The Nintendo Switch launches in just a couple of months. Nintendo has finally shown its hand and let the media test out the new home-portable hybrid. As a console, the Switch is a phenomenal piece of design, and for me the best Nintendo has put together. The hardware deserves to be a success, so I really hope Nintendo can conjure up the games to make it so. Read on for more on what the hardware feels like to play on and first impressions of the launch titles.
Nintendo had me completely sold on the Switch concept from day one. I think the ability to take home console-quality gaming on the go, and easily share that experience with others using the same controller I have in my hands, is the most insightful and well-conceived console not only from Nintendo, but by any company. I’m quickly growing tired of console creators chasing performance and pixels, and for the first time it felt like Nintendo was chasing ‘me’.
As someone with less and less time to play games outside of work, the Switch feels like a dream console.
I was immediately impressed by how well made the Switch is. Coming from the Wii U’s Tonka Toy plastic, the Switch feels like its come straight from an Apple store. The Switch itself – which is simply the small screen which games can be displayed on – is a solid unit with good weight. The 6.2-inch screen is a little on the small side, and its thick black bezel only serves to emphasise this. However, the display is beautiful, showing bright and vivid colours with great detail.
Watch: Nintendo Switch hands-on
There were times when the Switch screen was sat a few feet away while playing a game, and this was an issue, particularly in the likes of Mario Kart 8. I had to lean forward to see the detail and what was going on, particularly in Battle Mode. Being sat closer was fine playing solo or in two-player, but I imagine four player could be a little snug, perhaps requiring two Switch consoles for ad-hoc play.
The display's 720p resolution was a concern, but getting a chance to play it, it’s really not a problem. If you’re the type of player that obsesses over the difference between 900p and 1080p, then you’ll likely notice the transition. But as someone who takes gameplay and framerate over resolution, the Switch handles everything fine.
However, one issue is that major Switch games (Splatoon 2 and Zelda in particular) had pretty aggressive jaggies, which became even more noticeable on the big screen. It doesn’t break the experience, but it is definitely something that is very noticeable, and takes some getting used to. The likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and, from the looks of things, Super Mario Odyssey do not suffer with this.
Another slight issue I noticed is that the Joy-Con controllers slide from the top down onto the console itself. Now I'm not one to doubt Nintendo's design, but over the months and years of constantly sliding those things in and out of the Switch, I'd be slightly worried that the grip would begin to wear, and that the Switch could fall completely out of the bottom, leaving me holding nothing but the controller on the train. It makes me wonder why the Joy-Cons don't slide on from the bottom-up.
Unfortunately, the dock which the Switch slots into to display onto the TV was often housed behind glass so I didn’t get much chance to have a look at the thing, but I did get to see games transition from the big screen to the console while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and the whole thing is seamless. There’s maybe a second or two delay between the TV display disappearing and the image popping up on the Switch, or vice versa. The game will ask you to press shoulder buttons to confirm the display transition, so don’t worry about being killed and losing progress in the switch.
Some of the console’s features, such as battery life, multi-touch and user interface were not available for testing at this event, so we’ll have to wait to get the console ourselves to find out about these. However, with the USB-C charging port housed at the bottom of the console, it means the unit cannot be charged while stood on its kickstand, which is a tad frustrating, but not a deal breaker.
Related: Nintendo Switch vs Wii U
I can truly see myself playing the Nintendo Switch on commutes and any journey. Where that time is spent playing throwaway mobile games, knowing that in a couple of months I could be playing Zelda on such a great piece of hardware truly excites me
The Joy-Con and their various accoutrements are the best controllers Nintendo has ever produced from both a design and technological perspective.
Together they can be used like any traditional controller, with Joy-Con L and R offering dual analogue sticks, home and share buttons (welcome to 2017, Nintendo), and two sets of face buttons as well as four shoulder buttons for all the inputs any game could ever need. There’s also bespoke technologies unique to the Switch, like the new “HD rumble” which is apparently now so intricate that players will be able to detect the likes of how many ice cubes are dropped into a glass, as was shown during the console’s presentation. Only one game – 1-2-Switch – really took advantage of this in my time with the console, which we’ll come to later.
When the controllers are docked in their charging station pad, they still feel great. Playing Breath of the Wild with them felt fine. The smaller size of the analogue sticks never caused me to lose control, and the rounded shape of the rear grips of the dock fit perfectly in my hands. It’s a really well-made pad.
Of course, the real beauty of these controllers is the ability to split them in two, thus creating local multiplayer within the same controller. The Joy-Cons have ‘SL’ and ‘SR’ buttons on the inner seam so they can be held sideways, and both feel incredibly comfortable in my hands. You do lose an analogue stick and two shoulder buttons in the split, so some games won’t work, but for the ones that do, it’s an excellent feature.
The right Joy-Con features NFC for Amiibo support, and also has an IR motion sensor on the bottom, though its use isn’t clear at this point.
There’s a very real possibility that much of the technology in the Joy-Con is likely to go unused in the majority of Switch games. Just like the Wii and Wii U before, Nintendo seems to have failed to learn that these bespoke technologies won’t be used by any developer looking to make a cross-platform title. Even Nintendo gave up on the Wii U’s Gamepad shortly into that console’s tragic life cycle.
I doubt Activision will need use of a rock, paper, scissors-sensing IR motion camera for Call of Duty, for example.
