25 January 2017

Hands on with the Nintendo Switch

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to go down to the Switch launch event in London. Along with other members of the public I was lucky enough to try the few games that have been revealed for the console and get some hands on time with the unit itself. The potential it has and my excitement for the system were somewhat dampened by the big presentation Nintendo held a few days before the event. There were too many variables that weren't addressed and the lineup of games wasn't that big, especially the amount that are being released early on. I thought the overall concept of the Switch was still great but that was shown to us last year. Apart from information regarding HD rumble (of which they didn't really explain) and a few new games, there wasn't much content to back it all up. As a brand new home console from Nintendo they could have gone in a very different direction that I'm sure would greatly please more dedicated gamers.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the direction and quality of games they are showing off with a few niggling issues that are holding back my overall excitement levels. It was only on the train ride home from the Switch event where the true potential of the system hit me. Having those console experiences on the journey would be game changing. The quality of the screen and controllers. The ability to play multiplayer games with just the unit itself. The ease of popping off a controller and giving it to a friend.

But then of course my mind wanders to the questions of battery life, range of games and storage space and the doubts and issues build up again, but for a moment I saw the possibilities of what the Switch could open up. A handheld that happens to be a console is such a straightforward yet clever idea that it seems unbelievable that no-one has pulled it off yet. Along with the quality of Nintendo's first party games, it could take off with a whole different audience who weren't even aware of the Wii U's existence.

Let's get straight into the games along with a quick grade to see how they stack up against each other.


Nintendo's new party game has no reason not to be a pack in title. It's very lightweight, and based on the few games that I got to play, it only contains very simple minigames that last from a few seconds to a minute but that isn't to say it's not fun. It's definitely the most tech-demo-y of all the games shown so far following the tradition of other launch titles Wii Sports and Nintendo Land (the tie in games for the Wii and Wii U respectively). These were great at demonstrating the controls and ideas of the console that I got many hours of gameplay out of. Unfortunately, I would say 1-2-Switch is the weakest of these being far more comparable to Wii Play than Wii Sports.

The game consists of mini games that make use of the Switch's new Joy-Con controllers (those tiny controllers that can slide off the Switch screen). It takes advantage of the all the little features that have been crammed into them. Motion Controls, HD rumble, IR sensors and a full set of buttons. The various games each take advantage of a selection with a strange variety of activities, from guessing how many balls are in a box by moving the controller and feeling the rumble, to having a Western-style showdown that took speed and accuracy into account. While impressive at times, all of them were very quick that I can't see myself playing them multiple times.

They all centre around 2 player experiences, and rather than looking at the screen, it encourages the players to stare at each other. It ranges from party experiences to more action type games but the best representation of this game is one simply called Milk. You stare at your opponent while slowly performing a milking action in front of you, the most milk milked wins and the one who has the best motion and rhythm gets the most. You can tell how well you're doing by how much milk you feel travelling through the controller, and although that's very clever and impressive, it's also an extremely awkward display of the interesting HD rumble feature. I can't describe how much I both hate and love this game. Other games such as Safe Crackers along with the aforementioned ball game display how genuinely impressive and new the HD rumble is. Of course there's a high chance it could become the new Wii U gamepad and be a feature that other developers never take advantage of.

I asked the representative but they said they couldn't confirm the total number of minigames that would be in the final game. Judging by the trailers so far they haven't shown off everything yet but I don't expect too many more games to be added. All the controls worked as you'd expect and I saw a lot of people laughing and interacting when playing which I'm guessing is the game's main purpose. If it's cheap enough it should be worth the price, just don't expect much depth or complexity.

Grade: C+


The 'yes they actually named it that' award of the show goes to Arms, a brand new IP featuring an art style and character design that mirrors Overwatch's style, a.k.a distinct, colourful and expressive. Best described as Punch Out meets Pokken (last year's Pokemon fighting game), Arms is a fun one-on-one fighter that is much deeper than first impressions.

The trailer for the game initially put me off with the fact that it's completely motion control based (a habit some people wish Nintendo would leave in the past) but I'm very pleased to say that it not only works, but works well. While there is apparently an option to disable the motion controls (which I didn't have access to), I don't think this would be the best way to play the game. Movement in a 3D area is handled by moving both controllers in the same directions. Each player can punch with a controller to shoot out a long stretchy arm to attack the other player and twist it to curve the punch in any direction they want to. Mix in dodging, jumping (both handled with the L and R shoulder buttons) as well as throws, blocks and special moves, it has all the basics of any modern 3D fighting game.

