Today I was able to get my hands on the Nintendo Switch in all it’s myriad forms at the UK premiere event in London. It was a cold, damp, dreary day, but my heart was aflame with the prospect of being able play with the new console and the range of games on show. After an extended period of Nintendo abstinence on my part, it was hugely satisfying to finally have a Nintendo console that was starting to appeal to a larger audience. My general impressions of the Nintendo Switch before today were good, but I had some reservations. After today, I am seriously impressed, especially with the Joy-Cons. The amount of tech that’s crammed into such a small space is unreal. This, as well as the seamless performance of the Switch, both when docked and handheld, should ensure hugely successful early adoption of this innovative console.
After being corralled through the front doors of the Hammersmith Apollo, there was another brief wait before we descended to the show floor, at which point a stampede towards The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ensued. My companion and I decided it would be better to wait until the queue had died down before heading to that area. Mistake number 1. We instead had a near free-choice with the remaining games, so Splatoon 2 became our first game of the day. Mistake number 2. Unfortunately, it was also the first game of the day for prolific Splatoon players Team 4D. We were destroyed utterly, but this didn’t taint what was still a hugely enjoyable experience. The game came set up in two different ways — one where the Switch was in handheld mode with the Joy-Cons attached to either side, and the other with the Switch docked using a Pro controller.
On my first round, I used the Nintendo Switch undocked. You move your character with the left analogue stick, look left and right with the right stick, and tilting the Switch allows you to look up and down. As a gamer who is used to strictly traditional controls, this particular control scheme confounded me, but it was surprisingly easy to get used to. Moving the Switch in this way allowed a more natural method of aiming, and I even managed a kill with a new Splatoon weapon: dual pistols. Although in the full game, you’ll be able to turn off these motion controls.
Other than the motion controls, handling the console itself was a joy. It was nicely weighted, and offered a comfortable playing experience. It was better to hold than a 3DS, as the weight is distributed along a horizontal plane, rather than vertically with the second 3DS screen. On my second round I swapped to using the Pro controller, which made things more conventional. The motion controls were still there, but emphasis was placed on using the controller to aim. Again, the controller was great to handle, leaving me to concentrate on dying loads. With the help of a Nintendo assistant, who could clearly see I was the one in need of most help, I managed 3 kills with the paint roller, as well as painting a hefty chunk of the map in the team color, but we still lost. Splatoon 2 performed flawlessly both docked and undocked, offering vibrant, smooth gameplay for the duration of the matches, as well as building upon and enhancing the experience of the first Splatoon game.
Next we treated ourselves to a selection of the mini-games that will make up 1-2 Switch, a party-focused collection of similar mini-games. The games on show were hilarious, weird and intriguing all at the same time. 1-2 Switch was made to show off the Joy-Cons, and they are seriously impressive. One game involved holding a single Joy-Con and tilting to determine how many balls were in a box on screen. The idea is to feel, using the HD rumble feature of the controllers, how many balls are hitting the edges of the imaginary box you’re tilting. I don’t think I can convey just how amazing the HD rumble feature is through words. The Joy-Con felt like the balls were rolling around inside of it, and I accurately determined how many balls were inside the box every single time. That’s how good the rumble feature is. As well as this, there were other games involving opening a safe, a wild-west style quick-draw, a samurai showdown, and milking a cow. In each of these games, the idea is to draw the play away from the TV screen, as each game can be played in it’s essence with just the Joy-Con. You stare down your opponent in the wild-west quick-draw, trying to put each other off, waiting for the command from the TV to fire. Things can get weird if you’re equally intense when milking the cow.
Initially, the Joy-Con was my main source of worry throughout the various stages of the Nintendo Switch reveals. I thought it would be far too small and unwieldy. 1-2 Switch allowed the system to prove me wrong, as in each of the games above, the controller never obstructed the gameplay. In fact, it only enhanced it, which is basically the main aim of a controller. Even when I used a single Joy-Con on it’s side for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with the Switch undocked on a table in front of me, there is enough space on the controller for you to control your Kart just as well as with a Wiimote. Better even. My companion basically has huge bear paws, and he had no complaints. An issue I did have while playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was with the split-screen while two players use the same Switch. We had to sit very close to be able to properly follow the action, and even then it was difficult. I can’t see the Nintendo Switch impressing while undocked, unless it is being used by a single person.
