With a price tag that has most of us scratching our heads, the Nintendo Switch is – what can only be described as – the primary successor to the Wii. Between party games that cover both western and eastern cultural influences to the second colourful wave of Splatoon, the Switch is a multi-tiered experience best played with others. That’s not to say it won’t have solid solo experiences though, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild available as a launch title for the console on March 3. It’s just one of five launch titles available for the Switch – and arguably the best.
During the hands-on session in London, I was remarkably surprised at how light the left and right Joy-Con controllers felt in my child-sized hands. The buttons are well placed, with all of them in easy reach for me. A sole Joy-Con could fit comfortably in my hand, though I still yearned for the easier grip of a nunchuk, particularly when playing 1-2 Switch. For longer play sessions, those with bigger hands might feel a little cramped. But just like a Wii remote, a sole Joy-Con can be twisted, tilted, and moved in any direction you wish.
The HD rumble feature – though a gimmick – is fun for mini-games. I was particularly impressed with Ball Count; a mini-game within 1-2 Switch that creates the real feeling of marbles inside a box. By tilting the controller left to right, I was utterly convinced the marbles were inside the controller, even looking at the Joy-Con rather than the TV to see if I could gain any insight while they clinked together. Although it’s easy to tell how many marbles there are when up to four are inside, five or more can become tricky. Hesitating a guess at 5, while my opponent vouched for 4, there were seven balls inside the box. Simple but quite ingenious technology. The less said about Milk, though, which has two players squeezing the udders in a 1-2 motion on the left and right shoulder buttons of the Joy-Con, the better. Between the weird toilet humour and double entendres, let’s just say the mini-game is harder than it looks.
Reminiscent of the Wii Sports Boxing days, the Nintendo Switch presents Arms. Available as a Spring release, the woefully named game is a lesson in the art of becoming Rocky Balboa. Channeling my inner Sylvester Stallone, Arms allows the use of both Joy-Con controllers, with the ability to dodge attacks, jump, move or strafe and throw your best shots. You’ll have five base characters to choose from, all of which feature three different power-up arm attachments that can be switched out at the end of each round. In co-operative mode, you’ll throw down the gauntlet in an arena, facing each other in the best of three rounds over the course of a few minutes.
At least in terms of graphics, Arms looks similar to Overwatch for its character design and Pokkén Tournament with its cartoon-like movements. It even sports interactive elements in the arena that you can use to your advantage, such as smashing or hiding behind huge glass tubes to take your opponent by surprise. By tilting your controllers to the left or right, you’ll be able to move around the arena and build up speed, your special attack, and dodge your opponents attacks. It feels smooth and reactive when throwing punches, while angling them for a neat Boomerang shot was a real treat to master. Arms shows a lot of promise for a quick pick up and play title, though hopefully four-way matches are included in an online multiplayer mode to boost the intensity.
While waiting in the wings for Splatoon 2, Nintendo’s representative was quick to tell me that you can now change your Inkling’s hairstyle – perhaps as an unlockable or shop item – and that co-operative mode now has access to Turf Wars. Whether this will be implemented as split screen given the map has been relegated to the X button, or as two separate playable screens on the Joy-Con Switch pad and the TV is currently unknown. Though there is a confirmed solo campaign, which will hopefully be lengthier, as well as new maps on offer, the best new element that I sampled were the dual guns. The special attack on the dual weapon allows you to jetpack your Inkling into the air and splat enemies from above. But you’ll have to be wary, as those on higher ground can splat you with ease, leaving you vulnerable to sniper attacks.
On the Switch handheld controller, the field of vision on Splatoon 2 not only feels smaller but also less immersive. While the visuals are much more refined, sporting 720p resolution, I felt disconnected from the seven other players playing beside me. In my own bubble, I focused on covering our bases with paint and avoiding the enemy. And although it was equally as fun to get back into splat mode, I couldn’t help but feel something was missing on the smaller screen. That said, the Switch controller is – according to Nintendo sources – multi-touch so it’s certainly very responsive when respawning next to another Inkling. From the short time I experienced it, Splatoon 2 felt more like a luxury upgrade than a tidy sequel, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed here for future improvements.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was also on the exhibition floor, though doesn’t sport any new tracks, much to the detriment of its rather expensive price point. From what I saw and played, all the tricks of the trade are there from the Wii U version. Quite simply, it’s a straight port, albeit with new items on show. Sadly, if you want to experience this in multiplayer during the years to come, it’s likely you’ll need to fork out the extra cash. Unfortunately the Nintendo representatives couldn’t tell me if there was a discount in place for those who already own Mario Kart 8’s digital Wii U version. We’ll keep our brows firmly raised then.
And so we come to the hotly anticipated title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A 20-minute demo is not nearly enough time to get to grips with everything the visually stunning game has to offer, but I was impressed with what I did manage to play. Eagerly lapping up the panoramic views, the first thing I did was jump. Link’s movement felt so utterly natural and fluid that it was quite astonishing at first. As I climbed my way up trees to fetch apples, and lit a torch to bake an apple hanging from the tree, I ran through the luscious green fields and attacked enemies with measly branches. You can also find rupees in grassy areas, apparently, but sadly not when subjected to mowing the lawn with a sword, at least in the demo version.
After playing Breath of the Wild with the comfortable and familiar pro controller, I switched to the Joy-Con pad in off-TV, portable mode. Though it’s a beautiful 900p (not quite 1080p as expected) and 30 frames per second on the television, it’s reduced to 720p and 30 frames per second when docked on the handheld controller screen. Even though the handheld controller is smaller than the Wii U GamePad in bulk size, it presents the same 6.2-inch screen – and it is clearly the superior one with rich colours and splendid tones to give warmth to the player, allowing you to feel immersed. For longer play sessions, as this game will entail, the pro controller is the better option in my books. But of course, it will boil down to personal choice.
For the most part, the first party games on show for the Switch are decidedly average but fun in short bursts. At this point, the games are merely there to present the breadth of what Nintendo’s new console can do with quirky mini-games and interesting technical features. But other than Breath of the Wild, there’s no real stand-out game for the system, which of course is the most important aspect of taking a new console to market. Perhaps there are countless Nintendo-like surprises waiting for fans, but for now all we can do is wait tentatively until its release.
Have you been lucky enough to try out the Switch? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.