Nintendo Switch: What’s it like to use the Joy-Con?

We spoke a little in our hands-on event wrap-up piece about how it felt to actually wield the Joy-Con controllers in their many different configurations, but in this piece we intend to go more in-depth. What works, what doesn’t and where we think there’s room for even more exciting ways to use the Joy-Con.
What works:

The Joy-Con controllers, particularly in their duel-wield configuration in something like ARMS, feel like Nintendo finally have motion controls down to an art. For some it may still feel gimmicky but for us, playing ARMS was a deeply intuitive experience. The moment the game instructs you on how to properly hold the Joy-Cons (vertically, in your fist with your hands held up like a boxer putting up their dukes), everything just works. You twist your wrist while punching and your punches will take on a curve or new disabling element. You can effortlessly fake out with one hand and batter your opponent with another.

Controller weight is an issue with games like these where moving about is a significant part of the gameplay. With the individual Joy-Cons, this issue is negligible. They’re light enough that you can punch and flail wildly for as long as your feeble human arms can withstand such sudden and vigourous exercise.

Each individual Joy-Con features a rather astounding amount of buttons — eleven in total, not including the joystick. You would think packing all of those buttons onto such a small device that things would quickly become cramped or crowded but it never feels that way at all. Time may tell on this one as new games with wildly different control schemes to come market, but among the games that take advantage of the single or double Joy-Con config, they are very smart at figuring out which of the eleven buttons they need and stick exclusively to them.

When attached to the Joy-Con Grip, both controllers become a single unit. This is the control pad you’ve likely seen in many of the promotional images and key art for the console — it looks a bit like a grey Sao biscuit.

Odd face shape aside, the Grip actually feels quite comfortable. It conforms to the hand nicely and the slides on either side hold the Joy-Cons firmly in place. While this places the right-hand joystick a little further up the face of the controller than it feels like it needs to be, we had no issues actually reaching it.

This same sliding design reappears on either side of the main handheld unit and allows the Joy-Con units to be held fast to either side. The machine then registers the controllers and allows you to play your game on the device itself. When you’re done with the unit, or wish to switch back to the TV, replace the handheld unit in the dock and slide the Joy-Con controllers back out.

It must be said, all this sliding the Joy-Cons on and off of different pieces of hardware raises legitimate concerns about wear-and-tear. Should the slide rails become worn or warped, how will that affect the Switch’s performance? Will it render them, or worse the handheld unit, utterly useless under certain circumstances? Time is going to tell on that one.

What doesn’t work:

One issue we ran into on multiple occasions was that the Joy-Cons were suffering severe input lag. This was explained by the Nintendo staff on hand as being the result of having so many Switches in close proximity for the event and the fact that many of the games we were playing were far from complete. Fair explanations both and we’re inclined to believe them, but it does make us curious about Nintendo’s LAN party aspirations for the machine. What’s the upper limit on Switch consoles in a room before the input lag begins to rear its head?

The good news is that this was really the only area where we felt the Joy-Con was having any real issues. This is a pretty nice controller across the board.

Looking ahead:

There are so many things you could use the Joy-Con for! We know that Ubisoft is looking to bring their snowboarding title Steep to the Switch and we thing the Joy-Cons in the two-handed config would be the perfect stand-in for a pair of ski poles.

Another area we could these controls shining is in first person titles, be they shooters, a flight simulator or an adventure game. Skyrim looks to be taking advantage of this very interactivity with its jump to Switch.

This last one is rather pie-in-the-sky and highly unlikely given Nintendo’s history with the platform, but wouldn’t the Joy-Com’s make a great pair of VR interactors? Take a moment to consider a VR Metroid Prime or Star Fox title using the two-handed Joy-Com. Consider this beautiful hypothetical your new Happy Place when times are tough.

The Nintendo Switch releases on March 3 and retail for AU$469.99. It will come with two Joy-Con controllers right there in the box.