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The Nintendo Switch has become the system people love to love

How Nintendo changed the conversation

Nintendo Switch - Neon Red/Blue Joy-Cons in Joy-Con Grip next to Dock, all sitting on a wooden background James Bareham/Vox Media

I spent a significant amount of time playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on a hammock today.

You could have something like that experience before — it’s not like Mario Kart 7 wasn’t a thing that existed on the 3DS — but this isn’t a portable version of Mario Kart that’s struggling to look like the real thing. This is the flagship Mario Kart of 2017, with all the bells, whistles and curse words you would expect from the real thing. And you can play it wherever you want.

The magazine rack next to my toilet has been completely neglected since the Switch has been released. Plane rides have become a sort of surreal gaming utopia wherein I get to focus on completing new shrines in the latest Zelda. I have installed an articulated arm on my bed so I can lie on my back and play Tumbleseed before bed. I don’t know if I am proud or ashamed to admit I have used the same mounting hardware to play Metal Slug in the bathtub.

That thing from the commercials where people crowd around the screen while holding Joy-Cons and playing games during social events? The situation that many in the gaming community insisted would never happen? People are doing it.

The ability to bust out the Switch and hand a controller to one of my kids to dig into Snipperclips whenever and wherever we are is one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced in gaming in quite some time. Doing so in a park or even just in the back yard is a slightly magical experience. Why not play a game while enjoying some fresh air?

I was very skeptical about the system going in, especially with Nintendo’s lack of basic software features at launch. The system is still not finished in some major ways — and if you aren’t a fan of Nintendo’s first-party titles the game selection may seem a bit thin — but the convenience and versatility of the system have proven themselves out after weeks of play now that the novelty has worn off.

The interesting thing about the continued fascination and positivity about the system is that we knew all this going in. This is what the system was designed to do: Nintendo was trying to blur the line between portable and home consoles. The reviews were positive out of the gate — although the firmware lacks some basic functionality — and it has been next to impossible to find the hardware on store shelves without a good amount of hunting and a bit of luck.

But the hard work is worth it. Playing Breath of the Wild on your television and then switching over to the portable configuration in a second or two still feels like a magic trick that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Nintendo launched a piece of hardware that came with a variety of use cases and ways to play, and anecdotally I’ve found that my friends, family, coworkers and myself use almost all of them, and they work.

While Microsoft is hoping to drum up interest by being the most powerful, and that’s a good pitch, Nintendo might sneak up from behind and steal this console generation by completely changing the conversation about what a console should be and how you should play it. They stapled controllers to an iPad and created something no one else would have the guts to try, and they’re being duly rewarded for the effort.

I have yet to hear many players complain that the Switch is underpowered. I have heard an overwhelming number say how cool it is to take Mario Kart on the literal road.

I keep asking people if they still like their Switch as much as they did when they bought it, and I have gotten used to the response. People tend to look to the heavens and make a noise of satisfaction. Many people do that wide-eyed nodding thing that loosely translates to “yes, I’m super into this in a nearly dangerous way.” People get that look on their face that says “I went to the bathroom and by the time I returned, the cheese sticks were on the table.”

The early days of the Joy-Con issues and the assorted possible hardware defects seem to have passed behind us, or at least they’re not as prominent in the conversation anymore. The game save limitations are still ridiculous, but those complaints are being drowned out by the quality of the gaming experience itself. Nintendo has yet again found itself in the position of making the easy stuff look hard but the hard stuff look very, very easy.

The Switch is likely only going to pick up steam as more games are released, because even as good as the launch lineup has been, each top-shelf Nintendo property that comes out for the system is going to increase its prominence. This is where you’ll find your next Zelda, the best Mario Kart, the latest Mario and your Splatoon sequel. People are falling in love with the act of using the hardware, and they’re looking forward to buying more games. Usually consoles sell because of games, not because they offer such an enjoyable, unique experience that using the system itself becomes a selling point. Nintendo has moved in the other direction; the games are going to sell because of the hardware.

The Switch has changed how people play video games, and Nintendo is enjoying the rewards. All those goofy-ass commercials have come true, and I couldn’t be happier.

The next level of puzzles.

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