Guest Writer Jamie Martin had a chance to get his hands on Nintendos latest handheld/console hybrid, but did it live up to his expectations?
Yesterday I was given the chance to go hands-on with NIntendo’s latest hardware offering, the Switch. This was a big moment for me. Anyone who knew me in my younger years knows it was not blood that coursed through my veins, that red stuff within me was all Nintendo. I was obsessed, worshipping only at the altar of Miyamoto, never wavering in my devotion to the saviors of modern gaming. Every console generation, whatever the Big N had put out was clearly the one for me. Well, every console generation until the most recent anyway. I loved the Wii, some of my favorite games of all time are on that console. But then came the Wii U and even I, a man who wrote love letters to Nintendo as a child, had a hard time defending it. The messaging around the console was confusing. I worked in retail at the time and most consumers thought it was a tablet add-on for the Wii rather than a new console. And even as a gamer, I didn’t get it. It looked like a kid’s toy, something VTech would put out, rather than the next leap in entertainment technology. So could the Switch bring me back into the fold? I was less than impressed by the Jan 12th presentation, the messaging was unbalanced and the price reveal was higher than I had hoped, but maybe a hands-on session could help to switch my opinion. Maybe.
My play session started with Arms, NIntendo’s new first-party fighting game. As soon as this game was announced there were rumblings across the web that this was Nintendo trying to crack the eSports market. Even as someone who has very little knowledge about eSports, I can tell you right now this is never going to be one (at least not in its current motion-controlled form). The game is played much like the Boxing on Wii Sports, holding the two Joy-Con upright in each hand, leaning to move and punching to attack. There are also jump and dash buttons which allow you to dodge attacks and find opponent openings, as well as grabs if you thrust both hands forwards, and the ability to curve attacks by twisting your wrist as you attack. All this amounts to a game that would be a good laugh with mates, but while there are skills to be mastered, there is neither the precision nor the intricacy for this ever to realistically be taken seriously at a competitive level.
Following round the event, I then came to 1-2 Switch. I had been looking forward to this simply to see if the R&D costs for HD Rumble (and as a knock-on, the higher price than expected for the console) had been worth it. The game plays out kind of like a WarioWare game, but with less charm. I first played Quick Draw, where you hold the Joy-Con at your side, and draw and fire at your opponent upon the game’s command. The eye contact the game asks you to hold invokes an awkwardness that does add to the tension of the gameplay to be fair, but after 3 rounds I felt I had played enough and so moved round to Milk.
Milk, put simply, is a game where Nintendo expect you to stare into your opponent’s eyes while making rather suggestive hand motions to “milk a cow”. Your goal is to perfect your technique and timing to acquire more milk than your opponent, in which I succeeded. Winning only left me feeling dirty, though, a moment of self-reflection after the round left me questioning if victory in Milk is something to brag about. Admittedly with this one, I had a good laugh, but once all the wanking jokes are out of the way there’s not much more to be said. Also, as innocent as it is, there was something very discerning about seeing children playing that game.
The last minigame showcased was Ball Count, which was manned by a gentleman who was quite possibly the most bored man I have ever laid eyes one. As I was alone (and no-one else was queueing to play) he reluctantly stepped up to play with me, The premise of the game is simple, you rock the Joy-Con from side-to-side and try and guess how many “balls” are rolling around within it. As a showcase of technology, this is nothing short of incredible, the haptic feedback genuinely creates the sensation of balls rolling around and hitting the sides of the controller. As a game, it couldn’t be more pedestrian, once the novelty of HD Rumble wears off (which for me took all of 2 rounds of Ball Count), there is nothing to keep you coming back. My takeaway from 1-2 Switch is that the minigames would probably make great drinking games, but outside of that the novelty is paper thin, plus I know plenty of drinking games that don’t cost £40. The full game has 28 minigames in total, but if these are the 3 they’re most proud of then I don’t think this game is for me. As for HD Rumble, it’s impressive, but I personally can’t see it having applications that make it worth their investment. As I alluded to earlier, I would rather they had scrapped developing this tech, and instead taken the money for those resources and given it back to the consumer in the form of a lower price. Yes this kind of thing helped sell the Wii, but the Wii was also £179.99 on launch, with a game included, not £100 more with no bundled software
On a far more positive note, my word Mario Kart 8 is gorgeous! This was the first game I got to play on the actual Switch screen and what a marvel it was. Anyone who was worried that the 720p portable screen wouldn’t be up to scratch needn’t worry, Nintendo has delivered on that front. Having the buttons on the side I neglected to test whether there was any touchscreen functionality in-game or in the menus, but it doesn’t really matter to me (I rarely use the touchscreen on my Vita). As to the actual gameplay, it’s Mario Kart, I don’t really know what to tell you. I played an 8 player match with 8 Switches connected. It all ran seamlessly, no lag or hiccups of any description. I did notice playing this game in handheld mode that the Switch heavier than I expected. Not so much that it was necessarily uncomfortable to play, but definitely heavier than my Vita or 3DS, and obviously a tad bigger. Maybe on long play sessions, it would be better to undock the Joy-Con and use the kickstand.
