I Scoffed At Switch Lite, Then I Backpacked Through South East Asia

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Rory details how Nintendo’s smallest Switch finally won him over…

Bangkok platform
Image: Rory Cocker / Nintendo Life

“Yes sir, it’s definitely a sleeper train. Don’t worry.”

The lady at the ticket office chuckled to herself as her colleagues gave her a knowing smirk. There I was: another clueless westerner, fresh off the plane to Bangkok and bamboozled by…well, everything, to be honest with you.

“Alrighty then, if you say so!”

With (slightly) renewed confidence, I head back to the platform and climb aboard the train for a second time. I squint out of the grubby window to confirm the platform number, and I pore over the information on my ticket for what feels like the fiftieth time.

“Okay, I’m in the right place. This is definitely the 10 o’clock to Chiang Mai.”

But I still don’t see any beds. My back starts to ache at the prospect of spending the next 14 hours in an upright position. But I keep faith in the ticket lady’s words.

For a moment, I prise my eyes away from the impressively plump rat that had been scurrying around the tracks, and I look up to see a train guard sporting an immaculate green uniform, and an equally uptight expression.

He reaches up to the overhead luggage compartment, and, with a turn of the special tool hanging from his neck, reveals…oh, Christ. Not a luggage compartment at all, but my bed for the night. It’s like a dinner tray! Little wonder I hadn’t seen it.

Sleeper train bed
Thai trains are not designed with the very tall in mind. I know this now. — Image: Rory Cocker / Nintendo Life

I clamber my way up a rather sketchy-looking ladder and have a giggle to myself as I try to wedge my six-foot-four frame into a definitely-not-six-foot-four space. To further compound my misery, it’s September in Thailand, and the humidity is punishing.

I always said a Switch that couldn’t be docked was a non-starter for me.

Two nights of (very) solid partying at the Mad Monkey hostel ensure that my sleeping pattern is in tatters too, and, as the train pulls away, screeching and bouncing as it goes, I realise that the carriage lights are staying on for the whole journey. It’s going to be a long night.

At this point, I’ve already demolished the Citrus Twist Lay’s (absolutely elite, btw) and double-stuffed Oreos I’d bought for the journey, so I can’t even eat the boredom away. Luckily, I have an ace up my sleeve.

Pre-flight checks

You see, a few weeks previous, I had been carrying out last-minute packing rehearsals, and it turns out that cramming your entire life into a 40-litre Osprey backpack doesn’t allow for quite as much opulence as you might like.

My ‘going out’ shoes are the first casualty, but with each zip-seam-busting attempt, it is clear that I am going to have to make some pretty severe cutbacks. Either that or buy a bigger backpack, but honestly, ain’t nobody got time for those checked luggage fees.

So, as I deliberate on which three t-shirts to take and which seven to throw out (I’m new to this, alright?!) my laptop makes way for a slimmer tablet and mini Bluetooth keyboard. At this point, the weight reduction is becoming a bit of an obsession. I feel like a McLaren engineer.

I unzip the front compartment and see my OG launch Switch and its big, bulky case staring back at me. To my newly-obsessive eyes, it’s monstrously huge. I begrudgingly start to envision nine months (!) without a second playthrough of Metroid Dread, and…actually, you know what? That doesn’t seem so bad.

After all, I’m going travelling! I’m going to be jumping off waterfalls, riding motorbikes to white sand beaches, climbing mountains and partying every second of every day and night with young, beautiful people! Surely I won’t have time to be worrying about my GRID Autosport lap times, for crying out loud.

A change of heart

“But…we could just buy a Nintendo Switch Lite…” whispers my subconscious, in almost Sméagol-like fashion. “What will master do on that tricksy 18-hour flight? Read ‘books’? What’s books, precious? What’s books, ey?!”

[Switch Lite] turned out to be a properly meaningful upgrade in more ways than I could have imagined

Sméagol had a point. You won’t see it on those glossy Instagram reels, and travellers’ tales are usually filled with talk of sunrise visits to Buddhist temples rather than 19-hour bus journeys, but guess what? Travelling a continent as vast as Asia does tend to include a lot of…well, travelling! Who’d have thunk it?!

And so the Switch Lite started to sound like a decent option. Thing is, I wasn’t exactly bowled over by its reveal.

“A Switch that can’t switch?! No kickstand, no rumble, no detachable Joy-Con? And why is it so cheap looking?!”

I always said a Switch that couldn’t be docked was a non-starter for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played Rocket League on the can with the best of ‘em, but there’s just something about throwing games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild onto a 55” screen that just makes me feel more…invested.

Every little helps

Besides, how much of a difference could swapping from a Switch to a Switch Lite really make?

Well, reader, after spending an evening Ground Pounding my clothes (that were now rolled up into a compression cube, fyi) into oblivion, I can confirm it turned out to be the difference between being able to cram my filter bottle into the front pouch, and potentially catching some sort of waterborne disease.

