Hands-On: Nintendo Switch

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This weekend I had the opportunity to go hands on with Nintendo’s latest innovation – the console-meets-handheld hybrid known as the Switch!

At the 2 hour preview session at Boxxed in Birmingham, I was able to try out the machine in all of its different forms, as well as get to grips with a selection of launch window titles. The question is: from my brief play session with the Switch, do I think it will succeed where the Wii U faltered?

Read on, and find out!

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Upon entering the event (what a relief to get out of the cold and snow outside!), the first game I tried out was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The initial idea had been to go straight for The Legend of Zelda, but sensibly the Nintendo reps gave everyone a designated time slot for that to save on queueing. So, to the next best thing I went! The game was set up in the Switch’s handheld mode, with 8 players all competing locally against each other. When I’m on the go, this is way I will be playing my Switch most often, so this was definitely a configuration of interest for me. It took a brief moment to adjust to how the Switch feels in your hand – not because it’s uncomfortable, far from it. Rather, I’m so used to the big and chunky Wii U GamePad, the Switch is just so… light by comparison. This isn’t to say it’s a featherweight – it is packing an entire console’s worth of hardware inside its tiny body, after all – but it’s just so thin and sleek. It doesn’t feel like playing with a console controller, it feels like playing with a handheld, which I suppose is the point. I doubt it’d be the absolute most comfortable way to play Switch games in long sessions, but given the system’s 3-6 hour battery life, I don’t imagine that’ll be a problem when you’re out and about.

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So, what of Mario Kart itself? Fundamentally, the game is exactly the same as it was on Wii U, just with some added bells and whistles. We were limited to VS races for the sake of giving everyone time to have a go, so I didn’t get to try out the new Battle mode – but I did get to test out a new character, Inkling Boy, at least. And, while the core gameplay is the same as it’s been for the past two years, there’s something really rather magical about playing one of the best looking Wii U games in the palm of your hand. It looks lovely, it plays lovely, and for anyone who’s never picked up Mario Kart 8 before, this will definitely be the version to choose. Which, let’s face it, is probably most people considering how poor the Wii U’s sales were.

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The next port of call was Splatoon 2, which is destined to be Switch’s big summer blockbuster. This was played in TV mode using the JoyCon Grip controller – again, probably not the most comfortable control option, but it certainly did the job. I don’t really know what to say about Splatoon 2 apart from “it’s more Splatoon!”. Which is no bad thing. At first glance this could easily be mistaken for a port of the Wii U original, but it’s got all new maps and all new content., like the awesome new Splat Dualies weapon (with even more awesome dodge roll move). Don’t fix what ain’t broke, an’ all that! It’s just as fast, frantic, and fun as it ever was and I can’t wait to be kidding and squidding all over again later in the year. Luckily, Nintendo has announced that there’ll be a Global Testfire demo at the end of March for early Switch adopters. That’s an incentive if ever there was one!

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After Splatoon, the time had finally arrived to sit down for a one-on-one with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which had been tantalisingly teasing everyone from the side of the room all morning. Like Splatoon 2, this was played on the TV, but this time with the Switch Pro Controller. Hands down, this is the most comfortable way to play the system, and if you’re serious about your gaming sessions you’ll surely want to invest the £60 in one of these beauties. Just a shame about the price tag! The Zelda demo was the same as seen before, plonking you at the very beginning of the game – Link wakes up after 100 years of slumber with no memories whatsoever, is given some very vague information, and you’re left to go out into the big wide world and explore. The first thing that strikes you about Breath of the Wild is just how gorgeous it is – the art style, the landscapes, just everything oozes charm and brilliance. This is definitely going to be a world that you’ll want to find yourself lost in as you explore every nook and cranny. Gameplay-wise, it’s the classic Zelda you know and love with the much-touted open world twist. You’ve got pointers telling you where to go to progress the story, but in reality you can go anywhere you want. The sense of freedom is astounding, even in the brief 10 minute session I got to experience. You’ll have to become one with your surroundings if you’re going to survive – Link doesn’t even have a sword from the off, so to begin with you’ll be fighting off monsters with sticks… or using their own weapons against them, if you’re clever!

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One memorable moment from the Zelda session though wasn’t directly to do with the game itself. It was during this time that I got to test out the Switch’s… well, switch function. After stepping out into the open and seeing the horizon in glorious HD, I picked up the console from its dock and – literally in an instant – I was playing the game in handheld mode. Maybe it’s an illusion, but the game somehow looked even better in this mode. The screen is clear, crisp, and ideal for such a visually appealing game like this. Then, after a few moments, I plonked the Switch back in the dock and resumed playing it on the TV with the Pro Controller. It’s up to Nintendo to make the system worthwhile in terms of software, but as far as the gimmick of the hardware is concerned, there’s a lot of potential here if they can shift enough units.

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Once the time with Zelda was over (oh how quickly it flew by!), the next – and final – stop of the day was 1-2-Switch. This weird little minigame collection seems to market itself as the Switch’s answer to Wii Sports or Nintendo Land, but as novel it is as a tech demo, I don’t think it’ll have much staying power beyond that. I got to try out three minigames, each using the JoyCons separately as individual controllers – Quick Draw, Milk, and Ball Count. The first is a gun-shooting showdown to see who can fire at their opponent the fastest, measuring the speed and accuracy of your aim. The second is the most bizarre, awkwardly hilarious game ever, forcing you to stare deep into your opponent’s eyes as you milk a virtual cow with uncomfortable mooing sounds in the background. Finally, Ball Count is just that – a game where you count balls, showcasing the JoyCon’s HD rumble feature. Each one was fun for the couple of minutes they lasted, and I think they’re great little ways of showing off the Switch’s features, but that’s all they are. Unless the final product has some seriously meaty content, I think it’ll be hard to recommend 1-2-Switch to anyone but the most dedicated of party gamers at its full RRP.

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ARMS and Snipperclips were also playable at the event, but unfortunately time constraints meant I didn’t get around to trying either one out. If it means anything at all, ARMS had a steady queue of people lining up to try it out, while Snipperclips was the least popular game on display. They both looked interesting enough from a distance though, so who knows!

All in all, I had a blast at the Nintendo Switch preview event. Despite only getting to play each game for no more than a few minutes, it’s more than whet my appetite for the full experience arriving in just a couple of weeks. There’s still a lot about the Switch that’s uncertain and it’s impossible to know how popular it’ll be until it launches, but there’s a lot to love about it as it stands. Whether you pick it up on day one for Zelda or hold out for Super Mario Odyssey at Christmas, I hope it lives up to your own personal expectations.

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