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Nintendo Switch hands-on: what we learned

Nintendo debuted its Switch console for the second time on 13th January in Japan, giving us details on its price, availability, online services and launch line up. But KitGuru was also invited to test out the new console at an event at London’s Hammersmith Apollo theatre. Here’s what we thought of our hands-on time with the new hybrid home console.

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The Switch

The Switch itself is a very diminutive little device. The screen and body of the console is a little smaller and thinner than the Wii U Gamepad, making this one of the smaller consoles ever released. Although the Wii U was similar, Nintendo’s new console takes up far less space than its Microsoft and Sony rivals.

It’s neat and smart and understated if you opt for the grey controllers over the rather garish and clashing red/blue neon combo. The build quality is solid and though certainly portable in its weight and size, feels hefty and far from fragile.

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I wouldn’t want to drop it, but I wouldn’t expect it to shatter like my phone if it did.

Secured behind plastic casings for the most part, I wasn’t able to get much time up close and personal with the Switch for photo opportunities, but it would look at home in a variety of home settings and will happily blend in with your existing electronics.

Docked mode

One of the more interesting features of the Switch is it’s ability to play as both a home and portable console. When docked with its base station, the 6.2 inch, 720p display is mostly hidden from view and you can use the new blend of Joy-Con ‘Grip’ hub, or a more traditional looking “pro” controller, which any Wii or Wii U gamers should be familiar with.

Understandably, for this test day Nintendo had us using the various configurations of its Joy Con controllers. Mostly this meant using the main Joy-Con hub, which sits comfortable in the hands and isn’t too weighty or too light. There are a lot of buttons, though most games only use a few.That does mean though that there is a lot of potential for other games to go deep with their controls if they so choose.

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All games I played operated at what felt like 60FPS+ and I was told by the attendant at the Zelda booth, that the game played a at a minimum of that frame rate in both docked and portable mode.

Games ran at 1080P when played on the big screen and they looked great for it. Not once during testing did I see any sort of FPS drop, though some games like FAST RMX, did have some noticeable aliasing.

We weren’t given any time to explore online modes, menu systems or play around with the physical aspects of the console. I can’t tell you what it’s like plugging in games, or slotting and unslotting controllers either.

I pressed several Nintendo Switch developers on what the internal hardware contained, but short of the 32GB on board storage (expandable via microSD) that we learned from the press conference earlier in the day, no one would divulge anything.

Portable Mode

When taking the Switch out and about, you change to portable mode. That means removing the Switch from its dock and attaching the two Joy-Cons from their housing, on to the sides of the Switch’s display, or using its included stand to place it on your desk and play with controllers separately – like the Switch is a mini TV.

We have been told battery life lasts between 2.5 and six hours, depending on what you are doing. We didn’t have enough time during our testing session to confirm these claims. However I didn’t notice any issues with battery life during testing.

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Mario Kart 8 looks and plays great on the Switch. It will be one of its earlier standout titles.

Performance in portable mode was something that many of you were interested in us finding out about and we can report that while the games do run at 720P, that is the only difference according to on site staff.

From my own personal experience, there didn’t seem to be any particular difference between games played in either mode though I was only able to play Mario Kart in docked mode before moving to portable. All other games were in one state or the other.

However while playing in portable mode with the Joy Cons strapped to the side, the Switch feels substantial and surprisingly a little weighty – perhaps it should, you are carrying around a home console after all.

The screen size is great and though the same as the Wii U’s, the massively reduced bezel and improved resolution means that it looks far better. It is crisper, the colours are richer and the clarity for text and smaller details is much improved.

I can happily report though that it doesn’t get hot during play. Although portable mode gameplay was not hidden inside protective plastic cases as the docked game stations were, after four hours of Mario Kart 8 play, those undocked Switches were barely warm to the touch.

The Joy-Con controllers

There are a couple of different ways to control the Switch. You can use a traditional looking Gamepad Pro, the Switch with attached Joy-Con, or the Joy-Con Grip hub. For my entirety of testing the Switch, I used variations of the Joy Con controllers.

There is a lot of function to be had with Nintendo’s new controller system. The usual sticks and buttons are there, but with two shoulder buttons a piece, and quad-face buttons on each that double as a D-Pad in some cases, you can have a tonne of buttons as a single player, or a pretty functional controller in multiplayer scenarios.

I played several games where it involved splitting the Joy Cons in half and each player having one. It works really well and I’m interested to see what Nintendo does with the dynamic in the future. Holding them side on does not feel as comfortable as vertically, but those sorts of games seem likely to be shorter affairs.

We will have to see how Nintendo handles that in the future.

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One really interesting addition to the controllers which Nintendo isn’t giving out much detail on is its new “HD rumble.” This utilises an on board gyroscope to deliver much more detailed haptic feedback in certain games. In one I was tasked with turning and revolving a digital wooden block, as if it was the controller.

The game is to guess how many “balls” are inside it by knocking them against the digital walls of the block. It works really well and while difficult, is certainly doable. Other uses were not as nuanced, but there is certainly some potential for eyes-closed gameplay, or detailed haptic responses from games because of it.

