Among a series of game announcements made during yesterday's Nintendo Direct were two hardware debuts: a Neon Yellow Joy-Con Controller and Joy-Con AA Battery Pack. While the bright coloring of the new colorway has been the focus of discussion, the battery pack is perhaps even more important.
Nintendo spent a few seconds talking about how the battery pack will provide several more hours of use before requiring a charge, which didn't resonate with many Switch owners who have already been impressed by the default 20 hour battery life of the Joy-Con controllers. It might seem counterintuitive to convert your Joy-Con controllers to AA batteries, but there's more to the product than just battery life.
The battery pack extends the back side of the controllers, more than doubling their girth while also providing a rounder shape on the back edges. The back side is equipped with a textured pattern that grips the hands much better than the smooth plastic of the default Joy-Con surface. These properties make the battery pack an ergonomic solution for the Switch.
Although there has been a wide range of experiences reported regarding the comfort of holding the Joy-Con controllers, most Switch owners agree that in handheld mode the device can be downright uncomfortable to hold, especially during longer play sessions. This poses the greatest problem when the right analog stick is used. Due to its location, and the lack of anything to grip onto besides the trigger buttons, it can feel like the right half of the device is slipping out of your hands.
While in a slower paced game such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild where camera manipulation and precision isn't a priority this isn't commonly problematic, concerns arose during the Splatoon 2 beta weekend. Aiming with the Joy-Cons in free or handheld mode is incredibly uncomfortable for many, to a point where the Switch Pro Controller has been regarded as mandatory for a positive user experience when playing the game. But at $69.99, it's a lot to ask from consumers who already shelled out over $400 for the console and Zelda. It doesn't help that the Switch Pro Controller can't be used in handheld mode.
At launch, many wondered why Nintendo didn't take more design cues from the PlayStation Vita, which is well regarded in terms of ergonomics. While the stock Joy-Con might not provide a similar experience, with the battery pack equipped it's quite similar in that it adds something for the hands to grip onto during use. In the case of the Vita this comes in the form of a convex rubberized surface that doesn't seem substantial upon first inspection, but is a huge contributor to the Vita being an outstanding device for handheld use cases. The battery pack matches this, but with a concave shape at a nearly identical location.
The only major downside of the battery pack, besides its $29.99 MSRP, is that it isn't compatible with the Joy-Con Grip. There simply isn't any space for the additional size of the Joy-Con controllers, meaning you will need to remove the battery pack in any situations where you want to use the Joy-Con Grip. Though, the much improved ergonomics may imply that you will no longer require the grip to begin with, and can instead use the Joy-Con controllers in free mode with no attachments necessary.
The Joy-Con AA Battery Pack will release on June 16th and will include grips for both left and right controllers. It'll be a a tough sell for most customers, but anyone who regularly uses the device on the go will want to strongly consider it, or at least any equivalent third-party options that arrive later.