Switching it up in bed

I bought a Nintendo Switch because I am a sucker for hype and limited supply. It was back when Nintendo was struggling (or pretending to struggle, depending on how cynical you are) to keep units in stock on store shelves. I saw an opportunity to get one and went for it before Amazon (I think it was Amazon) sold out again.

Turns out it wasn’t a great decision for me. I set it up alongside the Xbox and PS4 and hooked it up to the TV and after a brief burst of new-toy infatuation, it sat there collecting dust. Truth is, I’m not a huge fan of the popular Nintendo IPs (I thought I was going to love Breath of the Wild but honestly it left me cold), and there’s no reason to play a multi-platform game on the Switch unless you’re taking advantage of its handheld mode. Plus virtually every multiplatform game is more expensive on Switch than on the other platforms.

I don’t really have a lot of use for a handheld since I don’t commute or spend much time out and about, and we have 3 televisions for 2 people so there isn’t much competition for big-screen time in our house. But dang it, I wanted to put that Switch to use because I do have a couple of games on it (Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk) that I wanted to play.

Then last week I got it in my head that I wanted to dip into mobile games. Not even sure why. My eyes are too crappy to really enjoy mobiles games on my phone, and my tablet is so old a lot of them won’t run on it. I was thinking seriously of spending $400-$500 on a new tablet when I thought of the Switch. Instead of mobile games, how about some handheld gaming?

So for the last few days I’ve been treating the Switch like a handheld. I play it a little in bed at night (though that IS cutting into my reading time) and keep it handy so when I have a few minutes of downtime here and there I can pick it up and play a bit. (I’ve cut way back on social media and these little moments are where I used to check my various “timelines” so the Switch is filling those gaps now.) This is working great for turn-based RPG Labyrinth of Refrain, which I restarted. And while the Switch on a 60″ 4K TV looks just OK, the 7″ (or whatever it is) Switch screen looks great.

We’ll see what happens when I try to play Xenoblade this way… I’m not sure it’ll work as well since that game requires some focus. But at the rate I’m going Labyrinth will take me months to get through, so we’ll worry about that problem when it arrives.

I know I’ve said it before, but I guess I’m bad at listening to my own advice. The Switch is a mediocre living room console (at least it is if you’re someone who cares about great graphics) but a pretty awesome handheld. If you want something to play on the TV, get an Xbox One X. If you want a handheld though, the Switch is where it’s at (not that it has much competition in that space).

OK I’m going to say it: I have Switch buyer’s remorse

I’ve been thinking this for a while but haven’t had the intestinal fortitude to say it out loud since it’s like saying I hate puppies or kittens or something.

I regret purchasing the Nintendo Switch.

I’ll credit Scopique at Levelcapped for giving me the courage to say it out loud! He’s in danger of feeling the same thing.

I’m not faulting the hardware or the software. I’m not saying the Switch sucks or the games suck. They’re just not a good fit for me personally.

Reason 1: I didn’t buy the Switch to use it as a handheld and really that’s what it is. When you connect it to a TV it just doesn’t stack up to the PS4 Pro or even the Xbox One, in terms of horsepower or features. That’s OK though since it is primarily a handheld system and it crushes other handheld systems. I just don’t do much handheld gaming.

Reason 2: I can’t find a game I like. I bought Arms and played it once. I guess I need to give it another chance. It was fun to play until I hit a chokepoint I couldn’t get past even on the easiest level. I had a Skillshot challenge I just couldn’t beat. Still I haven’t written Arms off completely yet.

Then there is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Before I bought the Switch it seemed like EVERYONE loved this game. I mean like “best game of all time” levels of love. I was skeptical initially but all the good will finally converted me and I was really curious to see what this game was all about.

So really, I bought the Switch to play Zelda.

And I don’t like Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m not saying it’s a bad game: clearly many many people LOVE it. It just doesn’t do very much for me. Whenever I play it, I roam around aimlessly, don’t feel like I’ve progressed much when I’m done, and set the game aside feeling bad that I’ve wasted my time playing it for no reward. Progression is the key word here and I’ve already talked about it at length on this blog. People who love Zelda seem to love exploring and finding the next vista over the hill is reward enough for them. For me it isn’t, at least in a game.

And the rewards SUCK.

Here’s an example. Someone told me to always use my Magnet Rune to check lakes for chests. So I opened the game one day and I was near a lake and did that and low and behold there was a chest at the bottom! But my rune’s ‘magnet-ray’ couldn’t reach it. However there was a raft nearby. I got on the raft. You power rafts by waving a palm frond at their sails, and fortunately I did have a palm frond. So, saying FU to physics, I propelled myself out into the lake until I was over the chest. Now I could “grab” it with my Magnet rune. I lifted it out of the water but couldn’t seem to place it on the raft..I couldn’t target the ground so close to me it seemed. And I couldn’t reach the shore with it. So I pushed it out as near to the shore as I could and dropped it. Then I blew myself and the raft over to it, this time fighting a current/cross wind. Repeated the process and almost got it to shore. Got it close enough that I could get off the raft and stand on shore and ‘Magnet-levitate’ the chest to the sand. Woohoo!

