Nintendo Switch Review: Hands-on demo of the console, Joy-Con controllers and 'Zelda'

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The Nintendo Switch now has a proper release date, March 3, along with plenty of other key details revealed Thursday at a presentation. But there's only so much Nintendo can tell us about the console before the Switch is required to speak for itself.

At Nintendo's press event in New York, attendees were able to play with the console for a few hours and test out what will head to stores in early March. So how was it playing the Nintendo Switch? Well...

The Nintendo Switch places an emphasis on local multiplayer. Even if you only have one system.  Xavier Harding/Mic

Nintendo Switch hands-on review: The 720p screen still looks good

Nintendo learned its lesson from the Wii back in 2006. Like the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch supports up to 1080p resolution — when docked, that is. Those with 1080p screens will get a crisp image on their television while playing at home. When on the go, the Nintendo Switch display is 720p, possibly to lower the price and help improve battery life.

Nintendo hardware may have a reputation for cheap gimmicks, but once in a while the company pulls off something great. The Switch's promise of one device for gaming at home and on the go really seems to work. To make the transition, just remove or place the Switch in its included dock and you'll seamlessly switch playing modes without any sort of noticeable stutter. It almost feels like magic.

Nintendo Switch hands-on review: Shorter and slimmer than the less-capable Wii U GamePad

The Nintendo Switch console is smaller than the Wii U GamePad  Xavier Harding/Mic

The Nintendo Switch will replace its older sibling, the Nintendo Wii U. The two gamepads may look somewhat similar, but they couldn't be more different. While the Wii U controller relies on a bulky physical console, all the necessary hardware is packed neatly inside the Switch.

Instead of the stylus-based, resistive touch screen on the Wii U GamePad, the Nintendo Switch uses a capacitive touch screen like the ones found on modern smartphones. So there's no stylus to lose and it's easy to manipulate on-screen objects. Of course, the usefulness of that touch screen will really depend on whether developers take advantage of it in new games.

The Nintendo Switch compared to the 3DS and Wii U GamePad  Xavier Harding/Mic

Nintendo Switch hands-on review: Breath of the Wild is breathtaking

Playing a game like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild showcased the strengths of the Switch. Something as simple as being able to take a full-fledged video game with you when you leave the house is a simple but powerful feature. I'm scared for how much time I'm about to lose in the real world once I can enter Nintendo's world whenever I want.

Source: Xavier Harding/Mic

Playing just 20 minutes of the new Zelda game was terrific. That's partly because I had never played Breath of the Wild before, but also thanks to the Switch. I could switch from holding one Joy-Con in each hand or attach them to the Grip controller-style without missing a beat. 

Unlike Skyward Sword and the Wii version of Twilight Princess, this Zelda game didn't force motion controls. So I could simply sit my lazy ass down and press buttons all day without moving a muscle, or take it with me for a walk around the neighborhood.

Playing other games offered a good glimpse of what the Switch can do. The fighting game Arms has each player hold a pair of Joy-Cons vertically, using the motion-sensing technology to simulate a cartoonish boxing match. By twisting your wrists you can curve the angle of a punch, or block by holding your fists together. 

Titles like Zelda and Mario Kart show that the Switch can handle traditional games, but Arms reminds us that the Wii's unique legacy lives on in the Switch.

Nintendo Switch hands-on review: The Switch's battery will last your commute, but not a bus trip or plane ride 

The Nintendo Switch is an impressive console with one big drawback: battery life. Nintendo rates the Switch as lasting anywhere from two-and-a-half hours to six hours per charge. If you're a city dweller, the Switch will last your subway commute — provided games can be played offline. If you need to travel for over six hours the Switch may not cut it, though you're not completely out of luck.

The Nintendo Switch can be charged using portable USB chargers, much like the ones you've probably plugged your phone into before. Even better, everything about the Nintendo Switch utilizes USB-C — also found on some recent Android phones and the new Macbooks. No longer will you have to stress about Nintendo's proprietary charging cables. Now everything's nice and neat: all standardized, all the same.

Nintendo Switch Joy-Con single controller and leash  Xavier Harding/Mic

Nintendo Switch hands-on review: When the Joy-Con controllers don't feel good, they feel great

The Joy-Con controllers are extremely versatile, offering a variety of play-style options depending on the situation. They also sync right away with your Switch console without requiring any button-holding choreography and automatically draw power from the device when attached.

Nintendo's clearly done its homework this time and it shows.

The Joy-Con Grip versus Xbox One controller, Wii U Pro Controller and Playstation 4 controller  Xavier Harding/Mic

When playing alone, holding one Joy-Con in each hand is the most comfortable way to play, as you can position yourself however you'd like while the screen stays in place thanks to the built-in kickstand. For local multiplayer games like Mario Kart, each player can hold one Joy-Con and turn it sideways to race against each other. Playing with a single cramped controller isn't ideal, but it definitely works in a pinch.

It really feels like Nintendo shoved the Wii Remote into a smaller form factor to create the Joy-Con. Playing with one Joy-Con sideways feels OK, but playing with one in each hand is optimal. Holding the entire screen between each Joy-Con also works well as the console is actually fairly light.

Joy-Con Grip  Xavier Harding/Mic

When playing at home, the Joy-Con controllers can slide into the included Grip for a more traditional gameplay experience. The console also comes with leashes that attach each Joy-Con to your wrists. That should make it easy to play some of the gesture-based games without worrying that you'll accidentally throw your controller across the room.

It's worth mentioning that the included Grip controller does not charge the two Joy-Cons. You'll unfortunately need to purchase the Joy-Con Charging Grip for that.

Nintendo Switch owners can also purchase a separate Pro Controller. This gamepad feels more comfortable than the Grip and offers analog shoulder buttons. Unfortunately, the similar-looking Wii U Pro Controller above won't work with the Switch, nor will any of the older control schemes that you probably already own.

Nintendo Switch  Xavier Harding/Mic

Nintendo Switch hands-on review: Wrap up

The Nintendo Switch is what the Wii U should have been when it originally released back in 2012. This tablet-looking console offers up some of the best Wii U games like Splatoon, Mario Kart and the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in a thin, portable form factor. The battery life leaves much to be desired, but perhaps Nintendo will remedy that with a charging carrying case. Or maybe we'll see an upgraded Nintendo Switch Lite released in a couple more years. Until then, the Switch is worth a serious look.

Jan. 17, 2017, 11:20 a.m.: This story has been updated.

More Nintendo news coverage and updates

For more info on what Nintendo revealed during its livestream, here's where you can get details on the Nintendo Switch pricerelease datepre-orders and battery life. If you're interested in the Nintendo Switch's games, here's info on the new Super Mario Odyssey game, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildSplatoon 2Xenoblade Chronicles 21-2-Switch and the goofy boxing game Arms.