Nintendo Switch Nitro Deck – Hands on at Gamescom

Gamezebo went hands on with the Nintendo Switch Nitro Deck at Gamescom this year, and here are our first impressions.

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Ever since I first held the wonderful Steam Deck in my hands, the OG Switch’s flaws have become magnified. I’ve noticed them since the first iteration, with its slide-y JoyCon rails and utter lack of ergonomic grips. I understand why Nintendo went for that design, but it’s never felt like a comfortable handheld to me. So much so that the Switch Lite is my primary unit of choice since its arrival. That’s despite the fact I also own an OLED model, with its vastly superior screen. Comfort wins out.

I may have to revisit that decision when the Nitro Deck officially launches in September. I went hands on with this nifty Switch accessory at Gamescom, and walked away sold. Well, I liked it as soon as I saw a GameCube-themed model on the official site. My dreams of an official set of GameCube-themed JoyCons have waned, so it’s very welcome.

But, before we move onto the hands-on, I just want to stress that I’ve tried a bunch of different accessories that aim to solve the Switch comfort issue. I backed the Skull & Co grips back in 2017, got the Split Pad Pros at launch, and, most recently, the Nexigo Gripcon. My milage has varied, as none of the units has ended up screaming perfection. For everything they introduce, they take something away. You may lose the HD rumble, motion controls, or suffer from less click-y buttons.

Hands on with the Nintendo Switch Nitro Deck.

Nintendo Switch Nitro Deck: Hands On

My very first impression when I picked up the Nitro Deck was: wow, they really have thought of everything. While the others feature compromises, the Nitro Deck is fully-featured. For a start, it’s got hall effect thumbsticks. That means complete precision, and, most importantly, no more stick drift! However, if you do run into issues, you can twist and pull off the thumbstick to replace it.

It also features rumble support (though I couldn’t confirm if it’s HD or basic) and motion controls. So you’re running the whole gamut of Switch features. Well, I’m not sure if it has NFC support, but I’ll update this when we learn more. The buttons were fine. I still prefer the clickiness of the JoyCon buttons but I’m just being picky. They were perfectly responsive and I encountered zero issues while playing.

But the real draw of the Nitro Deck is that it, effectively, turns your Switch into a Steam Deck. If you’ve held a Steam Deck, you will find the Nitro Deck instantly familiar. It’s a chunky unit with comfortable grips and two fully customisable buttons on the rear of the unit. Programming them is an absolute breeze too, allowing you to gain easier access to menus, the map button, or anything else you could want in a game.

The Nitro Deck.

Arcade fans will also be pleased to learn that the Nitro Deck features full turbo support, and you can customise the pace with which it activates. This isn’t limited to one or two settings either. You can fine-tune the sensitivity of the turbo until it’s perfect for your needs. Not only is this a great feature for arcade games, but it will prove a very handy accessibility option.

How Does the Nitro Deck Work?

It kind of works like the regular Switch Dock. You slide your OG or OLED Switch into the unit and it will click into place, connecting via USB-C. That click is super important, as it solves an issue I have with all Switch models and most accessories so far: it feels secure. It makes the Switch feel like a complete unit, much like the Lite, rather than a set of slide-y units forced together.

It’s a snug fit, but you will have no issues sliding it back out thanks to a button that releases the Switch. Once it’s in the Deck, you simply use it like you would normally. All of the buttons will just magically work, along with rumble and motion controls. There’s even a carry case with a shoulder strap if you never want to take the Switch out of the Nitro Deck again. I can imagine many of you will.

The Nitro Deck's removable hall effect thumbstick.

If I have any complaints about the Nitro Deck at this point, it’s simply how big it is. But it’s a bit of a moot point given that it has to be this big to emulate the Steam Deck. That is its namesake, after all. It’s certainly not an issue when using it, as the added bulk vastly improves the comfort. But it is the difference between “I’ll leave the Switch at home” or “I’ll just chuck it in my bag just in case”.

I do the latter with my Lite pretty much every time I leave the house, because it pretty much takes the same amount of space as a big phone. The Nitro Deck, on the other hand, could fill as much as a third of your backpack space. It suddenly becomes a bit more of a decision. But given that that, and the squishier buttons, are the only complaints I have about the unit, it’s in pretty good shape.

Nintendo Switch Nitro Deck: Conclusion

You will have to wait for our full Nitro Deck review for our definitive opinion (and score!) but first impressions are very solid. It effectively performs its job of turning the Switch into a Steam Deck. It also solves most of the issues I had with its competitors, thanks to its full feature-set, sturdy design, and hall effect thumbsticks.

Head of Editorial
Glen has over a decade's worth of experience in gaming journalism, writing for Pocket Gamer, Pocket Tactics, Nintendo Life, and Gfinity. When he's not badgering everyone about the dangers of passive text, you can probably find him playing Wild Rift.