Nintendo lives and dies by the out-of-left-field gimmick. The Wii U — despite being far superior to its predecessor in every way — was as much of an abject failure as the original Wii was a raging success. Now comes the Nintendo Switch, which is another wacky attempt to disrupt the console market. The Switch is meant to be toted around in a backpack for on-the-go play when you’re out, then popped into a dock that lets you continue your session on your TV at home — seamlessly transitioning back and forth without a hiccup. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether it soars or flops, but one thing that’s immediately clear is that both home and handheld gaming have never seen anything like this.
Console: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 3
Despite Nintendo’s protests to the contrary, the Switch is at its heart just a Nintendo tablet. Where it separates itself from the gaming prowess of the iPad, Fire or Samsung Galaxy tabs is the ease in which it does things that makes gaming easier and better. Rather than relying solely on touch controls, which are a nightmare for traditional titles, it allows you to attach a pair of controllers on either side, allowing for the precision of analog sticks, triggers and buttons. Game cartridges allow for 3DS-like quick loads that discs — even with installed files — could never touch. Popping the image onto the TV is as easy as dropping it into a dock, which also charges up the system and controllers for your next outing. You can also detach the controllers — awkwardly named ‘Joy-Cons’ — to dual-wield in the manner of Wii motion gaming, or hook both up to a controller shell to replicate the feel of, say, an Xbox One gamepad.
There are numerous potential pitfalls to this dream setup, and questionable choices made by Nintendo that could hinder the system’s popularity. It’s key to the Switch’s relevance that people buy these things as quickly as Nintendo’s factories can pump them out, because if systems are left festering on shelves, developers will stop making games for it. That would lead to a Wii U-like software desert, with the console’s unique features squandered. The console’s approach to the digital sector seems convoluted and weird, with a stubborn, money-grubbing refusal to allow transfers of games players own on the Wii, Wii U or 3DS to transfer over to the new system. Nintendo has said it will eventually charge for online connectivity, justifying the fee by lending out free downloads of selected games each month. That system has yet to launch, but the Switch’s limited memory (32GB) seems designed to discourage downloaded games. Relying solely on SD cards for memory expansion rather than allowing portable hard drives is a stifling choice, but a necessary one to allow for portable play.
One of the biggest frustrations with the Wii U was how tightly the tablet-like controller had to be tethered to the base console to let you play in handheld mode. The most impressive triumph of the Switch is that it finally allows you to fulfill the dream of playing console-quality games while lying on your bed or attending to business on the toilet. While the PS Vita’s remote play function technically allowed you to do the same thing when hooked up to the PS4, that little-used function was hampered by a reliance on WiFi, which could cause nightmarish lag, accompanied with a squint-requiring screen. The Switch’s big, beautiful 6.2-inch 720p display lifts handheld gaming to its highest level yet. The tradeoff is an underpowered home console, which won’t hurt traditional Nintendo adventures of Mario, Link and Donkey Kong, but could make it tougher for third-party publishers to port over the latest and greatest multiplatform dynamos.
Priced at $299, the Switch is costly for a handheld but on the cheap side for a high-end home console system at launch. The system’s future may be clouded with mystery, but what’s apparent at the outset is that Nintendo’s engineers absolutely nailed everything they were going for with their audaciously strange new console-handheld hybrid. Once you own a Switch, gone are the days of needing to rush home to chip away at the new Zelda or speed down new Mario Kart tracks. While the system won’t fit into your pocket like a 3DS, you’ll find yourself making adjustments to keep it with you whenever possible. You’ll plop it in your car to help you kill time during traffic jams and waiting room visits. If Nintendo comes up with a man-purse that accommodates the Switch, I’m all in. The fact that you’ll feel the need to keep the Switch with you is the first victory in a larger battle Nintendo needs to win to stay relevant. Now to flip the switch in the minds of third-party studios who gave up on making software for the Wii U.
Nintendo Switch Launch Titles
‘Just Dance 2017’ — Although no other console can replicate the precision and immersion of the Kinect-enabled Xbox One, the Switch version makes a noble effort to compete. Armed with boy Joy-Cons, you move your arms to the rhythm, matching onscreen prompts to rack up high scores. It’s a cheap novelty but solidly designed. The game can accommodate up to six players if you have enough controllers.
‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ — A sweeping, gorgeous epic, this is undoubtedly the showpiece of the system. It will no doubt keep you playing for months on end, which will be almost necessary given how few extensive hardcore games are available in the system’s opening months. For our full review, click here.
‘Skylanders Imaginators’ — Unlike other ports, which scale down and lose features to accommodate Nintendo systems, this game somehow gets better on the Switch than it is on traditional consoles. The portable screen’s ability to use NFC to scan in action figures makes it so you don’t need a cumbersome portal, and can truly play this game just as easily on the move as you can at home. A surprise highlight, this is an excellent pickup to go with your new system.
‘Super Bomberman R’ — The multiplayer frenzy that the stalwart franchise delivers is an apt fit for the Switch’s natural acumen for offline multiplayer. To survive, you devise on-the-fly strategies, adjusting to the ever-swirling mayhem. While the overall package is as basic as they come, the game works as a hefty helping of comfort food that does well to pad out the Switch’s meager launch lineup.
Nintendo Switch Around The Web:
“We believe the experience is as cool as it looks.” –New Atlas
“In a way, it’s like virtual reality for your hands.” –MMO Games
“Moving between games set up to be played in different ways felt natural.” –The Guardian
Nintendo Switch Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
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