A weekend with the Switch, which you need to think of as a handheld gaming system

After playing around with the Switch Friday evening, the thing sat dormant for all of Saturday and it was then that I realized I’d need either a Joycon Charging Stand or a Pro Controller. The heights of my laziness are such that if I’m sitting on the couch and have the choice of grabbing an Xbox controller, grabbing a PS4 controller, or getting up, walking over to the TV, detaching the Joycons from the Switch (they need to be attached to charge), then attaching their caps or attaching them to that holder gizmo, I was almost ALWAYS going to play something on the Xbox or Playstation. I’m all about the path of least resistance!

That led to my second Switch revelation. The Switch is a portable console that happens to be able to attach to a TV and that’s how you need to think about it. I used to have a cable that let me attach my PSP to the TV, and the Switch is a modern interpretation of that idea. That’s important to keep in mind if you’re thinking about a Switch. Do you do a lot of handheld gaming? Do you often have to ‘fight for’ TV time? Then the Switch might be ideal for you. If you’re mostly going to use it as a handheld, the fact that the Joycons are always attached to it for charging is a non-issue.

I don’t do much portable gaming. I have a Vita and a 3DS, neither of which gets used much. I don’t travel often and don’t commute. When I do travel I’m generally driving. I’ve taken my handhelds with me when I do travel but rarely get around to using them. Usually I pack them before I leave and unpack them, untouched, when I get home.

I also don’t fight for TV time. Angela and I watch a couple hours of TV together during dinner, but otherwise the TV is “hers” during the day and “mine” at night. She’s more apt to watch the TV in the office (we have 3 TVs) while she does something on her computer rather than sitting in the living room and focusing exclusively on the TV anyway. So every evening the 60″ 4K TV in the living room is there for me to use.

One of the biggest Switch advocates I know responded (on Facebook) to my last Switch post with “I love mine. I just played it for the last four hours on a flight from St. Louis to Las Vegas. I can’t do that on my PlayStation Pro.” Clearly this person was in the market for a handheld gaming device so for him the Switch is ideal. For me, the portable-ness is a more or less a non-feature. It’s unlikely our Switch will ever leave our house. I might take it and play in bed once in a great while; we’ll see. It seemed odd to me to compare the Switch to the PS4 Pro, but hey if we’re going to go that route, I’d take the PS4 Pro any day.

Which brings me to Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It got delivered Sunday afternoon and I guess I put 3-4 hours into it. I just got off the starting plateau, though I puttered around some before getting to that point.

Gameplay-wise. Zelda is fine so far. I like a lot of the systems in it, but so far combat is pretty simple and it’s missing some obvious quality of life features. For instance one of the first things you’re taught is how to cook stuff. Combining stuff to make a tasty dish is fun once, and trial & error-ing your way to discovering new recipes is fun too. But cooking a stack of 10 things, one batch at a time? Not fun.

Then there’s eating food (which heals you). OMG what were they thinking? To eat food you open your main menu, then your inventory, then you scroll over to the Food category, then you scroll to the food you want to eat, then you open the context menu for that food item and finally choose EAT. Seriously? Thank goodness time stops while you do this but I sure wish there was some kind of quick menu to access food.

But having other things kind of just work was cool. You can chop down trees to cross chasms, you can shoot ropes to lower bridges (and the ropes don’t have a big sparkly “SHOOT ME” effect, you just have to think “Well logically I should be able to shoot them” and you can). You can roll bombs into enemy camps to blow them up. You can quickly kill sleeping enemies. All this stuff kind of ‘just works’ and even the illogical stuff, like powering a raft by waving a palm frond to create a breeze to push the sails…well that kind of thing works the way you WISH it would in real life.

I’m hoping, though, that once I get off this plateau the world feels a little more alive. So far it’s been me, some old dude, and small camps of cannon fodder enemies to practice combat on. And Link himself is a blank slate so the world feels very quiet.

But my one big issue is the graphics. The art-style of the game is very nice and was chosen, I think, to cast the Switch in its best light. I’m sure the game looks great on the Switch’s small 720P screen. But blown up to 60″ I can’t help but think how much nicer the game would look if the Switch had more horsepower. I’m not even talking about pushing it past 1080P, but if there were more processing cycles to enhance the anti-aliasing it would be very welcome.

As you move through the game world there’s a lot of noticeable ‘movement’ along edges. Shimmering or creeping as the jaggies migrate along a line as the world draws in. Here’s a still image of what I’m taling about. It’s hard to see in the small embedded image, but click for full size to see what I mean, then imagine that image at 60″.

There are also a lot of textures, particularly bare earth and rock faces, that look very flat. Again, you probably don’t notice on the small screen but they actually made the game feel incomplete on the big screen, like something hadn’t drawn in properly and I was still seeing the lower resolution “distance” textures.

Anyway, point being it’s clear the target experience is playing on the Switch screen, so keep that in mind. Luckily I’ve been playing some old 360 and PS3 games so I’m in a mood to forgive low-res textures and jaggies.

By Sunday night I had purchased a Pro Controller for the Switch and OMG what a difference that made. Playing Zelda went from being this kind of awkward “why am I running in a circle when I’m trying to turn?” experience to controlling like a dream (aside from the fact that Nintendo and Sony use reversed “Action” and “Back” buttons so I keep hitting Back and I mean to be hitting the “Do it” button, but that’s on me). I do suggest turning off the motion controls and I switched jump to be on the B (I think?) button. The one at 6 o’clock. The Pro just feels much more familiar, if you’re a Playstation or Xbox gamer and in my experience it’s an integral part of the “Switch on the TV” experience; it’s just a shame that it adds $70 to the price of the console. I’d give a lot to be able to reverse the Action and Back buttons, though.

Regrets? Maybe a little bit. In a way I’m asking the impossible of Zelda: I’m asking it to be a game that’s worth spending $430 to play (Switch = $300, Zelda = $60, Pro Controller = $70). What game is worth that much!? But I AM looking forward to playing more, and I’m looking forward to some other Switch exclusives coming down the pike, so I don’t have the kind of regrets I have for the Wii U. That was a BAD decision. Switch is never going to be my main gaming platform but I think it’s popular enough that it’ll get the support it needs to be an auxiliary device. Heck I downloaded a demo-thingie for Splatoon 2 and I might end up getting that!