I spent about 10 minutes strolling through the lush green fields of Hyrule before I decided to change things up. I was playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild through a Nintendo Switch docked with a nice big television, which created an impressive sense of scale, showcasing just how huge of a world was out in front of me. But I didn’t feel like being tethered anymore. I deconstructed my controller, snapped its pieces on the side of the Switch tablet, and within a few seconds I was playing a huge Zelda game on a 6.2-inch tablet.
One of the biggest selling points of the Nintendo Switch is its hybrid nature. It’s a tablet that’s fully portable, and also a home console that connects to your television. But what really makes it all work is the incredibly flexible and functional new controllers called Joy-Con. They are the glue that holds the entire Switch concept together, letting you play different kinds of games in different configurations without the need for a bunch of expensive add-ons. The best part is that they work well, and switching between one mode and the next is practically seamless.
Each Switch comes with two of these tiny controllers — dubbed Joy-Con (L) and Joy-Con (R) — and they both include a variety of buttons, joysticks, and both motion control and vibration feedback. They can also be used in a number of configurations.
Here are few ways you can play Switch:
- The two Joy-Con can be snapped into a shell, called a Joy-Con Grip, which — and I mean this in the best way possible — feels like a real controller. It looks a bit weird, with a squashed-design that’s more narrow than something like DualShock 4, and resembles a particularly boxy puppy. But it’s solid to hold, like a really good Xbox One controller knock off. And it works well for more traditional games like Breath of the Wild.
- The Joy-Con also work as motion controllers, much like the Wii remote and nunchak combination, but without a cord holding them together. You can hold one in each hand, and they detect your movements so you can do things like punch other players in the new boxing game Arms. They actually feel more precise than Nintendo’s previous motion control options; in Arms, for instance, it can detect a straight punch versus one with a little curve.
- Switch features a kickstand so that you can prop it up on a table or other flat surface, and in this mode you can use the Joy-Con as two separate controllers. You hold them sideways, like an NES gamepad, and this mode lets you play two-person multiplayer games — like the revamped Mario Kart 8 Deluxe — without the need for additional accessories.
- The sideways controller also works great for playing old-school 2D titles. The Joy-Con are a bit tiny, but they’re perfectly functional in this mode, and feel very natural for games like the Sega Genesis-inspired side-scroller Sonic Mania.
This might seem confusing, with multiple configurations offering multiple ways to play games. But perhaps the most impressive thing about Switch is how easy it all is. For one thing, all of those options are available with what comes packed in the box, so the same controller can let you play Zelda on your TV, Mario Kart with a friend, or a motion-controlled boxing game. The Joy-Con feel comfortable and capable in each configuration, and switching between them is simple and intuitive.
There are other aspects of the controller that I haven’t yet experienced, such as oddly named “HD rumble” that Nintendo demonstrated on stage. And it’s hard to say if the tiny Joy-Con will still feel comfortable after prolonged use. But the fact that within a matter of seconds I can swap platforms right in the middle of game of Zelda is what has impressed me most about the Switch. And it’s thanks to these weird little controllers with a very odd name.