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The Switch’s friend list is terrible and useless at launch

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Why does it even exist?

nintendo switch Allegra Frank/Polygon

Reviews of the Nintendo Switch hardware are often quick to mention that the console’s firmware still seems unfinished, and that’s particularly evident with the system’s online features. As of now you can buy games online, which is nice, and add friends for the purpose of ... well, nothing?

We’re not knocking the limited internet capabilities of the Switch, to be clear. Nintendo has been upfront about the console’s still-to-come multiplayer options, some of which will be housed in a mobile app. That situation isn’t optimal, but it wasn’t a surprise. Knowing that something will be unfinished doesn’t make up for the pointless experience that is the friend list itself, however.

nintendo switch
This is the extremely, painstakingly dull Switch friend list.
Allegra Frank/Polygon

In itself, adding friends is an embarrassing, dated ordeal. But enduring the whole process of sharing and inputting friend codes is barely worth it at launch. Once a friend is registered, good luck finding them in the poorly organized sea of Nintendo icons.

There’s no option to filter friends out based on name or online activity, and since friends are sorted by their nicknames, not their more unique Nintendo Account User IDs, you could end up with a mess of Mikes on your hands.

There’s almost no way to differentiate between who those Mikes actually are, either. Who can tell whether the Mike with a K.K. Slider icon is the one you know from work or the one you know from school? Did you just invite your casual acquaintance Mike into your inner circle, or your ex-boyfriend? Good luck trying to keep it all straight!

The avatar options are limited as well — no Toad? Really? Thankfully, friends can assign their personal Miis as their profile icons, which may help with telling who’s who. But it’s unlikely most people will go to those lengths; most people will likely choose either Mario or Link and be done with it. (I’ve already seen some repeats.)

Without those avatars, though, friends’ profiles would feel totally barren. We can’t write up bios, share birthdays, list favorite games or any of the other fun things that Nintendo allowed 3DS owners to register on their accounts.

We also can’t message our friends or communicate with them in any way. Those features are presumably left for the smartphone app, making the Switch’s friend list just that: a list of friends. A bland, barely useful list of nicknames and icons.

Maybe this is a petty complaint. Maybe the Switch’s simplicity is an intentional selling point — certainly there are some who appreciate it. But the friend list seems like it may have been better suited for the cutting room floor in its current state. It’s just bad design for no obvious reason; there isn’t a single upside to all the easily avoided downsides baked into the current interface and features list.

Thankfully, we’re spending all of our time in the excellent, single-player adventure The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so what our friends are up to doesn’t matter too much yet. Hopefully by the time Nintendo launches its first big multiplayer game, April’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, we’ll have more ways — and reasons — to socialize on the Switch.


Watch: Nintendo Switch Hardware Review