Nintendo Switch Preview
Here we go again, it’s time for the world to be introduced to a new console! It's been five years since Nintendo introduced the Wii U back in 2012. Unfortunately Nintendo saw losses over its lifespan so we hope this new venture will bring life back to the market and Nintendo. On the 12th of January a Switch presentation was live streamed for all to see the new features of this new hardware. We got to see a brilliant range of new IP and technology the Switch will offer, with the most notable feature being the concept that a powerful home console will be completely portable along with numerous ways of playing it. We were invited to a hands-on event in London to spend some time with the quirky little thing, play all the new titles and see if it really is worth the steep £279.99 price tag!
We headed straight for the The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of Wild section to try out the long-awaited new game in its franchise! A popular IP for Nintendo, this title is also being released for Wii U, so we had a look to see how it would fare on the new console. We started off playing up close to the TV in a comfy chair for the twenty minute demo which took us through the start of the game. The first half of the demo was played with the wireless Pro controller which is a £64.99 accessory sold separately from the console itself. It feels just like a conventional controller when compared to Xbox or PS4’s controllers. It fits nicely in your hand and the material is good quality. It’s nothing special but gets the job done and gets you in the mood for some home console fun! Not much action happens in the first section of the game but it still looks beautiful on the TV screen. Nintendo continue to stay away from hyper realistic graphics most AAA games go for these days and instead opted for a stylised look which makes it that much more immersive.
After completing the first half of the demo exploring and climbing through a cave playing as Link, who has awoken from some kind of deep sleep, we open chests and gather new items to wear and collect. Next up we enter open plains full of trees and grass which look to span as far as the eye can see, making you want to explore the whole world! Link can pick up different items and use them in different ways or as weapons. We entered a battle and instantly get knocked about and thrown across the area. The battle feels realistic as Link takes a while to get back up and once we find the targeting system we are back to it. We hit back with a stick we picked up earlier and it's light and fast but doesn't do much. Later an axe is picked up to cut down trees and battle enemies and I swing slowly but it feels just like the blow I'm supposed to give! When I get into a flow I feel like a badass as each swing has heavy weight behind it. This could have a lot of potential for the rest of the game’s pick ups and battles.
Halfway through I’m encouraged to try the game as a portable device. One of the biggest gimmicks to the Switch is the fact it has the full power of a home console but can also be used on the go. To do this you remove the tablet, which is similar to the Wii U gamepad, from its docking station and the game instantly shows up on the screen. Attached to its sides are controllers called Joy-Cons which when attached mean the whole tablet can be used as a portable machine. “Imagine playing this on the tube,” the Nintendo rep says to us. Now that's an idea! But we can't help but feel we were enjoying the game so much more on the full screen. This game will clearly have a lot of depth, but will audiences enjoy it more with their home comforts than cramped on a packed tube? Would we lose our immersion on the go? It still manages to look great on the small screen and the ability to play on the go could be amazing if we stay focused.
Now it’s time to really try out the different control systems which the Switch boasts. Next up was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This was released on the Wii U already but now has new characters, races, power ups and the return of battle mode. While the game hasn't changed much from the original, we got to play it with seven other players using the Switch as a portable device. We all held our own tablet screens and controlled it with the attached Joy-Cons. The idea that eight Switch users can link together will be just like the 3DS/DS which was always fun, and just like Zelda, this still looks amazing on the small screen in your hands.
We also got to try Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as a two player split-screen on the small tablet screen. We had the screen propped up on its stand with the two Joy-Cons unattached this time. This is another feature the Switch has which allows more than one player to play games and use it as a small TV. The Joy-Cons slide off and can be passed to players to use. Splitting the screen in half did make it a bit tough to see. I can see this feature being great to keep kids occupied but we would not choose this voluntarily when it comes to multiplayer split screens.
The other drawback to playing Mario Kart like this was using the tiny Joy-Con controllers. These things are small. Conveniently for this demo they had the Joy-Cons inside small wheels similar to the Wii wheel released when Mario Kart Wii was released. These are maybe half the size but do make it easier to hold the Joy-con. These adapters have extra impressions for the L & R shoulder buttons, a key button for Mario Kart’s drifting mechanic. However when we were done we asked to see what it was like to play it without the adapter. While we didn’t get to play we noticed the buttons for L & R were nowhere near as easy to press. To get the best use of these controllers for a game like Mario Kart then extra accessories are going to make the experience much nicer. But you’ll find yourself forking out even more money for the sake of it. Will it really be worth it?
Next up are the 1-2-Switch demos. Most of these demos are going to be like Wii Sports where players are really going to experience the most of these new control systems. The cool thing was most of these games don’t even require you to look at the screen. Quick Draw has you awkwardly looking into the eyes of a stranger and trying to shoot them before they pull the trigger first. We failed a good few times against our foe’s reaction times but it was a pretty fun concept. These are going to make great party games, and will hopefully get most people interested in the Switch just like Wii Sports did. This is where the Joy-con controllers shine. Instead of pressing buttons or using them for precise turning you just need to wave your arms.
