Three Troubling Days With Nintendo Switch

by Andrew Reiner on Mar 13, 2017 at 11:09 AM

When I purchase a game console, I expect it to work. I don’t know if the machine will live up to my expectations or have a significant lifespan, but being able to use it on day one should be a guarantee. I may occasionally get snakebit by a defective unit that needs to be replaced, or a system update that takes forever to download, but I’ve never seen a console not work because a room in my house has too many wires or a fish tank in it.

That’s the Nintendo Switch. On the day of the system’s launch, I raced home to add it to my game room – a darkened corner of my house that has christened generation after generation of gaming technology. I hooked up the Switch, and slid into my leather recliner for what I hoped would be a long night with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

I quickly noticed Link wasn’t reacting to my inputs. He ran forward, but wouldn’t respond to my requests to turn. I looked down at my controller and saw dancing green lights on the left Joy-Con, signaling a loss of sync with the Switch.

I moved within two feet of the dock, which was positioned on the floor to the left of my TV display, and the Joy-Con regained connection. Retreating to my chair, positioned just six feet away, led to another sync loss. My initial thought was my left Joy-Con may be defective, since the right one was working without error.

Before packing the Switch back into the box, I kicked off a series of experiments, beginning with the dock moving to the other side of the television. The same problem occurred within seconds of connecting. A third position directly in front of the TV (and just three feet in front of me) also failed.

My final hope was to see if other people were having similar problems (and potentially a solution). I jumped online, read a handful of similar reports on Twitter, and found a link to Nintendo’s official support page for Switch.

Nintendo’s document read: “Ensure your console has the latest system update.”

Check. I installed the update at work prior to heading home, and it seems to be working fine.

“Ensure the Joy-Con controllers are charged.”

Check again. The battery is full.

“Try to decrease the distance between the Joy-Con and the Nintendo Switch console.”

I’m at three feet now. Any additional trimming would be ridiculous.

“Ensure that the Nintendo Switch console is placed to minimize interference with the Joy-Con. It is best if the Nintendo Switch console is placed out in the open and that it is not behind the TV, near an aquarium, placed in or under a metal object, pressed against a large amount of wires or cords, within three to four feet of another wireless device, such as a wireless speaker or wireless access point.”

I couldn’t believe what I just read. The Switch can’t sit near wires, a metal object, or a wireless access point? What kind of technology is Nintendo using?

The document continued: “Check for possible sources of interference and turn them off. Interference can be caused by devices, such as laptops, tablets, wireless headsets, wireless printers, microwaves, wireless speakers, cordless phones, USB 3.0 compatible devices such as hard drives, thumb drives, LAN adapters, etc.”

My game room has three consoles connected to the TV, a router, my cell phone, a receiver and other gadgets – I’m guessing most gamers’ habitats hold similar things. Which item in my room was causing the interference? I was hit by the horrible realization of having to test everything to figure out the source.

Before doing that, I first wanted to rule out the possibility of my left Joy-Con being defective. I moved the Switch into the living room, which is roughly 20 feet away from my game room. If it didn’t work here, I could isolate the left Joy-Con as the problem and head to the store to return it.

The Switch ended up working perfectly in every other room I tested it in. I retreated to my game room and did a quick scan of the technology within it. The game consoles, phone, and router could be the source, but my eyes fixated on the fuse box – a moderately sized metal container housing dozens of wires. Could that be the problem? It was a good eight feet away from the Switch when I tested it.

Over the next hour, I unplugged every device in my game room, except for the TV and the Switch. It still wouldn’t work. I concluded it must be the fuse box, or the abundance of wires tucked behind the TV.

The Switch is now in my living room, far removed from my gaming area. I had no other option. My game room is apparently the Bermuda Triangle for this system. My solution isn’t ideal, but it works.

I was hoping that would be the last of the issues I experienced with the Switch, but the next morning brought another. When I removed the tablet from the dock, it briefly touched the housing, leading to a small scratch on the left side of the screen.

I wasn’t careful enough – I own this mistake fully, but I can’t believe how easily this screen scratches (watch this excellent video by Jerry Rig Everything to find out why it scratches). I sometimes make the mistake of putting my keys in the same pocket as my iPhone, and I’ve yet to scratch it. One miscalculation in an undocking trajectory led to a scratch. Wow.

I once again jumped online to see if anyone else reported similar issues, and found entry after entry of angry people showing pictures of scratched screens. Some people have even added padding to their dock to prevent this from happening.

Reports show the screen is scratch prone, and is made of plastic, whereas most phone screens are glass. I have a nice carrying case for my Switch, but I should have also purchased a screen protector for it. I was fortunate enough that the scratch occurred on the black edging and not on the playfield itself.

The third day of owning a Switch brought another issue. I can slide the left Joy-Con off of the screen without pressing the button to release it. This defect may have been there since day one, and  I didn’t notice it, but it could lead to disaster.

Upon further inspection, I noticed a small piece of grey plastic on the left Joy-Con was chipped, likely from sliding it back onto the screen. That small chip allows the Joy-Con to freely slide off of the housing. I can still play in mobile mode without experiencing any issues, but I have to be careful how I carry it, as the weight of the unit is enough to dislodge it at the right angle.

Even after three consecutive days of problems, my early takeaway from Switch haven’t changed: It’s an amazing product. Being able to play Zelda on my TV and continue the adventure on the go is a game changer for me. My lunch breaks at work no longer consist of Clash Royale on my iPhone. I’m now playing Zelda. It’s awesome. The mobility aspect is a powerful hook for someone who lives games.

As I jokingly told my coworkers, I plan on playing Zelda every day for the remainder of the year. In the back of my mind though, I’m worried my system won’t hold up that long. If that ends up being the case, I could lose all of my progress in Zelda, as saves cannot be transferred in any way.

Nintendo has created a dream system for someone like me, but it feels like a ticking time bomb. I hope Nintendo’s R&D division is looking for solutions to the Joy-Con and screen-scratching issues. A redesigned dock seems like a good place to start.

After living through the red ring of death era, my issues with Switch aren’t that bad, but they are puzzling, given Nintendo has a long history of making durable product. Switch doesn’t appear to have the same foresight applied to pinpointing potential problems. For fear of not being able to finish Zelda, I’m treating my system like a Fabergé egg – handling it gently and making sure it’s always in a safe location. Cross your fingers for me, and all gamers who own fish. We just want to play Zelda in our game rooms. Is that too much to ask?