It’s been a little over a month since Nintendo announced the Switch Lite, a handheld-only version of their handheld-console hybrid. They recently held a series of small events offering hands-on experience with the system via four 15-minute demos of Pokémon Sword & Shield, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Daemon X Machina. I was able to attend one of these events in downtown Toronto and can attest that the Nintendo Switch Lite is exactly as advertised.
Like the 2DS before it, it seems rather odd that this alternate version would undermine the system’s namesake feature, even if it comes with a lower price tag. Everything about it makes sense, however, considering its target audience is on the younger side. It’s slightly smaller than the regular Switch with Joy-Con attached — the right analog stick and D-pad feels a little cramped in my average adult male hands, but it would fit perfectly for the demographic it’s meant for. The size difference is fairly negligible otherwise; the screen is slightly smaller, but not so much that it feels any different from the original when playing in handheld mode.
The build quality is at the level expected of Nintendo at this point. In fact, it feels more solid than the standard model, because it’s now a single piece of hardware rather than multiple pieces snapped together. I think this improves the aesthetics as well. As iconic as that red and blue color scheme is, the solid tones of the Lite look very sleek and ironically less toy-like than before. Even the unusual yellow option looks pretty appealing. The only other physical difference is the lack of a kickstand; the layout of the various buttons and ports is identical.
As for the games, Link’s Awakening and Pokémon are perfectly suited to the Lite, since their art styles are all about big, distinct characters and minimal interfaces. Luigi’s Mansion 3 has slightly more detailed environments, which was not a problem 90 percent of the time, but in scenarios where the camera zoomed out, things became a little indistinct. Daemon X Machina was only demonstrated on the standard Switch’s TV mode, and with good reason – it may technically be compatible with handheld mode, but there’s so much information on-screen at any time that it would be barely playable that way.
Daemon X Machina seemed out of place in general. I was informed that many of its developers are veterans of the Armored Core series, and I believe it, because the 15-minute demo could barely scratch the surface of its obvious complexity (both gameplay and story). It controls better than Armored Core ever did though, and the art is a stylish treat, so it seems unexpectedly promising. The demo for Luigi’s Mansion 3 was a very straightforward presentation of the new mechanics, including slamming ghosts against the floor, removing their armor with “suction shots,” and solving puzzles in conjunction with Luigi’s gooey doppelganger, Gooigi. These mechanics synergize with the existing gameplay very well and have plenty of potential to be further explored.
Link’s Awakening always struck me as an odd choice for a remake, because it already holds up extremely well, but there’s still some modernization on display. Aside from the lovely new visuals, the controls have been overhauled to take advantage of the Switch’s buttons (no more cycling items between two inventory slots), and quest tracking and menu navigation have been added and streamlined, respectively. Finally, While Sword and Shield’s presentation certainly takes advantage of the hardware upgrade, the big test for me was the Dynamax mechanic. After trying it out, I’m fairly certain it will be an interesting addition to the competitive scene, but it’s likely to break the main story even for inexperienced players, just as Mega Evolution did in X and Y.
Fans will get a chance to play the Nintendo Switch Lite when it launches alongside Link’s Awakening on September 20th, while Daemon X Machina will be available as early as September 13th. Luigi’s Mansion 3 will launch on Halloween, followed by Pokémon Sword & Shield on November 15th.
Our hands-on time with the Nintendo Switch Lite took place at a preview event hosted by Nintendo.