In games where motion was required, tracking seemed to be an improvement upon Wii controllers used on past consoles. I wouldn’t say it was as 1:1 as something like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift motion controls, but they were good enough for a number of mini-games and functioned particularly well in Arms.

The games

We were given a number of different games to play at the Switch hands-on. While there was no Monster Hunter which I was very sad about, there was a few titles that were stands outs.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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As the biggest launch title for the Switch that Nintendo has discussed thus far, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one that we had to check out. It’s been in development for a long time and it shows. It looks and plays fantastically well and though more akin to the earlier Zelda’s than the latter dungeon delvers, it is going to do extremely well.

I loved the art style and control scheme and it’s one of the few games at the Switch event which I wish I’d had a lot more time with.

Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania is perhaps the most faithful to the original quadrilogy of Sonic games ever made. It feels like Sonic 2.5 with some neat new additions, beautiful art style and a very smooth frame rate. It’s a game I would love to play more of in the future.

Super Bomberman R

As a launch title for the Switch, the new Bomberman feels and plays like it has in previous entries and could be one of the more popular early releases for the system. The quick multiplayer setting we were allowed to test didn’t exactly blow me away, but it’s Bomerman, you know what you’re getting.

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An interesting Wipeout, F-Zero sort of game with some Ikaruga like colour switching mechanics. Not really my sort of game, but a racer nonetheless and something that may draw in gamers who find Mario Kart a little too silly for their liking.

Arms

One of the better looking and playing titles in the available games at this event, Arms has you throwing boxing gloves and other fist-weapons at one another from a distance. You use the motion controls built into the Joy-Cons to swing around and over obstacles, dodge and jump away from your opponent. A very fun party game and one that could potentially have a lot of tactical depth to it.

I don’t know about longevity, but as a very different sort of beat ’em up with a Nintendo feel, I’d put it up their with Zelda and Mario Kart as the most fun games I played at the event. Expect it to debut in the Spring.

1-2 Switch

A collection of minigames that feels like it should come bundled with the Switch, but will actually be a full price release, 1-2 Switch shows off the new Joy Con controller mechanics in a variety of ways. You can use them to guess the number of balls within a wooden block, swipe at one another with Samurai swords or, bizarrely, compete in a cow milking race.

There are more and some are more effective than others – the cow milking game is arguably terrible and I struggle to see how it left the concept stage – but this feels like something that will be fun when drunk but rarely otherwise. I’m interested to see how Nintendo explores the mechanic of gaming without looking at the screen, but I don’t know how much life there is in it.

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Mario was very missed at this event. The game looks great and would have bolstered a tepid line up.

Mario Kart 8

The Mario Kart 8 port is great, but didn’t really look or feel any different to its original release on the Wii U. I did like how well it showed off the Switch’s networking capabilities though. At one point I was playing with seven other people, all using their own Switches, in a local setting. I don’t see me getting together with a tonne of friends like that, but there is potential for those who are playing in portable mode to coop together I suppose.

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Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2 feels very much like its predecessor. There are a few new additions in the form of maps, weaponry and some more vertical gameplay and that’s all great, but it doesn’t really feel like a brand new game. I’d probably get it if I bought a Switch, as the original Splatoon was fantastic, but I don’t feel like Nintendo really stretched itself with this game. It feels a bit like Mario Kart 8: an enhanced port, rather than a new game.

Other games which I did not have a hands on with which looked pretty good include Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challenge, Skylanders Imaginations, Has Been Heroes, Disgaea 5 and Just Dance 2017. Some of those will be available at launch, but the majority will be arriving later in the year.

Final Thoughts

The Switch is an interesting device and I went to this debut event with a lot of hype I was trying to quell. Coming away from it, while I still like the hardware, I really liked the Joy Con controls and I think the dock/portable functionality has a lot of potential, but the game line up did not impress me much.

While there are a couple of games I am excited to play on the Switch, Zelda and Mario Odyssey being the two big ones, neither alone would be enough for me to put down the slightly higher than expected, £280 that the Switch is set to debut at in March. There are other games I want to play in there, but not enough that I would buy a whole new console for them.

Admittedly this is partly to do with personal preference, as a new Monster Hunter or the port of its latest release would be enough for me to do so, but it is worth mentioning that Zelda is the only a key franchise available at launch – as far as we know so far. Mario Kart 8 won’t show up until April, Splatoon 2 not until the summer

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There are a lot of fun and quirky games on the list, as well as an impressive array of JRPGs which will please the import crowd (especially since the Switch will lack region locking), but I don’t know if it’s enough to draw in the casual crowds that Nintendo needs to reinvigorate its home console business.

We’ll have to wait and see with the Switch, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s not something I’d recommend as a day one purchase.

KitGuru Says: We took a bunch of videos from the Switch debut event which we’re currently editing together. Keep your eyes peeled for a better look at some of the games on show in the coming days. 

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