THE WASHINGTON POST – Pound for pound, the Nintendo Switch is the finest console I’ve ever owned.
That’s not to discount or ignore the sheer variety and unmatched ingenuity found on the PlayStation 2, nor the history made on Nintendo’s own Super Nintendo. But the Switch is now the console I see myself playing for years to come, mostly because the games on it are already tested and proven to be timeless classics. Three years after its release, it’s the one platform that consolidates so many fantastic games, all in a single, attractive and deceptively powerful handheld device.
First of all, the Switch is stacked with games that generally populate the “greatest video game of all time” conversation, and they come from far-flung generations of gaming. As a result, in three years, the Switch has accumulated four of my five favourite games of all time: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017), Dark Souls (2011), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) and Resident Evil 4 (2005). The only one missing is the classic PlayStation exclusive: Shadow of the Colossus.
These four games are time-tested classics. I’ve previously spent hundreds of hours on each of them, but I willingly did it all over again for their Switch releases. There’s a calming comfort that’s hard to describe, knowing that four of the five games I’d bring with me to a deserted island would actually be playable on a deserted island (for as long as the battery lasts, at least).
The Switch’s nature as a portable hybrid has actually made it easier for me to play through these games. There’s less of a commitment to play a Switch version of the game (thanks to a hassle-free rest/sleep mode that makes it easier to walk away), which makes me more inclined to play it.
The Switch’s handheld mode has also fundamentally changed the way I approach my favourite genres. With Dark Souls, I dive into light levelling sections and map cleanup, or maybe I want to do a quick, no-fuss online duel. With Zelda, I can do quick sweeps of certain smaller sections of its large map. That soothing old pop of zombie heads from Resident Evil 4 hits different when you’re lying in bed.
There’s also something magical about playing games which seem impossibly large on a handheld device – most notably The Witcher 3. The Witcher series has often been a benchmark for testing your latest PC builds. But developer Saber Interactive did a miraculous job porting this massive, next-generation experience into the handheld. Every spoken word, trinket and adventure is packed into a 32 gigabyte cartridge.
And I’ve already spilled enough ink praising the Switch version’s exclusive pairing with PC’s cloud saves. It’s a practical companion purchase for anyone who already owns The Witcher 3 on PC.
There’s simply not enough space to talk about the dozens of other multiplatform games that somehow made their way onto the weakest console (in terms of hardware specs) on the current market. It has almost every single DOOM game between 1993 and the spectacular 2016 update, as well as the upcoming DOOM 64 and DOOM Eternal. Diablo 3, to this day, is still the greatest looter dungeon crawler ever made, and even after I spent hundreds of hours on the PC release years ago, I still spent a hundred more in its Switch port.
Bayonetta 1 and 2 and Devil May Cry 3 are three of my four favourite action games ever made. They all run 60 frames per second on the Switch. Somehow, even Mortal Kombat 11 runs at 60 frames per second. It’s amazing how much modernity is squeezed out of the aging Nvidia Tegra mobile chipset.
One of the Switch’s defining strengths is how it welcomes and encourages innovation and great ideas thanks to its limitations and smaller scale. Big budget games are huge investments, so they tend to play it safe. Not so for handheld games (particularly for the lower-powered Switch). Games can be released quicker, and studios can explore genres and gameplay types which are overlooked on the big platforms.
And sure, many of these games, including Hollow Knight, Undertale, Celeste, Stardew Valley and Untitled Goose Game, are available on other platforms. But other platforms also don’t have Nintendo games.
Exclusive Nintendo games are the best reason to own a Nintendo console. Super Mario Odyssey was Nintendo’s finishing flourish for 2017, arguably the best 3-D outing for Mario.
Then there’s the best version of Mario Kart around. There’s the best version of Super Smash Bros with Ultimate. It’s also great that a 2D platformer as inventive and exciting as New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe didn’t die on the Wii U. It joins another Switch port, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, to round out the Switch’s Nintendo-exclusive platformer offerings.
The Fire Emblem series is there for the tabletop strategists. It’s even got two full-sized Pokemon games now. The Switch boasts the best class of first-party Nintendo games since the groundbreaking titles of the Nintendo 64 era.
I won’t belabour this point too long, because most of us can agree that Nintendo’s first-party titles are mostly unmatched in the industry. Nintendo has always had that – even on the Wii U.
The Switch is far from a perfect console. It is not the best console by any objective, measurable standpoint. As I mentioned, it’s weaker, so just as Switch players may get a variety of indie titles, they’ll miss out on more luxurious, resource-intensive titles like Devil May Cry 5 or Red Dead Redemption 2. And although Overwatch helps buttress the Switch for competitive shooters, the Switch is the one platform that could use a Call of Duty title or two.
And its online capabilities are by far its biggest weakness. I don’t play many online games, but I am addicted to Fortnite, since it’s the only game that isn’t attached to Nintendo’s archaic online network. When it comes to digital infrastructure, the Switch is barely better than the first Xbox (released 19 years ago). Animal Crossing: New Horizons, while highly anticipated, comes with the worrying caveat about how our saves would be digitally stored.
The Switch’s value would only increase if Nintendo somehow remembered that it has the deepest, most beloved back catalogue of games from previous console generations. Sure, it’s nice to revisit Zelda: Link to the Past and Yoshi’s Island on the subpar Nintendo Switch Super NES app. But there are dozens of “Virtual Console” purchases on the past Wii, Wii U and 3DS systems that lay dormant, because of Nintendo’s refusal to acknowledge our past purchases. Being frustrated at Nintendo’s services while being enchanted by their games is part and parcel of being a Nintendo fan.
But the bottom line is this: The current Switch library has the characteristics of my other three most celebrated consoles. The Switch library has the creativity and charm of the Sega Dreamcast, the quality and variety of the PlayStation 2, and the convenience (and Nintendo games) of a Nintendo 3DS.
It’s definitely not the most influential, most varied or most capable console. But after three years with it, the Nintendo Switch is simply my favourite.