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Ever since it entered the world of video games, a few things about Nintendo have remained consistent. Perhaps the most enduring is that the company knows how to make a great portable gaming experience. From the groundbreaking Game & Watch to the original Game Boy brick to the strangely enticing dual-screened DS, Nintendo has always made hardware you want to hold in your hands and play with. It’s a company that understands gaming on the go.
In 2017, it took that idea in a different direction with the Switch, which blurred the line between a traditional handheld and a home gaming console. It was a tablet you could play wherever you wanted but also slide into a dock to play games on your television. There was no division between console games and portable games. There were just games. For many people, myself included, this allowed them to play games on their own terms, wherever and whenever they were able. Considering how demanding a hobby this can be, it was a freeing notion.
Now things have come full circle with the $199 Switch Lite, which hits stores starting on September 20th. It’s a smaller and cheaper version of the device that cuts out a core feature: you can’t hook up a Switch Lite to your TV. It’s designed exclusively for playing in handheld mode. With the original Switch, Nintendo proved that games didn’t have to be designed around hardware, and that with the right device, you could enjoy the same game in a variety of places and situations. With the Switch Lite, the company has proved something very different: it can still build one hell of a handheld.
Aside from the scaling down, the biggest change is the controls. Whereas the original Switch had detachable Joy-Con controllers, on the Lite, they’re built right in. This means a few things. One, you can’t play any games that require detached Joy-Con controllers, like the fighting game Arms or the Labo line of DIY cardboard contraptions, out of the box. You’ll need to pick up a separate set of Joy-Con to do that. But it also means the Switch Lite is a much sturdier, more streamlined device. As an all-in-one unit, it’s solid, making it much better for kids or people who travel a lot. You don’t feel the controls shift and move the way you do with a normal Switch. It’s the kind of thing you can toss in a messenger bag and not worry about.
It also looks much better. The Switch Lite comes in three colors — gray, yellow, and teal — and the entire unit, bezel included, is a uniform shade, so you don’t get the ugly black border of the original Switch. It’s just a much cleaner look, and the Switch Lite’s matte plastic body is also more grippy and comfortable, and less prone to smears from sweaty hands.
If you already own a Switch and love it, the Lite isn’t a necessary upgrade, unless you’re absolutely dying for a proper D-pad. The improvements are welcome, but not drastic enough to warrant getting a whole new device. The Switch Lite is for people who are sitting on the proverbial fence: someone who liked the idea of Nintendo’s tablet but couldn’t quite stomach a $300 price tag and who didn’t really want to play games on a TV anyway. The kind of person who just wants a machine for playing Breath of the Wild on a plane or a kid who needs the latest Pokémon to fill those quiet summer afternoons. If the cut features don’t feel necessary to you, the Switch Lite will likely be a good option.