After Nintendo’s beautifully awkward presentation last week, it was exciting to get some hands on time with the Switch over in Melbourne. I went in with so many questions, and came out with plenty more - but the good news is there is a lot to like about Nintendo’s latest console.
For starters, it appears that Nintendo are learning from their past mistakes. They have taken the Gamepad from the Wii U (which no developer seemed to really understand) and evolved it into a fully mobile gaming device so that users can play on the go. The Switch also seems to acknowledge an older audience, while not negating families and younger gamers. But probably the most exciting aspect is the focus on local multiplayer, with some games not even requiring players to look at a screen. It’s a refreshing concept in an online world.
The console itself, while not being spectacular in the hardware side of things (it’s less powerful than the PS4 or the Xbox One) - is beautifully designed. It has the solid, almost chunky feel of a Nintendo product, and the combination of a minimal aesthetic with matt and gloss finishes makes you want to pick it up and play with it. The docking mechanism for sliding and clicking in the side Joy-Con controllers is smooth and feels robust, and the transition of inserting the tablet into the stand is seamless. Games are broadcast to your TV within seconds of sliding it in and vice versa.
Despite their pint-sized design, the Joy-Cons also feel resilient, and feel up to the task for more demanding titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Ultra Street Fighter 2. Agreed, I may have below-average sized hands (like Donald Trump), but they didn’t feel uncomfortable to use. They nostalgically reminded me of Nintendo’s Game Boy Micro.
The screen on the Switch tablet is impressive, offering vibrant and crisp graphics that were particularly noticeable with Mario Kart’s high framerates. Like the Wii U gamepad, it’s also a touchscreen, however I failed to see any game at the hands-on event that actually utilised this feature. When used as a handheld (with the two Joy-Cons connected at the sides of the tablet), the Switch had a decent weight, but thanks to the larger size, felt more comfortable than the PS Vita. While I can’t imagine myself taking a full-blown game like Zelda out on the road because of the battery life restraint, I can appreciate the ability of taking more accessible games like SnipperClips or Super Bomberman R on the go.
In typical Nintendo fashion there are still some eye-brow raising issues though. I don’t understand why Nintendo have decided to launch with two editions of the console, with just a minor cosmetic difference between the two. Having a coloured and a black controller configuration lacks conviction from Nintendo to decide on a simple identity for their console at launch. Surely designing the console to allow for coloured face-plates for the controllers would be a better option for consumers? It would also build on the whole (already overplayed) ‘switch’ concept too, where users can ‘switch’ the look of their consoles for some personalisation.
But one of the biggest concerns I have with the Switch is the price of entry - with the NZ retail price expected to be $549. Purely because the Switch doesn’t include any software with the console, which seems ridiculous considering how the Wii and Wii U included Wii Sports or Nintendo Land respectively. Families unbundling their brand-new Switch will have nothing to fire up unless they splash out more money. Nintendo have claimed that they want to give the public a choice rather than bundle in a title, but personally I think they expect a lot from their audience.
The fact that nearly all Switch launch games seem to start at over $100, the cost of entry is pretty high. I’d also like to point out that currently the Switch will have fewer launch titles than the Wii, Wii U, or the 3DS; and with a very limited hard drive and lack of an optical drive, the Switch can’t double as a media player either. All of this won’t exactly inspire much confidence in the average consumer. Having 1-2 Switch included by default would definitely be a step in the right direction, but if Nintendo had any love for their fans they would be including Zelda: Breath of the Wild with every Switch sold.
The hands-on experience still has me optimistic about the future of Switch, but I still have a lot of questions. With only six weeks to launch, we’re yet to see what the operating system looks like, and let’s be honest - Nintendo don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to interfaces. Coupled with the knowledge that players will require a separate app downloaded to their phone for online play and chat doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence either.
The optimist in me wants Nintendo to succeed, because the gaming world will not be the same if they leave the console industry, but right now I’m on the fence. I’ll just have to wait and find out as we learn more leading up the March.
Angus travelled to a press event in Melbourne, courtesy of Nintendo.
For Keith's thoughts on the Switch, head over here.
Keep it locked locked on NZGamer.com for previews of specific Switch titles.