD card.

How you actually play

Sliding into each side of Switch are two "Joy-Con" controllers, which resemble miniature versions of the Wii remote.

When you play on a TV, the Joy-Cons slide off and on to a controller grip that looks like your standard video game controller when assembled. The Switch connects to a dock with HDMI input linked to your TV. The buttons on this controller feel more snug than the standard options on PS4 or Xbox One. Also, there's no way to independently charge the Joy-Cons when not attached to Switch. Nintendo does sell a rechargeable grip separately.

There were two times where the left Joy-Con lost connection to Switch for about a second, but neither time did I need to manually pair the controller with Switch to get it working again.

When you slide the Joy-Cons back on Switch, you can pull it from the dock and play in Handheld Mode. There's also a kickstand on the back, allowing users to detach the Joy-Cons and prop up Switch in Tabletop Mode.

Flipping between every mode felt effortless, and popping off and on the Joy-Cons is pretty easy after a few attempts.

First impressions: Portability is cool

It was really fun having the option to play a game like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a TV in my den, then to just snap it up in Handheld Mode to continue in another room, or to set it up in Tabletop Mode on my office desk. When you switch modes, the console recognizes this and asks you to confirm by pressing the back triggers on the Joy-Cons, preventing any accidental button presses when switching.

Largely playing Zelda through most of my experience, battery life averaged roughly 2.5-3 hours. Fortunately, Nintendo smartly switched from a proprietary charging option to the standard USB-C, which should make it easier to find extra compatible charging options around.

Nintendo also adds a Sleep Mode to quickly wake Switch when you want to continue playing. It booted up quickly most of the time, but on two occasions, Switch took several minutes to power on from Sleep Mode when a game wasn't fully shut down.

Control styles will vary depending on the game. In 1-2 Switch, Nintendo's family-friendly collection of mini-games, players use the individual Joy-Con controllers to perform tasks like playing table tennis, milking cows or picking up a telephone. The Joy-Cons include an accessory to snap a wrist strap in place for motion-control games. In a game like Mario Kart, available in April, each Joy-Con is its own controller — held sideways — for two-player racing.

The user interface is clean, with a list of the games you have front and center, as well as other hubs such as an album for screenshots (taken with the press of a button on your controller), and settings for the Joy-Cons. There is also a digital content store, but it wasn't live as of publishing. You can also have multiple profiles, a great option especially if more than one person is playing the same game, as it will keep individual files separate.

So, should you buy it? My final takeaways

Nintendo's decision to space out the release of titles over several months means the launch lineup is very small. Only a handful of games will be available at launch, most notably The Legend of Zelda. If you like Zelda, you will spend so many hours playing you can probably make do as more games are released throughout March and April, such as the boxing game Arms and Mario Kart.

Where I'm most excited for Switch is when I see third-party titles like fantasy epic The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or sports game NBA 2K — staples of the PlayStation and Xbox — on Nintendo's platform, with the possibility of taking it wherever you want. Plus, since Switch has a touchscreen, what are the chances mobile-friendly games appear?

As with every other console launch, it's too early to judge success, because there are so many unanswered questions, but Switch offers so much promise.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

Copyright 2017 USA TODAY


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