And I open the chest and… there are 5 arrows in it. FIVE FUCKING ARROWS! I know that the way I am SUPPOSED to feel is “How cool was it that I could use that raft and that palm frond and my magnet rune together to get that chest off the bottom of the lake! Emergent gameplay YAY!” but that’s not the way my brain works. My brain is all about compensation. I am a material boy. I did this work and my ‘pay’ was 5 stupid arrows. I shut off the Switch in disgust.

And that’s not a unique example. That happens ALL the time. See a camp of baddies guarding a chest? Let’s go slaughter them even though they’re not bothering anyone (monsters in BotW seem to exist just to be slaughtered). So I kill them all, open the chest and voila! A rusty claymore just like the one laying in the grass a quarter mile down the road that I didn’t even bother picking up. I guess I can collect the bones, guts and horns of the poor monsters I killed to get this piece of junk. Some psycho-villager will pay good money for monster guts.

Anyway I’m ranting about Zelda. Sorry.

The funny thing is, after I admitted on Twitter that it wasn’t grabbing me, there were a good few folks who admitted it hadn’t grabbed them either. I wish they’d said so before I bought the Switch!! LOL

Reason 3 I regret the Switch: The games are expensive since the system is still in such demand. There’s no reason to discount anything I guess. For instance I thought about picking up Disgaea 5 for the Switch since a turn-based tactical game seems like something I might play in handheld mode, but it’s $60 on the Switch and $40 on the PS4. Eventually this will change (I hope) and games will start getting discounted, the system is just too new/in-demand for that to happen yet, I guess.

So yeah, wish I’d held off on the Switch. I’ve considered selling it but I still hold out hope for 2 games. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a turn-based tactical game coming in August from Ubisoft and it looks good. Looks like Xcom if Xcom was Mario characters vs Rabbids. And Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is coming this holiday and it looks really good too.

So hopefully by the end of the year my buyer’s remorse will be gone and I’ll be digging my Switch as much as the Zelda-fans love theirs. But for now I can’t help thinking the $400+ I spent on Switch, Pro Controller and Zelda could have been better spent elsewhere.

The Nintendo Switch as a handheld

Quick post this morning before work.

Last night I decided to head upstairs early, taking the Switch with me to play in ‘handheld mode.’ As a handheld, the Switch is awesome. It feels really good in the hands and all my concerns with the graphics quality vanish on the small screen. If I had to pick one thing to complain about, it’s that the tiny – and + buttons are hard to see/find in a dark room, but that’s just a muscle memory thing that will be cured via familiarity.

It is also a pretty cool feeling to be playing on the TV, then slip the Switch out of the dock and pick up right where you left off. I’ve done the ‘cross-play’ thing between the Playstation and the Vita and that was neat but it always required some kind of manual syncing. Since with the Switch it’s the same hardware, the transition is of course instant.

One last thing before I go. The Switch has a capture button like the PS4. For now it only captures screenshots (though if I remember correctly the intent is for it to eventually capture clips) and the only way to get them off the Switch is to share them to Twitter, Facebook, or save them on a MicroSD card on the Switch and then remove that card and pop it into a PC. Be nice if there was an easier way but what can you do.

What I didn’t discover until last night is that you can quickly add text to a screenshot. It’s super easy to do. You type your message, then you can scale it, color it, position it and rotate it. The only thing missing, I guess, is being able to choose a font. Still, I thought it was a really neat little bonus feature. Here’s an example (the shot is through Link’s “scope,” just for context. That’s why the colors are kind of muted — that is NOT a result of adding the text).

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!

Nintendo Switch…GOT!

I’m a Playstation fanboy, and a bit of an Xbox fanboy. I am most definitely not a Nintendo fanboy, so when the company first announced the Switch I was pretty dismissive of the device. Didn’t pre-order, didn’t care. Then it came out and everyone I knew who did get one, loved it. Soon enough I was coveting my neighbor’s console, but by then it was too late. Nintendo, being Nintendo, couldn’t seem to keep the Switch in-stock.

I still think this is a marketing ploy because I acted immediately when I saw this tweet from the Amazon Games account:

I figured the only reason they’d be promoting ARMS was if they had the Switch to sell, given that ARMS had been out for a bit. I was right, but even after I saw the Switch was in stock I didn’t really trust it. I put it in my shopping cart and checked out immediately, half-thinking I’d get a “no longer available” error somewhere along the way. But nope, I was now a Switch owner.

