Out with the old and in with the new is sort of what's happening in March as Nintendo prepares to release their next game console. What was once dubbed the Nintendo NX is now known as the Nintendo Switch and it's not only the successor to the Wii U, but it aims to capture the mobile gamer market as well - something Nintendo has been the king of for many years from the classic Game Boy up to the currently popular 3DS.
The Switch was officially announced in October and its first year's slate of games and pricing details were revealed at a live event that took place in both Tokyo and New York in January. As Nintendo begins taking the Switch around the world to showcase their latest tech, their first and only stop in Canada occurred over the weekend where we traveled downtown Toronto to say hi to Mario and play all of their available games.
Let's start from the top and discuss the big questions surrounding the Switch from how well it functions as a hybrid console, on its 2017 video game line-up, and the value proposition it offers versus the competition.
Does Switch Work As A Mobile Platform?
Yes! The console's titular Switch feature works as advertised. Nintendo Switch's Joy-Con controllers slide and lock into place on the grip centerpiece and the sides of the tablet with ease, and the transition from playing on the TV via the dock and playing mobile is near seamless. We played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild using every configuration and while there was a performance hitch playing just on the tablet, it still works.
Given the relative small size of the Switch tablet screen, using it as a mini standalone monitor (with the built-in kickstand) wasn't ideal but we did test Snipperclips with it, a two-player game where each player was able to participate using just the left or right Joy-Con individually. This feature also works for games including Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Fast RMX (or anything that doesn't need two sticks) so purchasing a second controller isn't always necessary to play local co-op.
The Switch is not as portable as the Nintendo 3DS, and the Switch's battery life maxes out at six hours but more realistically lasts around three for full retail experiences. It's better used as something to keep playing while moving around your residence or to bring to another player's house without having to haul around a massive console and a bundle of controllers (like we used to setting up Xbox LANs!). The ability to keep playing a game from your TV to wherever else you're moving to is something the Wii U never really delivered on, but that the Switch does.
And The Switch Does Motion Controls?
You bet. Nintendo will not let go of this gimmick, and one of its launch games 1-2 Switch, is entirely based on it. This party game features mini-games that make use of the left and right Joy-Con controllers that ship with the console and sees players looking at each other and listening to the game's sound instead of browsing a TV or the tablet. This works thanks to the Joy-Con's built-in motion controls, IR sensor, NFC sensors, and what Nintendo dubs as "HD Rumble" for more precise vibration feedback.
Not all games use the motion features and the Joy-Cons are not as accurate as motion controllers some players may be accustomed to from PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, or the HTC Vive, but it's just one of the many things the Switch's primary inputs can be used for. They can be used, one each hand, as a traditional controller of sorts (and connected to the grip for that classic controller feel) and they can be used as separate controllers for two-player games. They work as intended and are surprisingly small with the only major drawback being that the right Joy-Con sees its analog stick in the center of the unit making it uncomfortable to use. The bumper buttons at top are not really usable unless the wrist-strap attachment is added since it fleshes out the size and ergonomics of the controller and extends the top buttons.
How Are The Nintendo Switch Games?
Nintendo's own games, which focus on gameplay over graphics, should all work as intended, but there are few announced so far. The same can be said for major third-party publishers who are hesitant in investing development dollars towards Nintendo's new console after being burned on the Wii U. The only games from Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and Activision for instance, are already-released games being ported over - and only two are available at launch (Ubisoft's Just Dance Activision's Skylanders). Here's what ships alongside the Nintendo Switch on March 3, 2017:
- The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+
- Just Dance 2017
- Human Resource Machine
- I Am Setsuna
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Little Inferno
- Skylanders: Imaginators
- Super Bomberman R
- World of Goo
Note: The Switch does not come with a pack-in game.
Only 1-2 Switch and Super Bomberman R are new games that are exclusive to the Switch at launch, meaning there's no "killer app" to generate buzz at release outside of Breath of the Wild which is a Wii U game releasing the same day. Everything else is old or recently released elsewhere. The big system-seller type game, Super Mario Odyssey, doesn't release until the holiday season, so if Nintendo doesn't come swinging at E3 in June, the Switch's first year of games may kill the console's sales momentum. It's a very unimpressive and disappointingly shallow slate even with Splatoon 2 (which is very similar to its predecessor) and Arms on the way in the spring. The Switch's launch line-up has less games than the Wii, Wii U or 3DS.
And from watching Nintendo's development capabilities over the last decade, evidence points to there being a long wait in between new games from their biggest brands. It takes them years to put together a new Mario Kart, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, or The Legend of Zelda for example so normally that'd mean relying on third-party game support... of which there will be very little.
Just Give It To Me Straight - Should I Buy A Switch?
Let's back up a generation. The Wii U was a disaster, a home console that suffered from online services that didn't work well compared to the competition and that couldn't sustain an active community for multiplayer games. Even the Wii U's only Call of Duty game at launch couldn't support most of its modes.
Its specs were too weak and it was made obsolete by the competition before it hit shelves, so much so that Nintendo drastically cut forecasts. It was a generation behind, didn't sell well, lost its third-party support almost immediately, and didn't get enough love from Nintendo itself on the software development side. Even now, the Wii U's only Legend of Zelda game and Mario Kart game... are coming to the Switch. That's where we're at with Nintendo, a company supporting its latest with delayed or re-released titles.
The Switch will be the most expensive console on the market when it releases worldwide on March 3, 2017, and it'll have the most expensive accessories. It will also have the least amount of games, the least amount of third-party support, and the least amount of hardware power during a time where the PlayStation and Xbox brands are already iterating on their three-year-old platforms (which are more powerful than the Switch) with hundreds upon hundreds of games each in their respective libraries. Even this fall the Xbox One is getting an even more powerful unit with the still-to-be unveiled Scorpio device, which puts into question who the Switch is actually for.
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Diehard early adopters aside, the Switch can't compete with the others as a traditional console and Nintendo knows this, hence the hybrid mobile design. But here Nintendo isn't fully delving in with the Switch either since it's still pushing the far-more-popular 3DS market (where it just announced several new major games coming in 2017).
The Switch tech works but it's not future proof and doesn't have enough exclusive experiences coming in its first year. It might therefore be obsolete before release, and with a premium price tag and Nintendo pushing the limits by also trying to charge for online multiplayer with so little to offer on that front, the value proposition just isn't there compared to other offerings on the market.
We'll know more in March once reviewers get time with the hardware and release line-up and launch window games outside of a controlled environment where the media has so far only been able to spend a few minutes with select games.