Everything you need to know about the Switch, Nintendo’s unique new video game console

One of a kind.
One of a kind.
Image: Nintendo
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Today Nintendo launched something it never has before—a single video game console that you can play while you’re out just as easily you can from your living room television. If you’re thinking of picking up one of Nintendo’s new machines, or you’ve just gotten your pre-order in the mail, this guide is for you.

How to get one

This will be tricky. Most online retailers are sold out of Switch consoles, but it’s entirely possible that there may be a few in stores. A few games stores near where I live in New York said that they would have limited quantities available today that will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Verge also has a comprehensive breakdown on which big-box stores in the US are likely to still have some consoles.

If you’ve preordered your console but weren’t sure what other accessories you might want, you’re going to have a much greater chance of being able to find those in-store today.

How much does it cost?

The console costs $300 in the US, £280 in the UK, and AU$470 in Australia. It comes in two color options: a grey and black combination, and a grey console with red and blue controllers, which Nintendo is calling “Joy-Cons.”

There are a litany of accessories already available for the Switch, some of which may be worth picking up right away:

The “Pro” controller. This is essentially a version of the two Joy-Cons put together. The Pro controller costs $70 in the US, and will make playing certain games that require complicated actions, such as the new Zelda title, a little easier to control.

The Joy-Con charging grip. Nintendo includes a holster for the two Joy-Cons in the Switch box that allows you to strap them together and play like a more traditional controller. But the holster included doesn’t actually charge the Joy-Cons (that happens when you connect them back to the tablet). So if you don’t want to shell out for the Pro controller, there’s a version of the holster that will charge the Joy-Cons that only costs $30.

The Joy-Con wheel set. This definitely isn’t a necessary purchase yet, given that there’s only going to be one racing game available at launch, but if you want to get ready for long bouts of Mario Kart 8, which comes out in April, pick up a pair of these $15 accessories that turn the Joy-Cons into little steering wheels.

A carrying case. If you plan on taking your Switch with you, this $20 case may be useful. Or, as one reviewer figured out, you could just use a big old sock.

There are other accessories available on Nintendo’s site that will be useful for anyone who loses any part of the Switch, including individual Joy-Cons, additional straps for the controllers, and even a new dock.

What games are available

There will be a total of 10 games available on launch day, but only seven of those will be new titles. They include a new Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a new Bomberman game, Super Bomberman R, and a game called 1-2-Switch, which is like a modern version of Wii Sports, designed to show off all the different ways to play games on the Switch. (Unfortunately, however, although Wii Sports was bundled in for free with most Wiis, 1-2-Switch will cost $50 for everyone.)

Many of the bigger games that fans want won’t be ready for launch day. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe won’t be released until April 28, Super Mario Odyssey won’t be available until near the end of the year, and many popular third-party titles, such as Skyrim, Minecraft, FIFA soccer, and Sonic, don’t have confirmed launch dates.

How to set up your Switch

Although there are many ways to play, it’s pretty simple to set up the Switch:

  1. Take everything out of the packaging, and slide the two Joy-Cons into place on the sides of the tablet.
  2. Take the black docking station, open up the panel on the back, and plug in the power and HDMI cables.
  3. Plug in the cables where they’re supposed to go.
  4. On the Switch tablet, run through the setup questions, assuming it has power.
  5. Connect it to the internet, and you should be good to go. However, there will likely be an update or two that you need to install once you’ve got the Switch online, so make sure you have a bit of spare time on your hands.
  6. If you want to turn on parental controls, you can do this in Settings > Parental Controls.
  7. To use the Switch in TV mode at any time, just drop the tablet into the dock—if your TV has the right source selected, the Switch should automatically show up on the TV. But note: In testing, it seems that the Switch doesn’t like being plugged into extension cables (mine dock wouldn’t charge the tablet), so make sure to plug the dock into its own outlet if you can.
  8. To download games from Nintendo’s digital store, the eShop, tap the orange bag icon from the home screen, but you’ll need to add a credit card to do that.

