One of our community members and sometimes contributor Brian Shapiro had the chance to go hands on with the Switch. Luckily for us, he decided to take copious notes and pictures for us all to check out. Thanks for sharing Brian! -Sam
As many know, Nintendo finally pulled the curtain further back on their newest console, the Switch. Considering the amount of press the reveal has seen already, as well as on Senshudo’s news, I’m not going to bother going into the general release details. Considering you’re reading this, you probably already know them all. Instead, I’d like to get into what it was like to actually PLAY the Nintendo Switch, in all of it’s various configurations, with a lot of different software they had available.
Let’s start by taking a look at the various configurations of their controllers, or the Joy Cons.
Obviously, you have the Joy Cons docked into the screen/tablet itself. It felt quite substantial in the hands, had a very nice weight to it. Compared to the Wii U gamepad, I don’t feel like I’m going to break the Switch if I’m using it off of the TV for whatever reason. (Just as a side note, Nintendo did have various security measures on all of the handheld versions of the Switch to prevent theft. I prodded a couple of Nintendo reps about the actual weight of the machine come March 3rd, and they said that it would feel around the same, probably a bit lighter. They did admit it was a tad heavy, but the security was entirely necessary, and I agreed.) The Joy Cons actually have a small button located under the trigger that, when pressed, allows you to unlock them from their rails. It’s clever, but don’t try to be a hero about doing it. I’m slightly uncoordinated, but I almost dropped the unit once. It’s just safer to undock them with two hands apiece.
Next are the Joy Cons off of the screen, but not inserted in the grip. If you watched the presentation, surely there’ll be memes made out of the Nintendo Executive lounging on the couch with the left and right Joy Cons in his hands. While funny, they’re actually super comfortable. The Joy Cons have a nice rubbery texture to them to maintain grip, and the buttons all have a decent click and travel to them. The control sticks are control sticks, there’s not much to them. When being held vertically, I do have to question the L and R buttons; they’re razor-thin. The ZL and ZR triggers have a bit more to them, but again, unless there’s some sort of pressure sensitivity to them, there’s absolutely no analog or travel to them. It’s 2017, if you’re going to put a trigger on your controller, it should be analog or you shouldn’t have them. It is weird to not have a proper Nintendo “plus” d-pad on the Joy Cons, but I found that in the games I used them for, I didn’t mind that too much. I fully admit that I really liked holding them; it’s like what the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk want to be.
There’s not too much difference to the Joy Cons when they’re docked in the Joy Con grip. I’m still not too sure if the grip that is included with the console is the charging grip that is sold at 30USD MSRP, but I would like to think that it is. Regrettably, I forgot to ask a rep about that.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here; holding the Joy Con on its side is pretty bad. “Sharing the Joy” is a pretty novel concept in theory, but in practice, using the controller like a classic NES/SNES pad just doesn’t work. Without the wrist strap attached, the shoulder buttons are terribly difficult to reach because they’re recessed into the metal rail that allows the Joy Con to slide into the screen or the Joy Con Grip, and they are even more difficult to press because of the nature of their location. It became much easier to use when the wrist strap was attached because they have SL/SR buttons that fill the gap of the buttons on the rail, but I almost felt as though they didn’t work that well; I’ll get into that deeper when I talk about the software.
All that being said, “Sharing the Joy” is going to cause arguments between friends, because the Joy Cons, when on their sides, have to be turned opposite sides to use the same orientation. When looking at the Switch, the left Joy Con is clearly superior to the right simply because of the position of the control stick. It is pretty small, but it fits naturally in the hands. With the right Joy Con, the control stick is in the middle of the controller. The buttons are almost at the right edge of the controller, and there’s a lot of empty space to the left. I’m not an engineer, and I know it would look strange, but there must be some sort of way to allow the control sticks to shift left or right depending on preference. As it stands, this was absolutely the worst way to play games on it, despite Nintendo’s obvious, and admittedly well thought out concept.
Last but not least was the Switch Pro Controller. I got to use this with a couple of games, and it felt great in the hands. It felt sturdier than the Wii U Pro Controller, which I really liked. The control sticks were in Xbox positioning as opposed to the weird position they had for the Wii U, and it also had Nintendo’s traditional “plus-shaped” d-pad. The buttons were nice and large, although they felt a little squishy. Again, my biggest issue is with the triggers. Analog or bust at this point, Nintendo. Come on.
Now that I’ve talked about the controller configurations, let’s look at the software that I got to try:
When I first walked in, the first thing I got my hands on was Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers. All gripes about Capcom needing to fix Street Fighter V aside, the amount of work that was put into USFII was surprising. Evil Ryu and Violent Ken are rather strange, albeit cookie-cutter additions, but they don’t feel like regular Ryu and Ken. Evil Ryu has a Raging Demon as his super and different priorities to his moves, and Violent Ken has a command dash with differing priorities as well. Regrettably I didn’t have enough time to figure out his super, and personally, I’m terrible on a controller as opposed to an arcade stick, but I digress. You’ll definitely want to use the original Street Fighter II-style graphics here; the HD Remix look is largely outdated and doesn’t look nearly as nice. This was played with the Pro Controller and, outside of having an arcade stick to use, should really only be played with a Pro Controller. The actual d-pad is necessary.