Having never played Splatoon I was skeptical to say the least going into 2, but it turns out 4 million+ people that bought the first one weren’t wrong. I played this using the Joy-Con grip, which despite looking like it could challenge the Sega Saturn 3D Control Pad for the title of “most uncomfortable controller”, it’s actually very pleasant to use. I didn’t so much enjoy the forced use of motion-controlled Y-Axis aiming, which I hope you can change in the full game, but other than that the controls felt as good as playing any shooter on my PS4. I played this on a TV, from a presentation standpoint it looked about the same as what I’ve seen on Splatoon on Wii U. A few jagged edges here and there but the bright colors and frenetic gameplay help to distract from that.
One disparity in my Nintendo-driven life that some view as odd is that I’ve never clicked with Zelda. In my lifetime my collective playtime with the series probably doesn’t exceed an hour, so going into Breath of the Wild I had zero expectations or preconceptions, no green-tinted glasses. Let me start by saying that I did enjoy what I played, but for me, it’s not a system seller. This game is the crown jewel in their sparse launch line up, this is what they expect people to buy the Switch for, and for me it’s just not enough. The game itself is fine, it’s difficult having not really played Zelda to know if it feels right, to be honest it felt a little slow but it was early in the game and I only got 10 minutes with it. It doesn’t look bad, although the last open world game I played was Final Fantasy XV, to which Zelda pales by comparison. The world is big, but it feels a little empty, and naturally the limited power of the console can’t produce anything near the looks of FFXV. Looks aren’t everything to me, but they are a big factor for a lot of consumers, and in a world of PS4 Pros and Scorpios, the visuals may not cut out for some. Undocking the Switch and playing on that fabulous screen I talked about earlier did go some way to resolve that. By comparison the game looks stunning on the handheld, more refined, more vivid, more than you’d expect from a portable game. While we’re on the subject, undocking and redocking the Switch works exactly as it should. It’s simple, there was no faffing to make sure everything was lined up, it just works. I really wish Nintendo would put more emphasis on this aspect and not the Joy-Con. I understand the tech in those little controllers is phenomenal, but the real game-changer for me is the seamless console-to-handheld transition. True console-quality gaming on the go.
So in the end, did this day convince me that I need a Switch? Well, no. I see a Nintendo that are headed in the right direction, who are back in on the path of genuine innovation, but I also see a lot of missteps along the way. There will be people who love this console, but much to the dismay of my inner child, I’m not one of them. I won’t be picking one up anywhere near launch, almost certainly not within the first year. I’ll wait it out and see where it goes. Based on my time with it, I still prefer my 3DS and Vita as handhelds and the PS4 as a home console. I think Nintendo have done well, but I don’t feel like the Switch currently shines in either the home or away categories. It seems to me it falls into the trap of being a jack of all trades, master of none. This for me now lives and dies on the software, so I’m not counting it out yet. The new Mario, a good Metroid game, and some of the quirky third-party stuff like we’ve seen in the past (like a couple of Viewtiful Joes, a few No More Heroes) and I could be back in. My advice, for now, would be to let that super keen Zelda friend of yours buy one and test it out at their house before you put down any cash. And if you are that Zelda friend, I’ll give you a call when Super Mario Odyssey is out.
Have you had any experience with the Nintendo Switch? Agree or disagree with Jamie? let us know in the comments below!