For a long time, I’ve felt like no piece of video game hardware could surpass the original Nintendo DS in my mind. It checked so many boxes for me. It was a device that had an absolutely incredible and eclectic library of games, from strange musical gems like Electroplankton and Elite Beat Agents, to some of the best iterations of iconic Nintendo series like Mario Kart, Pokémon, and Animal Crossing. Its dual screens and touch interface led to all new kinds of experiences, while at the same time its sleek design (starting with the DS Lite), made it the first piece of video game hardware I owned that didn’t feel like a cheap toy. It matched my clickwheel iPod perfectly. For years I’ve kept some iteration of the handheld with me pretty much wherever I go.
But with the Switch, I think I have a new favorite.
A year ago today, when Nintendo first released its tablet-like console, I was infatuated. Of course, much of that came down to the sublime Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which debuted alongside the system. It turns out that a huge open world game, and arguably the best Zelda to date, is a great way to prove that your comparatively underpowered console can still push out amazing experiences. But one game doesn’t make a system, and Nintendo has since proven that even once the euphoric sensation of playing Breath of the Wild on the go wears off, the Switch still has a lot to offer.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
More than any other entertainment medium, video games are demanding of your time. If you want to enjoy some of the best titles there are, that often means dedicating dozens of hours of your life to exploring the likes of Fallout or Grand Theft Auto. For many of us, this means that in order to enjoy the latest blockbuster, we need to alter our lives to better suit the game. It’s not always easy to find 100 hours to plop down in front of a couch. Actually completing the latest hit game can feel like an insurmountable task.
This has been the case for as long as consoles have existed. Handhelds offered a different perspective, with games you could take on the go, but due to hardware constraints these games were almost always lesser versions of what you could play in your living room. With the Switch, Nintendo has eliminated the distinction between the two sides. Titles like Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 aren’t console games or portable games; they’re just games, and I can decide how and where I want to play them. Whether that means collecting a few moons while on a cross-country flight, or sneaking in a couple rounds of Splatoon in bed, is up to me. The Switch offers a degree of flexibility that means games can conform to my life, not the other way around. Breath of the Wild was the perfect example of this; the vast realm of Hyrule could travel with you, instead of simply being a space you could explore when you happened to have a few hours to flop on the couch.
Over the past year we’ve seen multiple examples of how this setup can improve different kinds of game experiences. Everything from Pac-Man to Minecraft to Skyrim works well with the Switch. And the tablet has also increasingly become the go-to destination for some of the best indie games. I played the excellent farming game Stardew Valley nearly a year after it originally debuted, and I’m glad I waited, because the sheer fact of being on the Switch improved the experience dramatically for me. The Switch hardware is even leading to new kinds of experiences. It’s hard to imagine Labo, Nintendo’s strange new series of cardboard accessories, existing on any other platform.
I can’t think of a piece of hardware that has changed my perspective on games the way the Switch has. When I’m playing a game on another platform, whether it’s a PS4 game like Monster Hunter World, or something on PC like Into the Breach, I can’t help but wish it was on the Switch. It now feels strange to limit myself to playing a game only in one place. It’s gotten to the point that I will play titles I don’t even have much interest in, or replay games I’ve played before, just because they’re on the Switch. No game console, whether from Nintendo or anyone else, has had such a dramatic impact on how I play and think about games.
Super Mario Odyssey.
Obviously it’s not a perfect device. While it’s powerful enough for a big new Zelda, the Switch’s somewhat limited capabilities means that huge games like Monster Hunter can’t feasibly be ported over. And when it comes to the online functionality, well, this is still a Nintendo console. Playing with friends can be a pain, and features like cloud saves are nonexistent. It might get better when Nintendo launches its online subscription service in September, but for now it’s a glaring flaw for an otherwise excellent machine.
When people talk about their favorite game console, they usually pick the one with their favorite games. And after just a year, it’s impossible to tell whether one day the Switch will have the kind of library that will compare to the likes of the DS or Super Nintendo. But it’s off to an amazing start. Unlike its predecessor, the Wii U, there have been no huge gaps between new releases. In 2017, Nintendo released a high-quality title almost every month, and, unlike on past systems, third-party developers and indie studios have done an admirable job of fleshing out the library. If that momentum continues, the Switch could prove to be an enduring hit. The 14 million units Nintendo has sold mean that the Switch has already outperformed the disappointing Wii U in less than 12 months.
But even if Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t age as gracefully as Super Mario World, that doesn’t diminish what Nintendo has managed to accomplish with the Switch. It’s a device that has changed what I want from a game console. It’s not just that the Switch has great games — it’s that games are better when they’re on the Switch.