Late last month Nintendo hosted several events across North America including in Toronto to promote its upcoming console-handheld hybrid. I had a chance to attend the event and check out the Nintendo Switch first-hand and came away fairly impressed with what I saw. The first thing that you notice about the Switch is its size. As a home console it is by far the smallest device I can remember, including the dock it is smaller than the Wii or GameCube were and out of the dock it’s considerably thinner and more compact than the Wii U gamepad. Of course there have been smaller dedicated gaming devices but what’s so impressive about the Switch is just how absurdly powerful it is. I know that seems strange to say, after all, all reports suggest that the Switch will fall short of equaling the standard Xbox One’s capabilities. However, while it’s easy to forget that while it doesn’t measure up to contemporary stationary consoles like Xbox One and PS4, this is very easily the most powerful dedicated portable gaming device ever made. Playing beautiful high-definition games like Mario Kart 8 in 60fps on a handheld is a surreal experience. Even PSVita games never came this close to replicating the console experience portably.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s it was considered the “holy grail” to correctly emulate the arcade experience on home consoles. Arcades were always ahead of the curve when it came to graphical fidelity and realism. As such, console versions of arcade hits like Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were considerably down scaled when brought to consoles. With the release of the Dreamcast in 1999, the gap between the arcade and the console experience was completely erased. The Dreamcast ran arcade titles like Crazy Taxi and Hydro Thunder without compromise to graphics or features. This divide exists in relation to consoles and handhelds today and it’s not just graphical. For example not only does the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. pale in comparison to the Wii U entry graphically it’s missing several features that its console companion boasts such as 8-Player matches. In fact one of the reasons routinely cited for nixing series veterans, the Ice Climbers, was that the 3DS couldn’t handle 8 characters on screen at once. From what I saw of the Switch, I believe it will do to the Console-handheld divide what the Dreamcast did to the arcade-console divide.
The hardware is very flexible and incorporates play styles and inputs that Nintendo has pioneered throughout the last three decades of gaming. Developers have their choice in creating games that would feel at home on any prior Nintendo device. For example, traditional console games in the style of of Zelda and Street Fighter work exceptionally well as do more simple titles like Puyo Puyo Tetris which are great portable experiences that made the Gameboy a mega hit. They could even play host to many of today’s hottest mobile games as its portability and 6 inch capacitive touch screen are more than capable. Then there’s the motion controlled fare that we got used to on Wii like Arms and 1-2-Switch showing that Nintendo still has confidence in the application of motion gaming. The Switch is also unique among today’s “consoles” in that it’s a fantastic device for local multiplayer. Supporting wireless LAN parties of up to 8 Switch consoles and considering each joy-con can be used as an individual controller, a Switch LAN party could theoretically support 16 players.
It wouldn’t be Nintendo if the Switch didn’t also have cool new tech in its controllers. Besides its unparalleled flexibility, the joy-con and the pro-controller have what Nintendo likes to call “HD Rumble.” Similar to the haptic feedback found in Apple’s iPhone 7, HD rumble delivers sensations not possible with traditional rumble motors. Games like 1-2-Switch utilize the HD rumble to great effect. One minigame has you guessing the amount of balls banging around your controller using the sensation of HD rumble, another has the player milking a cow. The milking is a bit weird as you can honestly feel jets of liquid going through the joy-con. It may not blow everyone’s mind at first but it’s a massive improvement over any of the force feedback found on past consoles.
All of the above is enough to excite the Nintendo faithful but, as Nintendo itself likes to point out, no console is much without games. The Switch will start off strong with the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild but many have rightfully remarked that the announced slate of games for the rest of 2017 is thin. However, unlike the Wii U and its first year, the gulf between launch and the next original big title, Spatoon 2, is significantly smaller. The gulf between New Super Mario Bros. U and Pikmin 3 was a staggering nine months. That nine month period starved the Wii U and completely squandered any opportunity to revive it. By the time the fall of 2013 came around the system was considered a failure by the market and developers; not even Mario and a $50 price cut could save it from the abyss. The calendar looks better for Switch however, while launch day is light the gap between Zelda and the next big title (Mario Kart 8: Deluxe) is less than two months and will be followed by Splatoon 2 shortly after. Those worried about the quantity of titles should also be reminded that Nintendo has not yet revealed its full hand. E3 is later this summer and Nintendo and many third party partners are sure to pad out the year with a few more titles at the very least. Another good thing to see is the diversity of titles that just wasn’t present on Wii U which hosted a bounty of great for 2D platformers but struggled at delivering almost everything else. At the Toronto event alone, Nintendo showed a pretty diverse set of software. There was at least one title from every major genre present. Epic single player experience? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Racing? Fast RMX and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Role Playing? Disgaea 5. Fighting? Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers. Puzzle Games? Puyo Puyo Tetris. Shooters? Splatoon 2. Party Games? 1-2-Switch.
The launch of the Switch is critical for Nintendo. A lot is riding on the success of this platform and Nintendo knows it. The company spent $5 million on a Super Bowl ad this year, something they’ve never done before. They look like they have a clear message and sense of purpose with the Switch that they never had with the Wii U and that alone is enough for it to best its predecessor in the market, but that’s not much of an achievement. In order for the Switch to succeed it must remind the masses why Nintendo is such a great video game company both as a hardware manufacturer and a game developer. We won’t have to wait very long to see how it all pans out, the Switch comes out on March 3rd.