The Nintendo Switch’s user experience is oddly boring for a Nintendo console. It helps that the Switch is both the most innovative and most un-Nintendo console I’ve played.
We mentioned that “the Switch’s interface is beautifully simple and easily navigable, somewhere between a clean tablet interface and something more appropriate to a console” in our review of the system. There’s not even any music in the eShop, which seems like a strange omission for a Nintendo system.
Once you have the Switch in your hands for a while however, you’ll understand the design decision. The simple interface feels like it was meant mimic user interface standards most of us have become accustomed to with smartphones and tablets. Those interfaces are devoid of the bells and whistles usually found on Nintendo consoles, in service of creating a device that is purely simple to use. We don’t expect our iPads to start playing music whenever we’re in the app store.
Nintendo has never been one to hold closely to modern conventions to be successful. In the shadow of some of my favorite Nintendo consoles, the Wii and the 3DS, the Switch feels markedly different in this regard. The interface feels more at home in a piece of electronics than a toy.
Take the lack of music on the console, the hidden Mii editor and the removeal of hallmark Nintendo features like Street Pass. These changes feel all the more pronounced considering Nintendo is doing things with the console like adding “an assistant” inside their News function and sadly, bringing back the dreaded friend code.
While it will feel unfamiliar to fans, there may be a method to the blandness.
THE LACK OF MUSIC ANYWHERE
When the Wii launched in late 2006, it had to do a lot to differentiate itself from its competition: the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Its motion controls, design and first-party games were the key to standing out.
But one of the Wii’s other standout features was the music that was embedded in the console’s menus. Nintendo utilized two ear worms that I wager most fans still cannot get out of their heads to this day. Even hearing those songs used in other media adds an instant element of joy and playfulness to the proceedings.
For instance, what would Griffin’s amiibo Corner be without the Wii Shop Channel music blaring at the top of each video?
Would this dance routine be one of Mike Song’s most popular videos without the Mii Channel instrumental?
The Switch feels a bit hollow in comparison, at least at first.
In fact, the system boots up so fast and you can hop into games so quickly that there isn’t even time for fanfare. The lack of music might speak to Nintendo’s desire to get you straight to what you want, instead of entertaining you with unnecessary charms. Without the sluggishness of past UIs, why bother with keeping you entertained between games?
HIDDEN MII EDITOR
While the Switch does indeed have a place for you to create Miis, that feature is nested in a few menus instead of being prominently placed on the home screen.
The de-emphasis on Miis can mean plenty of things, but it’s another way Nintendo is stressing that the Switch is a console for playing games, not an excuse for you to create all of your friends and family in digital form. And, unlike other Nintendo consoles with Miis, it’s not mandatory to make one to set up a user profile. In fact, you set up your account picking a photo from a default cast of characters from the Mario series, the world of Animal Crossing and more.
As of today, there aren’t any games announced that support Miis, and the Switch itself doesn’t come with any features like Street Pass that use the characters. They feel vestigial, and Nintendo doesn’t seem to have a lot of patience for fat when it comes to the Switch experience.
Walking out of the store with a brand new Switch and playing games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild right out of the box — since the game doesn’t need to install before playing — is refreshing. And that’s a wonderful thing considering that Breath of the Wild might be one of the greatest Zelda games there is. Nintendo just takes you straight to the games.
The menus are boring, and that’s OK
The launch of a new console is always exciting, and the Switch feels like a new idea rather than the melding of two existing ways to play. Figuring out how we’re going to use the system is part of the fun of being an early adopter.
Past Nintendo consoles hoped to charm you right out of the gate, whether it was the GameCube’s iconic opening jingle or the literal crowd of Miis that would greet you when you powered on your Wii U. The Switch hopes to put a smile on your face by putting you in the game as quickly as it can, and by pushing the menus where they belong: in the background.