What is the Nintendo Switch?
It’s Nintendo’s new Wii and Game Boy merged into one — a handheld game system that transforms into a TV game console when you slide it into a dock. Or into a touchscreen tablet, complete with kickstand, when you snap its nifty wireless controllers off! It costs $300, £280 or AU$470.
That’s what the ad says. Real talk: is it console or handheld?
Both! Seriously: slide this sleek, portable handheld into the TV dock, rip off the controllers, and boom — it feels like you’re playing a Wii or GameCube.
Except you only get a few hours of battery life on the go…and onscreen text is pretty tiny…and when the system’s docked, the graphics can get a little choppy…and the wireless controllers sometimes have trouble staying connected. Here’s our full Switch review.
So it’s an iPad with a pair of tiny snap-on controllers?
You’re not listening. Also, the touchscreen is so useless right now. No apps, no Netflix anytime soon, no web browser (unless you count the secret bare-bones one) — and no matter how many times you stab the screen with your pinky, Link won’t put his shirt on.
Does it come with any games?
Not even one.
Can I use my old games?
Nope! The Switch doesn’t have a disc drive or a 3DS-sized cartridge slot, and right now there’s no way to transfer any games you might have bought on the Wii, Wii U or 3DS’s online shops.
(Will Nintendo make us buy Super Mario Bros. 3 for the fifth time? Stay tuned!)
So… what’s there to play?
Perhaps you’ve heard of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? The one game critics are losing their minds over? And…Bomberman? To be fair, launch lineups are always a rough hodgepodge of ports, throwaways and bare-bones titles. But the Switch’s lineup feels particularly sparse beyond Zelda, with 1-2 Switch failing to amaze and third-party support all-but nonexistent.
But at least there’s Snipperclips!
I’ll be the judge of that. Show me the games!
Zelda it is. Does it really live up to the hype?
It’s nowhere near as approachable as previous launch titles like Wii Sports, but for the Zelda die-hard or an experienced player, Breath of the Wild really is something to behold. It’s a huge game, and it might be enough to carry the Switch (for a while) all on its own.
Where’s Zelda? Why am I a shirtless boy in a cave?
That is the existential question, isn’t it?
Anyhow, Zelda is, and has always been, the adventure of Link, a (typically) hunky-yet-petite male elf who swings a mean sword. Zelda is the magic-wielding princess. If you take anything away from this FAQ, please take that.
Why does Link have an iPhone?
It’s so meta, right? Because there’s a tablet inside your tablet.
Do I have to use (ugh) Friend Codes for multiplayer stuff?
Right now, yes. Though it’s possible to add players you’ve run into during online games, and friends made via any of Nintendo’s mobile games can be brought onto your Switch, you’re mostly going to have to deal with friend codes. (No clue why Reggie told us different.)
Just click your profile icon on the home screen to get your dreaded 12-digit code.
Will the Switch fit in my A: Pants, B: Purse, C: Backpack?
No. Maybe. Definitely. The Switch tablet is surprisingly small, but unless you have some particularly roomy pockets, you’re most likely going to want to keep it in a backpack or handbag. Just don’t put anything else in the same pocket unless you’ve got some protection.
Wait, I need a screen protector?
Yes. Yes yes yes. The Switch’s plastic-covered screen may be resistant to shattering, but it’s highly susceptible to scratches. Early buyers have been scrambling for solutions to keep their screens safe, and the dock has been identified as a likely cause of damage.
I hear the hardware’s pretty janky in other ways, too. True?
Not everyone who bought a Switch is complaining about these problems, but there are a few day-one issues you might want to steel yourself for:
Nintendo suggests — and I am not making this up — you might want to keep the Switch away from aquariums, thumb drives, microwaves and any wireless gadgets if the Joy-Cons flake out.
Does it have a headphone jack?
Yep! But your wireless headphones won’t work. There’s no way to pair them.
How do the controllers stay attached? How do I take them off?
The plastic Joy-Cons slide into metal rails, and they feel pretty secure! There’s not a lot of give. It feels… weird holding the entire Switch up by just one Joy-Con, but it’s not like it’ll break.
To remove them, press and hold the round black buttons on the back of each Joy-Con, just beneath the triggers. Or, if you’ve slotted them into the terrible straps, pull down on the white lock tab, pull the attachment up, hard, and then never do that ever again.
Stop trying to make “Joy-Con” happen.
It already happened. Sorry.
If I lose the controllers, can I buy new ones separately?
Consider this your trigger warning:
The Joy-Cons cost $50 each, or $80 for a pack of two. They’re the most expensive standard first-party gamepads ever made, unless we’re very mistaken. (We’re not counting Microsoft’s Elite, which is 100% luxury.)
At least they’re flexible: thanks to the standard Bluetooth connection, you can also pair ’em to a Mac, PC, Android phone or tablet, or even an NES Classic if you add this adapter.
Why won’t it let me play?
Cartridges. Why cartridges?
Because it’s not a console? Remember, cartridges have come a long way since their bulky N64 days. The Switch’s cartridges are more like their 3DS counterparts: small, portable and durable little cards. Plus, flash memory can hold way more data than optical discs these days — a major perk considering the Switch comes with just 32GB of storage.
Uh, my buddy’s PS4 has 500GB. What’s the deal?
MicroSD, that’s the deal. Though the Switch comes with next to zero internal storage — particularly when you realize Breath of the Wild is 13.4GB — you can pop a microSD card into the slot beneath the kickstand and put downloaded games there. A 32GB microSD card will run you roughly $11, and you can get 128GB for around $70.
Remember, the Switch is portable first, console second.
You say that… but my battery is already dead.
Oh, you got Breath of the Wild? Bad news: In our tests, in portable mode the Switch lasted just a bit more than 3 hours while playing the game. Nintendo says the Switch can last up to 6 hours undocked, but it depends on what you play. A hardware-intensive title like Breath of the Wild will kill your battery life much more quickly than say, Shovel Knight.
On the bright side, the Switch charges via USB-C, making it much, much easier to get a battery boost on the go than with previous Nintendo handhelds. Plus, you can start playing a fully drained Switch about four minutes after you plug it into the dock or charger.
Can I use an external battery pack?
Sure — but know that not just any ol’ pack will let you charge and play at the same time. You’ll need a hefty one designed to charge laptops, likely one that supplies more than 9 volts at 2 amps (9V@2A) and supports the USB PD (Power Delivery) spec. We had some luck with Dell’s USB-C Power Companion, but it costs a pretty penny.
Most USB batteries are more like 5V@2A. They might trickle-charge the system when it’s off, and you may need a known-good USB-C adapter cable (this list was famously compiled by a Google engineer) if the battery doesn’t have a USB-C output.
Is the Switch kid-friendly?
The UI is simple enough, and there are kid-friendly titles on the way, like Mario Kart and a sequel to the excellent cartoony paint shooter Splatoon. But for kids raised on iPhones, Minecraft and more powerful consoles, the Switch may face an uphill battle.
The Wii U kinda…flopped. Why should I trust Nintendo again?
You shouldn’t? I mean, you shouldn’t put blind faith into any company. The Switch is a potent portable device, and there’s a ton of promise in the titles beyond the slim launch lineup. But the system also has some serious software and hardware issues on day one. We’re looking at you, left Joy-Con.
But can it run Crysis?
The Nintendo Switch has an Nvidia Tegra X1 chip inside, and Nvidia showed Crysis 3 running on that chip in the past… who knows what wonders hackers might discover when they tear into the Switch.
Any burning Nintendo Switch questions we didn’t answer? Hit us up in the comments.
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