The sheer number of ways to play the Nintendo Switch can be overwhelming – between Joy-Cons, Pro Controllers and strange plastic wheels, there’s a lot of ways to play the new console. Let’s take a look at some of the various controllers that are available for the Switch at launch that we’ve been able to go hands-on with.
First up, the Joy-Cons themselves. The pair of tiny wand-like controllers are incredibly versatile – when attached to the Switch or a Joy-Con grip, they do a pretty good job of giving you the standard controls you’re used to. They can also be slid off to serve as motion controls, or used individually to play two-player games.
When attached to the Switch, the Joy-Cons act and feel quite similar to the buttons on a 3DS. There are differences, though – one of the most prominent is that the Joy-Cons have full analogue sticks, not circle pads. In use, the analogue sticks are comfortable, responsive and solid, maintaining the quality Nintendo are known for.
Unfortunately, one of the Joy-Cons I used had some wobble in its stick – something that I believe was caused by a defective demo unit. However, I experienced the problem with a presumably barely-used demonstration unit, so it bears pointing out.
Otherwise, the physical build of the Joy-Cons is as solid as you’d expect from Nintendo. The buttons are tactile and clicky, and the controllers feel well-built and solid in the hand. While they have a little weight to them, they’re not at all heavy.
The button placement is different than you might be used to in a couple of different ways. Most obviously, the 3DS’s Start and Select buttons have been replaced with + and – buttons located in the top corners of each Joy-Con. It’s an odd placement, although easy to reach once you get used to it. I personally prefer this to the 3DS’ button layout!
There’s also a new Share button, on the left Joy-Con. Pressing this takes a screenshot of whatever’s on your screen, and you can share these images to supported social networks. (Nintendo have said that they’re exploring video recording for a future update).
If you slide the Joy-Cons off the Switch, you can use each separately for two-player play. This reveals one of the biggest advantages of detachable controllers: with a single Switch unit, you can play multiplayer anywhere. Just pull out the controllers, give your friend one, and play.
The face buttons and sticks look oddly positioned for horizontal use at first glance, but they are remarkably comfortable and perfectly sized. It’s easy to forget you’re using tiny controllers when you’re engrossed in a game.
You also get access to extra SL and SR buttons on the flat side of the Joy-Con, instead of the regular triggers. These are normally tiny, but can be converted into full-size buttons if the Joy-Con is slid into one of the included wrist straps. I recommend doing so – it’s much more comfortable!
Each Joy-Con is rated for 20 hours’ play and you’ll need to attach them to the Switch itself to charge. If you want to charge more than two Joy-Cons at the same time, you’ll need a Joy-Con Charging Grip or a third-party Joy-Con stand.
A pair of Joy-Cons comes in the box with every Switch, but another pair will run you £70. You can get them in either grey or Neon Blue and Neon Red. For now, you can’t get a pair of just blue or red Joy-Cons in Europe, although they are offered in the US. If you want just a single Joy-Con, you can get either a left or right Joy-Con in grey for £40.
Joy-Con Grip and Charging Grip
The Joy-Con Grip comes bundled with the Switch, which gives you an easy way to use your Joy-Cons like a traditional controller. Despite its distinctive puppy-face shape, the Joy-Con Grip is a surprisingly comfortable and well-weighted controller. A session with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild didn’t cause any discomfort or pain for me and I quickly forgot that I was using a controller that is, inherently, a compromise.
That compromise is the only real issue – when docked in a grip, you naturally expect larger buttons and triggers, so using the Joy-Con Grip will require a little muscle memory adjustment if you’re used to other controllers.
Overall, though, it turns out that you get a remarkably solid and usable controller for free with the Switch. It will easily serve most people’s purposes without any major issues. Nintendo are known for making weird and wonderful controller designs work, and the Joy-Con Grip is no exception.
