Over the last year or so I’ve talked openly about my thoughts about modern gaming. For a long time I made it quite clear that I had no interest in modern consoles of any type. At the same time, I was also determined not to follow the same path as many Vita owners and move over to the Nintendo Switch as the Vita entered it’s final years. Yet I write this now as a new Switch owner… But what has made me change my mind and how does it compare to my trusty Vita?
Keeping It In The Family
I’d been offered various consoles over the years. Every time my birthday or Christmas came along my wife suggested buying me a next gen console. I always declined as I genuinely had no interest in one. Despite being a PS Vita owner, she was tempted to add a Switch to her collection though being a Nintendo fan for some time.
Astonishingly, late last year she *won* a Switch Lite in a raffle! Only a bare machine, but being a month before our wedding anniversary, it gave me the chance to change plans slightly and I got her a bundle of games to get her started as an early present. One was Animal Crossing (which she’s barely put down) and one of the others was Mario Kart…
While a lot of modern gamers spend time playing online, we’ve always been a social gaming family. We’ve always had games around the house that several of us could play collectively no matter what the console was that was being used. One the PS3 it was Sony’s Super Rub-A-Dub and the Buzz mini games. The DS and 3DS saw family gaming sessions filled with various incarnations of Mario Kart. And the Wii found it’s place under the main television justified again with Mario Kart and Super Mario Bros Wii.
Even the PS Vita had a part to play though. We’ve always had more than one of the same system in the house. My wife, daughter and myself all owned PSPs and both myself and my wife own Vitas. It’s not been unusual for the Vitas to travel with us on journeys and be used for ad-hoc multiplayer games.
Enter The Switch
So really it was no surprise that the Switch would eventually make its way into our home. I’d been hesitant for a while if I’m completely honest. When it was first unveiled I took one look at the controllers and my mind was made up – it just wasn’t a system for me. I’ve never liked Nintendo controllers, and this looked to be one of the worst yet. A year or so down the line and the problems with drifting on the analogue sticks only strengthened my hesitation, and I did everything possible to dissuade my wife from getting one.
But when fate intervened and she won one, and the aforementioned Animal Crossing and Mario Kart entered our home once again, it was clear that another console was going to become the centre of the family gaming experience once more. And within a couple of weeks, all three of us were owners of a Switch Lite, and a small selection of games!
Moving From The Vita
At this point I want to make it quite clear… I’m not abandoning the PS Vita in favour of the Switch. As I write this, the PS Vita is sitting at the side of me, with a huge pile of limited edition games waiting to be opened and played. I’ve got several orders of new games in transit from Eastasiasoft, and about 20 new games reserved with a local game store. The collection is showing no signs of slowing down and it’s probably my most used system of all time.
But I can’t ignore the fact that times have changed for the Vita as well. It’s not getting the support that it used to and there are games I would love to play that I can’t. I don’t own a PS4 and it’s almost impossible to get a PS5 although I do intend to get one. The Switch offers me something that the Vita doesn’t and it’s still handheld which fits my lifestyle.
So what do I actually think of the Switch now that I’ve succumbed to its lure? Obviously as a Vita owner I’m going to make comparisons between the two systems. But how do they fare overall speaking as a long term resident of Vita Island? Read on as I break down my thoughts (based on the Switch Lite obviously)…
Contrary to what many believe, the Vita has a great games library. Including the legacy PSOne and PSP games, and the defunct PlayStation Mobile range, well over 2,000 titles are or have been made available to Vita owners at one time or another. Certainly more than enough to keep any owner happy for the lifetime of their console.
But new games – major releases or indie titles – just aren’t being ported to the Vita anymore. The Switch is being seen by developers as its natural successor. That seems to be evident when you look at the eShop and the games available. However, that doesn’t show the whole picture…
Not So Family Friendly…?
One thing that did surprise me was the type of games that were available. Contrary to the image that Nintendo has of being a family platform, aimed primarily for a younger audience, there were games available for all ages. And certainly Nintendo seem to be fairly relaxed with some of the games on offer. Ports of Japanese dating sims, visual novels with adult themes are easy to find on the store, as well as mature shoot-em-ups and RPGs.
Another big surprise was the prevalence of casino style titles available. Despite this being an area completely devoid on the Vita apart from a couple of pinball and card games, there were almost 20 on the Switch. From bingo to poker, blackjack and even a handheld port of the online multiplayer game Four Kings Casino and Slots were available to download and play. In fact, with the sheer number available (probably even more than the PS4) I am surprised that iOS and Android casino and slots games haven’t made their way over to it. Until that happens Jacob Atkinson from sosgame.com has created a list of the 20 most popular mobile slot apps and the best free mobile slot games that you can play on your mobile device to tide you over.
I’ll be honest and say that this is frustrating. Four Kings reminds me of the casino complex that was part of PlayStation Home on the PS3 and that was one of the more enjoyable parts of the social gaming hub. Playing games like poker online against other PS3 owners was a great experience, and there was no reason why this couldn’t have been ported to the Vita. Yet here it is running on the Switch and doesn’t seem to be a technical masterpiece.
Too Many Games?
Even though the Switch boasts a library of over 5,000 titles in the UK alone that’s not as impressive as it seems. Nintendo have been quite open about attracting indie developers to the platform but perhaps too many have migrated over. The reality is that a large proportion of these games are Android and iOS ports. Many free to play or low-grade titles have been converted, then offered as cheap games. These then appear in sales regularly giving the impression that there are huge bargains to be had with some selling for as little as 8p each. It’s certainly a case of quantity over quality.
