Nintendo’s got a winner on its hands with the Nintendo Switch, there’s no denying it. The hybrid console, whether connected to your TV at home or in your hands while you’re on the go, has revitalized the company, helped spawn an indie game revival, and successfully introduced a new audience to both the company’s most iconic characters as well as its newer, more experimental titles.
But like the ship of Theseus, how much of the Switch can you change, replace, or remove before it becomes something else? And is the Switch Lite, Nintendo’s new handheld-only version of the Switch, truly worthy of the name? I mean, come on, it doesn’t even do any switching!
At $199, the Switch Lite undercuts the larger Switch by a cool hundred bucks, putting it well within impulsive holiday purchase territory. But a few bucks isn’t the only thing the handheld console ditches. The Switch Lite certainly takes its misspelled name to heart. While the original Switch isn’t heavy by any means — just over 14 ounces when connected to its detachable, motion-sensitive Joy-Con controllers — the Switch Lite trims the fat down to a svelte 9.8 ounces. It’s also shorter than the original Switch, and shaves off over an inch of length.
The weight reduction is a welcome improvement, and the smaller dimensions make it easy to pop in your bag, useful for a device intended exclusively for handheld play — just be mindful of those protruding joysticks. You’ll be glad it’s lighter, because you’ll be holding it for longer. The Switch Lite adds, on average, about an hour of extra play time compared to the original Switch (which recently got a battery boost). It retains the same rectangular shape, but the smaller controls will be more comfortable for some players, especially during long gaming sessions.
The capacitive touchscreen, down from 6.2 to 5.5 inches, ditches the multitouch feature but maintains its 720p resolution, and titles look even more crisp on the smaller display. Inside is 32GB of internal storage, which fills up fast, but you can add more via its MicroSD slot. If you plan on downloading games from Nintendo’s eShop, you should purchase some extra memory at your earliest convenience.
Of course, all that power in such a small package comes at a cost. Certain Switch features, like the ability to play titles on your TV via a docking station or detachable controllers for instant two-player action, have been jettisoned from the Switch Lite. (You can still pair external controllers, but you’ll have to buy them and carry them around separately.)
Aside from the smaller size, the main difference between the Switch and the Switch Lite is the latter’s lack of many bells and whistles. You’ll still have access to features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC for connecting to amiibo toys for some in-game surprises, but features like HD rumble and the IR blaster (integrated into every right-handed Joy-Con controller) are gone. While the lack of detachable controllers is an understandable change made in the interest of portability, the missing docking feature is disappointing.
As for games, the Switch Lite delivers. It gets plenty bright, really loud, and feels as responsive as the original Switch. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just as exhilarating on the more diminutive display, and a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate kept my skills sharp when I was lucky enough to grab a seat on the subway. It’s fun to play, but could do a bit more to accommodate the changing ways in which people game — why no support for Bluetooth headphones, Nintendo?
Due to the Switch Lite’s barebones nature, games designed to take advantage of features like the Switch dock or accessories like Nintendo’s cardboard Labo series of games aren’t compatible with the Switch Lite. Nintendo says the Switch Lite will play any game that supports “Handheld Mode” style play, but that means a select few of the more intriguing and innovative Switch titles are unavailable on the Switch Lite. It shouldn’t be a big deal for most, as you can still play over 2,000 games.
There are a few marks against the Switch Lite, however. For one, it’s hard to justify toting around a device dedicated primarily to games, not an ideal device for straphangers. Two-handed use is basically the norm; passive consumption isn’t the Switch’s forte. Nintendo still has a dearth of entertainment options, and lacks the standard suite of streaming media options available on every other console (you’ve got access to Hulu and YouTube, but that’s about it).
Another issue? Nintendo’s draconian restrictions when it comes to playing on more than one console make owning a second Switch console a lesson in how smartphone hotspots work. If you’ve got more than one Switch linked to your account, you’ll have to designate one as the “primary” console, and ensure your second Switch has internet access at the start of play to determine if the game is in use on your primary console. The problem is so confusing, Nintendo has two support articles explaining its annoying DRM implementation. In short, if you plan on buying a second Switch console, you’re better off designating the Lite as your primary console, as it’s more likely it’ll be away from the internet compared to that TV-friendly Switch.
Terrible content restrictions and missing creature comforts aside, the Nintendo Switch Lite gives prospective players what they want: a more convenient way to play their favorite games on the go. For prospective Switch owners, the Switch Lite offers an inexpensive way to get into nearly every game available, including best-selling titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and upcoming games like Pokémon: Sword & Shield. For current Switch owners, it means you’ll have a lot more opponents in online matches come this holiday season.
Calling it the second coming of the iconic Game Boy might sound cute and catchy, but in the Switch Lite — tiny screen and content restrictions included — might be the second coming of portable game consoles, an art form Nintendo has long perfected.