With the Breath of the Wild queue still impossibly long, we headed over to Arms, where yet another configuration of controllers was presented to us. Arms is a competitive motion-controlled boxing game, where the fighter’s arms are customizable between a huge range of abilities. You can fire a variety of extending and retracting projectiles by punching with Joy-Con in hand, even curving your punches to get around your opponent’s defense. While initially a total, random, button-mashing mess, Arms requires real finesse. Sure you can button-mash, but you won’t win.
I dominated my opponent by utilizing the Joy-Con’s motion controls to dash left and right, pressing a button to jump over their attacks, and exploiting their exposed flanks. This finesse can only be attained because the Joy-Cons do their job so well. There’s no fluffy guesswork involved in using the motion controls to move your character; if you tilt and dash left, it will happen. If you curve your punch at a particular angle, the angle of the punch on screen follows your command. Again, I was surprised at just how comfortable they were to hold. There are a tonne of buttons dotted all over the Joy-Con controllers, but somehow, Nintendo has managed to make each button easily reachable and different enough to touch so that your fingers will eventually be able to differentiate between them and your brain won’t have to.
Surely at this point, we thought, Breath of the Wild would be in our grasp. To our dismay, we were told that they were no longer accepting people into the queue, as our current session on the show floor was almost up. Deeply saddened, we headed over to a selection of 3rd-party titles such as the wipEout-styled Fast RMX, Fire Emblem-styled Disgaea 5, and Bomberman-styled Super Bomberman. Though still upset about BotW, I continued to be impressed at the versatility of the Nintendo Switch. In every game, the console and controllers are used together in slightly different ways, and I found this extremely promising for the future of the system. I was excited for the Switch before, but today’s event has alleviated some of my worries, and I’m left ever more confident that Nintendo have made some correct choices. I would even go as for as to say the recently announced accessories and their pricing are wholly justifiable, considering the amount tech that’s crammed into those Joy-Cons.
Suddenly, a tannoy announcement. The session has been extended by 30 minutes. We’re right next to the Breath of the Wild enclosure. There’s no queue. The attendant ushers us in. My day is complete. If the phrase “system seller” ever makes it into the dictionary, then surely the only definition needed would be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We come to the Nintendo Switch in it’s docked state and a Pro controller, with the demo waiting to be started on screen. After having received a visual upgrade on the Switch over the initially showcased Wii U version, Breath of the Wild is the absolute visual personification of grandiose beauty.
Standing atop a peak, you can pick out distant locations, and travel to them. The artistry of the aesthetic design is majestic, and I can’t wait to get my teeth into it. The demo begins in typical Zelda fashion; Link’s been sleeping again, and Ganon is up to no good. After a calm introduction, the pace quickly ramps up when you start fighting. The combat is a lot smoother than in previous entries, and you’ll find the familiar timed attacking and dodging mechanics to be greatly improved. At all points, the game ran at a smooth 30 fps, never noticeably dropping a single frame. It felt right using the Pro controller with a game like this, due to the fact that Link’s arsenal and what you can do with it is vastly expanded. This is the most RPG-like a Zelda game has ever felt, and this is definitely a good thing.
I leave the Hammersmith Apollo hugely satisfied. I achieved my intended goal of the day; to make up my mind about the Nintendo Switch. While I would prefer the launch day line-up to be a little more robust, the fact that Breath of the Wild will be releasing on day one silences that particular criticism. The Joy-Cons were my biggest concern, but they have proven to me that they are exceptionally versatile given a variety of situations. The performance of the Switch, both docked and undocked, is near flawless from my experiences over the day. Most importantly, playing games on the Switch is fun. Hugely fun. I can see my partner and I settling arguments over a round of Arms. I can anticipate uttering the immortal line “just one more game” after hours on Splatoon 2. I can already see losing my sense of reality as I sink further and further into Breath of the Wild. If you take anything away from reading about my experiences with the Nintendo Switch, it should be this: give it a chance.