While Nintendo are introducing a new pricing policy soon to prevent titles being sold below a certain price, this won’t stop ports appearing. In fact, there are Android and iOS games that were Free To Play on mobile which are being charged for on the eShop. More importantly, they are being sold above the new recommended price that Nintendo are setting. So the reality is that the price policy won’t stem this flow of low grade titles – it will just increase the minimum price of them. And instead, we will just see them made available in sales more often.
We’ve all complained about the PlayStation Store, even more so with it being neglected so much for the Vita lately. The Switch is a little better, being able to search by price range, category, title and often has trailers as well as screenshots for games. A Wishlist function is available if you find a game but don’t have funds straight away and adding games to it is a breeze. Sales are also running continually with hundreds of titles reduced. With some genuinely amazing bargains to be had each week (with some titles on offer at 90% off their original price) but with no ratings system in place it can be pot luck as to whether you are getting a great deal or not.
One thing I wish Sony would have implemented is the points system. Every game you buy (including physical game cards) earns you gold points. These can be redeemed towards discounts on the price of games and DLC in the store and if you’ve earned enough you can even use them to pay for games completely. It’s a simple enough system and they can even be used on sale items so it’s easy to get free games with points.
As Vita owners we’ve been used to PlayStation Plus for years. Nintendo’s own equivalent isn’t as glamorous, but it’s just as useful. Their online service is considerably cheaper but it is more limited, primarily designed for online play and cloud game storage. However, as an added bonus it does offer subscribers access to two free emulators and almost 130 NES and SNES games for as long as their subscription is active. It’s like having a NES Classic Mini and SNES Classic Mini free of charge!
There are plenty of online games available as free to download/play from the eShop to keep gamers happy and the connection itself seems quite strong and stable in all the times I’ve used it. With ports of Among Us and Fortnite on offer – both cross compatible with other platforms – it should keep most online gamers happy.
With the majority of PS Vita games being sold digitally, storage is essential. It’s also been a key area where Sony have been criticised. Some have even attributed the Vita’s proprietary memory cards as being a factor in its low sales. Both the capacity and pricing were a sore point for many.
In contrast the Switch has 32Gb of internal storage as standard and uses standard SD cards making expansion extremely affordable. In addition both can be used simultaneously expanding space greatly. The only thing I will say is that – like the Vita – extra storage is vital. Some games are absolutely HUGE on the Switch. Even a game like Animal Crossing needs 8Gb so the internal space won’t last long.
Getting To Grips With The Switch
Technical capabilities aside, one of the first things you notice with any handheld is how it looks and feels. I’ve owned a lot of systems since the 80s – from the early battery operated LCD games, the original Gameboy and more. But what’s been almost as important as the games is the physical unit.
I’m no spring chicken (I’m 50 this year) so how a machine feels to hold is very important. It’s got to be comfortable yet practical. For the last 8 years I guess I’ve been spoiled by Sony. The PS Vita is probably the most comfortable handheld console I’ve ever used and I’ve always been a fan of Sony’s controller layout. In contrast, the Switch inverts the position of the left d-pad and analogue stick (the layout seen on the Xbox). It’s something I’ve never really got on with and to be honest was one of the reasons why I parted with my original XBox.
In addition to that, while it’s great that the Switch has two shoulder buttons on each side, they are incredibly close together. That’s fine if you have small hands or aren’t too clumsy, but again as you get older the smaller buttons on the Switch do make play more uncomfortable.
Ignoring the control aspect of the Nintendo Switch, more comparisons to the PS Vita are bound to be made in other key areas. Being a handheld system, battery life is critical. Unfortunately it’s not as strong as the Vita here. Granted, it is a more powerful console, but I was disappointed. I’ve only used the Switch at home, but I have found that it’s needed to go on charge a couple of times a day even just after casual use of a couple of hours at a time.
Also, and this was one thing I found to be absurd, was the headphone socket. For some bizarre reason, the headphone socket on the Switch Lite is located at the top of the console. In contrast, the Vita, PSP and almost any other handheld console I have ever encountered before (including all of Nintendo’s previous offerings) have had this port at the bottom. What this strange idea with the Switch means is that your headphone cable will either obscure the screen during use or will have to trail over the top then behind the console before reaching you. That may not seem like a big deal, but those extra six inches or so of cable length are important with today’s all-too-short headphone leads.
Reading all of the above, you might think that I’m nit-picking and trying to find fault with the Switch as much as I can. The truth is that I am enjoying using it and I’ve certainly got my money’s worth from it already. Especially from the amount of time I’ve spent on Animal Crossing alone (a game I never expected to enjoy as much as I do!
The Switch will never replace my Vita, but it will sit alongside it in my collection happily and complement it, running games that the Vita can’t or that won’t be released for it. It’s a nice little machine, and more importantly has some fun games that I am enjoying playing and has more that I want to play. And for me that’s the most important thing about any system – not the hardware inside but what software is running on it.
It’s not a system for those looking for the latest AAA titles with stunning visuals as it can’t compete with the PS4/XBox One, let alone the PS5/XBox Series X. But Nintendo have never been about that. Their consoles have been designed to deliver a solid gameplay experience first and tech afterwards and once again I’m happy to say that – as with the PS Vita before it – my money hasn’t been wasted.