Hands-on with the Nintendo Switch

Hands-on impressions of the all the new Switch controls and games.

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Nintendo Australia kindly invited us to their Nintendo Switch preview event at the Melbourne Convention Center and thanks to time zones we were among some of the first people in the world to go hands-on with the new console. I was lucky enough to try a decent number of new titles and go hands-on with every Switch control configuration you could think of and these are my honest opinions after spending roughly 2 hours playing in the event space. I apologise in my advance for my poor camera skills.

Big shout out to Nintendo Australia for hosting such a great event. The floor space looked as if it was lifted from E3, there were a great variety of snacks and drinks and plenty of friendly staff on deck to chat with and play the two player games with you because you were the only staff member from your site based in Melbourne that could attend the event. This showed me Nintendo is serious about promoting their product and pushing it to be a success in all regions.

After a short presentation recapping the Switch live presentation from the other day, all the attendees were let loose on to the floor. With some strategic positioning close to the door I got first dibs on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but I’ll touch on all that in another paragraph as I spent more time with the games new content later. First up is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which is of course launching with the Switch. Our press pack confirmed the retail price will be $89.95 which is a good sign that this will be the maximum price of any game on the Switch without factoring in any sales from retailers.

This seemed to be the E3 demo that people got to play 6 months ago as it contained the same plateau area and 20 minute time limit. This was my first time trying Breath of the Wild for myself and I was not let down in terms of gameplay. The controls, freedom to go anywhere and how Link interacts with the world are amazing. Recreating a moment from Game of Thrones I picked up a shield from a fallen enemy, blocked an enemy arrow with said shield (which then got added to my inventory) and then attacked with a club I had scrimmaged earlier. I took down a couple of enemy outpost before my time ran out, one time making use of a rock conveniently located over some explosives to take out everyone at once. 20 minutes was much too short, this is a game you could easily sit down and play for hours. Also Link can jump now!

Graphically I was a little disappointed with Breath of the Wild as edges on models and the grass looked really rough and jagged and a couple of textures would pop in slowly and be a little on the low quality side. This is something I didn’t expect as it does not come across in any gameplay videos I’ve watched on YouTube. The fact the demo units forced you to sit very close to the screen most likely amplified the problem. As for performance I never noticed a frame drop in my play-through but did see a two second long dip in performance on someone else’s game while waiting in line. Honestly though I was more impressed by the giant stone golem someone had managed to aggravate in their demo session that I didn’t even find in my session, it seems to me performance will only be a minor issue at worst in the final release.

Interestingly the game looked a lot better to me when I switched into portable mode which just requires you to lift the system up from the dock. The screen used in the Switch is of a very high quality. The image was sharp, bright and the range of colours really popped, especially in my later play sessions of Splatoon and Mario Kart 8. Anyone who was worried about the display rest assured your fears are unwarranted. I am also happy to say none of my games suffered performance wise when switching to the portable mode, with Sonic Mania, Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Breath of the Wild all running identically both docked and in portable mode. The build quality on the Switch is very high and it was surprisingly small even when docked, easily being the smallest home console in recent years.

I played the first half of the Zelda demo using the two Joy-Con controls placed on the Joy-Con Grip. To me it seems some compromises had to be made to accommodate for the Joy-Con’s size but these flaws are relatively minor and the controllers themselves are from bad. The analog sticks are really firm and tight which I liked but are just a little too small in my opinion. The face buttons felt satisfying to press and I had no issue with those. The four shoulder buttons work just as well as on any other control for the most part considering the size. My other main issue is the placement of the minus button on the left Joy-Con, it’s a little awkward to press if your thumb is on the wrong side of the Analog Stick as you will kind of fight to get past it.

