Switch clicks in the hands, but on paper, it’s in trouble

You shouldn’t judge Nintendo hardware until you’ve held it in your hands. The Kyoto company, with its dedication to the synthesis of software and hardware, has always revelled in the physicality of video games. It has habitually excelled at creating innovative, ergonomic and tactile kit that can surprise and delight, just through its design.

Nintendo Switch lives up to that heritage. On arrival at this morning’s hands-on preview in London, I made a beeline for the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild demo. It wasn’t the game itself that interested me – it seems magnificent, but the demo contents were the same as the Wii U build shown at last year’s E3 – it was the chance to experience Switch’s party piece. I began playing on a TV, using a familiar Pro controller. Then, halfway through my time, I plucked the Switch from its cradle and, after a button press, instantly resumed the epic open-world game in handheld mode.

It is an effortless, magical moment – a great piece of technological theatre. Unlike its bizarre predecessor, the Wii U, the appeal of this feature isn’t hard to understand or to communicate. And it’s a very desirable gadget, too. The console itself, when removed from its plain-to-the-point-of-ugly dock, is beautiful. It’s very slim but luxuriously large, and the screen is intensely bright and sharp; its 1280×720 resolution is more than adequate for its size. The image is vibrant and clear – if anything, Zelda displays more crisply here than on the TV. The console is light but not too light, having a pleasing heft. The materials feel high-quality, the sticks and buttons are perfectly placed, the tactile feedback is just so. It is very much a Nintendo console, but with its austere lines and glossy finish, it’s clearly a Nintendo console that’s been designed to compete with sleek tablets like the iPad Mini. On that level, it can hold its own.