A whole new era of Nintendo is upon us and it brings both joys and cons.
The smell of new hardware excites me. You have a fresh set of expectations, concerns and dreams. Those dreams brought me to Frankfurt today, where I got my first glimpses of Nintendo’s vision. The Nintendo Switch is a weird piece of tech at first glance. It is a tablet that benefits from being docked, controllers with all sorts of bells and whistles, and software that makes you wonder. Personally, I see a whole lot of potential with the piece of kit, but it needs time to grow into its own.
Nintendo is adamant in saying that the Switch is a home console. When the tablet is sitting cozy in its docking station, you will enjoy an incredibly sharp experience. You see this almost instantly with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which benefits from being on a more powerful platform. The Wii U version, which is also coming on March 3, had the occasional stutter in its frame rate at E3 2016. With the Nintendo Switch demo, which was the exact same as the E3 one, it seemed to run incredibly well. I wouldn’t expect a large graphical overhaul, but it was clear that this was the ideal way to play it. Another game where I became glued to the screen was Splatoon 2. There was one map on display, but the differences between the Wii U and Switch versions were stark. Splatoon 2 had a sharpness that couldn’t be ignored and it showed how traditional games can evolve on the system.
The tool that enabled Splatoon 2 to shine so much was the new Pro Controller, which felt wonderful. It was nice to wrap your hands around and all the buttons on it worked splendidly. Where the buttons on the Wii U version had a harder touch, the Switch ones feel soft and nice. Next to this, it is way more fullfeatured than its previous iteration. With gyroscope and 3D rumble under its belt, it is perfect for those pro Splatoon players that want something more streamlined than the huge Wii U GamePad.
Naturally, you can use this control scheme on the go as you pull it from the dock. My first impression of just looking at the screen didn’t disappoint. The Switch features a 720p display that honestly looks pretty darn good. I say that as someone who never enjoyed playing off-TV on the Wii U GamePad. Not to say that it was the worst thing ever, but the colours were very washed out. It was in those instances that I preferred playing on the TV, where the quality was much higher. With the Nintendo Switch, I was impressed with the riches of colour and sharpness. I witnessed this first hand when playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe solely on the screen. It was like having it in the palm of my hands, which I imagined that the Wii U would be like.
The feeling of on the go gaming was felt in handheld mode. It is here that you find the Joy-Con controllers on either end of the tablet. Personally I was very skeptical when it came to these hinky dink little things. As someone with huge hands, I was unsure how comfortable these things were to hold. At first, I needed to learn holding it in handheld mode. The tablet is sleek and thin, way more than I was expecting. It was initially weird to find the sweet spot for your hands. That not so comfy feeling was quickly replaced with pure joy as it became second nature. It is then you find that you’re holding a pretty capable handheld. Zelda: Breath of the Wild switched without a hitch to the tablet and barely without a loss of quality.
The Joy-Con can do, however, a whole lot more. With games like Super Bomberman R, each player will hold a Joy-Con sideways and use the stick and buttons to duke it out. While it may seem like holding a Wii Remote, the small controller is way more sturdy and versatile than I was anticipating. When you add the strap attachment with the SL and SR buttons, it becomes even more capable as a standalone controller. You will see this in 1-2-Switch, where silly minigames are elevated in a new way. The Joy-Con feature HD Rumble and an incredible accurate gyroscope to make tasks like copying moves or milking a cow dumb fun. Another game that used all of the JoyCons features is Arms. You move those controllers to roam about, fight and defend in a crazy fashion. It showed a lot of potential, especially when compared to the original Wii Remotes.
The Joy-Con can also be firmly placed within the JoyCon grip, which allows you to play with them in a more traditional sense. That sounds neat in concept, but to me, it didn’t stand out much, If I want to enjoy the games on the TV, I’d rather play with solo Joy-Con or the new Pro Controller. It feels way more natural to me and I had way more fun doing so. When I played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the television, I found it surprisingly enjoyable to use the tiny racing wheel with a JoyCon in it. It brought back memories of my insane Mario Kart Wii marathons. Even that was more fun than the grip to me I’m afraid.
Overall though, my first experience with the Nintendo Switch was a positive one. I see the potential in its systems and ways of play, which I didn’t immediately got on Wii U. Is the software to play the best thing right out of gate? Unlikely, but that is not on the hardware. It is a capable piece of kit that showed that Nintendo still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve. With time and a growing software library, Nintendo has the potential to have a real winner on their hands. That takes time to build and time will tell what fate for Nintendo Switch holds. I am excited to grab that future by the hand and wander into the abyss.