Which Console should you choose for portable gaming?


Why consoles? They are purpose-built for gaming.

The eternal question – what is the best gaming platform? The right question, as always, is what is the best gaming platform for you. Game exclusives are a thing on consoles more than PC, but they are a thing. If you have your heart set on playing Halo, you need an Xbox. Marvel’s Spider-Man? PlayStation. Mario/Zelda games? Switch.

This exclusives situation is partly why a lot of console gamers have a ‘big’ console and a portable. Or in other words, a PS4 or Xbox and a Switch.

Console gaming isn’t cheap, but it is less expensive than PC gaming. The cost of two consoles is comparable to a low to mid tier PC setup in terms of price. I am not recommending that you need to buy two consoles, but this is why a lot of the gamers you see on YouTube and the like have this kind of setup.

But that is what works for them – what about you? Did you decide on where you want to game?

Initially, I was going to do all of the consoles today in one piece. That was going to be a long read again, and I want to avoid that. So today, I am concentrating on the first type of console gaming – portable gaming.

Gaming on the go – The Nintendo Switch

Without playing on your phone or investing in some niche products, the Switch is the best console to take your games with you for playing anywhere.

Sure, technically there you can play on a gaming laptop, but they aren’t as portable as a Switch. Can you imagine setting up your computer on the bus?

The Switch eShop has a heap of PC indie games that are finally getting recognition on the Switch. There is also the first party Nintendo line up. A lot of people have complained that a lot of the Switch releases are ports of the Wii U games, and there is validity in that. But as the Wii U sold so badly comparatively speaking, a lot of great games just never got played.

My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There are a couple of downsides to gaming on the Switch though. The first is the price. Nintendo games, especially first-party titles, rarely drop in price. Breath of the Wild is about $10-15 less now three years after it’s initial release. Compare this to games on PC, PS4 and Xbox, and you can all but bank on the game being 2/3rds to half the original release price!

The beautiful thing about the Switch is playing in handheld mode, the game runs the same on the Switch or the Switch Lite, as they are the same hardware. 

But aren’t the graphics on the Switch only 720p? Why would I want such a bad resolution?

This is where you shouldn’t always look just at the numbers. The Switch doesn’t have the same graphical or computational power as the PS4 or the Xbox. Even most lower end PC Graphics Cards can do better than the Switch Graphics. This isn’t really the point of the Switch though.

You won’t see Ray Tracing on the Switch anytime soon. Photorealistic graphics don’t run as smoothly on Switch as it’s more highly powered bretheren. That doesn’t mean that the Switch has bad graphics though.

I usually trip up ‘graphics snobs’ on YouTube with a simple search. What do I look for? Check out how much fun they have with Minecraft. If you ever wanted to watch people have fun with ‘basic’ graphics, there is a stellar example.

OK, it's no Gran Turismo. But Asphalt 9 still looks amazing, even on a 1080p screen.

A trick that Nintendo uses in their games is the art style. By not trying for realistic hair and fabric movement, they don’t need as much horsepower as other consoles. The graphical presenation of games like Breath of the Wild isn’t purely an aesthetics choice – it helps performance as well.

The 720p limit is also mainly imposed on handheld mode. How much detail can you actually see on a 6″ screen? When playing docked, most games are played at 1080p. Why can you only play 1080p in docked mode?

Battery life mainly. By not having to push as many pixels, the Switch doesn’t need as much power. This means that in handheld mode, it doesn’t run as physically hot or need as much power as in docked mode.

Lower the scale, improve the quality. The reflections in Luigi's Mansion are an integral mechanic.

AAA games with photorealistic (or close to it) look amazing. I am not trying to say they don’t. But I have played a heap of graphically amazing games that are boring. It comes down to one simple question.

What’s more important – a great game, or great graphics? Of course we want both ideally. But if you look at games like Fez, Papers Please, Dead Cells or Celeste, you can’t tell me they are graphically impressive.

So it’s a case of picking your target. Yes, if a game is on PC, PS4, Xbox and Switch, the Switch will look graphically ‘poorer’ – but as long as it plays well, how important is it to you? This is where if you need better and smoother graphics, you need to sacrifice portability. At least today. Improvements continue all of the time, so better will always be around the corner.

After all that, there are two choices with the Switch – the Switch and the Switch Lite. It’s that simple. Both have the same game-playing hardware but differ in accessories and what they can (and can’t) do.

Let’s look at the Switch

The Switch comes with two detachable Joy-Cons, which you can use in a lot of games to play multiplayer with one Joy-Con each. 

The Joy-Cons also give you the benefit of motion controls and the rumble feature. Now for a lot of games, this is a pretty optional (some say gimmicky) feature. For many games, this isn’t a problem. But if you want to play Mario Party, prepare to shell out for some extra controllers to play the game at all!

It also comes with a Dock, meaning you can connect up your Switch to your TV and play in 1080p – the same base resolution as PS4 and Xbox.

So you can sit and play Breath of the Wild or The Witcher 3 (or any game!) on your couch on your big screen. When you have to go somewhere, pick up your Switch and keep playing on the go. It’s that simple. No syncing saves via Nintendo Online, no changing graphical settings, it just works.

All the basics are included in the box

Now let’s compare the Switch Lite

The benefits of the Switch Lite are pretty simple. First off is the price – the Switch Lite is about AUD$150 cheaper. You also have almost everything you need in a smaller package, more comfortable to carry around with you. Battery life is even better on the Switch Lite.

There are drawbacks, though. Want to play on the TV? Sorry, you can’t just buy a dock and expect it to plug straight in. The functionality isn’t built-in.

