Nintendo, never a company to follow the trend, have launched a new console today, with a release date of 3rd March. That means retail units have already been made to build up stock for launch. They kept that one quiet! The Nintendo Switch unsurprisingly doesn’t follow the trend of more of the same but more powerful than what came before. Don’t get me wrong, I love the PS4 and Xbox One S, they both give a gaming experience that is unparalleled in terms of home console gaming but in a sense they follow a distinct paradigm that was started by Sega and Sony with the Saturn and the Playstation. A disc (and now disc and downloadable content) based system that focuses on 3D grunt. As the grunt gets more grunty, the games look more realistic and become more involved.
Nintendo have looked at the market and decided to do something different. There are some differentiators between the PS4 and Xbox One, the PS4 has it’s new PSVR virtual reality headset, the Xbox One tried motion control with the Kinect but now focuses on a better integrated user experience. In the end, if you’re not willing to shell out £350 for the VR headset, the choice effectively comes down to exclusive games and which system most of your mates have. From Nintendo’s point of view, it seems they decided there was little sense in introducing a third system that was much the same as the other two, that would make for a very crowded market.
What Nintendo have done has been dubbed the first genuine next generation console by some commentators. The Switch is basically a powerful handheld console, larger than even the 3DSXL (and the PS Vita for that matter), that comes bundled with a dock to link it up to your telly. When in handheld mode, the console turns down the speed the processor chips run at to improve battery life (you won’t be able to tell the difference on it’s 6.2 inch 720P screen though), but when it’s docked and consequently on mains power, everything goes into overdrive. Nintendo have confirmed that there is no extra processing power in the dock, that it is simply a dock to connect to your telly and power, you effectively have the console with you all the time. This is sort of the opposite of the Wii U in a funny way as it’s GamePad allowed you to stream the games on the Wii U to the big controller but the controller wasn’t a console in it’s own right. Perhaps the Switch is the obvious next evolution of this.
The Nintendo Switch is a full on attempt at a paradigm Shift. It seeks to merge the home and portable console into one device that will excel at both. Yes, the Switch is not as powerful as either the Xbox One S or the Playstation 4 (let alone the PS4 Pro or the Xbox Scorpio, due later this year) but as Nintendo have shown in the handheld world, their vastly less powerful 3DS has been far more successful than the very powerful Sony PS Vita. Power isn’t the be all and end all, it is part of the equation. An equation that should be dominated by user experience.
User experience is a nebulous term though so perhaps I should quantify what exactly I mean by my use of it. User experience ranges from the dashboard, to the integrated store, to the range of games at the extreme end of the broad definition I’m going to use. This is where Nintendo need to nail it, assuming of course that the hardware is robust and durable enough to have the controller elements pulled on and off hundreds of times.
A console rightly lives and dies by it’s games. The fact that the Switch support up to 8 local systems for multiplayer games should allow from some great fun should you be able to find 7 other people with a Switch. I’ve played online multiplayer since the 90’s (on dial up!) but nothing has been as much fun as playing 8 player Bomberman on the Sega Saturn, 4 player Mario Kart or 4 player Tower Fall Ascension- having all the players in the room makes such a difference to the experience.
And guess what? They will be a Bomberman game out in March, which is fab news. The new Zelda game looks the mutts and there is a sequel to Splatoon, the standout new franchise from the Wii U. It is a shame that there is no Mario at launch but given how much sooner the launch is than anyone expected, that isn’t perhaps as much of a surprise as it would have been had an autumn/winter launch been announced. I can see the situation where there are initial stock shortages over the spring summer as production ramps up, leading to a frenetic Christmas period with lots of big titles.
Here are my pick of the pops. I’ve not featured the new Zelda because if you’re a Zelda fan you’ll know about it already and I’m not a Zelda fan (sorry!).
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
— Daddacool (@daddacool) January 13, 2017
Already a hit on the Wii U, this is an enhanced version for Switch. I’ve been told by Nintendo staff that as well as supporting 8 player local multiplayer, you can play up to two players per Switch, up to a total of 12 in all. 12 players racing it out together, how cool is that? Much like the Wii U, you can control your kart with an individual Joy-con (it works like a Wii-Mote). I had a go on the big screen and on the Switch as a handheld. The experience was as fun in each scenario and didn’t feel hampered by playing in “portable” mode. Graphically it’s had a bit of spit and polish from the Wii U version, which you would expect given the Switch is more powerful
— Daddacool (@daddacool) January 13, 2017
Arms is a new cartoony fighting game that sees you choose different arms (hence the name) for your character that impact on the way they fight. You use a pair of Joy-cons and their motion sensors to pummel each other. It’s great fun, bound to tone your arms, but probably not the deepest game out there. It looks lush, very much in keeping with the lush colourful cartoony graphics you would associate with Nintendo titles.
Sonic Mania is effectively a Sonic tribute game. It has new zones as well as remastered and expanded zones from the first three Sonic games. Unlike the majority of Sonic games from the Dreamcast onwards, it remembers what makes a Sonic game great, speed and well thought out level design. I had a blast on this one, I don’t mind saying. Whether it’s what I should be loving on brand spanking new hardware is something I need to give some thought to though.
Sony have been extremely negligent with their Wipeout franchise so someone has stepped into the breach and effectively made a futuristic racer that fills the gap nicely. Out of all the games I’ve played, included Zelda, this is the one that shows the power of Switch the best. It’s fast, blinding fast in fact and the controls are responsive. If you lost half your nights to Wipeout (2097 in my case), you’ll love this. Split screen is vertical rather than horizontal, which gives you a better view distance. This would probably be at the top of the list for me.
Other games on show included the new Zelda, Skylanders Imaginators, Ultra Street Fighter 2 and Splatoon 2. Splatoon 2 is as much fun as the original, and the fact you have controller parity (not one person with the Gamepad, another with a Wiimote) makes it more fun as it’s fairer.
Super Mario Odyssey (not a launch title) wasn’t available to play but was on video. It looks brilliant and the obvious next step on in terms of gameplay and graphics from Mario’s last 3D outing on the Wii U. It will be a system seller come Christmas, I have no doubt.
A word on price then. I’m not going to honey coat it, the Switch has launched at a higher price than many expected or hoped for. The Switch is launching at £280 with one controller and no games. Retailers are showing a second pair of Joy-con controllers at £75, with games around the £60 mark. That’s a day one investment of over £400 for a console, two controllers and a game. That’s a lot. Yes, it’s around the price the PS4 and the Xbox One launched at a few years ago, with no games and one controller, but you can pick up either one of those for around £200 with a game now and if you shop around another controller for about £35. This means the Switch is relatively expensive compared to what is out there right now. In absolute terms it’s a reasonable price for a console at launch, and I don’t think anyone would be talking about it had the Switch been announced a couple of years ago.
The Joy-con controllers are small but they’re not awkward to hold. Although I couldn’t get an official word on battery life, I was told by the chap manning Super Bomberman R that he had been told they wouldn’t need charging during the day today. Considering their size and the near constant use, that sounds pretty impressive. Holding the Switch as a portable console is comfortable but it’s not a small device. It’s bigger than my (ancient) Atari Lynx, and only marginally smaller than the Wii U Gamepad. It does work well as a handheld though, and the screen is bright. I was expecting it to be a bit blurry as the resolution is “only” 720P but it seemed plenty bright enough to me. We didn’t get to try removing and attaching the Joy-cons to the Switch, which is the one thing I would have liked to try but I can confirm that individually all the constituent parts seem to be very solidly made.
Preorders are open now, ahead of the 3 March launch.