I knew I wanted a Nintendo Switch before attending the hands-on premiere in Melbourne last week, but now having had a closer look, and playing with everything available, I’m marking the days off on my calendar until I can get my own. For months there had been a lot of speculation from the entire world about the new Nintendo console, so it goes without saying the recent video presentation and hands-on press events were highly anticipated to sate a lot of curiosity. Seeing it on video, and following hordes of online rumours and fan theories, lead the way to some grand expectations for the Switch from myself, and all of its associated technology and IP. I was petrified walking into the event that I might leave as a heartbroken fan, but two things gave me hope: every one of the Nintendo crew at the event were genuinely excited by the product AND they had snazzy cookies. Well played, Nintendo.
Walking into the hall was the equivalent of that one Christmas over 20 years ago when I received my very own Game Boy; the room screamed: “look at my Nintendo and all the incredible things it can do!”. The very first thing you want to do when you see one is touch it, but, at the same time, it’s much smaller than I realised, so touching it almost seemed risky. One of the staff saw me hovering over the tiny console and said “you can’t mess it up, it just slides out,” and OMG it did. It didn’t feel flimsy or scarily fragile or oddly weighted in any way. The tiny screen fit comfortably in my hand, was thinner than my phone, and had a display brighter and more clear than my two-thousand-dollar laptop. I found myself mouthing silently and turning it every angle to try and diminish the picture quality, upset the perfect balance, or find an awkward button or feature. I had seen the online videos circulating that often I automatically knew where to pop the little kick-stand out from and tried it on the table. Looking at this little screen, hardly bigger than half a Subway, I was still blown away by the picture quality and knew that one of the big questions I had been harbouring was answered: was it good enough to spend the rest of my life playing Zelda on when I have a perfectly good tv? Yes.
The next step was to attempt the daunting task of getting the screen back into its docking bay for the TV experience – if ever I were to damage a Switch it would, of course, be at the press event, in front of Nintendo staff. With such a thin piece of equipment, there isn’t room to mess up, but Nintendo have made it almost impossible. There are no lift here/push there/click this issues, it is literally just “plop it in” and the display shoots back up to the big screen like magic. My son and I had a few small issues on the Wii U when we wanted to switch between the TV and the gamepad, but the new design eliminates any options or button: it’s either in your hand or on the tv, no room for error. The first game I experienced on the Switch tv mode was the improved Mario Kart 8 while using the pro controller, and yes, I recommend getting one of these when you get the Switch. If you combine the Wii U Pro, Wii classic and a Xbox 360 controller, you get the general idea for the Switch Pro. It fits nicely in your hand, is fully wireless, has a similar button setup to the Wii U Pro, and will make the longer, more intense sessions of many games much easier. I preferred it to every other controller setup available so far for the Switch, and it will make the perfect companion for the non-motion games like Zelda all the better.
I started to make my way through all the games to try out every way the Switch offered a gaming experience. At first, I stood back to watch the four players using the small screen to play a round of Mario Kart 8 using only the joy-con controllers. Each console comes with the joy-con left and right, which vary slightly; most notably the analogue stick is much more centred on the right joy-con. As one of the few gamers that never liked the standard Wiimotes and struggled with gripping them comfortably, I was concerned the joy-cons would just be a fiddlier version of my least favourite controller ever. I watched the players, carefully waiting to see if anyone noticed a difference with the palm-sized controllers or a change in play between the L and R joy-cons. After asking around and finally playing them myself, I had to conclude the controllers felt too small, but only until you started playing something. As soon as you were focused on the game, the controller naturally sat in your hand, and the buttons, stick and weight felt natural and went a long way to doing what Nintendo intended: taking the focus off the game and getting you into the moment of enjoyment with other people.
Taking the joy-cons off the main console, adding their shoulder attachments, combining them to make a single controller or replacing them to play handled mode was as simple and fluid as it was portrayed in the presentation. Getting up and close with the fun-sized joy-cons gave me the opportunity to really feel the improvement from a Wiimote, and enjoy the incredible HD precision rumble in person. This was a feature that went over a lot of heads during the presentation with the ice cube example not truly demonstrating the capabilities. The precision rumble could have so many Switch applications, like lock picking, bowstring tautness, feeling your way in the dark, disarming bombs or just about anything the game devs want to throw at us. We tried it out as part of a 1-2-Switch mini-game called “Ball Count,” and I was blown away as I knew it was just a rumble future, but my brain was arguing that, no, there WERE tiny ball bearing hidden in my joy-con. The precise vibrations gave the joy-con a responsive 3D space inside the controller that must be felt to be understood. It actually turned a game that looked utterly boring into a fascinating glimpse into the Switch’s potential.
I tried to stay as objective as possible while wandering around my dreamland, oogling the new hardware and playing Breath of the Wild for far longer than they should have let me, but it was difficult. Nintendo has listened to feedback and taken the best parts of previous consoles, while still pushing onwards and upwards, to bring us innovation worth having. They have also addressed one of the most common concerns I heard from parents buying a Wii U, which was that so many games on the previous console succeeded in getting kids up and active to play, while the Wii U stopped filling that market not long after release. The Switch is also aimed at an older audience, as well as pushing a much more social gaming experience that I love the idea of; especially the 1-2-Switch games that rely on you watching your opponent instead of a screen. I still have questions, such as if there will be a battery-life extension option because only 3 hours of Zelda is hilarious and is the Nintendo back catalogue going to be available to download and play? From everything I saw and tried out, what we have from Nintendo is a well-thought out machine that’s trying to innovate with something new and has a good chance to succeed. And that’s not even counting all the day one Switch purchases I’ll be making – incidentally, the black market is always in need of a few extra kidneys-just saying.