7 Unique Features of the Switch Joy Con

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Nintendo’s latest controllers, the Switch Joy Con, (written as “Joy-Con”,) have a surprising amount of technology within them.

Whether you’re a new owner of a Switch Lite, a seasoned expert of docking and undocking your own original Switch, or just a curious passerby, you’ve probably heard of the Joy-Con at least once.

But how much do you know about these oft colorful controllers? And what exactly makes them so unique?

By the end of this post, we’ll see all the features unique to the Joy-Con, and come closer to understanding these mini marvels of modern technology.

Are you ready? Then let the countdown begin!

1. The Rail System: Sliding into Action!

Before we go too much further into the Joy-Con’s features, we should stop and address the most crucial element of the Joy-Con: the rail system.

On the side of each and every Joy-Con is a flat, metal bar. While I don’t think Nintendo has an official name for this part of their signature controllers, it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s by far the most important piece of the Joy-Con puzzle.

Nintendo's Joy-Con Sliding Animation.
A screenshot of the system setup’s Joy-Con sliding animation.

With it, the Joy-Con can connect to different Switch Systems in a snap, slide into a Joy-Con Grip for more comfortable use, connect up the optional Joy-Con wrist straps, and even charge the Joy-Con from the Switch itself, or with separate chargers.

And the rail system for the Joy-Con doesn’t stop at just basic controller functions; Joy-Con can be connected to newer controllers and accessories, too!

Starlink: Battle for Atlas seems to use a modified version of the Joy-Con Grip, and with the release of Ring Fit Adventure and the Ring-Con, the Ring-Con itself can detect pressure on its two padded grips, while using the Right Joy-Con to track motion.

Overall, in my three years of owning the Switch, I’ve never had any severe issues with the rail bar. It’s far more intuitive than it sounds, and it’s even the reason the Joy-Con make that satisfying click sound you’ll hear in official Nintendo videos.

With that mild detour complete, let’s get back to the rest of the features of the Joy-Con has.

2. Versatility: Pair ’em Up / Pass it Down!

The feature that makes Nintendo’s Joy-Con stand out the most, has to easily be the versatility of the controller.

While Joy-Con come in two distinct versions, a left Joy-Con, and a right Joy-Con, the two controllers can either be paired together, acting as one complete controller unit, or, played separately as two individual controllers apiece.

Two Joy-Con being used as two separate controllers apiece.
Two Joy-Con being used as two separate controllers apiece.

How? The secret lies with the Joy-Con’s two side buttons: SL, and SR.

By default, Joy-Con are set to pair to each other by pressing both L and R. Since L is only on a left Joy-Con, and R is only on a right Joy-Con, the two controllers need both buttons pressed to pair them together.

But in the event someone else wants to play a game, and you only have one set of L and R Joy-Con, SL and SR act as substitute buttons for L and R, allowing each Joy-Con to be used separately.

There’s no hard and fast rule forcing players to only use one method, so it’s entirely possible for one player to use two Joy-Con at once, and two others to use a single Joy-Con apiece to play.

The different types of Joy-Con pairings. Two controllers can be used at once as a single controller unit, or played separately sideways.
A screenshot showing the different ways that Joy-Con can be paired.

So, unless you have a Switch Lite, in which the controllers are built-in and unattachable, each Switch comes with enough controllers for two people to play, right out of the box.

While some games can restrict what controller modes are usable, the general rule of thumb is this: If you can use two Joy-Con at once as a single controller, more often than not, you can play the game with a single Joy-Con held sideways.

3. Motion Controls: Engineering in Motion

Would you be surprised to learn that Joy-Con also have motion controls? And not just the right (R) Joy-Con. Each Joy-Con has motion control built-in to it.

While the Switch doesn’t use it as often as the Wii does, don’t be surprised if a game suddenly reads the Joy-Con’s gyroscope and accelerator, as in the case of, say, Astral Chain.

But controller orientation isn’t the only motion input the Joy-Con is capable of sensing. The dual combo of accelerator and gyroscope allows for some pretty accurate motion tracking in its’ entirety.

A single Joy-Con can be used as a motion pointer in The World End With You: Final Remix.
A setup screen to use motion controls in The World Ends WIth You: Final Remix.

The most expected use of this may be Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s tilt controls, but some games, like World of Goo and The World Ends With You: Final Remix, take it a step further, allowing you to use the Joy-Con as in-game pointers.

Other games, such as Arms and Mario Tennis Aces’Swing Mode,” make full use of motion controls, requiring precise movements to do different inputs.

But Joy-Con really get their time to shine in Ring Fit Adventure: a fitness game played entirely with motion controls.

Ring Fit Adventure's title screen, showing the motion detected from the two Joy-Con.
Ring Fit Adventure’s title screen. Players are immediately treated to a screen showing the movement of the two Joy-Con.

By placing the left Joy-Con into a leg strap, and the right Joy-Con into the Ring-Con accessory, the two controllers can recognize exercises, and provide boosts in-game when they detect exercises are done efficiently.

