How do I (Nintendo) Switch?
September 26, 2019 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I have wanted a Switch since I played Breath of the Wild at a friend's last Thanksgiving. I hear that a Switch can also do stuff like play YouTube videos? And I should make a decision about buying cartridges vs. online? I am finding this surprisingly difficult to figure out and am not sure I'm asking all the right questions. Snowflakes inside.

- Single-person household
- Planning to get the v2 Switch with more efficient chip
- I don't own other Nintendo products; does this affect choosing cartridge vs. online?
- I don't own a TV; please tell me about 2P tabletop mode
- I don't own a tablet; what are non-console things a Switch could do?
- My controller skills are not great, but BoTW introduced things slowly enough that it wasn't frustrating. I played handheld and docked with a grip.
- One big use case is bringing it on trips, if you have special advice for that. Playing solo in transit and multiplayer at destination.

Finding games is the part I have figured out, but FWIW:
- Switch games I am interested in include: BoTW, Baba is You, Goose Game, Katamari, and Skyrim. MarioKart only because my friends play it.
- The last two computer games I played were Sunless Sea and Stacking, both using keyboard controls on a laptop. My hand-eye coordination was a barrier, but I still enjoyed the games.
posted by momus_window to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think the cartridge vs. online question only really comes into play if you plan on reselling or lending out your games. If not then digital would be the way to go. I prefer to buy physical games but my copies of Mario Odyssey and Skyrim are digital because they were on sale in the eshop. Nothing from the previous systems carries over to the Switch so you aren't messing anything there (you can get Wii/WiiU controllers to work with the Switch using 3rd party adapters though).

The screen isn't very big so 2p tabletop mode is better than nothing but that's about it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:14 PM on September 26, 2019

I don't own other Nintendo products; does this affect choosing cartridge vs. online?
I don't own a TV; please tell me about 2P tabletop mode
It exists and works fine but it may be uncomfortable due to the size of the screen.
I don't own a tablet; what are non-console things a Switch could do?
Nothing. Really. It doesn't even have Netflix. Oh wait, it has YouTube, that's something. But I wouldn't expect anything else. It's 100% a game console.
One big use case is bringing it on trips, if you have special advice for that. Playing solo in transit and multiplayer at destination.
I mostly use my Switch when I travel and having to care about not losing cartridges is one of the reasons why I went full digital other than my first couple of games (which I keep in the case and never take out.)

I think the only cases where physical is better than digital are when you want to 1) sell your old games (and buy used) 2) want to have a physical copy for when the Switch eshop inevitably closes in 15 years (but are you really going to play them?)
posted by Memo at 2:41 PM on September 26, 2019

Only some Switch games are available on cartridges. A much larger library of games is available for download. I believe that every game available on a cartridge can also be purchased entirely digitally. You don't have to make one decision and stick with it, you can buy a cartridge for one game and download another entirely - they will both be available to play on your console. To buy a game digitally you'll need to make a Nintendo account and log into the store on the console, so it needs to have an internet connection and you'll need to have a credit card or bought nintendo gift cards (and then you redeem the code like you would any other gift card). You don't have to save your CC info.

You will eventually run out of space on your Switch. When that happens you'll need to archive your downloaded games. This means that you'll need to download them again to play them, but your purchase and save info will remain. You can buy an additional SD storage card to fit more games on without needing to archive anything, if you find you want that in the future.

You can also download apps via the nintendo store, like the youtube one you alluded to. This is much like having an app on your phone, where it's a single purpose program for something that you might otherwise access via a browser. The youtube app for switch is clunky but not the worst, iirc you log into your account like you would on a browser and you can search for and watch videos and all that stuff. No adblock, of course, and you need to be online to use it. There's also apps for streaming videos like Netflix, and I believe there's one for reading comic books which is a thing tablets are fantastic for. You treat these apps exactly like a game, where there's an icon for it on the Home menu and you can archive and re-download it. I've never bothered with any of these beyond messing around for a bit and deleting, but I live a very gadget friendly lifestyle whereas it seems you do not, so you may find more utility in it than I do.

The Switch holds one cartridge at a time, so if you have more than one of those and you want to play them all you'll need to bring them with you - but they are very teeny tiny and not hard to store. My Switch almost always has the BotW cartridge in it and I've never felt the need to bring any of the others I've got along with me anywhere.

