Let’s get down to it, shall we? There are two types of Nintendo Switch owners: those who have experienced drifting issues with their joy-con controllers, and those who will (and sooner rather than later, too). You know which handheld didn’t have drifting analog sticks or dying shoulder buttons? Yep, it’s the Vita.
I find it rather hilarious that whenever I see people complaining about the drifting issues, there’s inevitably that person who goes “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, my joy-cons are fine!”. Yeah, well, that puts you in a very vocal minority, pal. The truth is, joy-cons have been a bit of a quietly brewing nightmare for Nintendo, and the storm ain’t so quiet anymore. Your odds are definitely better at live casinos than at owning a joy-con that won’t go kaput within a year or two.
But you know which handheld didn’t have this issue? That’s right: the gutsy little Vita. I’ve had mine since 2014, and to be honest, I’ve never experienced any issues with it at all, much less with its controls (other than a poorly ageing battery). I’m not alone, either: I don’t know of a single Vita owner (and, being Deputy Head here at Vita Player, I’ve spoken to a lot of them) who’s had an issue with drifting or buttons dying.
What’s odd is that Nintendo was the first one to do analog sticks on a home console’s gamepad at a large scale: the Nintendo 64 popularized analog sticks in the 90s like the joysticks of the Atari VCS did it for the 80s. So, how can they get it so wrong? And yes, before you ask, I have joy-con issues, too. I’m extra lucky, in fact: not only do I have drifting, one of my shoulder buttons died, too (this issue is also common, but less so than the drifting).
The answer seems to be cheaply made parts mixed with poor design. There are certain reports going around that the mechanism used by Nintendo for the joy-con analog sticks contain less-than-optimal graphite-and-metal combination. This graphite running amok is causing all kinds of issues, and I’m just flabbergasted that this happened in the first place. But the real surprise (or lack thereof) is that Nintendo has kept its mouth shut about it (odd, considering they love to open it when they gotta sue someone to the ground). There’s been no real official answer to this, and more importantly, no intention of fixing the issue.
While it’s somewhat easy to just go “buy another pair!” or “buy a Pro controller!”, the issue really starts to become worrying when you think about the upcoming Switch Lite, which will not have removable joy-cons. So, if you get a drifting analog stick that cannot be fixed by bathing it in IPA or re-calibrating it… are you done? Do you now have to disassemble your console and risk ruining further just to fix an issue that shouldn’t have existed? Let’s be clear about this: I can play a game on a 30-year-old console more reliably than on Nintendo’s flagship product?
And let’s go back to the Vita, for a moment. It’s been years since it launched, and really decades since the original DualShock controllers launched as well. And yet, none of them seem to have this issue. Nintendo is banking on the Switch’s unique portability and “transformability” in order to shift units. But if you’re going to end up with a dead controller, is it really worth all that hassle? This will also hurt second-hand value tremendously, as people are going to be much less likely to buy a used Switch with used joy-cons, let alone a used Switch Lite.
Speaking of which: Nintendo just launched the first major revision for the Nintendo Switch: it includes much improved battery life (almost doubled) thanks to a different, more energy-efficient panel. It also includes joy-cons that have addressed the first-gen issues with connectivity by relocating the antenna. But lo-and-behold, they still use the same analog stick mechanism, which leads me to believe they will also fail, much like the current, “older” generation.
Let’s think about the Switch Lite again: if the Lite has the same graphite-based analog stick system, what will happen when you (inevitably, I might add), run into the drifting issue and drowning it in IPA just won’t solve it? Well, the class-action lawsuit that is looming over Nintendo regarding this very matter might have a say into what kind of mechanism they use moving forward.
Sadly, for now, you better stock up on both IPA and spare joy-cons, as it appears that the “new” Nintendo Switch, as well as the Switch Lite (which, by the way, was the version I was looking forward to the most), will continue to be plagued by controller issues for the foreseeable future. “At least they are fixing joy-cons for free!”, I hear you cry. Yeah, well, the nearest repair shop to me is in Costa Rica. Literally, another continent. Fancy a vacation?