While there aren’t as many games that rely on motion control, the games that do integrate them well. So whenever you need to stir some curry in Pokémon Sword or Shield, or get your aim juuuust right in games like Splatoon 2, pick up those neon remotes and bust a move!

4. Vibrant Hues: Colorful and Customizable

One of the best things about the Switch’s Joy-Con, is that they come in a wide variety of colors, allowing players to mix and match controllers to make customized Joy-Con pairings that are uniquely theirs.

A virtual rendering of Nintendo's Joy-Con color combinations.
A custom color combo made from Nintendo’s interactive color combo page.

Nintendo even has an interactive Joy-Con color combo page, so you can see how certain color pairings look together.

There are two main elements in customizing the controllers: the individual Joy-Con colors, and the Joy-Con Strap colors. Every console is packaged with two black straps, with the exception of some special editions.

Below is a list of all colors for the Joy-Con, including individual and strap colors. Special Edition Joy-Con have also been listed.

Standard Colors

These are Joy-Con that can be more commonly found at your local retailer(s). These are not exclusive to console bundles, and appear to be manufactured regularly.

Joy-Con (L) Colors:

  • Gray – from the Individual (L) pack, or the (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Red – from the (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Blue – from the (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Yellow – from the (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Green – Best Buy Exclusive: from the (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Pink – from the “Neon Pink (L) / Neon Green (R)” bundle.
  • Blue – from the “Neon Blue (L) / Neon Yellow (R)” bundle.
  • Neon Purple – from the “Neon Purple (L) / Neon Orange (R)” bundle.

Joy-Con (R) Colors:

  • Joy-Con Gray – from the individual (R) pack, or the (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Red – (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Blue – (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Yellow – (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Green – Best Buy Exclusive: (L/R) bundle.
  • Neon Orange – from the “Neon Purple (L) / Neon Orange (R)” bundle.

Strap Colors

Along with the individual Joy-Con (L) and Joy-Con (R) having unique colors, The Joy-Con straps themselves have a handful of assorted colors.

While entirely optional, these wrist straps can take your Joy-Con color coordination to an entirely different level.

Joy-Con Strap Colors:

  • Black (Bundled with Switch consoles)
  • Gray
  • Neon Red
  • Neon Blue
  • Neon Yellow

Keep in mind, however, that Nintendo sells only an individual strap per pack, meaning, if you wanted to get two of a particular colored strap, you would have to buy two straps of that color.

Special Edition Colors

While the Switch has a colorful assortment of traditional Joy-Con controllers, there are also some colors/designs that are unique, and only distributed as part of a special edition Switch console bundle. These are:

  • Mario Red –

a darker set of red Joy-Con, matching the signature red of Mario’s outfit.

  • Let’s Go Pikachu, Let’s Go Eevee –

special Joy-Con colored after Pokémon’s Eevee, (left Joy-Con,) and Pikachu, (right Joy-Con.) The straps are the accent colors of Eevee’s white and Pikachu’s brown.

  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate –

a pair of gray Joy-Con, with a custom silver Smash Bros. cross streching along the left Joy-Con, and extending onto the right Joy-Con.

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons Pastel Green and Blue –

A light green (left Joy-Con) and light blue (right Joy-Con) pairing. The opposite side of the controllers is white.

5. Dynamic Vibration: Rumble, Rumble, Rumble! (In HD!)

Almost every controller nowadays has a “rumble” or vibrate feature built-in. This is especially true of first-party controllers made directly by console manufacturers.

So what makes it worth mentioning for the Joy-Con?

Simple, the Joy-Con have the most dynamic “rumble” of any controller to date.

Officially dubbed “HD Rumble” by Nintendo itself, each Joy-Con comes packed with the new vibration hardware, and the feature itself has widely been claimed as “imitating the feel of ice being poured into a glass.”

HD Rumble doesn’t do a simple rotor vibration to mimic explosions and earthquakes in games. It takes it a step further by imitating the feel of these digital stimuli.

Mario riding a scooter on Super Mario Odyssey. The Jon-Con's HD Rumble mimic the scooter's engine.
The best use of HD Rumble in Super Mario Odyssey.

For example, when riding the motor scooters in Super Mario Odyssey‘s Metro Kingdom, the Joy-Con mimic the feel of a motor running. In Pac Man Championship Edition 2 + 2P, you can feel the vibration from bumping into ghosts and fruit spawning, as well the “jump” to different mazes.

And vibration doesn’t seem to be the only thing HD Rumble does. It even sounds like a speaker may be in use, too.

After the main events of Kirby Star Allies, a bonus level can be unlocked. Reaching the end of it unveils a giant statue of Kirby, playing a theme from the series on not just the screen, but in the Joy-Con as well. Complete with vibrations that match the highs and lows of the theme. Super Mario Party demonstrates this, too, playing a tune and vibrating when near a Star Space.

And if all of these instances weren’t enough, you can also use this vibration feature to find any misplaced Joy-Con.