Next was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The new Battle mode felt and played great, I can see people going back to this like we did with Mario Kart 64 when we were younger. There are a couple of new characters added to the game, notably King Boo, and the male and female inklings from Splatoon, as well as a few new vehicle options. When playing on the handheld, everything was responsive and quick, the frame rate seemed locked at 30, but it ran incredibly smoothly, and the screen is very sharp. For someone that isn’t huge into 4K gaming and having the most up to date in graphics, and the like, there wasn’t a huge notice in quality drop from the TV to the screen. For a handheld device that Nintendo wants you to be able to take places, it was very, very beautiful. That being said, the device ran pretty hot, and the battery was working overtime. I’m still not entirely convinced that the handheld is the way to use this thing, especially with a 2.5 – 6 hour battery life average, depending on what you’re playing.
After getting to try the battle mode, I was invited on stage to compete in a couple of races. We had to use the Joy Cons held on their sides, and this is where my experience with this configuration soured. I don’t want to toot my horn, but I like to consider myself a good Mario Kart player. I know how to drift, and I know my way around the tracks well enough to score victories more often than not. That being said, when using the Joy Con on its side, drifting did not work. At all. It would stick, it wouldn’t drift, and it just wasn’t fun. I’m man enough to know when I get beat, but when the eventual winner stepped off stage and made a remark to me that he experienced the same problems, I felt more reassured. I did tell a Nintendo rep about what had happened, but got a strange look in response. I’m chalking it up to pre-release issues, but again, I can’t stress enough that you do not want to use the single Joy Con held on its side. It’s just not great.
I don’t have much to say about Super Bomberman R, but it was Bomberman, it had 4-player local co-op, and it was a lot of fun.
Afterward, I sat down with Skylanders Imaginators because it was empty, and it was a great chance to talk with a Nintendo rep and discuss some things about the various control schemes, which were discussed earlier. Skylanders was surprisingly fun, it felt like an arcade Gauntlet, but I got to play with Donkey Kong. Funnily enough, the NFC reader for amiibo and the other various figures is stored within the right Joy Con thumbstick, so I can see them dropping the price on the solo left Joy Con eventually, but not the right side.
After that I got to play a couple of games of Splatoon 2. I will firmly state that Splatoon as an IP is well deserving of all of its acclaim. It’s such a creative take on the shooter genre, and it’s so much fun to play. That being said, motion controls in general are terrible, and there needs to be a way to disable them and level the playing field. The submachine gun-style Splat Dualies are a lot of fun, and giving the player a dodge roll may seem like a small thing, but it made my movement so much more fluid. Splatoon 2 is somewhat more of the same, but when the game is this good, why break what isn’t broken?
Next on the list were Puyo Puyo Tetris and Sonic Mania. There’s not much to say about either of them besides the fact that I’m glad that Puyo Puyo Tetris is finally coming to the Western Regions, and Sonic Mania looks amazing. Even though Sonic is fairly simple in control, it still wasn’t that comfy to play on the Joy Con turned sideways.
ARMS is the sleeper hit for me. I had a lot of fun in general at the event, but the game that made the biggest impression on me was this one right here. To put things in context, this is basically Wii Boxing turned up to the extreme. There were about six different characters in the build we were playing, with the rep telling us that there were more planned, but things could always change. On that note, every rep was clearly telling us that these were not final builds. ARMS has the player controlling their character by holding each Joy Con in their hands as if they were controlling a mech. You move your character laterally by tilting them both to the same side, and by tilting forward or back, you move in that direction, respectively. Pressing the L button jumps, and pressing the R button dashes forward.
By punching with either hand individually, you punch. When you twist your hand and throw a punch, you punch with a curve. When you punch with both hands at the same time, you get a grab. And by tilting both Joy Cons in to each other, you block. If you press the ZL button, you get your super, which essentially turns your character into something from an episode of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. The result is something that is methodical, mind game based, and incredibly intuitive and fun. When I saw the game revealed at the conference, I wasn’t too sure, but playing makes all the difference.
Last but not least, I got to get my hands on Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild. This is the big one; the game that seemingly everyone is losing his or her minds over since Super Mario Odyssey isn’t for another year, basically. I got to play the opening 20 minutes of the game, and I was very impressed. The music is amazing, the visuals are gorgeous, and the controls are smooth and intuitive once you get used to the layout of the buttons. From what I’ve read, this was the same demo as the one that was at E3, only this time it was running on the Switch and not the Wii U. About halfway through the demo, I was prompted to take the Joy Cons out of the grip and place them on the sides of the tablet, and play the other half with the handheld. There was really no noticeable drop in quality, and the frame rate stayed stable. I will say this though; this was where I really noticed the handheld getting hot. It was clear that it was drawing a lot of power to keep the quality steady, and I can’t say for certain whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t like the idea of the battery exploding on me if it gets too hot.
Aside from the obviously lackluster launch day lineup, I’m optimistic for Nintendo’s new console, and I do have one preordered. I would hope that all of their software is on track to be released when they say it will be, because the software is what will make or break this system, despite the pricing on almost all of their accessories being an absolutely ridiculous premium. With EA Sports, SEGA, and Activision among many other 3rd party developers apparently on board with the system, my hopes are higher for this than for the Wii and the Wii U. The ball is officially in Nintendo’s hands, so for everyone’s sake, let’s hope they don’t drop it.