I’m 42 years old this month. My era for gaming was the 1990s with the Game Boy and Super Nintendo (and a bit of PlayStation), and not many consoles or handhelds have captured my imagination since. Nintendo’s Wii came closest with its revolutionary motion-sensing controllers, and Sony’s PSVR is like a childhood fantasy come true, but the Xboxes and PlayStations always seem to be driven by graphical prowess.
My heart sinks whenever I start a “modern game” and you have what feels like an hour of loading screens, interminable updating of software, lengthy tutorials, and scene-setting videos, etc. I miss it when games were designed to be pick-up-n’-play because storage space was limited. I’ve often lost the excitement of wanting to play something by the time the game begins.
Maybe I sound like an old man here (I’m sure I do!), but the only modern games to have excited me lately are the Resident Evil remakes and REVII. I think it’s because I can get more invested in those as “interactive horror movies”. And those are indebted to an older style of gaming, or literally making ’90s games look and play better. But, every so often, I get a hankering for some breezy Super Mario-style fun and, inevitably, pick up Nintendo’s latest console for a cheap price. That’s what happened with the GameCube (which I bought cheap on eBay just to play Mario Kart Double Dash), and the Wii U (which was on sale very early in its life).
And this happened again this month, with the Nintendo Switch Lite…
My first decision was deciding between buying a full-blown Switch (£299) and the handheld-only Switch Lite (£199). The former offers true “switching” between two modes of play (docked for TV, undocked for tablet portability), and other is more akin to a Sony PlayStation Vita that can play Switch games. (It’s amazing we live in a world where a home console’s games can be played on a handheld, with an acceptable drop in resolution.)
I opted for the Switch Lite, mainly because it’s £100 cheaper than a Switch (and was actually £160 cheaper for me, as I bought mine second-hand on eBay for £140 instead of £199). I was definitely worried some Switch games would look and feel better on a TV screen, but my rationale was to give the Lite a chance and sell it if things don’t work out. I could then put that money towards a proper Switch, and the good news is that any games I’ve purchased for the Lite aren’t wasted because they work on both pieces of hardware.
The second-hand grey Lite I ordered came in excellent condition, which was a relief. I’d watched YouTube videos reviewing the Lite and comparing it to the regular Switch, so knew what to expect, but its smallness still took me by surprise. Even now, it somehow looks bigger in videos than in reality.
I own an iPhone XR and its 6.06′ screen is bigger than the Lite’s! I was worried this would mean gaming wouldn’t be noticeably better than on a mobile phone playing Angry Birds or whatever, but thankfully the experience of using the Lite is better despite its small screen. It helps just having physical buttons and not relying on a touchscreen entirely.
The Lite’s 5.5′ screen with 720p images is still great to look at, especially when you remember how tiny screens have been on other portables in the past. I do wish the Lite was a neater 6′ in size (as there seems room for that without it becoming unwieldy), but it’s not a dealbreaker. I’m sure Nintendo will release a Lite+ in a few years, or something.
The form factor of the Lite is smaller and lighter, but I’ve only used a normal Switch occasionally so the differences aren’t as noticeable for me. I’m aware the screen’s bigger on a dockable Switch, but the removable joycons mean it has a little more “flex” when you grip it tightly. The Lite does feel satisfying to hold, although I’m considering a grip accessory because I prefer the feel of a chunky PS4-style controller in your palms. Certain games, like first-person shooters, don’t feel right to me without something more robust to grip with your hands. But the Lite’s buttons, d-pad, and control sticks are great to use.
Nintendo have never been good at the online stuff, but I nevertheless signed up to their seven-day trial. This was driven be a desire to play Super Mario 35 (before that game vanishes at the end of March 2021), download the mix of NES and SNES games to revisit some childhood favourites, and have easygoing fun with Tetris 99. I did purchase Super Mario 3D All-Stars on a game card, again because that release is ending production in March.
My online experience has, so far, been surprisingly good. But I’m obviously playing very basic games! I did try Apex Legends and that immediately crashed when I started playing in an arena after a long tutorial session, which was frustrating. I haven’t played it too much since, but it hasn’t been too bad in terms of latency and frame rate etc…
Would I pay £18 for a year’s online subscription? Yes. That’s not even the price of one Switch game and gives me access to lots of vintage games, so it’s worth it for that alone. And if they get around to putting N64 and GameCube content on there, I’ve barely even explored those systems. Plus, I can dip into the online world for Switch games that work best with multiplayer, like Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (which I’m almost certain to get soon, as it’s the law).
I’ll probably get a grip at some point (mentally too 🤣), to help with games that need an extra level of tactility. Then a case would seem to be essential, to keep the Switch Lite protected and easier to travel with. I will also get a MicroSD card to upgrade the storage space, even if I don’t plan on buying games digitally that often. (Why would you when they’re cheaper physically and can be resold later to recoup your costs?¹) But the price of MicroSD cards are insanely good, so it’s a no-brainer.
¹ I could write a whole article on this! Nintendo had a “MAR10 Day” online sale, which included 35% off Super Mario Maker 2. I was poised to get it, but that price in the Nintendo eShop was still only £2 less than the game costs to buy physically. I can’t fathom why you’d willingly pay more for digital-only, sorry.
Well, it’s too early to say for sure. I’m not the type of person who’s going to take Switch Lite with me everywhere, sitting on buses and park benches playing it in direct sunlight. That’s less likely than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic too! Perhaps I should’ve got the £299 Switch because it has more functionality… maybe… but I’m hoping to get a PlayStation 5 this year so wanted to keep some money back for that bigger expense.
The Lite ultimately gives me a pleasing “hit” of Nintendo-flavoured gaming whenever the mood takes me, and I do like being able to just pick it up and start playing on a whim. It seems like more of a “commitment” to boot up a console and have it display on your TV, somehow. Maybe it’s just psychological. The sort of games I enjoy are ones you can have fun with in 10–20 minute bursts. I rarely sit down for hours at a time, so the Lite’s perfect for being curled up on the sofa, and the battery is more than sufficient.
It’s fun to be handheld gaming again! I was an OG player of the Game Boy and have fond memories playing Tetris and Super Mario Land back then, but I skipped the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance because I was a teenager and Sony’s cooler PlayStation had taken the gaming crown from Nintendo.
I did buy an original Nintendo DS, but only played a few Mario favourites and Brain Training on it, then the updated DSi and 3DS etc passed me by in adulthood.
So I’ve only ever dedicated hundreds of portable gaming hours on a Game Boy, 30 years ago, so using the Switch Lite has been oddly nostalgic. I’ve played video games on phones and tablets before, of course, but having built-in controllers makes it more natural. And the types of games you play on a phone are generally designed to be idle time-fillers, so there’s a difference in quality and intention.
It’s the honeymoon period with the Switch Lite as a fancy new gadget sitting on my coffee table, but it’s enjoyable to pick up my Lite and within seconds be playing a console-quality game at my fingertips. Or dip into a SNES classic I haven’t played in years — or perhaps even missed the first time around. And yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve probably played more of Donkey Kong Country 2 on Switch than I have Mario 3D All-Stars.