The Nintendo Switch is one of my favorite pieces of gaming hardware, but it’s not without its faults. Two-plus years after launch, my console has held up remarkably well, but the same cannot be said for its Joy-Cons. At present I am on my third set of Joy-Con controllers, including the pair that came with the console. With the announcement of the Switch Lite (and its permanently attached controllers), this could become a major problem.
Nintendo hasn’t spoken publicly about the problem of “drifting” Joy-Con controllers, but it’s a big issue, with countless documented reports. After several months of playtime, some Joy-Con analog sticks will begin to “wobble” and lose accuracy. This manifests in games in a few ways: Breath of the Wild’s Link might start walking without any player input. You might find yourself unable to push “up,” even after repeated recalibration of the Joy-Con. Even at Polygon, I’m not alone in experiencing this drift, with five other employees mentioning similar issues with their Joy-Cons, with some lasting just a few months. And at $79.99 for a pair, the controllers are not cheap to replace.
A Reddit user, u/rainbopython, may have tracked down the cause of this drifting, tearing a Joy-Con down to its component parts and revealing serious wear on the contact pads. These worn contact pads will malfunction, causing the Switch to improperly interpret where the analog stick is at any given moment.
No matter the cause, the issue is widespread. DIY sites have posts dedicated to fixing the issue yourself and the Nintendo Switch subreddit is overrun with complaints. If Nintendo thinks this is bad, imagine what will happen if the Switch Lite’s analog sticks have the same issue. It’s one thing to ship a busted Joy-Con back to Nintendo, but imagine having to ship your entire handheld, leaving you without a gaming console, potentially for a few weeks. The blowback could easily match the disastrous Red Ring of Death, which made early Xbox 360 units so volatile.
What’s so surprising about the Joy-Con situation is that Nintendo has earned a reputation for hardware reliability over its history. In the Nintendo World Store in New York City, the company proudly displays a still-working Game Boy that survived a bombing during the Gulf War.
It’s that sort of reliability that I’d expect from present-day Nintendo controllers, but that’s not the case with its current Joy-Con controllers. The Switch Lite’s permanently-attached controllers leave no room for this sort of design error, so here’s hoping Nintendo is taking steps to remedy the issue. We’ve reached out to the company for comment on whether the Switch Lite’s analog sticks have been refined and will update this story once we hear back.