As an insomniac, I take my gaming seriously. When I get to a point in a cycle of sleeplessness where I'm too tired to work or keep track of where I am in the book I'm reading, I turn to video games to keep me from delving too deeply into the dark thoughts that creep into my skull in the middle of the night.
After waiting for over a year to see if it would prove popular enough with developers and players to make it worth picking up, I finally broke down and bought a Nintendo Switch – that I have an upcoming assignment that involves testing Switch accessories made it easy to pull the trigger, despite its steep price tag here in Canada. The last Nintendo console that I bought was the Gameboy Advance Micro. I still own it, 13 years later, and play it on a regular basis. After tinkering with the Switch for just over a month, I've got some thoughts on the major differences between it and my much-loved GBA Micro that I thought might be fun to share.
Cost of Ownership
The GBA Micro wasn't cheap, back in the day. I remember paying around $200 for it in Vancouver, BC. But aside from the games I'd buy for it, that was it. There was no need to purchase anything else. The Switch? Not so much. After paying $300 for it or, in my case, $400 Canadian, there's still a ton of cash that needs to change hands to ensure a solid experience with the console.
Memory cards, like these ones from SanDisc, are a must if you plan on building a game catalog. The Switch's display, which isn't easily replaceable like the one on my GBA Micro is, needs to be protected. I've ordered this to take care of that. Because it's relatively fragile, you'll want to pick up a case for the console, too. If you do wind up buying a bunch of physical game media for the Switch, the game cards are small enough and made of a suspiciously cheap-feeling plastic. So, you'll want to grab something to protect and organize those, too.
You can talk about extra controllers, external battery packs and the like in this category, too. But I feel that those are more wants for the Switch than needs.
My GBA Micro has had the shit beaten out of it over the years. Save a few scratches on its face plate, which is replaceable on the cheap, you wouldn't know it. All of its buttons and its control pad work as well as the day it came out of the box. Despite only weighing 2.82 ounces, its feels as solid as all get-out. It's still got its original battery and can hold enough of a charger for me to play it for a few hours at a time. I don't believe that the Switch will be in as great of shape. Maybe Nintendo needed to keep the per unit cost low. Perhaps they were worried that a large handheld, like the Switch, would be passed over by gamers if it took up a ton of space in their bag AND weighed a ton. No matter the reason, to me, the Switch feels flimsy by comparison to the GBA Micro. This is a console that'll I'll pay dividends to keep running over the years. I can feel it.
There's no getting around the fact that the Switch is HUGE compared to the GBA Micro. That said, I don't have a problem fitting it into my bag when I'm headed out on a trip. So, let's talk about another area that I haven't seen discussed online very much: The portability of media.
One of the things I have always disliked about the GBA Micro is that its game carts are a pain in the ass to lug around. Two of them take up almost as much space in my bag as the console itself does. It forces me to think about which carts to bring with me. Not so the Switch. Its game cards are small and light enough that you could lug along 20 of them and it's no big deal. More than this, The Switch's internal memory and its ability to use SD cards to expand its storage make it so that if you want to, there's no need to carry any physical games with you at all. That's a win.
The complexity of the games that the Switch's guts allow for pretty much curb-stomps my Micro. Being able to play Skyrim and LA Noire on a portable device? Absolutely insane. I'm really hoping that Rockstar, in particular, makes more of its back catalog available to Switch owners. I know that the rumors about the code in Red Dead Redemption being a mess make the possibility of a port pretty remote. But man, I'd love that. GTA IV or V, too. I absolutely adore being able to hand off one of my Joy-Con controllers to my wife so that we can abuse each other in Mario Cart. I can't remember that last time I laughed out loud playing a game like I do when we're racing each other. That alone was worth the cost of the console.
There is something to be said about the charm of the graphics and the limited nature of game play that, by comparison, the GBA Micro offers. I still dig taking a spin with MarioKart Super Circuit and my Grand Theft Auto cart still gets a lot of use, too.
Perhaps the biggest change in game play, for me at least, is that playing the Switch doesn't make the joints in my hands ache like the GBA Micro does. I'm old. Over the years, I've broken a lot of bones – I shattered my left hand two decades ago. Shit hurts. It's nice to be able to enjoy myself without every twitch of my fingers causing me discomfort.
There's few things that suck more than popping a new game into your console and being told that you'll need to download gigabytes worth of data before you're able to fully enjoy it. For a couple of the games I've played on my Switch, that's a thing. That thing is annoying when you live in the city and have a decent broadband connection. I'm writing this from the literal middle-of-nowhere, using my smartphone to access the Internet. Downloading a game to my Switch, additional content or an update can take days. That sucks.
I love the Switch! It's a lot of fun. I'm glad to own one and so far, my productivity hasn't suffered for it. I wish that it was a little bit more rough and tumble, like my GBA Micro is, but that's a minor complaint – I'm an adult and should be able to look after my stuff well enough to keep the console alive. I'm looking forward to a long relationship with this thing. Hopefully, it won't disappoint me.