Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

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Hands-On With Nintendo Switch: One Day Later…

January 14, 2017 | Comment

I know, I know – like the internet needs another opinion piece about Nintendo’s new console.

However, the impending arrival of a new Nintendo device – more so than a new Xbox or PlayStation – is always a cause for excitement, and one I’m regularly caught up in. Friends, colleagues and Twitter followers know I’m a pretty dedicated Nintendo fan, often quick to leap in and defend the platform holder even when doing so is at its most difficult (Double Dash was a great Mario Kart, dammit!).

You would think I’d be chomping at the bit for the Nintendo Switch to arrive, but oddly, unnervingly, I’m not. Maybe it’s changes in my life circumstances (I’m now a dad, with limited time for gaming, and a homeowner, with even more limited disposable income). Had Switch come out five years ago – say, when the Wii U had arrived – I would have done all I could to ensure there was one set up by my TV on day one. Instead, I find myself determined not to buy one. At least not for quite some time.

Like many journalists and fanboys, I was up at 4am UK time to watch the worldwide reveal of the Nintendo Switch. Like many, I was hopeful, eager to see what surprises the platform holder had in store for us. An hour or so later, I found myself unable to contain my disappointment, venting through Twitter about the lack of compelling games at launch (or the lack of games in general) and the sense that while the concept of Switch is intriguing, it’s not enough to warrant a day one buy – even without that hefty price tag.

Just a few more hours later, I was in London for a special hands-on event where the new console would be showcased to the press, retail, publishers, celebrities and more. Now that I’ve had just over 24 hours to let the initial excitement and novelty wear off, it’s time to share what I really thought of the Nintendo Switch.

(And yes, that was an unnecessarily long intro to a hands-on preview, but you should know what an uncharacteristically sceptical mindset I was in as I entered the event…)

Splatoon 2

Play Style: Handheld Mode, then Pro Controller

Probably best that I run through this in the order I played, and the configurations in order to catalogue my Switch experience.

Splatoon 2 was the first title I sampled, largely because there was no queue and it looked more inviting than the masturbatory-themed cow milking mini-game on 1, 2, Switch. Having only dabbled in the original, personally I couldn’t tell much of what was different about the sequel, but it proved to be a good introduction to playing the Switch in its signature handheld style.

When played on the go, Switch is a lot more comfortable than I expected. Even with the metal security clamp ensuring I didn’t make a bolt for the door and the nearest branch of CeX, the device is light enough that playing for hours won’t cause much pain or discomfort. All the controls are easily accessible by just stretching  your thumbs, and I even felt I had more purchase on the shoulder buttons and triggers than I thought I would. It feels less bulky than the Wii U’s GamePad – in fact when discussing with colleagues later, we concluded that it was most like the Vita.

Also more similar to Sony’s handheld that Nintendo’s previous controller, it feels like it has been built with a high quality in mind. There’s nothing cheap about the casing or the screen, which is perfectly clear and detailed – more so than the GamePad’s. I found myself just as immersed in the game as I would with a widescreen TV. By the time I finished the tutorial, barely two minutes into my first Switch experience, I turned to my colleague and grinned sheepishly: “I kinda want one.”

One day on, it still amazes me how much experiencing a new device physically can change your opinion of it. Any doubts I had about the comfort of playing the Switch as a portable, as Nintendo so clearly wants us to do, are gone. This is a high-quality device, perhaps closer in appeal to modern gadgets for tech enthusiasts rather than family-friendly toys, as previous Nintendo consoles have felt.

For the second match, I played with the Pro Controller. It’s just as comfortable and unobtrusive as you would expect a traditional joypad to be, although the inclusion of a gyroscope was initially a little jarring. Perhaps after several hours playing Splatoon I’d get used to aiming by tilting my controller instead of the joystick, but it feels like an answer to a problem no one had.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Play Style: Joy-Con Grip 

This was the game I was most desperate to play, having missed out on the post-E3 showcase last summer. Honestly, as I think back to it, I don’t remember the controller setup – the two mini controllers latched on to a joypad-style harness – making much of an impression, but perhaps that in itself is a complement. It may have been slightly less comfortable that the smooth and rounded Pro Controller, the Joy-Con Grip serves as a perfectly functional joypad and, again, I can see myself playing with such a device for hours.

There were a few control issues that vexed me, but I think this was more to do with the game than the hardware. Switching weapons by using the d-pad to open the quick slot bars but the right stick to select took a couple of tries to get used to, and the shoulder button/trigger functions confused me at first. Squeeze the trigger once you have a bow and it draws an arrow, but accidentally press the bumper instead and Link prepares to throw his sword away – an action I couldn’t seem to cancel unless delving into the inventory/quick slot system again.

The demo felt quite short and I spent too long developing a grudge against a specific Moblin to fully explore it. Suffice to say Breath of the Wild looks like it’s shaping up to be an incredible entry in the series. Maybe I would have preferred to play in handheld mode, but I still can’t shake the feeling that it will be just as enjoyable on Wii U – or perhaps more so, given that it was originally developed for the Switch’s forebear.

