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Totaling the hidden costs of owning a Nintendo Switch

Breaking the bank

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Super Mario Odyssey
“Karen” playing Super Mario Odyssey on a Nintendo Switch.
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

The Nintendo Switch is launching March 3 for $299.99, and Nintendo says it had to make some tough decisions in order to reach that price. Everything you need to get started is included in the box, such as a pair of Joy-Con controllers and a docking station.

But get started is the operative phrase there. While you could get by with consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One without feeling like you needed to buy accessories at launch, the Switch is a bit different. Multiplayer gaming on the Switch is a major push for Nintendo, and it’s not always going to be as simple as asking friends to bring their own Joy-Con controllers. (Of course, both the PS4 and the Xbox One were significantly more expensive than the Switch when they debuted.)

We’ve put together a list of items that Switch owners may want to buy to fill out their setup. Spoiler alert: It’s not going to be cheap.

It’s a Nintendo Switch next to a Wii U GamePad
A Nintendo Switch (left) next to a Wii U GamePad.
Allegra Frank/Polygon

64 GB microSD card: $27.49

The Switch comes with just 32 GB of built-in storage, and the console reserves an unknown portion of that flash memory for system use. If you want to buy a digital copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you’ll need 13.4 GB of free space — a whopping 41.9 percent of the total (and that’s without accounting for the unavailable reserved storage).

So unless you want to buy physical copies of every Switch game, you’re going to want to expand the system’s storage capabilities. The Switch contains a microSD card slot that’s hidden behind the kickstand; it will accept cards up to 2 TB in size, which don’t even exist yet. (The largest readily available microSD cards offer 256 GB of storage, but they cost upward of $150.)

You can triple the Switch’s capacity with a 64 GB microSDXC card at a very reasonable price — The Wirecutter’s recommendation, the Samsung Evo+, is available on Amazon for less than $28. And if you want to go all-out, 200 GB cards are available for under $70. As for external USB hard drives, Nintendo says the Switch won’t support them at launch, but could in the future.

Nintendo Switch extra Joy-Con pair Nintendo

Extra Joy-Con controllers: $49.99 each or $79.99 for a pair

The Switch comes with a pair of Joy-Con controllers in the box, either neon (blue on the left, red on the right) or gray. Each one can function as its own gamepad, but for multiplayer games like Arms, you’ll want a second set of controllers — and they’ll cost you a pretty penny. Of course, additional gamepads are necessary for local multiplayer gaming on any console, but $79.99 for two extra Joy-Cons is a lot more than $59.99 for, say, a second Xbox One controller.

Note that the Joy-Con controllers are not simply mirror images of each other. The right unit offers face buttons — as well as an IR camera and NFC sensor — while the left features directional buttons.

If you have a Switch with neon Joy-Con pads and buy a second neon pair, you’ll get a left Joy-Con in red and a right Joy-Con in blue. That will fill out the other half of the set that comes with the system — blue for the left Joy-Con and red for the right — so if you want, you’ll be able to use controllers with matching colors.

Switch Pro Controller: $69.99

Nintendo has been shipping consoles with nonstandard input devices for a decade now, so it comes as no surprise that the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers bear a unique design with some impressive functionality. But that makes them less suitable for certain use cases.

In particular, unlike almost every other Nintendo controller, the traditional cross-style directional pad has been replaced with four distinct directional buttons. And it’ll be rather awkward to hold the right Joy-Con horizontally, since the analog stick will be almost directly in the center in that layout:

Nintendo Switch - right Joy-Con sideways
When the right Joy-Con is held horizontally, the analog stick is smack dab in the middle.

Out of the box, you’ll be able to stick the Joy-Con units into a Joy-Con Grip for a combination that will resemble a traditional gamepad. But even then, the layout and feel of the buttons and sticks may not suffice for certain types of games — fighting games come to mind immediately. So you’ll probably want to spend the money on a Switch Pro Controller, which is laid out like an Xbox One gamepad with offset analog sticks and the familiar cross-style D-pad.

You may be wondering why the Pro Controller costs so much. At $69.99, it’s the most expensive traditional controller available for any console; standard versions of the Xbox One gamepad and the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 retail for $59.99. Our only guess at the high price is that the Pro Controller offers some Switch-specific functionality: “HD rumble,” an NFC chip for amiibo support, and an accelerometer and gyroscope for motion control.

Nintendo Switch preview event - Joy-Con controllers in Grip / Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Joy-Con Charging Grip: $29.99

The Switch comes with one Joy-Con Grip, which is essentially a plastic shell that turns two Joy-Con controllers into a unit that looks and feels like a typical gamepad. Trouble is, there doesn’t appear to be a way to get more of them — when it comes to the Grip, Nintendo is only selling a $29.99 device called the Joy-Con Charging Grip.

An extra Grip will be crucial if you buy an extra pair of Joy-Con units for local multiplayer games. Imagine inviting a buddy over to play a game of, say, NBA 2K18. You’d be a pretty bad friend if you forced them to play with Joy-Cons alone while reserving the more comfortable, familiar Grip for yourself!

As for charging your Joy-Cons, the Charging Grip is the only way to power up the controllers while using them (except for keeping them attached to the Switch, in what Nintendo refers to as portable mode). If the gamepads die while you’re playing wirelessly and you don’t own a Charging Grip, you’ll have to slide them back onto the Switch in order to charge them.

An image of Snipperclips, whose full title is Snipperclips - Cut it out, together!, apparently.
Image: SFB Games/Nintendo

Games: up to $59.99

Sure, games aren’t technically a “hidden” cost of buying a console. But it’s worth noting that unlike the Wii (Wii Sports) and Wii U (Nintendo Land), the Switch doesn’t come with a game. Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, explained in an interview with GameSpot that Nintendo didn’t pack a game with the console because doing so would have pushed the cost over $300.

Instead, a game that appears like it would’ve been well-suited as a pack-in — 1-2-Switch, a minigame collection that seems mediocre — will be a $49.99 boxed product, and full-price titles will cost the usual $59.99. Of course, downloadable titles will be available for less, including Snipperclips at $19.99.

Having laid out all of that, let’s do the math.

$299.99 console + $27.49 microSD card + $79.99 Joy-Con controllers + $69.99 Pro Controller + $29.99 Joy-Con Charging Grip + one $59.99 game = $567.44

That doesn’t even take into account accessories such as a second Switch Dock — which costs a whopping $89.99, even though it doesn’t seem to do much — if you want to use the system with multiple TVs in your home. And it also doesn’t include whatever Nintendo will charge for the Switch’s paid online service starting this fall; PlayStation Network and Xbox Live each cost $59.99 a year. It’s not surprising that people are complaining about the accessory offerings and pricing for the Nintendo Switch.

The Nintendo Switch Details We Know