Shortly before Christmas, we at The Iris offices received a very exciting email. Nintendo Australia was inviting us (among a slew of other local games media) to Melbourne to spend some hands-on time with their newest console, the Nintendo Switch. 24 hours after Nintendo gave the world a substantial look at what the new machine can do, we got to see it and try it for ourselves.
We trooped down to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre this afternoon (for the record, it’s really strange being in the MCEC without a PAX going on, it just doesn’t feel right) and found ourselves upstairs in the Melbourne Room. Traditionally a ballroom, the Melbourne Room had been turned into a miniature version of the sort of booth Nintendo loves to bring to shows like PAX Aus and EB Expo — lots of TV’s lining the walls and some expensive looking booths to highlight key titles.
The five games given the booth treatment were The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, ARMS, Snipperclips and 1, 2, Switch! Indeed, 1-2-Switch! dominated the centre of the room, presenting five fishbowls for those outside to demo each minigame with an appropriately costumed Nintendo associate.
1-2-Switch, which is strangely not a pack-in, is that obligatory title used to highlight Nintendo’s hardware innovations and also double as a neat little party toy that focuses on the Switch’s dynamic local multiplayer. As such, the game was proudly displayed at the centre of the showcase floor with different rooms for some of the title’s minigames. There were even big glass windows so those standing on the outside could see what was going on inside of each room, speaking to Nintendo’s intentions for the game: this is a title clearly made with social circles in mind (and it could make for some fun drinking games).
Quickdraw, which was the lead mini-game chosen to show the title during Nintendo’s global presentation, was one of the more practical titles and reiterated Switch’s most interesting function, in that you’re playing while physically facing your opponent as opposed to staring at the screen while it’s in “tabletop” mode. You simply hold your Joy-Con controller by your side as if it was a gun and then, when a voice-over from the screen indicates so, you draw as fast as you can, “shooting your opponent in their torso area (shooting outside of that area may cost you the match). The results of the photo-finish are then displayed on the screen, with the fastest to draw – down to the millisecond – winning the round.
Other mini-games at the showcase included a samurai game that reminded me of slapsies where one brings down an imaginary sword on the other while they have to anticipate it – using nothing but their sense of where it is – and ‘grab it’ by clapping their hands together (while holding the Joy-Con). It’s fun since you’re staring directly at the opponent so the player with the sword can bluff. A cow-milking game was surprisingly difficult to get the feel for, requiring a rhythm that had you sliding the Joy-Con down in a smooth vertical motion while pressing alternating shoulder buttons as if you were, yep, milking a cow. Obviously whoever gets the most milk wins the round. Then you had a very simple safe-cracking game that tasked you with rotating the Joy-Con controller until <i>very</i> subtle vibrations could be felt, indicating a “sweet spot” to hold in order to unlock the safe. Basically, it reiterated how incredibly nuanced the rumble feature is with the Joy-Con, and while it wasn’t the most interesting of games, it definitely showed of a potential which could be used in many ways further into the Switch’s life.
Though perhaps the most interesting game was one which had you guessing how many marbles were in an imaginary pocket. Similar to how Nintendo’s presentation showed off the fact that you could feel very subtle textures like ice cubes in a glass, the player had to use the Joy-Con’s haptic feedback to ‘feel’ and count the marbles.
On the right-hand side of this area was a lounge where people could try out Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and on the left was a wall dedicated to smaller titles that demonstrated the console’s different control styles.
Let’s get the least interesting controller out of the way first: The Pro Controller is very nearly a mirror of the now-classic shape of the Xbox Controller. The sticks are where they should be, the buttons feel good, the rumble feedback is solid. Great stuff, will be picking one up on Day 1 for safety.
But you don’t really care about the Pro Controller. You want to know about the Joy-Con. Good news, friends, they actually work a treat. During yesterday’s livestream, we at The Iris found ourselves wondering how controllers that appeared so tiny would ever be comfortable in our dinner-plate sized Western hands. It turns out, not only are they a near perfect fit they’re also extremely comfortable. I remember feeling this way the first time I used the Gamecube controller — on paper it may not seem like it would work well at all but, from the moment it’s in your hands, the Joy-Con makes sense.
When attached the Grip, the controller seems as though it might be rather large. Even after seeing it in a human hand during the livestream, we still had horrible flashbacks to The Duke. The moment its in your hands, you realise it’s nothing like The Duke. Odd square shape aside, the Grip-mode Joy-Con feels not dissimilar to the Pro Controller. It’s not too heavy and it sits quite comfortably in the hand. It also provides easy storage for your individual Joy-Cons when on the move.
The individual Joy-Cons can be split off from the Grip by simply pressing a small button on the back and sliding them out of a purpose-built groove on either side. From there, depending on the game, you can use both Joy-Cons in each hand or use one and give the other to a second player. A wrist strap is provided to keep you from flinging them away.
Using the Joy-Cons when not attached to the Grip was my primary concern going into the event. To look at them, it seemed as though either the buttons or the joystick were awkwardly positioned, depending on which side of the Grip they were pulled from. Once it was in my hand, in both the two-fisted and single Joy-Con configurations, it was extremely easy to manipulate the stick and any of the face buttons.
Certain games actually ask you to hold the Joy-Con in ways you don’t expect — ARMS has you hold two Joy-Cons vertically in your fist, keeping your dukes up like a boxer might and using the top-mounted shoulder and trigger buttons creatively.
The third configuration is using the same slide mechanism to attach the Joy-Con controllers to the side of the Nintendo Switch’s handheld screen, turning it into a unit that vaguely resembles an Atari Lynx. While in this mode, the unit features a nice bright 720p screen and has a very pleasant weight to it. It’s not heavy enough that you couldn’t hang onto it through longer play sessions but it’s also not so light that you feel like you’re clutching a toy.
After getting to use the Switch, the AU$469.95 starts to make a bit more sense. Nothing about the device feels particularly cheap. The screen on the handheld unit is crisp and clean, and the Joy-Cons are light but sturdy-feeling.
The only part of the unit that didn’t really get much of a walkthrough was the Switch Dock. This is, presumably, because it’s the least exciting part of the entire kit, existing only to ferry power to the handheld unit and put vision onto your TV, but also because it’s not the most attractive piece of hardware in the world. We apologise if that feels like a cheap shot but we think you’ll agree that as charging units go, this one is pretty utilitarian in its design.
A few games we tried out during the three hour show window did suffer from controller lag — Bomberman in particular stopped accepting my inputs eight or nine times — but these minor hiccups were largely attributed to the great number of Switch signals bouncing around the room and the early builds of many of the games on display.
In all, we spent about two-and-a-half hours with the Switch before Nintendo brought the event to a close. This was about 30 minutes less than was originally promised — the event was supposed to begin at 4pm but the doors didn’t open until closer to 4:30 — not a big deal and we certainly can’t complain, we made a serious and valiant attempt to eat every last canape to pass the time.
We haven’t had all of our questions answered yet, but in the space of an afternoon we’ve gone from a position of cautious optimism to true believers. We hope that Nintendo takes this console on the road over the coming months so the general public can try it for themselves because this, friends, is the real deal.