Note: A colleague of mine was able to try out the Switch’s transition from TV to handheld mode, i.e. starting on the big screen and then playing solely on the tablet. He reports it was instantaneous, which is very promising.

Arms

Play Style: Two Joy-Cons, held vertically 

I was genuinely impressed by the reveal of Arms. A new Nintendo IP is a rarity and a welcome one, with this comic boxing game definitely lending itself to both family fun and competitive players. However, the controls feel a little awkward and oddly antiquated in some ways.

The two Joy-Cons, now free of the Grip or the Switch itself, are remarkably light – at most a third of what the Wii Remotes weighed. With the latter I never bothered with the wrist straps, but with the new controller I ensured it was fastened tightly for fear of throwing it across the room.

Held in the way Arms requires you to, the Joy-Cons feel a little awkward, like an incredibly slim Nunchuk. Yes you have good access to the shoulder buttons, used for dash and jump, and the triggers to unleash your special moves, but the rest of the controls used to navigate menus are just out of reach unless you keep repositioning the Con in your hands.

The gameplay requires you to make real punching gestures, with the demonstrator claiming there was a difference between a jab and a swing, but I confess I never saw that difference. The problem was the set-up instantly transported me to Wii Boxing and, while motion controls have come on a long way since then, it’s hard not to fall back into the habit of simply flailing at the screen and hoping you won. I was told how to hold the Cons in order to perform a block, but after five bouts I’m fairly certain it didn’t work once.

The game is fun, and shows a lot of promise, particularly if you have two players taking it very seriously. But the ease of slipping back into the random movements and gestures means it could take the Switch dangerously close to the Wii’s hallmark of ‘waggle gaming’ – something we’ve spent the past five years moving away from.

1, 2, Switch

Play Style: One Joy-Con, feat. HD Rumble                                                                                                                             

When playing a less frantic game, you can appreciate the smart design of the Joy-Cons. Like the tablet itself, it seems built to a high-quality, very light and designed with comfort in mind. It feels far more like a true successor to the Wii than the Wii U’s GamePad ever did.

The first game I played was samurai training. One player must swing down an imaginary sword at their opponent, who much clap to catch it. You can fake each other out, attempt to swing from different angles, all while staring into the other player’s eyes – an uncomfortable experience when you’re playing against a complete stranger in a Nintendo Switch T-shirt trying too hard to make sure you’re enjoying yourself by complementing your stance and your stare.

Second was ball count, designed to show off the HD Rumble. I think it was Nintendo rattling on about ice cubes during the online presentation that triggered my scepticism, especially as advances in force feedback and game rumble have been minimal for decades. But HR Rumble really works, and scarily so.

The object of ball count is to guess how much balls are inside the Joy-Con controller, simulated by the rumble. As you tilt and shake the tiny controller, it really does feel like ball bearings are rolling around inside, to the point where you’re convinced the weight of the controller is shifting. How this magic was achieved, and how it might be used meaningfully in future games, I’m not sure but this was perhaps the biggest surprise for me from the whole day.

I won’t deny it was fun at the time, the controls seemed reasonably responsive, but on reflection I can’t help but wonder if this is a game people will tire of quickly. Previous Nintendo tech demo collections such as Wii Play and NintendoLand have featured great mini-games that hint at the possibilities for the hardware, but rarely do developers ever build on these ideas. With only twelve five-second mini-games, 1, 2, Switch feels like it will be cast aside a lot faster than previous titles.

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe Edition

Play Style: Joy-Con and Wheel 

I rounded off the day with a return to my favourite title on the Wii U, which did very little to convince me to convert to motion-controlled racing. The smaller controller, and therefore smaller wheel, felt less unwieldy as the original Wii Remote and wheel combo but I was glad I was able to steer with the joystick.

Again, the controls are accessible with a minor stretch of the thumb and you’re able to lose yourself in the race without thinking too much about what your fingers are doing.  The only issue I had was that the joystick felt very inaccurate when choosing a character and vehicle, often veering off at an angle when I was aiming to move the cursor straight up.

The battle mode is fun, and much more in keeping with what you expect from a Mario Kart battle mode, and the ability to have two weapons adds a bit more chaos to the racing, as it did in Double Dash. But I question if this and a few new tracks is enough to convert people, such as myself, who are still playing Mario Kart 8 regularly.

Verdict 

There’s no denying the Switch is an impressive, functional, comfortable and perhaps desirable device. But for me the lack of a must-have title beyond ports or sequels to Wii U titles makes it difficult to recommend at launch.

Playing the Switch for myself cast aside any doubts that this has the potential to be an incredible console, delivering everything Nintendo seemed to promise with the Wii U’s reveal. I can genuinely see myself playing Switch at home on the big screen, on planes and trains, and in hotel rooms when I go abroad for work. I regularly have to pack up the Wii and Wii U when I visit friends and family and this appears to be much more portable, lightweight and something that can be enjoyed together. There just needs to be more great titles making use of the hardware.

Maybe when Super Mario Odyssey arrives it’ll turn a lot more heads.

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