The poorly-marketed Wii U proved a major setback for Nintendo in the console race, but if not for the Wii U we might not have gotten the Switch. Nintendo learned valuable lessons from the Wii U, incorporating its strengths (and many of its best games) into their innovative new Nintendo Switch.
The most intriguing (and underutilized) feature of the Wii U was its ability to play certain games solely on its "control pad" screen, freeing up the TV. With the Switch, Nintendo basically went all-in with the idea. The Switch is basically a hand-held system that can alternately be played on a television screen.
The Switch was a risky proposition for Nintendo. By putting all their eggs in the one basket, they were at risk of putting both their console and handheld markets in jeopardy. Then again, Nintendo probably noticed mobile games were overtaking the handheld market, and probably wanted to use whatever leverage they still had. Especially with Nintendo's stellar first-party offerings, the games played equally well in both modes.
The bet paid off big as the system was released to critical acclaim and big sales. Not only did it appeal to the Nintendo faithful, but also many "lapsed" fans eager to climb back on the wagon. And of course with Sony and Microsoft fighting for hardcore gamers, Nintendo was able to rule the casual gaming and family demographics.
The Switch was the first major system since the Nintendo 64 (1996) to use cartridges as media. Granted, the tiny cards looked more like Nintendo DS games than your classic heavy-duty cartridge. Still, these held much appeal to the physical media crowd who grew up with cartridges. The Switch online capabilities and storage is meager compared to the Playstation 4 or Xbox One.
Aesthetics: B/D. As a portable device the Switch looks very elegant with its large, high-resolution screen. Sitting on the dock however the system looks like a nondescript black brick with a bunch of wires running out of both ends. At least it's small.
Functionality: D. How do you turn this thing on? Well there's a tiny power button on top but it's hard to tell where it is, or if you're supposed to hold it in or whatever. You can also power up the system by holding the "home" button of the controller, but it's not the most intuitive thing and sometimes unresponsive. Even inserting the tiny cartridges is awkward; I always try to put them in the wrong way. The dock has two USB ports on one end, primarily for charging cables.
The Switch has very limited internal storage, which can be problematic if you intend to download games or apply patches. My friend Brent downloaded a "patch" for Doom that consumed almost all of his system's available memory!
Reliability: C. I vaguely recall having to send my Switch back to Nintendo for some reason when I first got it. In addition, the Joycon controllers have long been known to suffer from thumbstick "drift" which Nintendo will repair under warranty.
Noise: A. Since there are no moving parts, it's very quiet.
Graphics: B. The Switch did not attempt to challenge the PS4 or Xbox One in terms of graphic prowess. It was more important that the games play as well on the small screen as the large one. That said, its graphics are still impressive and more than satisfactory for games you'd expect to find on the system.
Controllers: C. The standard Joycon controllers come in pairs and are detachable. In portable mode they attach directly to the system, and in TV mode they attach to a grip device. It's also possible to use each Joycon "half" as a mini-controller, which comes in handy for multiplayer titles such as Mario Kart Deluxe.
It should also be noted that the Joycon controllers have demonstrated impressive "rumble" capabilities (see 1-2-3 Switch), yet few games utilize them. The Joycons are also a bit small so I prefer to use a "Pro" controller which is more comparable to a standard PS4 or Xbox One controller.
One consequence of the "split" Joycons is that both sides need to be symmetrical. That means there's no directional pad. Considering how many Switch games have an old-school slant, this can be a major impediment. The fact that I almost exclusively use my "Pro" Switch controller is telling.
Pack-In Game: None
Launch titles: C. There were only about a dozen launch titles for the Switch, and most were not great. I was so desperate that I purchased Super Bomberman R and Switch 1-2-3. Still, Nintendo had an ace in the hole. Zelda: Breath of the Wild was such an expansive masterpiece, it served to occupy most gamers for weeks until the next wave of titles could arrive.
Library: B+. Though it may lack cutting-edge titles, the Switch is great for collectors. Nintendo continues to produce the best first-party titles around, with blockbusters like Mario Kart Deluxe, Metroid Prime, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, they don't release games very frequently. The Switch also tends to have more family-oriented fare than most consoles, with many offering split-screen modes. The system has recently become a haven for re-releases of old games or titles previously relegated to download-only status.
Media/Packaging: B. I love the fact that Nintendo still sells games on cartridges (okay cards whatever). The boxes are small and take up less room than other systems, but it's a shame they can't hold a decent-sized manual.
One issue with the size of the cards is that they are so small it's hard to make out their tiny labels! It's also worth noting that despite the media format, games may still have considerable load times as the data is often stored in compressed format.
Collectibility: A. The nature of its media gives the system a huge leg up over the PS4 and Xbox One. Those systems have games that require constant online hand-holding but the vast majority of Switch games run right out of the box with no need for internet connectivity. The fact that Nintendo's first-party titles tend to become collector's items cements the system's street cred as the best long-term investment.
Innovations: Can "switch" between portable and television modes. Brought back cartridge media. Detachable controllers.
Pros and Cons:
+ Fantastic first-party library
+ Playable on TV or as portable
+ Cards are better than discs
+ Games play offline
- Cards too small
- Joycons small
- Minimal internal storage