The second half of the demo had me remove the Joy-Con Controllers from their Grip and slide them onto the sides of the Switch itself. This was a really simple process and the controls feel solidly locked in no matter what they are attached to. No complaints there as long as the mechanisms for doing that hold up over time which we obviously weren’t able to test. I think I prefer the controls attached to the Switch as opposed to on the Joy-Con Grip but perhaps that was just because I was more familiar with that style thanks to the Wii U GamePad. The screen is a very comfortable weight and lighter than most tablets I have used so holding it up for extended sessions shouldn’t be a problem.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gave me a feel for using a single Joy-Con on it’s side and this was surprisingly comfortable. The wrist strap attachment gives the controller a little more height and adds taller SR and SL buttons. These two extra shoulder buttons are also on the Joy-Con controllers naturally but I didn’t get to try them without the wrist strap on. I have no complaints about control when used in this configuration. Surprisingly the smaller joystick didn’t bother me at all this time despite how integral it is to Mario Kart and drifting using the SR and SL buttons felt natural.

ARMS had you holding the Joy-Con’s in a similar fashion to the old Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo. The removal of the cord tethering the controls together feels great and this game showed me how far motion controls have come since the Wii. It took a while to get used to as the game has a number of combinations for moving around, blocking and throwing punches but I could only blame my own lack of knowledge for performing poorly. Tilting the controls at a 45 degree angle enables you to block which worked surprisingly well every time. I think that impressed me the most as normally when tilting at certain angles come into play is when issues start occurring. Holding the two controls with your thumb on the L and R buttons feels comfortable and the size of the controls worked in their advantage with ARMS.

My last unique Joy-Con experience came with 1-2-Switch. This is where I was introduced into the HD Rumble, that ice-cube-in-a-glass thing that was shown at the presentation. I can now say that I get it and the mini game called Ball Count was a perfect introduction to it. You hold your hand out flat and place the control in the palm of your hand, you then roll it around and try to count how many ‘marbles’ are hidden in your control. The haptic feedback in the Joy-Con is a large jump from any rumble I have ever experienced beforehand. You could feel each individual marble rolling in the control and hitting the ‘wall’ of the control while bouncing off the other marbles in there. I don’t know what applications this can be used for outside of mini games but it was certainly one of the more interesting and surprising features of the Switch.

Finally I made sure to get some hands on time with the Pro Controller and I was glad I did. The Pro Controller gets rid of all my minor quarrels with the Joy-Cons with larger analog sticks and improved button placements. My only complaint is that the control is a little ugly aesthetically which isn’t helped by the semi-translucent black face-plate. At least it won’t get fingerprints on it though thanks to the matte finish. Serious gamers who play for long sessions will definitely want to grab the Pro Controller, but for portable experiences and short bursts the Joy-Cons work just fine. Both control type have a nice weight to them and are solidly constructed.

With all the control and hardware impressions out of the way let’s move on to games. I’ve already talked about Zelda so next up is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. There really isn’t much new to see here unfortunately. The new cars and characters are negligible, the new Boo and Feather items don’t add much to the game and having an extra item slot is basically a novelty. There does seem to be some minor enhancements to the games lighting and it looked amazing running at 1080p on a HDTV but it’s not drastic enough a change to warrant a repurchase if you owned Mario Kart 8 initially. That being said if you passed on Mario Kart 8 than Deluxe offers fantastically valued packaged.

The only reason you would upgrade is if you’re a huge fan of battle mode which was a blast to play with others at the event. The real battle mode is back with both Balloon Battle and Bob-omb Blast, with fun battle tracks and the handy mini-map to help you track down hiding opponents. The only difference is you’re not cut from the game when you lose all your balloons, rather your score, which you add to every time you take a balloon, is halved instead. This is a nice change for those that are always knocked out early but it would be great if the traditional rules were present in the final game as well. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe lands on April 28th at a slightly discounted price of $79.95.

Splatoon 2 was fun in a four on four turf war match. I’ll be honest I have not played Splatoon at all besides events like this so I had little idea what I was doing outside of painting as much ground as possible with my roller and running over people when I could. As someone with next to no knowledge of the game I can’t tell you what was different from the first game but I was very impressed by the visuals and performance in portable mode here, the colours looked stunning on the 6.2 inch screen. Splatoon 2 lands sometime in Winter 2017.