The fast pace of the game instantly stands out. Where the first round was filled with straight punches and basic movement, as you get used to the controls and the mechanics the game quickly shifts to one filled with quick jumps, air dodges and punches being thrown at the best moment. A throw is activated by throwing both arms forward but leaves you open. One punch can be negated by throwing another and colliding in the air. While we've only been shown a few stages they include different mechanics such as a slope to give upper and lower ground and interactive objects, such as Spring Girl being able to throw an enemy through a glass column in what looks like a mad scientist's lab. When this all combines it creates a fast paced fight, filled with exciting moments which feel great. While I'm unsure whether online multiplayer is confirmed, the game looks to meet it's true potential in local multiplayer.

Each character shown so far has a few differences. While at first the only distinction appears to be character size and speed, other smaller details separate them. Ribbon Girl is faster than everyone else and the one that looks like a moving tank can jump multiple times in the air. Mix in the 3 different weapons that the characters can use and mix and match for each separate hand it starts to show more and more variety. For example, the triple punch glove lets you overpower your opponent just by meeting their punches, as your three fists will beat their single punch. Where it does fall down so far is the lack of any combos or general attacks outside of punching. I make the comparison to Pokken as at the core of that game was a very simplistic rock-paper-scissors scenario, but it was the unique attacks, movement, characters and speed of the gameplay that made it stand out. Arms' speed and movement give a similar feeling, I just hope it can stand up and evolve over a longer play time.

Grade: A.

Splatoon 2

I think the "2" in this title is a bit of a push, at least with what we've seen so far. Splatoon was not only one of the best Wii U games but one of the best games from Nintendo in a while and it makes me happy that they're pushing Splatoon 2 as hard as they are to sell their new console. At first glance (and quite a bit after that honestly) it looks extremely similar to the first game. The rep at the event said that the game is set two years after the original but it makes no big difference to either the visuals or the gameplay. For a company that doesn't like to make sequels unless they have a good idea for one, this feels rather alien.

If you've played the first game you'll know what to expect jumping in. Two teams fight with paint on a map to cover the majority in their teams colour. The paint allows for faster movement in squid mode allowing for quick fun combat. The main differences are obviously the map on the touch screen from the Wii U has gone, so map traversal is handled by holding the X button and selecting another teammate with the D-pad. Not as elegant as just touching their location on the map but it works. So X rather than jump is now assigned to the B button, which during my short playtime with the new layout, was a hard habit to break. Going to jump with X, bringing up the map instead and getting splatted happened to me on multiple occasions.

Other than that all returning weapons have a few changes, such as the sniper retains its charge even if you go into squid mode before firing, and roller allows a new long range attack if you jump and shoot. There are new weapons as well. One that has been shown is a new twin pistol 'splat dualie' combo that lets you perform a quick dodge on the ground opening up a new form of movement. Finally, all the Supers have been replaced with new abilities. This comes with the new maps, clothes (that like the original, enable you to change your stats) and new single player missions. While this is all new content is welcome, it doesn't change the feel or gameplay of the main game, it's still the same solid 4 vs 4 team based gameplay. The motion controls for aiming work with both the Switch tablet and Pro Controller which both felt extremely comfortable to use. It's fun, colourful and still retains that special charm.

Grade: B

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

If you thought Splatoon 2 had a lack of new features, you ain't seen nothing yet - but as this isn't being sold as a whole new sequel but rather a port of Mario Kart 8, it's understandable. It's the same Mario Kart 8 that you've probably played before if you own a Wii U, but with a few important additions. The most important is the portability of the Switch. While this goes for all games mentioned here I think it shines brightest for the Mario Kart franchise. Local multiplayer has always been its biggest strength and being able to play multiplayer anywhere, either through split screen or using multiple Switches across a Wi-Fi network, is something to get excited over.

Less impressive is the list of new features compared to the original. A few new characters and karts, a revamped Battle Mode that better reflects Battle Modes of previous games in the series and a few new items (including my favourite from the SNES original, the feather that allows the kart to jump). The ability to now hold two items is back and for the better, as it solves one of my biggest annoyances with the original, as it was a series staple that was removed for no reason. Along with all the DLC that was released for the Wii U version, that's about it. This may make it a hard sell for anyone who owned the original and all the DLC for the original game.

On the other hand, it's still one of the best in the series and a fantastic kart racer. From the detail in the visuals and the variety of karts and racers to the extremely fun and unpredictable 200cc mode. While I'm held back by my concern for how well a single Switch unit can be used for split screen multiplayer and whether the problem of the 60 FPS frame-rate dropping when playing with 3 or more players on the same screen still occurs, I very highly recommend this for non-Wii U owners and give a recommendation with a warning for existing owners.