The Joy-Con Charging Grip is nearly identical to the regular Joy-Con Grip, but has a USB-C charging port on the top. This allows you to charge your Joy-Cons while playing. However, given that the Joy-Cons have a claimed 20-hour battery life, it’s unlikely you’ll need to – just slide them onto the Switch itself to charge them when you’re done playing. The main advantage of buying a Charging Grip is to have a way to charge and use additional Joy-Cons at the same time as your existing ones. If you only have one pair, or don’t mind swapping grips about on the Switch to charge, the included grip will be just fine.
You can’t currently buy the regular Joy-Con Grip separately, but if you’re looking for a Charging Grip, it’ll run you around £25-30.
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
The third official option is the Switch Pro Controller, Nintendo’s official full-sized gamepad. Unlike the Wii U Pro Controller before it, the Switch Pro Controller comes equipped with full rumble, motion controls and an NFC sensor for amiibo, so it has all the functionality that any hardcore gamer might need.
Playing Splatoon 2 with this controller was a dream – unlike the unwieldy size and bulk of the Wii U Gamepad, this controller was responsive and tactile; I managed to dial in my aim in seconds.
Weight-wise, the controller has a bit more heft than the Wii U Pro Controller, and the buttons are very pleasantly clicky and tactile – simply, this is a very well-built gamepad. While the Pro Controller’s appearance and layout isn’t to everyone’s taste, the build quality and functionality is among the best of Nintendo’s controllers.
Unfortunately, the Pro Controller suffers from one massive drawback: the price. At £65 in most shops, it’s incredibly hard to recommend the Pro Controller over the included Joy-Con Grip. Despite its superior build and quality, it’s just not worth £65 on top of an already expensive console.
What Should I Buy?
So, when it comes down to it, what would we recommend you buy among the myriad of accessories? The answer, surprisingly, is “probably nothing.” For your money, the Switch comes with everything you need for one or two-player play in the majority of situations.
The included Joy-Cons work well held in each hand for Wii-esque motion games, or slide into the surprisingly comfortable (and also included) Joy-Con Grip to use as a traditional controller. They also work well individually when playing multiplayer games.
Nintendo have done a great job with the Switch’s controller and bundled accessories. The Joy-Cons are versatile enough that they can be used for many different purposes on their own, and the included Grip rounds out the possibilities well. Even the wrist straps serve a purpose, allowing you to use individual Joy-Cons comfortably (and without throwing them at your TV!)
The need for accessories only arises for those with quite specific needs. Those expecting to be playing a lot of local multiplayer with family or friends might appreciate an extra pair of Joy-Cons and a Joy-Con Charging Grip. People expecting to play a lot of Splatoon or other hardcore, precise games, on the other hand, would enjoy the full-sized Pro Controller.
Unfortunately, Nintendo’s pricing strategy is proving likely to turn off those people. The hardcore gamer is looking at a £60-65 outlay for one Pro Controller. The multiplayer gamer is looking at even more – a pair of Joy-Cons and the Charging Grip costs £95-£100, although you can get third-party Joy-Con charging stands for significantly less.
It’s hard to justify spending £340 on a Switch and a full priced game, then going out and spend that much money on extra controllers, especially with two-player play possible out of the box. Asking £60 for a Pro Controller is simply absurd, and £70 for a pair of Joy-Cons risks ensuring that only the most committed Nintendo fans will fork out for extras. Those who plan to buy a Switch for their kids should be careful not to let them lose the Joy-Cons, too – even if you only have to replace one, a single Joy-Con is £40.
Ultimately, the situation with accessories is the similar to that with the Switch itself. The actual devices themselves are incredibly well-designed, well-built and interact together beautifully. One example: you can pair Joy-Cons just by sliding them onto the Switch and off again, which is an excellent and simple solution to an incredibly annoying problem. But once these great ideas get to the till, it’s very difficult to justify the prices Nintendo are asking.
Hopefully Nintendo or the retailers drop the exorbitant prices once there are Switches in the wild. If they do, I’d recommend any of these controllers happily.