Thanks to the magic of modern online shopping, the Switch was delivered the same evening. Right now I only have ARMS to play on it. ARMS is fun but not a system selling. Zelda, the game everyone raves about, is due to be delivered tomorrow, so for now I’m kind of in a holding pattern when it comes to “Did I make the right decision buying this thing?”

One thing that surprised me (though it shouldn’t have) is that the Switch is pretty big for a small device. There’re a couple reasons for that. First, in ‘console mode’ it sits vertically in it’s docking station. This makes it the tallest console I own (by a large margin). My TV sits on a table flanked by the PS4 Pro on one side, the Xbox One on the other (gotta keep the squabbling kids separated!). I had thought to put the Switch in front of the TV (I was swapping out the never-used Wii U and that’s where it was) but it’s too tall for that. Even though my TV is on legs the Switch in its dock blocked part of the screen.

Another possibility was in one of the 4 storage spaces under the TV. These are roomy enough (and open in the back) that airflow isn’t generally a problem, but again the Switch was too tall. The dock would fit in there but you need vertical space above the dock to lift the Switch out of it since the dock is nearly as tall as the Switch itself.

In the end I wound up perching it on top of the PS4 Pro. The Pro runs pretty cool and it vents out the sides so it should be OK (the Xbox One runs pretty hot and has cooling vents on the top surface), but it’s a little ugly sitting there. From the front it isn’t too bad (though apparently it’s a dust magnet given that it’s been there for less than 24 hours, but Angela WAS dusting during setup…I guess I’ll be dusting again today now that everything is settled):

But I’m not a fan of the cable routing when seen from the side. I might try sliding it back. I have it towards the front just for wireless connectivity and accessibility reasons. (The other box on the PS4 Pro is the Pro’s external hard drive, in case you’re wondering.)

The ‘size’ of the Switch doesn’t stop with the console itself. There’s also a lot of parts associated with the Joycons. The big thing is meant to convert the Joycons into something like a traditional controller, the thin bits slide on the ‘connection’ side of the Joycons when used on their own. So I’ll need to find a place to store these when they’re not in use.

The good news is that once I came to terms with all the stuff I had to find locations for, everything else went well. I ran into one glitch where the setup process asks you if you want to link the device with a Nintendo Account, but that won’t actually work until you do a system update. It wouldn’t complete and I couldn’t back out of it. Had to reset the Switch and doing so was accomplished the way I assumed it would be: by holding down the power button for a bit. Nice that I didn’t have to look that up.

Once I’d updated the system software (the d/l timed out once but took up where it had left off after I restarted it) linking the Nintendo Account was pretty fast. It’s nice that you can take the Switch out of the dock and use the touch screen for pecking in usernames and passwords. The Switch feels really good in handheld mode and I may find I use it more as a handheld than as a TV-based console.

I knew I had money in my Nintendo account but it wasn’t initially showing up. For some reason you have a separate step of “merging” your 3DS/Wii U wallet with your Nintendo Switch wallet. Weird, but no big deal as it was a 1-time thing.

Oh, and I bought a microSD card for storage. Happily I knew from reading reviews that the slot for the memory card is hidden behind the ‘kickstand’ for the Switch. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to find it otherwise.

My last concern is that Switch feels really loose in its dock. There’s a lot of wiggle room in there and it just kind of sits on the connector at the bottom. It doesn’t feel locked in. I guess it’s not a huge deal since once it is in the dock there’s no real reason to touch it much, but I still worry about the long-term life of that connector at the bottom of the unit. I worry a little about the Joycons constantly sliding in and out of things too, but I guess you can replace those. The little thin parts in particular seem pretty hard to put on and pull off.

So finally I had the thing set up. Now what? Now…not much. Without games the Switch doesn’t do much. There’s a “news” service that you can use to view some Nintendo videos from the Treehouse and stuff, but that’s about it. There’s no YouTube or Twitch to kill time with. No Mii Plaza to dork around on. Time to unwrap ARMS.

And ARMS, as mentioned above, is pretty fun. I was playing it using the motion controls, one Joycon in each hand, and it felt pretty good. Not as precise as a Playstation Move controller, but way better than the old Wii controls or the Xbox Kinect controls. Was it worth spending $300 for a Switch to play ARMS? No. But Zelda will be here tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and that Mario & Rabbids strategy game coming from Ubisoft: both of those are due in fall. I didn’t get the Switch in anticipation of owning a HUGE library of games for it. I got it to play games I can’t play elsewhere, and I’m looking forward to the experience of playing on the TV, then undocking and continuing to play in bed or (when the weather is cooler) out on the back porch or something.