Nintendo Switch: What we’ve actually played so far

During yesterday’s Nintendo Switch hands-on event in Melbourne, we got a chance to spend time with a whole host of different games for the upcoming system. We know you’re curious about how the new system works so let’s break down what we played and how they felt.

Chris Singh, Lifestyle Editor:

Nintendo aren’t just in it for the gamers alone, that much has been clear since the Wii. Experimental hardware and innovative new ways to play have been key to the company’s strategy for a decade now, and this constant striding into new territory has had the additional effect of pulling casual gamers and even those who don’t usually play video games at all closer to these consoles.

When their strategy worked, even Nintendo was taken a bit by surprise. The Wii was a massive success and distinctly stood apart from Sony and Microsoft’s machines, even going on to influence these same rivals and their rushed attempts at introducing motion controls of their own (indeed, Sony has only recently found a home for PlayStation Move as a part of their VR kit). Say what you want about Nintendo but not even the most biased, ride-or-die Sony or Xbox fan could claim that the legendary Japenese hardware manufacturer is afraid to try new things.

This marching to the beat of their own drum continues with the forthcoming Switch, a console which takes on a few different forms thanks to the nifty little pieces of hardware used to control it. Nintendo seem immensely proud of the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, and while these dual devices may look awfully tiny on first inspection, after actually getting hands-on time with them it’s easy to understand their confidence. There is a wrinkle though: the primary software designed to showcase what these controllers can do is … kind of boring. 1-2-Switch! is the obligatory “short, fun tech demo” launch title that will ease people into the idea of Joy-Cons and their potential. But that’s about where it begins and ends.

Unlike the Wii’s pack-in title Wii Sports, which had a surprising level of longevity, the awkwardly named 1-2-Switch! may not have the lasting appeal needed to justify it as a separately packaged title. It too is a series of mini-games — some mundane, some intriguing — focusing on the many features that make up the Joy-Cons as well as the  splitting one pair into two controllers for multiplayer. Let’s break it down a bit, shall we?

(Note: These may not be the official names of each mini-game, but is what they were referred to as on the day.)

Quick Draw

Quick Draw was chosen as the lead mini-game to showcase 1-2-Switch! as part of Nintendo’s divisive global presentation on Friday. Giving it the spotlight makes sense, and it’s a good way to reiterate one of the most interesting things about the title, in that you are playing by physically facing your opponent rather than looking at the screen.

Players face each other, each with one Joy-Con which obviously is a stand-in for your pistol. You take your stance, get ready, and when the voice-over indicates to do so, draw and press the trigger button to shoot within a defined spot (basically the other player’s torso). The quickest trigger finger wins, and the results right down to the millisecond are shown on the screen. It could make for a sweet drinking game, seeing as each round is very short.

Samurai Training

We’re pretty sure this is just an excuse to include Slapsies in a video game. This could be one of the most popular mini-games for 1-2-Switch!, a reaction time test where one player must clap their hands together to stop an imaginary sword, wielded by the other player, from crashing down on them. Whichever player is the samurai on any particular round has to hold their Joy-Con high as if they were raising a sword, throwing it to them to bluff or just come straight down with the sword in an attempt to bypass their opponent’s clap. Again, the most interesting part of this is playing by looking directly at the opponent and anticipating their movements rather than reacting to a screen.

Milk

Want to get good at milking cows? No? It seems Nintendo, like your parents, want you to have a solid trade to fall back on should your dream of being an underwater basket weaver not pan out. This is possibly the strangest mini-game of the bunch, but it’s also one of the most difficult to get your head around. You and your opponent face each other (preferably sitting down) and pretend there’s a cow with two long udders between you. The task is to then raise your Joy-Con, pressing and holding one of the shoulder buttons to “squeeze” before gently bringing it down in a vertical motion, switching to the other shoulder button at the bottom of that motion. Rhythm is obviously the main task here, and finding that balance between rhythm and speed, attempting to milk as much out of the cow as your opponent, can take some getting used to. Also, we aren’t completely convinced the whole mini game isn’t a sly metaphor for the current state of the video game industry but if even if it isn’t, nice one Nintendo.

