On Friday the 13th of January, Nintendo gave the first major presentation on its upcoming console, the Nintendo Switch. By the next Sunday afternoon, I was holding one in my hands.
In what looks like a big promotional drive by Nintendo, myself and many others across the world attended ‘hands-on’ preview events to play with the Nintendo Switch nearly two months before its release. I’m no big press name – I don’t even have my own blog – but I went along to a Melbourne preview anyway thanks to a competition won by my partner. And while I enjoyed the experience, I’m struggling to really get on board with the concept of the Switch.
The Nintendo Switch is essentially being billed as a hybrid. The ‘console’ is a small tablet which can be used on the go. The controllers (called JoyCons) can be used wirelessly, or docked onto the sides of the tablet itself. Then at home, the whole thing can be slid into a dock for use with the TV – something more akin to the traditional console experience. So the Switch a home console. And a portable console. It’s both. And somehow it’s also neither.
The actual physical aspects of the Switch seem to be struggling to find their Goldilocks Zone. I found the Switch’s screen to be surprisingly small. At 6.2 inches it rests somewhere in between the size of a Galaxy Note and an iPad Mini. The Switch itself is rather heavy. Both my partner and I noticed its weight after only two short rounds of Mario Kart 8 played in tablet mode. That said, the detached JoyCons are well-designed; heavy enough to feel like proper pieces of tech and large enough to fit comfortably in the palm, or used as individual controllers. And with a kickstand on the screen itself, the use of tablet mode is limited somewhat to times when you absolutely have nowhere else to put it. Daily commutes or waits at the doctor’s office come to mind.
But then another issue arises. The Switch isn’t cheap; it will retail at almost $500 in Australia. If you’ve ever carried 500 physical dollars around, it is a stressful endeavor. My partner and I can’t actually afford a Switch on launch – as (relatively) poor university students, we’re going to have to save for it. So I wonder if the convenience of its portability will be outweighed by the fear of simply leaving it somewhere. Sure I can play the new Legend of Zelda on an international flight (as showcased in an early trailer), but would I? I imagine I’m not alone in the hesitance to truly take the console out of the home. And yet, the relatively low power and high price of the Switch when compared to its major competitors, the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, make it seemingly unviable as a solely in-home console. So where does it fit? What makes it worth the purchase?
From what I saw, the answer is in the enduring Nintendo mantra: games should be fun, for everyone. Concept concerns aside, my time with the Switch was indeed straight up fun. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild takes the wide-eyed wonder and mythical importance of previous Zelda games and meshes them seamlessly with the freedom and possibility of an open world setting. Arms, a 1v1 motion control based fighter, combines fluid maneuverability with surprisingly strategic gameplay to create something reminiscent of Nintendo’s other big ticket fighter, Super Smash Brothers. The two-player minigame collection, 1-2 Switch, uses the new tech inside the JoyCons (such as the HD rumble pack) to highlight an array of little gimmicks; Ball Count sees the JoyCon simulating a certain number of balls inside the controller, SafeCrack has you feeling for subtle changes in controller vibration to crack open a safe, and Quick Draw goes full Clint Eastwood as you stare into your opponents eyes, wait for high noon, and try to ‘shoot’ them before they ‘shoot’ you. Other attractions such as Mario Kart Deluxe and first person shooter Splatoon 2 ultimately deliver the same quality as games they are sequels to, with crisp, updated graphics and (from what I saw) smooth play.
Only time will tell on the true endurance and fidelity of Nintendo’s next experiment with the gaming console. And while neither I nor my bank account will be experiencing the Nintendo Switch any time soon, I am thoroughly looking forward to when we do.
The Nintendo Switch launches in Australia on the 3rd of March.