A screen allowing Switch players to find paired controllers by using vibration.
The “Find Controllers” screen of the controller menu. Selecting a controller causes it to vibrate.

From the Controllers menu of the Home screen, it’s possible to find a controller by tapping or selecting the controller’s icon, causing the paired controllers to vibrate loudly.

The only catch to finding controllers this way, is that the controllers have to be currently paired to the specific Switch, and the batteries must not be depleted.

All in all though, the HD Rumble of the Switch’s Joy-Con is vastly superior to those of the current-gen lineup of consoles. With varying intensities and even possibly a speaker, HD Rumble lives up to its name, and provides a highly immersive experience for gaming.

6. NFC Included: Built-in amiibo Support

Another feature of the Switch’s Joy-Con, an amiibo reader, is included within controllers by default.

Specifically, every right Joy-Con comes with a built-in NFC reader on the controller’s joystick. This is done by a NFC touchpad.

A screen showing players to hold an amiibo over the right Joy-Con's control stick.
A simple, but effective menu screen, showing players where to use amiibo and other interactive gaming figures.

NFC, or “Near Field Communication”, allows devices to share or transmit data between themselves, as long as both devices are close.

As it relates to the Switch, this NFC reader is designed to work only with specific devices, i.e., Nintendo’s amiibo.

So, by placing an amiibo on the right Joy-Con’s control stick, players can enjoy added content from their amiibo, in the games that support them.

If you aren’t familiar with amiibo, they’re Nintendo’s integration of the Toys-to-Life / interactive gaming figure genre. Having originally launched along with Super Smash. Bros for the Wii U, amiibo could be bought separately, and each touted added bonuses to future games.

Here’s a list of games with the most notable uses of amiibo:

Super Smash Bros. 3DS / Wii U/ Ultimate: Each character in-game had a real-life amiibo of themselves released, which could be trained by the player. Scanning these amiibo allowed for matches against the amiibo fighter, or direct competition with other amiibo fighters.

Mario Kart 8 / Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: Specific amiibo permanently unlocked racing suits for Mii, based on the character scanned.

Yoshi’s Wooly World: Scanning an amiibo permanently unlocks character-based pattern skins for Yoshi, based on the amiibo scanned. These can be changed at will, giving players choices between the regular patterns, and character-based patterns.

Super Mario Maker (Wii U): Each (as of then), existing amiibo added costumes for Mario, allowing for incredibly unique and quirky level designs. A special pixel Mario amiibo permanently unlocked a Mega Mushroom course element.

While these are just a few examples of games that support amiibo, Nintendo is continuing amiibo support for the foreseeable future.

But amiibo aren’t the only supported use of NFC on the Switch; 3rd party support for other Toys-to-Life games also exists.

Skylanders Imaginators fully supports the NFC reader on the Joy-Con, and does not use a Portal of Power at all in the Switch release.
Skylanders Imaginators fully supports the NFC reader on the Joy-Con, and does not use a Portal of Power at all in the Switch release.

As of now, this includes two Toys-to-Life games: Skylanders Imaginators, and Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Each requires NFC to play, at least until additional characters and objects have been scanned in.

7. The Invisible Spectrum: IR Camera

Although it isn’t used very often, at the back of every right Joy-Con is a small IR sensor.

If you remember the Wii Remote’s IR placement, it’s easy to mistake the Joy-Con’s for being put in backwards, but the IR sensor here isn’t used for motion controls. At least, not in the sense that the Wii revolutionized it.

The IR sensor instead uses a camera of sorts, like the Xbox’s Kinect, to detect shapes and measure distance.

Despite this feature not seeing much use in traditional games, it takes on a far more transformative use in games like Nintendo Labo and Ring Fit Adventure.

I haven’t gotten to play with any Labo myself, but Nintendo does let curious passersby know that the magic of the Labo creations lies with the IR Camera.

A few examples, specifically, include the Piano Labo using the IR Camera to detect which keys are being played, and the VR Blaster Labo requiring the right Joy-Con to be moved to adjust the distance of shots.

Ring Fit Adventure, on the other hand, uses the IR Camera to approximate heart rate after every level, and showing how efficient the exercise was for your age group through doing so.

Ring Fit Adventure's post-workout heart rate approximation guide.
By lightly resting your thumb on the IR sensor, Ring Fit Adventure uses the Joy-Con to approximate your heart rate.

These two aren’t the only games to use the IR Camera, but the IR camera doesn’t yet have many other uses for now. A couple of others include:

1-2 Switch, which is known for having an eating contest mini-game, tracking the movement of the player’s mouth to play the game, and,

Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2, which reportedly use a gesture to reload weapons in-game.

But hey, give Nintendo some time to see some really cool future uses of the IR Camera! They’re usually innovative in making new hardware and integrating it with their software.

The Wii’s motion controls, 3DS’ 3D effect, Wii U’s independent gamepad, and the Switch’s all-in-one portability are all recent testaments to Nintendo’s ingenuity.

We’ve seen Labo make a surprising use of IR, too. What else is coming through the pipeline for the IR Camera?

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