Playing on Nintendo’s newest console created a longing, and made me a believer.
I vividly remember when I got a Gameboy Color for my birthday. I was among the last of my friends to get one, and it was magic (the colour was berry, and I would hear no ridicule on the playground about it). That berry Gameboy got trucked along everywhere I went: Pokemon Blue in hand, and a business card taped over the back, filling in for the battery cover I’d long since lost. The Gameboy was a different experience than my Sega Genesis. It allowed me to take the enjoyment I got from playing games anywhere I went ‒ to share them, to dictate when and where I wanted to play. The Gameboy, more than any other console before or after, is a companion device.
Flash forward to 2017, during an era when smartphones are the companion device. Even with the success of the 3DS platform for Nintendo, it’s hard to deny that an iPhone or Android phone in your pocket doesn’t use up more of your time. For a long time, I’ve espoused that smartphones would replace handheld and portable gaming entirely. That eventually we would get to a place where the games on our phones were good enough, so that dedicated handhelds were no longer necessary.
Then I saw the Switch ‒ now I’m a believer.
As my Switch came out of its box, the first words it heard were, “this is much smaller than I expected.” I don’t know why I initially assumed that it was going to be larger, but upon seeing the size, my mind immediately developed a bias against playing it in mobile mode. The TV was where this Switch was going to live. It’s where Zelda would get played, from start to finish, and where the rest of my Switch experiences would live. Sure, if I really needed, it could come with me, but that wasn’t the point of the console ‒ it was a nice feature if I needed it, and nothing more.
The bulk of my gaming is done from the comfort of my lumbar-supporting desk chair. Discord is within arms reach, and my bedroom TV is a quick swivel away. I also have crippling Fear Of Missing Out. That FOMO means I want to be perpetually connected to the Discord my friends and I have, so I don’t miss any potential fun-time opportunities. This eventually created an immediate problem. Just 24 hours into Breath of the Wild I needed to play it upstairs, next to my microphone. Briefly, I considered the possibility of just moving the entire dock, but that seemed ridiculous. This is what the Switch was meant for! With a sigh, I clicked the joycons into place on the sides of the tablet, and pulled it out of the dock.
It took less than a second for my big-screen Zelda experience to light up on the smaller tablet. In that second, as Link’s wee lil’ body appeared juxtaposed next to the vast landscape of Hyrule, I felt a flash of possibility I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Holding the Switch like this not only felt good, it felt right. I moved the thumbstick slightly forward. I played with the camera. I jumped. I fought a few bokoblins. Overall, it didn’t feel like the compromised experience I was expecting. It felt like someone had designed the game, even the console, to be played like this. More than that, I now had no fear about taking this adventure with me anywhere I wanted. In the 100+ hours that it took me to finish the game to my satisfaction, I would estimate that 75% or more of that time was with the tablet mobile in some fashion. Either on my desk, with my hands drooped next to me thanks to the freedom the joycons provided, or laying back on a couch while my roommates and I watched whatever sports game was on. One night, I fell asleep with the Switch in hand, literally playing until I passed out ‒ a moment you could have ripped straight from seven year old Mike’s life. Nintendo gave me a companion device, in a way they hadn’t for fifteen years.
When the credits finally rolled on Breath of the Wild, I felt an immediate hole in my entertainment life. Not just because that incredible journey with Link was over, but because I didn’t have anything to go to next on the Switch. For now, my gaming with it has stalled. It’s hard to accurately express the disappointment I felt, how genuinely I wanted to take this device with me, and play more on it. Nintendo has crafted an experience that manages to play on my nostalgia, while also giving me a sense of potential. I didn’t want that feeling to go away.
Even as I enjoy my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda, I can’t help but wish that I was playing it on the Switch instead. There’s no logical reason for this, because the Playstation 4 version is perfectly fine, and my PS4 is still as good as it ever was. Unfortunately, the PS4 doesn’t give me the ability to take the enjoyment I get from playing games anywhere I go ‒ to share them with, to dictate when and where I want to play. It’s not a companion in the way that my Gameboy was, the way that Nintendo’s newest hardware is. Before, the PS4 was my go-to for where I played games ‒ now, I’m ready to switch.