Eating Contest

There is a very responsive IR camera at the end of the right-hand Joy-Con, meaning that only one person at a time can step up to have a go at this one. The player holds the controller a few centimeters in front of their mouth and prepares for the round by waiting for the camera to detect and map the face – which it does very quickly. Then – and this is hilarious to watch – the player has to work their chompers as quickly as they can in order to down as many virtual sub sandwiches as possible. It’s got that goofy sense of humour Nintendo are known for, but outside of that, with the absence of quirkier details – even just known Nintendo characters – this can get stale (no pun intended) faster than the rest.

Ball Count

The Joy-Con’s defining tactile feedback is something Nintendo have been working towards since N64’s rumble pack, and it’s this attention to other senses than just visual cues to play gaming that is one of the touchstones of all this experimentation that has been going on ever since. Sure, Nintendo can indulge in their hardware innovations a bit too much – that’s what 1-2-Switch! is basically for – but it speaks to a larger potential that can hopefully be used by Nintendo, and even more interestingly, third-parties, to create truly extraordinary gameplay mechanics.

Counting Marbles is a good example of this. It’s essentially a guessing game but the player is using very nuanced tactile feedback to help them arrive at the correct number. The idea is that the player ‘feels’ how many different marbles are seemingly present and then hopes that number is correct. It’s often not, and it may take a lot of practice to get it right.

Crack the Safe

This is another one similar to the marble-counting game, in that the player is focusing on the tactile feedback to tell them when they hit certain sweet spots in the safe. The beautiful thing here is how subtle that rumble is, and as two players compete to see who can crack their safe the fastest, it all comes down to how focused and sensitive one is. The player simply rotates their Joy-Con until they find that “sweet spot”, then holding it for a good 1-2 seconds before one of three locks in the safe is “cracked”. Unlock all three and the safe is cracked.

Pong

This one is basically imagery table tennis and again focuses on how little screen interaction you can have with the Joy-Con. Two players face each other, stand apart and literally move fluidly as if they were volleying a ball back and forth, their controller an imaginary racket. The part that really works here is how intuitive it feels, tasking each player to anticipate where the ball is in order to hit it.

Then we got our hands on…ARMS.

A boxer mixed with a (sort of) shooter? Genius move on Nintendo’s part, especially seeing as this title makes arguably better use of the motion controls than any of the 1-2-Switch mini-games. It’s a bit more challenging too, playing as a fighter reminiscent of the boxing game that was part of Wii Sports; except this time both arms are replaced by mechanical extensions (you can choose different extensions on load-out) that have massive reach and can be used to hit an opponent from across the map.

You start by choosing from several characters, all with noticeably different traits even though there are two main categories: fast and agile but weaker, and slow and large but incredibly strong. The players are then dropped into one of several maps – some of which have interactive environments like springboards on the sideline – and are let loose to wack the holy hell out of each other.

Both hands thrust forward at once extends both ‘arms’ and ‘grabs’ the other player to pull them in for a beating – a bit like Scorpion’s signature “get over here” move from Mortal Kombat – but sharply moving the Joy-Cons forward one at a time will pummel your enemy just as fast. The real beauty here is how intuitive the full motion controls are, right down to the fact that you can curve your punches to make for some real dynamic fights. There’s also a ‘frenzy’ which builds up, unleashed by pressing the trigger button on the Joy-Con, and allowing you to rapidly knock the other player about with fast motions, almost always resulting in a K.O.

The sensitivity of the Joy-Cons can make for a bit of confusion though. The best example of this is the action for blocking. In your fighting stance you are holding the two Joy-Cons in each hand as a ‘thumbs up’ posa, as if you were raising your own fists for a fight. To block you simply tilt both controllers from vertical to horizontal at the same time, causing the character to create an “X” stance with their arms. The problem with this is that when you sometimes go to block – and because the action is so frantic – you may accidentally punch at times which could mess you up entirely.

Players can also disable one of their opponents “arms” and then spam attacks (a sure way to win), jump and dodge or use built-in jet-packs to quickly move in forward for close combat. The variety in move sets allows for a bit of strategy to seep into the fast-paced 1-on-1, something Wii Boxing never even came close to, and something that should make this title a clear winner as it’s released shortly after the Switch.