The screen isn't very big for not playing in handheld mode. It is very easy to hook up to a modern tv via the dock, and the dock is very lightweight. I would suggest that if you're traveling to a place with a tv to play multiplayer games that you bring the dock and its attendant cables to set that up instead of tabletop usage.

Another travel thing to keep in mind that I've recently run into is that the Switch doesn't support bluetooth. So for headphones you'll need a cable. Last year I had to finally give in and get wireless headphones for another device and was stuck playing a Switch game on silent on the plane because I just kind of forgot that it wouldn't magically sprout bluetooth. I use zippered makeup bags/dop kit bags to hold my Switch and accessories for traveling. You can find these in Target and most drug stores. This keeps everything together and tidy so I can do stuff like get the Switch out quickly for TSA tomfoolery or keep my headphone jack cable in the same place all the time.
posted by Mizu at 2:45 PM on September 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

- I don't own other Nintendo products; does this affect choosing cartridge vs. online?

Nope! You just need to make a Nintendo account on their website to access the e-shop for digital purchases. You can also purchase game codes (that allow you to download the digital version of the game) to your console. The main advantage of having the code vs the cartridge is that you can install multiple games on your Switch instead of having to manually remove and insert the cartridge for just the one game one at a time, and thus carry around your entire game library at once, vs needing to also remember to carry around the individual game cartridges as well. And as any portmanteau in a storm notes above, getting a cartridge vs download mostly depends on whether you plan to resell or lend your games, neither of which you can do with the digital downloads.

Some games are only available as digital downloads, so you have a wider available catalog digitally than you would in retail or via physical purchase. (For example, the goose game is only available as a digital download at the moment.) But on the plus side, you could probably get some used game cartridges for cheaper than the digital copies now that the Switch is older.

- I don't own a TV; please tell me about 2P tabletop mode

Each joycon becomes its own mini controller, allowing you and another person to play at once - but yeah, you're still looking at the same screen, so it's kinda cumbersome in practice. But doable!

It probably also helps to have a 2nd controller, so that you both can use a full-size controller (one person with the joycons attached to the mini controller thing that comes w/ the Switch, and one person with a regular controller since I don't see the point in buying more joycons when a full-size controller feels so much nicer). I like the switch pro controller, but there are also plenty of cheaper third party controllers out there too.

- I don't own a tablet; what are non-console things a Switch could do?

I haven't tried to add any non-game apps onto it, but you should be able to use it to view Youtube. A quick browse on google suggests not a whole lot else has been added so far, though.

- One big use case is bringing it on trips, if you have special advice for that. Playing solo in transit and multiplayer at destination.

Do you have a case? If you don't, there's a ton of cases and pouches out there. YMMV on which materials you prefer, but I like the Waterfield pouch in waxed canvas, which fits the Switch w/ the joycons attached and has a zippered pocket in the front for smaller accessories (earbuds, cable). I also ended up getting a glass screen protector so I wouldn't have to worry about accidentally scratching the screen. Generally I haven't brought it on any trips, but I take it to the office with me sometimes if I plan on playing a little at lunch, and I feel a lot better about putting it in its own case so I don't have to worry about accidentally damaging it with my water bottle or portable charger or something.
posted by rather be jorting at 2:47 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

One consideration on cartridge vs download: games range from tens of mb to multiple gb in size (see this list from for consideration), which is not only a problem of local storage, but also if your internet service provider caps or throttles your downloads at a certain limit, this might be a consideration. You may want to get cartridges for the bigger games, or get a micro SD expansion card.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:55 PM on September 26, 2019

I've traveled with mine - definitely get a case. Waterfield does make good ones but there are plenty of cheaper ones out there too. I literally used a gallon ziploc bag I sealed up with the switch and a little air in it — worked great!

Tabletop mode can be a little cramped, and using the joy-cons as individual controllers can be a pain for all but the smallest hands. Fun but not the kind of thing you do for more than 45 minutes, you know? Mario Kart may be kinda difficult.

I played all of Breath of the Wild with the joy-cons and had no problems. They're very light and good for casual stuff where you don't really care to take the "serious gaming stance." I've since played some games with the Pro controller, which is really nice — less fiddling around with sliding things on and off the main console if you use it at home. Its battery life is insanely long, too. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you don't have a TV but just FYI.

