NWR Special Report by Justin Nation with his impressions of the Nintendo Switch and upcoming games.
Hey there folks! If you're older than dirt, and actually recognize my name, shouldn't you have grown out of games by now (my wife keeps asking me this, foolishly)? Anyway, after a pretty long dormancy of relegating myself to my PC for the most part and trying to find solace (and failing) in the nVidia Shield tablet and anemic Android gaming market, the Switch firmly has my attention.
The Wii was pretty solid overall, despite all the waggle, and I still got a Wii U and tried to work with it for a while until it hit a dead zone well over a year ago. The family and I still return periodically to enjoy the hell out of Mario Kart 8. But aside from that, playing periodic LEGO titles with my wife, and a few HD remasters there just wasn't much I could latch on to. Keep in mind there was a factor of the control of the family TV to consider as well. If I was the only person interested I didn't want to fight over the TV and Off-TV Play wasn't ideal because of the pretty horrendous range of the tablet controller as I'd have played in my office.
Switch vs. nVidia Shield
Strangely enough the Switch primarily excites me partially because I see it being the fulfilment of the promise the Shield tablet strove for, but absolutely couldn't deliver. Since I haven't seen many comparisons of the two platforms I figure I'll start there. One surprise is that the Switch is a little smaller than the Shield tablet, and for people saying the Switch can't be pocketed I have a pair of jeans I wore today with my Shield tablet in them (though somewhat awkwardly at times, granted) that would disagree with you (I'd imagine you'd want/need to disconnect the JoyCon first). Holding them both the weight is comparable, as is the overall feel. There's a satisfying solid-ness to Switch, without it being too heavy, I'd say it's just about right.
nVidia Shield next to Switch
The biggest concern with the Shield tablet that the Switch seems to have addressed (well, aside from the utter garbage mobile-focused Android game market) is heat dissipation. With the Shield this was a significant issue, even after I got the second version when the original was recalled. When you play games on it for a while the Shield has a tendency to get hot. Very hot. Make-your-fingers-regret-repeatedly-having-to-touch-it-for-any-length hot. While I couldn't play anything long enough on the Switch to try to stress it out, every time I touched a unit (even ones that had been played with off and on for a few hours) it seemed pretty cool, if anything. The fan on the Switch may be small but having an active cooling method in the hardware was a great design decision I'd imagine nVidia helped Nintendo come to, sharing their troubles with having used only a passive heatsink in the Shield.
Moving on to control I'd primarily say that everything I've read on both the JoyCon and the Pro Controller I'd agree with. For the JoyCon my hands aren't terribly big, and I found the controls without the extenders on them workable. However, I assume most people will want to use the strap/extender attachments if they're playing for any length of time. With the infamous right JoyCon, and its more unusual joystick placement, I didn't consider a very big deal when I used it. It was an easy adjustment and quickly I didn't think about it. Perhaps if you were playing for a while it could be cramped? With the Pro Controller it is pretty well precisely what you'd expect. More traditional, bigger buttons, but having used an X-Box 360 controller for my PC for ages I also wouldn't say it feels exactly the same either. Neither better nor worse, just different but comfortable and solid... it will be tough not to consider it, especially come the release of Splatoon 2.
Hands-On Game Impressions
The game I was most eager to try (since I've never been able to do things like E3 or other events, and haven't played it at all yet) was Breath of the Wild and it was a bit of a surprise overall. It feels completely different, and that can be a good thing, but I can see where the first hour or three could have growing pains as people figure it out. If the demo is indicative of the final game I very much agree that the somewhat abrupt start without training wheels and heavy scripting is a positive. One of the biggest challenges I have with games like Skyrim, Fallout, and Far Cry is the investment of a few hours having it walk you through getting started. That aspect has always made me struggle to return and replay the games since I find the wait to be free to do what I want a horrible chore. In the demo you get up, get very basically oriented, and within maybe five minutes you can start exploring and having your butt kicked in beautifully-rendered places. When people have said the game is harder than you'd expect they weren't kidding. I'm specifically looking at you blue Bokoblin who one-hit killed me twice! When the game is released and I have time I'm coming for your ass so I can get that sweet shield and spiked club you smashed my head in with so effortlessly. Oh, and you won't be cutting grass hoping for rupees or random hearts, you're going to have to collect some stuff and eat it now... also quickly adding to the challenge since you never realized how much you've abused those simple mechanics you've taken for granted for so long.
One thing that I'm not sure of, but I suspect, is that the demo really isn't quite the game in some fashion. You don't have much time so you can't go far, but there was a certain sterility to things somehow, it felt like I was in a sandbox. The comment was that the entire area in the demo only represents maybe two percent of the total game and I just feel like aside from the space you're in itself there's just something else missing. Still engaging and cool, I'd just be surprised if booting up the final game everything is precisely as it seemed in the demo, which did seem a bit sparse somehow in relation to a comment I've seen from others. Perhaps it isn't the game but just the area you're in and as you move around there are different situations elsewhere. Granted, I'm used to games where not every inch has something happening so maybe it doesn't bother me as much as other people. Oh, and one other minor gripe is that I really want to be able to invert my look and, if I could, remap some of the buttons. In particular I found the choice for the jump button a bit odd and annoying. A person can always hope but I'm also sure I could adapt, much less so if you can't invert your look direction.