They are, as you might expect, a little on the small side, so I expect prolonged play sessions using just a half could lead to some cramping of fingers through pressing the shoulder buttons. But I think the Joy-Con is an incredible piece of technology.
Then there is also the Pro Controller, which is streets ahead of its Wii U counterpart. It’s bigger and has more weight, meaning it sits much better in the hands. Playing more "hardcore" games like Street Fighter 2 or even Splatoon the Pro Controller felt like it’d become the preferred choice for more dedicated players, but personally I feel like I could see myself using both it and the Joy-Con interchangeably. Nintendo has produced two excellent controllers.
At launch the Nintendo Switch software line-up is pretty threadbare. There’s of course the behemoth that is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but other than that you have just Super Bomberman R, 1-2-Switch, Just Dance 2017 and Skylanders Imaginators. That’s it.
There are of course more games coming soon after launch, with the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe coming April 28, as well as ARMS arriving in spring and Splatoon 2 in summer, but there’s very few titles for players to sink their teeth into, and no real hook for mainstream fans to pick this console up day one.
This is Nintendo’s biggest problem, and has been for three consoles now: a distinct lack of compelling games to show us what the console is truly capable of.
Third-party support was a concern before the Switch’s announcement, and its big reveal conference did little to allay fears. The usual Nintendo supporters brought games, like Ubisoft and Square, but outside of that we have basically nothing. Capcom is re-releasing a nine-year-old Street Fighter 2 game with two new characters, one of which is laughably called Violent Ken. That’s not showing support, that’s throwing spare change in a cup.
However, the games that I did get to play, as you would expect, were all excellent. Splatoon 2 feels as enjoyable as its predecessor (and to be honest, nigh-on indistinguishable). Super Bomberman R feels built for Switch’s local multiplayer fun, and was excellent sat around the 6.2-inch screen trying to blow everything up.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was also great fun to play, but doesn’t do anything drastically different from the Wii U version. There’s no new Grand Prix tracks, only Battle Mode additions along with three new characters (King Boo and Inkling Boy and Girl) and some new karts. The only addition of note is the bump up to 60-frames across all play, compared to the Wii U’s dip to 30 for splitscreen.
1-2-Switch is a neat idea, though it comes across as very fleeting and lacking the charm of the likes of a full Warioware title. It's a selection of multiplayer-focused minigames, each of which shows off a different aspect of the Joy-Con controllers immense tech. Many of the mini-games don’t require players to look at the TV, but instead at each other. One mini-game – Samurai – has one player raise their hands (holding one half of the Joy-Con) above their head, while the other has their hands ready to clap, catching the imaginary samurai sword as it is slashed down. It’s very similar to schoolyard slaps, except without stinging red hands.
Another involves cracking safes, and is a really good example of the Switch controllers new HD rumble feature. Turning the controller will rotate the safe’s dial, with each turn "clicking" the safe, but once you find the right one, the rumble will be just a tiny bit more violent, and it’s up to you to find the right points and crack the safe first. Again, each mini-game was fun, though it’s heavily reliant on "game nights" with family and friends, and after playing each mini-game a couple of times, I was pretty much done with it.
ARMS was the surprise package of the bunch. One of the few games to use full motion control, it feels like the Switch’s Wii Boxing, although with much greater depth. Showing the intricacy of the Joy-Con’s gyroscopes I was able to jab, block and turn my punches with decent accuracy, though there were times when the game would misinterpret actions, though I’m willing to take half the blame down to over-exuberance.
However, the console didn’t truly click until I played Breath of the Wild. Playing on the big screen using the Pro Controller I was having a lot of fun, but then I was able to pick up the Switch and play this same experience in my lap. The game is so captivating I was completely lost in its world. The cacophonous noise of the press event became a distant drone as I became absorbed in this dystopian Hyrule. This is what the Switch can do, and it certainly needs more games to do it.
Overall, I really love the Nintendo Switch. It’s a well made piece of kit and, for me, the best hardware Nintendo has ever produced from a technical standpoint. The Joy-Con controllers are packed with tech and feel great in the hands, as does the console, it’s whole philosophy immediately clicks, especially when sat with others playing a game of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Super Bomberman R.
However, outside of Breath of the Wild, there is nothing to lead anybody beyond hardcore fans to rush to stores on March 3 to buy a Switch. Even then Breath of the Wild isn't the game to show of what Nintendo's new console can do.
The whole idea of the Switch – aside from being able to take your gaming experience on the go – is to share that experience with other players. The console has two controllers built into the Joy-Con, and being able to break it in half and share with a friend, partner or child is genius design. But at launch there’s very little to exploit this, and that’s bizarre.
It seems that Nintendo is playing into every one of its own stereotypes – incredible hardware with very little software to show why the console is worth buying. Third party support is once again thin, and the depth of technology in the controllers is likely to be overlooked by 95% of the games that will appear over the Switch’s life cycle.
Everyone I speak to is very excited by the idea of the Switch and the convenience it offers. However, I have nothing to show off the social aspect of it as things stand. Nintendo needs to do much more.
There are still so many questions left unanswered: user interface, digital store, online. And with Nintendo now charging for multiplayer, it needs to drastically improve on what the company has ever offered before.
I really, really love the console, I just hope it gets the software it needs to become a success. If it does then I know the Switch will be the console I play most in 2017. Nintendo just needs to give me good reasons to pick it up.