You might look into cheap third party controllers for when/if you ever get a TV or bring it somewhere there is one and want to have a little Mario Kart party or something.

I'd definitely keep an eye out for the biggest micro SD card you feel comfortable buying. I got a 256 GB one for under $30 a while back and it has prevented needing to buy some games on cartridge.

One reason to buy carts is you can resell them, which some people really care about.

Have fun! It's a great console. Hope you get farther in Baba is You than I did, that game is HARD.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:59 PM on September 26, 2019

Additional question: since I don't have a TV and tabletop mode sucks, should I just get a Lite? Honestly, the folks I travel with aren't gamers - it would be fun to share with them but mostly it will probably be me playing in transit.

Thanks for the answers so far! I thought I was missing something but it sounds like the Switch is just games and YouTube.
posted by momus_window at 4:01 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

We've had a Switch for a couple of years and the only issue we've had with it were the joy-cons getting increasingly drifty. Since they're detachable on the standard version, we were able to just replace them. You can't do that with the Lite and they seem to be prone to the same issue, so I would stick with a standard Switch.
posted by burntflowers at 4:35 PM on September 26, 2019

I wouldn't buy a Lite because the controllers don't come off. Sometimes I like to put the Switch on a table (using the stand) and play with the controllers in a relaxed position down by my sides. With the Lite, you have to have your hands next to the screen to play.

Nintendo Switch Online is $20 a year and lets you play games online against others. But that's not the real benefit: it also lets you play old NES and Super Nintendo games at no additional cost. If you have been a Nintendo fan in the past, that's a great deal.

There is a "Deals" page in the online shop that shows what is currently on sale. Some of the sales are ridiculous - I recently downloaded a game for nine cents! - so I look through it every week or two. I've also found that if you add a game to your wishlist in the online store (you have to click on your player icon to get to the wishlist) Nintendo will email you if a game on the list goes on sale.

My daughters use my Switch to watch Youtube videos all the time. It seems to work well enough.
posted by tacodave at 6:07 PM on September 26, 2019

If I can ride on this question? What do youse think of those cardboard add-ons that turn the Switch into toys or robots or complex physical computing peripherals?

Are they worth the money? Do they have a high replayability factor?
posted by kandinski at 6:26 PM on September 26, 2019

One thing to note re tabletop mode, in my experience, the small screen is a little annoying but by no means insuperable. The thing that's bad about it is that the removable controllers are too small for adult hands when you use them separately (making long gaming sessions of eg MarioKart annoying). This can be fixed by buying a second set of controllers and the controller-case peripheral thingees to go with them, so you are each holding a larger controller. If you expect to want to play with someone else in tabletop mode, I recommend that.

Don't get a lite. You won't be able to use it with the peripherals, most of which are a little silly...BUT they're about to come out with a fitness game that uses exercise bands as peripherals that I'm very excited about and I expect to be in tons of use at my house. I'd not want to foreclose on that possibility.
posted by branca at 7:40 AM on September 27, 2019

If you ever want to play with other people at your house, you can instead buy a computer monitor that will hook up directly to the switch. As long as the screen has an HDMI cable you will be good to go.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:20 PM on September 27, 2019

kandinski - I purchased two Labo sets (that's the name of the cardboard things): the first one with the piano and fishing rod, and the robot one.

I enjoyed putting them together - it felt kind of like building LEGO sets - but my kids lost interest in the building process. However, I grew tired of the actual "games" but my kids get out the piano and fishing rod every once in a while and play more.

Nobody liked the robot set. It is too cumbersome to be fun, even though it is really neat how it works.
posted by tacodave at 3:39 PM on September 27, 2019

The Switch also has Hulu.
posted by meowzilla at 5:30 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've got the robot Labo and my kids rarely play it unless one of their friends come over and then it becomes the best game ever as they take turns destroying cities. I am still vainly hoping they'll want to figure out how it all works and do their own customizations but that hasn't happened yet.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:47 PM on September 27, 2019

I got a Switch on the weekend and my cat loves that it keeps me sitting still with my lap free. Thanks, y'all!
posted by momus_window at 2:06 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

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