GRID Autosport
GRID Autosport looks sublime on the Lite’s smaller screen. — Image: Rory Cocker / Nintendo Life

Of course, I lost that bottle in a Vietnamese hostel after about 10 weeks, rendering the whole operation completely meaningless, but you know what? I’m still SO glad I brought the Lite with me; it turned out to be a properly meaningful upgrade in more ways than I could have imagined.

Fun in the sun

I picked mine up from the (admittedly often nefarious) world of Facebook Marketplace for just £80

You see, a gentleman of my age has extinguished enough birthday candles to recall the days of the Game Boy Advance and original Nintendo DS, both of which, while fantastic handhelds in their own right, didn’t exactly boast the most impressive displays.

Thankfully, I found the 720p panel on the Nintendo Switch Lite to be an absolute marvel. Even in the intense sunshine of northern Thailand, the screen’s peak brightness of 380 nits meant that reflected glimpses of my double chin (curse those Oreos!) were mercifully rare.

As a result, navigating Metroid Dread’s dingy, subterranean corridors was an effortless affair, even during the two days I spent cruising down the Mekong River on the legendary ‘slow boat’.

And as I recalled fond memories of seeking shade in the playground just to get walloped at Metroid Prime Hunters, I couldn’t help but think we’ve come a long way.

Playing with power

Coming from the HAC-001 model, the increased battery life was a huge boon, too; when you’re living out of a bag and dashing about here, there and everywhere, keeping your devices topped up on power isn’t always the first thing on your mind, so it was nice to know that missing a charge wasn’t the end of the world. Especially when your charging setup would sometimes look like this…

Charging setup
I’m fairly confident in saying this is probably classed as a fire hazard in at least 50 countries. — Image: Rory Cocker / Nintendo Life

Not only does the Lite last longer on a single charge when compared to the launch model, but the smaller 3,570 mAh battery means it’s also quicker to charge and ate up less of my powerbank’s juice – an absolute lifeline for any traveller.

Sharp & sturdy

Skyward Sword HD
Skyward Sword HD really pops on the Lite’s sharper screen. Can’t do anything about those Tadtone quests, though. — Image: Rory Cocker / Nintendo Life

Much was made of the decision to feature non-removable Joy-Con on the Lite, and whilst the move certainly isn’t without its drawbacks, I was definitely glad of the console’s increased sturdiness on the occasions where I dropped my backpack to the floor in sweaty, dramatic exhaustion. This happened a lot.

And then there’s the improved picture clarity. Games that run at native 720p look impossibly crisp and sharp on the Lite’s smaller, more pixel-dense screen. The effect is doubly impressive when games also happen to run at 60fps, such is the case with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD which looks worlds apart from its muddier Wii debut.

And the best part? I picked mine up from the (admittedly often nefarious) world of Facebook Marketplace for just £80. It was in practically mint condition, and by the time I’d pawned my launch Switch off, I was actually £50 in the black.

Stickin’ around

Recently, the Twittersphere has been awash with talk of the Switch’s ageing hardware becoming a bit long in the tooth, and with the recent Bloomberg report suggesting that Nintendo is actually ramping up production in 2023, it seems we won’t be getting a new hardware revision in the immediate future.

Wolfenstein II
This is honestly still witchcraft to me. — Image: Rory Cocker / Nintendo Life

And honestly, I’m fine with that. Barring any major catastrophe, I’ll be there Day One for a Switch successor, sure. But in the meantime, I’m still blown away every time I fire up my tiny little Switch Lite and watch it chew through something like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, no matter what the “anything under 4k/144fps is TOTALLY UNPLAYABLE!” crowd say.

Now that we can be fairly sure a hypothetical Switch 2 isn’t an immediate concern (and now that I’m not jetsetting all over the gaff) I won’t lie: I am in the market for a Switch OLED, mainly so I can play The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as the good lord intended: on a mahoosive telly.

But don’t let that take anything away from the Switch Lite; for what it set out to be, it couldn’t really have been much better.

I ate some incredible food on my travels – seriously, if you’ve never had pad krapow or panang curry, sort it out – but equally sweet was the slice of humble pie I was served up by Nintendo.

Back in Blighty

I’m now regrettably back in the frozen wastes of the British Isles after my trip was cut short. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say I won’t be attempting to break up any more street brawls if I ever do muster up the courage to return to the Philippines.

But what have I learned from backpacking South East Asia for three months?

I learned that, despite its misleading name, 7-Eleven is actually open 24-hours and is in fact our lord and saviour; life means absolutely nothing without having people you love by your side; and Nintendo is still the undisputed king of producing affordable handheld video game systems.

The Lite isn’t just a lesser Switch; it’s pound-for-pound portable perfection.

Vientiane airport
Image: Rory Cocker / Nintendo Life

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