Nintendo Switch Hands-On – Does It Truly Bring Joy?
After a sleepless night, a long train journey, and a cold tube ride I find myself outside of the UK’s Nintendo Switch premiere. It was hardly a star-studded red carpet event, felt more like an indie gig for a band that about 50 people in the world have heard of, total. I can’t say there was an air of excitement outside of the event, more the mumblings of frigid attendees, excitedly greeting one another like old friends. If you asked people if they were excited to finally go hands-on with the new Nintendo system, they will positively reply “Yeah, I guess.”
Expectations were tempered by the mornings’ Nintendo Switch presentation, which confirmed a myriad of features, games, and more – possibly most exciting of the bunch being Super Mario Odyssey, which sees Mario jet-setting his way out of the Mushroom Kingdom and all over the world. It looks fantastic and would’ve surely driven attendees into a fever pitch – if it were playable at the event. Without a rip-roaring new title like Mario to display, it was hard to get too ahead of yourself – heck, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was there, but even that was playing a demo far too similar to what E3 guests have seen before on Wii U.
But then I stepped up to the Splatoon 2 booth, sat down in a chair with a Nintendo Switch in front of it, and just touched it. I picked it up, felt its weight, felt how comfortably it sat in my hands, and I felt at ease. What we have here feels like a premium product – the cheap fingerprint hell of glossy black plastic on the Wii U gamepad and Wii remotes, now long gone, replaced with an incredibly attractive matte gray – or the polarizing Neon Red and Blue, which I must admit to being quite fond of.
I moved the sticks – the analog sticks on the Joycons feels somewhat cheap, something more akin to the sticks you get on a PlayStation Vita than a traditional controller. I clicked the triggers – digital, decent click sound. I pushed the shoulders – slightly squishy, they felt good. I played with the face buttons – all pleasantly clicky, nothing out of the ordinary – then I played a game.
What can’t be said through words or displayed through a mediocre quality livestream from the other side of the planet is that when a game runs well, it runs amazingly well. Splatoon 2 purrs on the Switch – like it was the system it was always designed for. The camera flicks about at a silky 60FPS, and inking your territory unleashes a torrent of color familiar to Splatoon fans – but this is undocked. Not on a television, this was in my hands. I watched others on my team play from televisions – they had a lovely big space to stare at while aiming at opponents, but there was something almost visceral about shifting the center of the Switch itself to adjust my aim, rather than merely shifting about the gamepad and watching my actions unfold on a television.
Then I moved over to see Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Sonic Mania, The Legend of Zelda… One thing remained constant: the screen is gorgeous. There were concerns over a 720p screen in the Switch, with many complaining it should either be 1080p or nothing, but after my time with it, I have to say I didn’t see a single jagged edge or drastically aliased image. In fact, the PPI on the Switch’s screen might be just right for 720p gaming, as I’ve never seen a 720p game look and feel so silky smooth.
After being reacquainted with the familiar, I went out of my way to find something entirely scary and new. ARMS, the absurdly long-range boxer/brawler is often compared to Wii Sports’ boxing, as you wield the two Joycons in your hands a-la Wii remotes and throw your fist forward to take a punch – but instantly, this shows more promise as an actual fighter than something like Wii Boxing ever could. Each joycon can be thrown forward for a punch, while you can do the motion with both for both arms to spring out for a grab. Your characters can jump, dash, air dash, turning ARMS into a 3D multiplayer brawler with more in common with Power Stone than anything else.
There was a transition here – I went from playing the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 on the Switch with joycons attached, to playing with one in each hand, flailing like a bit of a berk. While Nintendo has done both in the past, it has never done both at the same time, with the same controllers. Suddenly, the name Switch is so much more than a clever pun. “Switch from home console to handheld gaming in a flash!” is what we envisioned the ad campaign as being, but Switch applies to so much more than that. The joycons are a traditional controller. And a motion control. And an NFC reader. And they are also two controllers at once, switching between all of these states the second you hold it in your hand slightly differently.
The Wii remote was genius, a revolutionary motion controller that changed how we played games – and the Nintendo Switch is that. But while you needed a cheap-feeling Classic Controller in order to get a “hardcore” gaming experience with the Wii, that’s not true with the Switch. Your Wii remote, your pro controller, your multiplayer pads, they’re all the Joycons. It’s a genuinely incredible stroke of genius that I didn’t fully understand until I had it in my own hands. One minute I was punching the Nintendo reps in ARMS, the next I was catching an invisible wooden blade being swung at me by another fellow – again, all with the Joycons, all just by holding them slightly different.
The Nintendo Switch is incredibly exciting, though it’s hard to understate the concern with third parties and “hardcore” titles – is the Switch really going to attract that audience, or run those games? Once again, time will tell for Nintendo’s latest little console, but based solely on how nice games I already love run on it, and how good it feels in my hands, I know for a fact I want it.