The above are just some of the mini-games as part of 1-2-Switch! I don’t imagine there will be many more but we have an inkling of neat sounding tasks like spell-casting, cooking, fencing, air guitar, and…answering phones (I assume that’ll be much like Quickdraw but instead of shooting someone you are…yeah). The spell-casting one sounds cool but as it stands, these seem like games that have a very limited appeal outside of certain social situations.

 

David Smith, Games and Tech Editor:

While Chris was making his way around the 1-2-Switch! booth, I was focused on the third party wall. There were games, like Super Bomberman R, that we saw in the highlight reels during the live Switch presentation on Friday, plus a few that had gone unnamed during the stream and some that are already available on other platforms like Skylanders: ImaginatorsJust Dance and the lesser known Redout (a futuristic racer that feels like a hybrid of F-Zero and Ikaruga). All of these employed different control set ups — Bomberman only uses a single Joy-Con, RedOut uses the Joy-Con Grip, and Just Dance uses both Joy-Cons in either hand.

Sonic Mania looked and felt like the vintage Sonic game fans have been craving for years now (a phrase that has been used to describe other, lesser Sonic titles over the years so your mileage may vary). It presented us with the classic Green Hill Zone from the Mega Drive version of Sonic the Hedgehog, but gave Sonic his signature spinbill dash move and even dropped Tails in for co-op action. It also remixes a lot of the older pre-Tails and pre-Knuckles era levels so that they flow better for those characters. I spent a lot of time playing Sonic as a kid and, even as my brain screeched “this shit ain’t canonical!” I have to admit that it felt good to have Mega Drive era Sonic back.

Ultra Street Fighter II was an interesting one. Capcom have rebuilt their classic fighter from the ground up with not only a fresh coat of paint visually but an under-the-hood refresh too. For those who have come to know and love Super Street Fighter II will find themselves a bit jarred as the new fighting system has more in common with Street Fighter IV and V than it does SFII. Visually, the overhauled graphics didn’t appeal to me at all — Capcom are shooting for a fluid anime look here but everything comes off rather jaggy. The lines are thin, the colour pallette felt off and even the animations didn’t feel quite as expressive as they should be. This is mystifying because Capcom have created such gorgeous looking fighters in the past — in both 2D and 3D — so it’s weird to see them drop the ball a bit here. This is still an early version of the game so hopefully those sprites will receive some further love and care before launch. Having made all of those complaints, you can switch back to the classic sprites of Super Street Fighter II if you prefer.

Some of the best surprises came from Nintendo’s first-party offerings. Snipperclips was a title I hadn’t heard of before yesterday and became, for me, the star of the show. A game designed to be played with two players, each using a single Joy-Con, the game tasks you with cutting your bullet-shaped avatars into different shapes to solve a variety of puzzles. It requires team work and good communication to succeed and we absolutely loved the five or six levels we got to play of it.

Accusations that Splatoon 2 didn’t feel different enough from the original to be considered a true sequel were, in my opinion, more or less founded. The new additions to the game – new weapons and loadout swapping between rounds to name two – are more than welcome but other than that, the game hasn’t changed a jot. This is not to suggest that Splatoon 2 isn’t a ton of fun, it is and the few minutes we spent with it gave us a huge desire to pull the original out and get stuck back in, but as sequels go this one is comfortable with only minimal evolution.

Finally, we spent some time with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There’s a lot we already know about this game – it’s open world, it takes a fresh look at inventory, it even has voice acting – but it’s not until you have it in your hands that realise just how different this game is going to be from others in the series. The last time we got to sit down with Breath of the Wild was at EB Expo and at that time it was running on a Wii U. The Switch version runs noticeably more smoothly (though the TV’s provided at the event were really not allowing the game to perform at its best — they had them all running in what appeared to be Store Mode so everything was over-saturated and sharp). Link is once more the interesting-looking, expressive character he was in The Wind Waker. The variety of weapons straight out the gate meant that I was swimming in gear very quickly, all of it visible on the character model (which is nice, no more hiding where you keep all your stuff, Link). It’s actually a bit of a challenge to deal with even basic enemies now. I imagine this will change once you get the Master Sword in your inventory but I’m enjoying that difficulty spike in combat while it lasts. This game is going to take over our lives and we’re itching to get started.

The Nintendo Switch launches March 3, 2017 and will be AU$469.99 RRP.