Arms, for the moment, is still a game I'm not really getting as a whole. What little time I had to play it wasn't really enough to walk away with a solid or fair understanding of it, but for the moment my feeling is that it is a game with potential but I could easily see being done with it pretty quickly if they don't reveal a lot more with respect to game modes (Punch-Out-esque single-player, I'm looking at you) and fighters. As a straight-up fighting game I absolutely can't see bothering with it currently. On the one hand the motion controls for the punching completely clicked for me, I was able to do some crazy punches curving outward that were fun, and that worked. What didn't work so well, for me in the short time, was the movement control. While the tank controls kind of made sense they felt sort of sluggish and, worse, digital. I really want analog/nuanced movement side to side in some way and that really didn't seem to be there. Worse, the buttons for dash and jump somehow didn't feel right, and the motion for blocking didn't quite click, at least not as quickly as I'd like. So far if I played the game I think I'd be far more interested in it without the motion control but even then I anticipate I will pass in the end.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is kind of a quick one. If you didn't have a Wii U, it is such an easy purchase. Just a crap-ton of content with great tracks, a ton of characters, and a ton of vehicles... as a local multi-player game it is something my family STILL enjoys regularly. If you've had it and have enjoyed it Battle Mode really is quite the deal sweetener, and the ability to take it on the road is somewhat of a match made in heaven, I'd think, for most people. In almost every regard I cannot think of any serious reason to not recommend the game, aside from it being a little painful to shell out full price for it if you already have the majority of the same game on your Wii U.
I'll be honest that with Splatoon I played on the free weekend and found it quirky and interesting but couldn't see buying it since it is a multi-player game and I couldn't see how I'd regularly play it without being a pain to everyone in the house. With the sequel and the Switch, and the prospect of being able to play it in my office, I'll at least consider it. I'll be very clear that I DESPISE shooter controls on consoles. I am a WASD keyboard-and-mouse (in my case, trackball) PC-master-race purist all the way. The wonkiness of aiming with an analog stick is enough to make me want to strangle small animals. All of that said, especially with the Pro Controller, I'll hand it to Nintendo, the control works very well. While it can still be a little awkward if you need to pivot and use the right stick to nudge things over I found the aiming to be very responsive, quick, and even generally intuitive. Bravo, Nintendo! Of course our somewhat pokey and inexperienced team squared off against people who obviously knew what they were doing so it was a ìpaintbathî. I do think with some time with the control, understanding the mechanics better, and finding the right weapon match it could be a ton of fun though and will probably pick it up.
I am an old-school Super Bomberman fan, and when I say that I pretty much mean that I haven't enjoyed the series much since the SNES days. I played the hell out of that game with my friends, getting everyone together on the multi-tap, and blowing each other up for hours amidst a load of shouting and laughing. From that point on, though, it felt like they kept trying to tweak the Bomberman formula in some way and, in general, it pissed me off and kept me away. Playing a few rounds of this new iteration in multi-player, though, has me smiling from ear to ear. The classic feel, power-ups, map styles... it's all back and feels completely right again finally. I can't speak to single-player or the co-op mode, but I'd be happy just for the multi-player, truthfully. One new element to things is the 8-player mode for people with an abundance of cash or friends with their own units who have 4 JoyCon at their disposal. While it is obviously quite hectic and crazy it definitely works and, if everyone knows the rules of the game, I'd imagine it would be glorious mayhem.
There were a few other games I tried that are quicker discussions I'll summarize here. Just Dance 2017 is that game, just you're using a single JoyCon to map the control. Why you wouldn't use two I'm not quite sure since that ends up mapping very little of what you're doing but I suppose if you're into the series and are honestly participating that would be all that matters. Fast RMX was very cool-looking, had a very heavy F-Zero vibe to it, and though it was fast even 2-player split-screen looked and played very smooth. While I don't think it has as much of an issue of seeming a bit sparse and the similar Redout there just seems to be something missing though, maybe I'd have preferred more racers like in F-Zero, most of the race just felt like I was trying to get a best lap, not a competition. Ultra Street Fighter II absolutely captures the essence of Street Fighter II, and the HD version makes everyone look pretty, but I thought I'd heard $40 for this and that's an absolutely joke. $20 for some great nostalgia and a game they've milked to death would seem about the most I'd pay, for that kind of price I'd want something newer like a Marvel vs. Capcom title or something remotely current. Then there's Sonic Mania... which is definitely Sonic, in its classic Genesis-esque glory from what I saw. Was never a fan but it seemed to be precisely what I remember playing at my friend's house.
