Gadgets for humans

Splatoon headset highlights Nintendo Switch’s biggest limitation

Nintendo’s Switch console has been raising eyebrows since it was announced, thanks to a combination of great games and audacious presentation. But it does have a number of serious limitations, and — if a new Splatoon headset is anything to go by — third parties are going to have to get creative to get around them.

The Switch’s paid online service includes voice chat, an expected part of modern online gaming. Trouble is, because Nintendo can’t do anything in a similar fashion to Sony and Microsoft, the voice chat won’t be available through the Switch console itself. Instead it would come via a smartphone app that lets you incorporate social media in some way — we don’t know the specifics yet.

Have you spotted the problem? If you’re supposed to listen to your teammates via your phone, how can you hear game audio? You could listen via the TV speakers, but that’s not a viable solution for everyone. Whenever I’ve encountered a situation like that, I’ve nested one of my earbuds underneath my gaming headset, but that gets me mediocre sound quality.

These headphones, made by HORI, are intended to bridge that gap — literally. The headset comes with a splitter, one for plugging in your smartphone, and the other for plugging in your Switch. Being kind, it’s an unorthodox solution. Being unkind, it looks like a mess.

It also will only work if the Switch is in handheld mode, as the audio port for the Switch is on the tablet. Unless the cord is 20 feet long, or your Switch is docked right next to your elbow, it’s going to be extra-awkward trying to get the headphones to work any other way.

Every way you look at this headset, and the confusing online setup that created it, more questions arise. It begs the questions: Why can’t the Switch’s voice chat app be put on the Switch as well? While keeping the chat and social features from interfering with the game audio might seem cleaner, all it does is overcomplicate something that other consoles have simplified.

While HORI’s solution is a good stopgap measure, it does call into question Nintendo’s wisdom of outsourcing a voice chat feature to a separate device.

Published June 1, 2017 — 16:16 UTC