My biggest happy surprise of the event came from co-op puzzle game Snipperclips which was unfortunately barely included in Nintendo’s big Switch presentation. Here you use one Joy-Con to control a surprisingly emotive paper character while a co-op partner controls the other. Both characters can perform the exact same functions and your goal varies depending on the stage. The game combines the unique ability for you to overlap with your partner to cut out portions of their body with physics and real-time puzzles to create some interesting and thought-provoking challenges that require a great sense of team work. If you have someone to play this with and love puzzle games I definitely recommend this download only title to you, even if the price is a bit steep on the e-Shop at $30. Snipperclips has a tentative March release date. While the demo I played focused on co-op the game can be played alone and there are also some puzzles catered towards four players.

I have played very little of classic 2D Sonic but after hearing such good things I had to give Sonic Mania a try. The game was only available in the portable mode and I amateurishly stumbled through Green Hill Zone and the accompanying boss. The games controls felt tight and the visuals were stunning, like a HD Super Nintendo game. Like Splatoon I can’t say I am experienced with how 2D Sonic should play but I saw no reason to complain here. Sonic Mania is shaping up to be a fun platformer that is lined up to launch sometime this year.

1-2-Switch was up next and I jumped into two different mini games called Ball Count and Samurai. I talked about Ball Count earlier in regards to the HD rumble and I have to say outside of experiencing the rumble feature guessing how many marbles are in a box is ultimately pretty boring and lacks replay value. Samurai was more fun and capitalised on the concept of focusing on your opponent and not the screen which was cool, but again these mini games are far too simple. One person swings the sword with the Joy-Con while the other claps the Joy-Con against their other hand as if you were stopping the sword with both hands. You go back and forth until someone manages to land a lethal blow which I managed by using a nice fake out swing first. Points to me for being the only person on the day to think the headband was meant to be worn as a blindfold…

I have to say the general vibe most people had of this being a pack-in title is well warranted. It works great to show off all the improved and unique features of the hardware but the mini games lack substance and according to a rep the number of mini games will cap out at  “20 plus”. At $69.95 I can’t bring myself to recommend 1-2-Switch based on my experiences when it launches on March 3rd.

In a similar vain ARMS also seemed to lack staying power, especially as the rep said there doesn’t seem to be a planned campaign mode. I had fun in my 4 rounds of jumping around the arena and throwing extendable punches at my opponent but I was kind of done with the game already after that small experience. However ARMS did a great job convincing me of the Joy-Con’s motion capabilities and I’m excited to see this technology be applied to other titles in the future (come on Dragon Ball Switch!). ARMS is set for an Autumn 2017 release.

Now the final verdict from me after the preview event. The Switch is a high quality piece of hardware that is impressively innovative in the space of portability and the HD rumble feature. Based on this preview event and past announcements the Switch has a huge emphasis on multiplayer at launch and it’s important to consider what that means for you. If you constantly have someone else to play with then I could see you picking this up day one and enjoying Snipperclips, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and even 1-2-Switch. However if you’re more of a solo gamer and Zelda isn’t enough for you to jump in then the single player experience especially seems to be lacking in the initial months after launch.

I had a fantastic time at this event with the Nintendo Switch and I will definitely be picking up the console at some point, but I don’t think that day will be on March 3rd. That decision is based on issues mostly related to the pricing of the console and accessories and me having only a marginal interest in the games appearing in the launch window outside of Zelda, which itself has the Wii U version to compete with. If you have had a chance to play the Switch yourself please let us know your opinions in the comments below.

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Nathan Farrugia - Editor at Capsule Computers. Raised on a Super Nintendo playing Donkey Kong Country, I'm a gamer who loves consoles and handhelds. Also a massive Dragon Ball fan and competitive Pokemon player. Don't be afraid to leave comments on my articles, I love to read them and reply!

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