Samurai Training used the motion controls in an interesting way, which once we got the hang of, we really enjoyed. One player has to swing their sword down towards the other player while the other must capture the “blade” by clapping their hands together when they think the sword will be swung. Nintendo are really trying to demonstrate that motion controls aren't dead and how far they've come with these games. While it was a fun concept, It was hard to tell how well it responds to your movements as there is no true visual feedback until you see your results on screen.
Another improvement Nintendo is trying to show off with 1-2 Switch is the concept of HD rumble. The way the Switch generates its vibration technology and senses space in the controllers has been improved. Vibrations can generate different feelings for players to use as feedback during games. In the two demos Safe Crack and Ball Counting it has players moving the controller around to simulate something they have to recognise. Turning the Joy-Con during Safe Crack had players recognising small vibrations to break a safe’s code. This was tricky as some vibrations were different and hard to sense plus our arm even got tired holding it out and frustratingly not being able to get it right. Ball Counting used the HD rumble slightly differently as players had to move the Joy-Con and feel the vibrations as it simulated rolling balls inside it - so players had to guess how many balls are inside. These mini games weren't as fun as the others but they were certainly clever. We can definitely see how designers can make use of it in future titles.
Arms will be a stand alone game that looks like it should have been a part of 1-2-Switch but will instead cost £49.99. It is a wacky-looking boxing game which has you controlling characters with extendable, you guessed it, arms. This will be another title which makes the most of the motion controls as you throw punches straight or curved depending on how you swing. We played against another attendee and while it was awesome to see the different motions in the tutorial it was over in a flash when playing against someone else! You don't just swing, but also pull other gestures to block and perform special abilities and even move side to side. This really will take getting used to.
To play Arms one-on-one you need four Joy-Cons, when the Switch ships with only two. To buy a new pair it will set you back £74.99 or £42.99 for a single left/right controller. You hold one in each hand and simulate the punches or blocks. Holding them sideways was weird, especially when there are so many buttons everywhere; you find yourself trying to avoid pressing any even when they don’t do anything. It felt unnatural at first but after spending enough time with Arms everyone could get used to it. What is concerning is there are so many different ways to hold and play these controllers across so many different games there is likely to be a steep learning curve for each new title. Nintendo takes pride in their pick up and play approach to games so it may not be as bad as it seems now.
A game which is making a return will be Bomberman in the new title Bomberman R. While we only got to play the multiplayer mode it will also feature a story mode. Nothing has changed much here from the classic multiplayer mode. All that’s different is the tiny Joy-Con controller we had to cling on to while looking at the small tablet screen again. We played with one other person and luckily, unlike Mario Kart, we saw everything we needed to on the screen. Also this time there are no accessories attached to the Joy-Con. Bomberman is still as fun as it was when we played it on previous consoles however this time there was the slight feeling of our hands cramping as we tried to get a grip on the Joy-Con. There is still a worry for players with much larger hands when it comes to these little controllers.
The final control option was to use the a game that made use of the Joy-Con Grip which is a controller made up of the two Joy-Cons inside their own dock to simulate a conventional controller like the Pro Controller. We came across Skylanders Imaginators, a game that's been out for a while and is a well established franchise. We mostly played to see how the controller feels. The result was nice and surprisingly natural considering it looks like it shouldn't be, with its squared off shape. Both Joy-Cons fit in it pretty snug and pass off as a controller smoothly. With more of a play with it we noticed it is also small in shape and it's becoming increasingly worrisome for those with larger hands adjusting to the new shapes. With the amount of accessories being produced for this hardware it’ll be no surprise if Nintendo or some third party will create a nice sized adapter just to make more money out of our comfort.
Unfortunately we missed some other games that were on the show floor but titles to also look forward to are Splatoon 2, Sonic Rush, new IP Snipper Clips and more. We had a good showcase of all the different ways we can play with the Switch for different titles. The motion controls have certainly made a leap in advancement with what we can do with them, and it'll be interesting to see how many new titles try to shoehorn them into their games. While there are many complaints about how small the Joy-Cons may have been we do think it won’t take anyone long to get used to them once they have spent enough time with their title of choice, instead of snippets like we had. There is a lot of potential for this, given that it is a portable device and therefore allows playing on the go but a big fear for many is taking a £279.99 console with £42.99 accessories and £59.99 games out and about. Especially for those parents who are going to be getting this for their kids - can they be trusted with that much technology on the go? It feels like a sturdy piece of hardware but maybe there are those who would feel safer keeping their console at home. Multiplayer on the go is a great pitch but depending on the game, if you are sharing that screen you are going to be getting up close with your opponent just so you can see what’s going on.
I’m excited for the future and what the Switch can bring to the video game industry. In a world of advanced graphics, quality in games and of course VR it’ll be good to see how Nintendo will continue to develop motion controls and the portable market. Will audiences and developers return to these motion-based games, or will we just find ourselves playing a tablet with handy controls attached?