These days, every new console launch is followed by an online flood of complaints about quality control issues. Far too many original Nintendo DS systems showed up with dead pixels. The Xbox 360 was plagued by vague Red Ring of Death “general hardware failures”. The PlayStation 4 is known to spontaneously shut itself off. (Save your games early and often!) So it’s not surprising that people have run into problems with the new hybrid Nintendo Switch. But are its glaring design flaws and Nintendo’s apathetic response a sign that the system was released half-baked – and they just don’t care?
The most egregious problem that’s been reported, one that is pure design flaw, is not with the system itself but with a very basic accessory. As a hybrid game console, the Switch is a portable that’s also meant to be used as a home console. It comes with a dock so you can take the controllers off and connect the tablet, along with the real guts of the system, to your entertainment system of choice. Except there have been many, many reports that the dock actually scratches the screen of the tablet. It’s not a system-breaking problem, and not everyone has it, but it shouldn’t be happening at all. Nintendo bills themselves as the family-friendly game company, so their hardware should really be able to stand up to a 5-year-old shoving it into the dock. If they can manage to use plastic that tastes bad to discourage kids from chewing cartridges, they can do that.
For that matter, the fact that is has a plastic screen at all is questionable at a time when you can go to Big Lots and get a cheap Android tablet with a glass screen for a fraction of the price. The plastic screens on the DS and 3DS were protected by their clamshell design, and earlier portable systems were cheap enough and predated smartphones by long enough for it to be expected. But how much could it possibly add to the price of the already-$300 system to give it the same 6.2” glass screen you’d put on any bargain smartphone?
The Switch comes with a built-in kickstand that’s similarly poorly designed – or perhaps it’s the USB Type-C port that’s poorly placed, since you can’t access it to charge the system when it’s on the kickstand.
Other common problems are mostly straight technical ones: the second JoyCon controller’s Bluetooth connection dropping at random, more dead pixels, and the usual crashes and screen problems. And it seems unfair to mention that the Switch launched with only one game worth buying – the open-world Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which has been compared favorably to Skyrim and Witcher 3 – since that’s par for the course for Nintendo.
The biggest problem is that this feels like more of the same half-baked output the gaming industry has gotten into the habit of expecting us to buy. But unlike barely-finished games like Batman: Arkham Knight andAssassin's Creed Unity, hardware can’t be patched after release. Nintendo has a long history of releasing updated versions of its portable systems – the Game Boy Pocket, the Game Boy Advance SP, the DS Lite – but the original versions of those were at least good, functional pieces of hardware to begin with.
And ugly trends like this will only be reversed when gamers start punishing the companies responsible by waiting to buy their products until they’re actually finished.