The lack of Joy-Cons also means that you can’t just hand a friend a controller for some spontaneous Mario Kart. Some games, like Mario Odysee, also shine with motion controls – in my opinion anyway. You can remedy this by buying Joy-Cons, but that starts getting expensive as we will look at in a minute.

The console. For portable gaming, it's all you need.

Must have accessories (Both Systems)

An SD card. The Switch comes with 32ish GB of intenral storage you can use, but a lot of games will eat through this storage very quickly.

Don’t get sucked in to the ‘Switch’ branded memory cards though. They work well, and are a safe buy, but you are buying a standard SanDisk SD card with Nintendo’s licensing markup included.

If you want a safe buy, stick with SanDisk SDXC cards. You should be looking at about AUD$80 for 128 GB models. You can save some money and get smaller cards, but they will hold fewer games.

Nintendo cartridges are doing a bit of a sneaky. The cartridge has some of the game on them, but get you to download the rest of the game. There is no cost to do this other than internet use, but many people expect the game to be on the cartridge.

You can switch SD cards as well, so if you end up with a lot of games you can use this function for managing your storage.

Retailing for AUD$59, you can get the same capacity Samsung Evo Plus for AUD$30

If you are playing portably, I would also recommend a screen protector and a case – just like your mobile phone.

I would suggest a budget of about AUD$60 for both a screen protector and a case, but this amount will change depending on the case you want to get. Bottom line is almost all cases are fine and will do the job, it’s a personal choice for the look you want. I only advise against cases that are fully soft (you can scuinch it up in your hand), as this reduced the protection for your Switch. Again, this is a personal choice though – a soft case might fit nicely in a pocket in your backpack.

The good news is you can’t really go wrong here. If the case holds everything you need, and you like the looks, it’s the right case. You can just protect your console, or get messenger bags dedicated to carrying all of your equipment. There are even lots of choices in between.

You can get cases to take your entire setup, or just the console itself. It all depends on what you need to carry with you.

So which should I buy?

If you only play games on your own or online and don’t mind not being able to play games on your TV, then have a good look at the Switch Lite. If you have smaller hands and the portability is important, the smaller sized Switch Lite will probably be better for you to carry around. Also, if you want to play on longer trips a lot, the better battery life can’t be underestimated.

As a general recommendation, I would say stick to Switch. Why? The flexibility and included experience you get all included. And in total, it works out pretty cheap in comparison.

Yes, battery life isn’t as good – don’t forget that catch. But I like playing on my TV, and I can only do that with the Switch. I am a taller guy, so the larger Switch is still pretty easy for me to carry and play on.

There is also to me the Switch’s better value. Yes, it’s $150 more expensive, so saying it’s good value seems counterintuitive. But if you add Joycons to play multiplayer and motion control games with, that’s an additional AUD$120 you are looking to add. All of a sudden, it only costs you $30 to play on the TV! Playing Mario Kart multiplayer is a lot easier on 40″+ screens than the Switch’s 6ish” screen (depending on Lite/Switch).

You don't need to go to this extreme, but I still think it looks amazing! Image Source: geekologie.com

Even if the dock did work with the Switch Lite, a dock by itself is also AUD$120, so in total that would be an extra $90 over just buying the Switch.

As always, it depends on your use scenario. The Switch Lite is excellent, and I can see why it works well for some people. If you are looking at it from a particular perspective, it makes a lot of sense. But hopefully, now you can see how the cheaper console isn’t always the most economical choice.

Wait, so the Switch is my only choice? What about the retro handheld consoles, or the 3DS? 

The last generation of 3DS ditched the 3D, but plays 99% of all the games
This is one such Retro Handheld that has caught a lot of attention

So why I am not talking about the 3DS is simple – it’s an all but dead system. I am not saying they are bad consoles; just they are becoming a niche purchase.

Right now, if you can find a new 3DS on the shelves, you will probably be looking at only a little lower cost than a Switch. People aren’t releasing new games for the console anymore, not really.

Not only are the consoles hard to find, but games are a mixed bag as well. There is a heap of cheap DS games at my local EB Games, for example, but I don’t want to play many of them. All of the DS games I want to play I already own, and I still intend to make my way through the games I haven’t finished.

Some games though I am putting off for the Switch rerelease. One such game is Xenoblade Chronicles. I enjoyed what I played of it, but I was nowhere near finishing it! I can play the new streamlined and visually upgraded version on the Switch, on a much bigger screen – even if I don’t play it on my TV!

Retro handheld consoles are also a mixed bag, both in experience and legality. I am not trying to say that such consoles are illegal, but many of the more popular ones come with some undoubtedly illegal game versions.

These retro consoles also tend to require a lot of user tweaking for the best experience. A lot of the retro consoles I would recommend are locked to only a few titles, and this is done so you can pick a game and play. These offer the most hands-off experience, but only for certain older games.

Playing these older games have their place in what people want to play, and if you have any interest, I encourage you to give them a try. Seeing where elements of game design started, and how much we still owe to ‘old’ games is eye-opening.

Retro gaming is great, but for the majority of people aren’t what people are talking about when talking gaming. Besides, if you look through the Switch eStore, you will see a lot of these retro games designed to work well on the Switch as well! And if you are into modding and other ‘advanced’ tricks (and have the time to research the pros and cons), you can get the same emulators running on the Switch as well. That I will leave to others to explain.

Questions?

Hopefully, that helped you work out which Switch Console works for you. If you have any other questions, drop me a comment below or on Facebook. I have tried to keep everything pretty general, but if enough specific issues come up I am happy to look at particular situations!

Thursday I will be looking at the ‘big two’ – PlayStation vs Xbox, and if you need to spend the extra on the Pro or X versions.

Until tomorrow and the Yeti hunt,

JohnHQLD