Finally, to the game I've tried to play nice with, have had suspicions with, and now having played some of the games for it I am determined to rant about: 1, 2, Switch. In so many ways the game irritates me. It stands out like a sore thumb from everything else in the launch line-up, with the closest relative being Arms, obviously. For the level of stepping forward Nintendo is pursuing with the Switch (making Zelda open-world and harder, returning to the ìadventureî Mario style, seemingly looking to still appeal to the casual audience but also somewhat pull them to the center) 1, 2, Switch is a massive step backwards, embarrassingly so in my estimation. Worse, it simply doesn't have to be, they seem to have done this weirdly on purpose, which is what I find so perplexing.
My first assumption, and they could end up proving me wrong in some way, is that I don't see any connective tissue in this game. Nintendo has two pretty solid game series they could move this sort of play into very easily: WarioWare, and Mario Party. With WarioWare the simplicity of the micro-games is counter-balanced with a wacky style and a hectic pace, forcing you to very quickly change how you play constantly. With Mario Party, though it's quality has flagged a bit over the years, you have the board game structure around things to keep it entertaining. With the way things are being presented, and since I'd imagine Nintendo would be right out front with the game being based on either of those series if it were true, I actually see little to no room for a meta-game on top of everything. All I can see are those somewhat strained and painful, 90's corporate training video-esque, intro videos complete with actors who are dying inside trying to act as if these very simple mini-games are the greatest thing ever. Are they novel and interesting ways to introduce the hardware functionality? Without a doubt. Are they much fun? Not really, after playing them maybe 2 ñ 3 total times I think I'd have my fill, thanks. If you had a party would it all be a hoot? Perhaps if there were heavy drinking involved, but then just about anything could probably be fun.
Moving on, while Wii Sports is hardly the greatest game ever by any means people making comparisons with 1, 2, Switch to it are pretty far off the mark. For it being waggle-heavy and obviously designed for the casual market the fact is that you could play at least 3 of those games over and over... tons of people did just that. Bowling was obviously the biggest success, and between the normal mode and the alternative modes my family got a load of mileage out of it. It wasn't just that it was a novel use of motion controls, or that it was funny to watch people play it, the game actually had a fair degree of challenge and depth for its relative overall ease. Tennis wasn't amazing or deep but people reasonably enjoyed it, the same with Golf. The point is that these were merely watered-down versions of what could be deeper games. Compare that with the fact that out of the 18 games I've seen for 1, 2, Switch most of them are based around singular gimmicks and they simply can't remain very interesting. Remove a wacky or greater competitive framing around those games and I can't see anywhere for it to be compelling. I mainly stress this point to encourage people who enjoyed Wii Sports and who think of this as the next step for it think it through a bit more. If there happens to be a parallel to be found in 1, 2, Switch Nintendo is completely holding it back, but if that were the case, at this point, WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT WHEN WE'RE 3 WEEKS AWAY!?!?
That leads into the last gripe I have with the title that somewhat forces the other two to a head, the price. I'll put this out there and let it sink in. 1, 2, Switch is priced a mere $10 less than Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There is no possible way this math makes any sense. So we'll try to justify the price for the wacky fun it will be at parties. Perhaps it could be, but I'd wager the people I have over would much rather play Super Bomberman R or Mario Kart given the choice... and that would even allow even more people to participate than the 2 at once 1, 2, Switch provides for. Though I'm not sure when it will hit I'd also heavily recommend Jackbox Party Pack 3 if you have friends who enjoy the likes of Cards Against Humanity in particular. Quiplash is an absolute scream of a game to play with a group of like-minded and hopefully a tad demented friends. Better yet, people use their phones as controllers, up to 8 people can play, and everyone else can participate by voting if they'd like. Any one of these other games would have far more staying power than 1, 2, Switch even in party situations and they're either the same price or even cheaper.
As an added note, since the concept of it being a pack-in has come up repeatedly I also wanted to take this opportunity to outright thank Nintendo for NOT packing the game in. That was a brilliant strategic move even if that statement may seem counter-intuitive. The best reason for Nintendo not to pack in 1, 2, Switch (even if it were better than I'm saying it is)? It would have told the hardcore gamer contingency that Nintendo would really like to win back not to bother, that this generation would be another Wii waggle-fest. What you pack in, or lead with, ultimately is a statement about your vision for the system whether you mean for it to be or not. It is the one game everyone with the system absolutely has and it becomes associated fully with that system's identity. Not packing in 1, 2, Switch is a bullet dodged.
My hope for the Switch, and the changes to Zelda are quickly trying to prove it out, is that Nintendo still would like to attract and engage the casual market but that they're no longer interested in babying them and slowing everything down to the speed of the lowest common denominator. The best thing would be to make games that entice the casual set but then try to slowly but effectively continue to move the goalposts on the casual gamers to pull them closer towards the middle, rather than continue to often ask that same effort on the part of the hardcore folks. The one game I didn't choose to play, Snipperclips, appears to be an excellent expression of that plan. Lure them in with something that looks cute and innocent, but then crank up the challenge to get them to think more intelligently so that it is a legitimate challenge for anyone who plays it. I think Snipperclips looks like a game that could ruin a weak marriage, I say bring it on baby!
Justin Nation is one of the founding members of Nintendo World Report. If you'd like to see more of his thoughts on the Switch he administers a Nintendo Switch Fan Community on Facebook, and invites you all to join in the discussion.