Grade: B.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Being my most anticipated game for the last 3 years, I had some pretty high expectations going in to finally try The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. What was shown was the same demo area as what had been shown at last year's E3, which is what I assume will be the initial starting area for the main game. It's a large expanse of an area with characters, enemies and items scattered throughout it. The main gameplay is a mix of combat, exploration and survival.

Keeping track of hearts/health is a huge difference from previous games in the series. Health can only be restored from food and items found in the world as enemies no longer drop hearts that can be collected, which was a tough idea to get used to in the short play time I had. I died in this demo more than I did in my recent playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess last year. Not only from poor health management but from powerful, hard hitting enemies and dangerous cliff drops. While loading the game back up wasn't as quick as I would've liked, it's fair enough considering the size of the map.

Rather than try and follow the intended path I felt more like exploring the area to see what I could find. I just chose a direction and waited to see what would happen, it turned out that along a pier of ruins lay a powerful sword and even further on a cave blocked by a burnable door that held a chest of bomb arrows. The Nintendo reps that were watching commented that they hadn't known about those items and called others over to look. This, I feel, is the heart of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A return to the days of exploring, discovering and sharing discoveries with friends. Of course exploration would get dull if it didn't have fun mechanics to go along side it. The combination of weapons, actions in combat and approach to situations can vary a great deal. The slow down when pulling off a perfect dodge of leaping through the air with a bow to deal the final blow, or surfing down a hill on your shield feels great. Combat is satisfying and while the controls are quite a deviation from a traditional Zelda game, they work in the new context of climbing and discovery and movement.

I really hope that the moment to moment gameplay doesn't get old and the map is full of things to do as that is the main potential downside that I can see at the moment. The frame rate dropped a couple of times during my play time but this isn't the final build and will be something that they can hopefully fix before it launches. It looks beautiful, runs great most of the time and the fact that I can take it on the go is slightly mind-blowing.

Grade: A+

Other thoughts
  • The potential from Snipperclips is huge and I hope they deliver on it. Very unique and a really good fit for the Switch. My main problem was that I didn't get a very long playtime with it. Other than that, quick, clever, co-op puzzles on the go? Yes please. Grade: B+
  • Bomberman R plays like every other Bomberman game you've played. While I'm happy the character's making a comeback (put him in the next Smash Bros!) it feels very much like a been there, done that experience. The single player may make it worth it, but I'm highly skeptical. Along with the tabletop switch mode screen size being slightly too small for 2-4 multiplayer Bomberman, it's probably best to wait for a price drop. Grade: C-
  • Ultra Street Fighter II: The The Final Challenger looks exactly like Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix that was released on the PS3 and Xbox 360 a few years ago and to a casual player I couldn't tell much of a difference. Even with rebalanced characters and newer mechanics, such as a more modern ideas like throw-teching being added, aside from nostalgia I think it's going to be a tough sell for people; especially with how awful the joy-con looks to control a fighting game with. Grade: C+

Closing Thoughts

This hands on time has definitely made up for a slightly unsatisfactory press conference and the fact that all these games are portable dramatically changes the way I think about them. It's interesting that none of the demos shown used the touch screen of the Switch in any way, but maybe this was just to distance it from the Wii U tablet? The price of the unit is understandable but just too far out of range for it to become an impulse purchase product. The accessories and games are priced far too high at the moment but it will only be a matter of time before they start to fall... at least, hopefully. The screen size and quality is great, it's weighty but not too heavy for a portable and every control option I used was comfortable (with special a shout out to the Pro Controller, which felt fantastic). The heating and battery issues make me nervous but I'm on the optimistic side and trust Nintendo to not mess it up, even though they have far from a perfect track record. It feels like a quality product that leaves behind the more plastic feel that have been a large part of Nintendo's past.

I feel that it you didn't own a Wii U it would make a great purchase, but you should probably wait until Super Mario Odyssey is out. When that comes its library will have built up to a reasonable standard and the price should have dropped. For Wii U owners it's a bit more complicated. If you were to use it as purely a stationary home console I would wait until the price goes to a point you are comfortable with, but if you intend to take it on the go then it's a case of how tempting the offer of a portable Zelda and Mario Kart sounds to you. If you get excited at just the possibility, I'd say it's worth it. It's impressed me with both the design and build of the unit and controllers and sets up a great foundation for the future.

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