How to play

There are three basic ways to play with the Switch:

Connected to a TV. Drop the Switch tablet into the dock, pull off the controllers, and you can play to your heart’s content. You can also slide the controllers into the ergonomic holder that Nintendo provides with the Switch (which looks a lot like a dog, for some reason). This makes it easier to play more technical games like Zelda and Mario, but you’ll need to leave the Joy-Cons out of the holder for any game that makes use of their accelerometers, such as 1-2-Switch.

As a handheld device. The Switch also functions as a giant Game Boy when taken out of the dock. You’ll need the two Joy-Cons attached to either side to play games, but the tablet also has a touchscreen, which is super useful for writing out complicated things like email addresses or passwords that are near-impossible to get right with traditional video game controllers.

As a tiny multiplayer console. On the back right side of the Switch tablet, there’s a little pull-out kickstand that lets the console sit on any flat surface. Slide out the Joy-Cons and you’ve got yourself a little console that you can play wherever you are. The controllers also have hidden buttons built into the sides that slide onto the tablet, so you can hand off one to a friend and play two-player games on a single console. You can also slide the controllers into the holder, or pair a second controller (Nintendo is selling duplicate sets of Joy-Cons for $80, or a single “Pro” controller for $70) and play wherever you’d like. If you’re playing a two-player game, you can attach lanyards that Nintendo bundles with the console that also double as additional buttons, and will help make sure you don’t fling your Joy-Cons across the room.

You can also pair a group of Switches together, if you and your friends all want to play the same game, but don’t want to huddle around one tiny machine.

What else?

Battery life. Nintendo says that the battery on the Switch will last about three hours if you’re playing a processor-heavy game like Zelda in tablet mode, but others have reported seeing the battery last up to six hours when playing simpler games.

Storage. The Switch comes with 32 GB of storage built-in, but there’s a Micro SD card slot on the bottom-left of the tablet that allows storage to be expanded up to 2 TB—and cards that large don’t seem to exist yet. (The largest regular SD card you can buy right now is 1 TB.)

Charging. The Switch tablet starts charging the instant it’s dropped into its dock, but you can also charge it from any USB-C cable you happen to have lying around. This is good news for anyone who actually wants to take the Switch with them on vacation, car trips, planes, or anywhere else that it would be inconvenient to bring the whole Switch docking station—just pack a USB-C cable instead.

You can even charge the Switch from a new MacBook Pro (or vice-versa) if you put the Switch to sleep and then plug it in to the laptop.

Resolution. The Switch’s tablet has a screen resolution of 720p, but when connected to a TV through the dock, you can play in 1080p high definition. That being said, some games, including Nintendo’s flagship Zelda launch title, still won’t output in HD, so don’t be surprised if some games look as fuzzy as the ones you played on your Wii a decade ago. And unlike the newest consoles from Sony and Microsoft, the Switch won’t ever output in 4K, even though its processor can actually handle it.

Playing online. From today, the Switch will only have limited access to the internet. There’s no web browser, and to play against friends online right now, you have to manually enter personalized 12-digit codes for each user in each game you want to play. In the future, Nintendo will have easier ways of connecting with friends online, such as being able to link a Facebook account to your Nintendo account and search through Facebook friends, but for now, the process remains exceedingly laborious.

Don’t lick the cartridges. Not that you should be doing this anyway if you’re a normal human being, but Nintendo coated the Switch game cartridges in a foul bittering agent that’s intended to stop children who might put the cartridges in their mouths and choke on them from swallowing them.

Should you get one?

I’ve been playing with the Switch for about a week, but the review unit didn’t have access to the eShop, and the only game I had to play was Zelda, which I’m terrible at and I don’t think highlights the potential of this system. I’ll be writing a more full review of the console now that the eShop is live and I can play a few more games, but my initial reaction is that the Switch is a great piece of hardware that has the potential to be as big for Nintendo as the original Wii was.

If you want the latest and greatest Nintendo console right now (and if you’re a big Zelda or Bomberman fan), go pick one up, but if you want to casually play Mario Kart, Super Mario, or any of the other games generally associated with Nintendo systems, wait a few months.