EXCLUSIVE! First Look at Nintendo Switch

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to attend one of the final sessions of Nintendo’s weekend-long Hands-On Event with the Switch. Around two hundred lucky ticket holders met at Tanner Warehouse in London for a two hour opportunity to try a selection of the Switch’s games, and different configurations.
The whole event was brilliantly organised, giving us just enough time to play every game on show and learn a little more about what Nintendo’s latest console has to offer, just under a week before its launch here in the UK.

When we walked into the event, we were quickly handed a ticket for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, allocating us a slot for roughly halfway through out time inside. Having identified that Zelda would be the game most people wanted to play, the team wisely made it clear how long we’d have with the game (ten minutes) and when we’d get our hands on it. This left us free to wander around the remaining games on display.

The first game, or rather three minigames, we got our hands on was 1-2-Switch.
Each minigame (from a selection of over twenty) asks two players to perform a simple, competitive task. Making use of one small (think Gameboy Advance SP), neon coloured Joy-Con controller, detached from the Switch’s 6.2”, 720p screen our first game made use of the impressive HD Rumble feature found in each controller. Holding the Joy-Con on its side, we were asked to guess how many virtual balls were “contained” inside it. My initial reaction was surprise at how real the HD Rumble made it feel, if I hadn’t known better I’d have sworn the Joy-Con really did contain a number of balls, as I let them “roll” from one end of the controller to the other. A gimmick, perhaps, but an impressive feat of hardware.

Next up was Milk, the silliest and most fun of the three. Donning a well-worn straw hat, we were quickly taken through the mechanism for milking a virtual cow, to see who could fill the most cups. Quick, stupid and oddly disturbing, Milk definitely generated the most laughs from our short time with 1-2-Switch.

Finally, and least impressively, we spent a few moments taking part in an Old West duel, complete with Stetson. My friend put an end to me, while my efforts hit the dirt.
For my money, 1-2-Switch will make for a great party game, quick and fun in the way Wii Bowling became a staple for nerdy house parties back in 2006. It should, in my opinion, have been bundled with the console however, as I couldn’t really see myself buying it on its own.

Next up was Splatoon 2. I’m a big fan of the Splatoon series so far. I think the IP is great and my few months online were fun and addictive. This second game feels very much like the first, giving us a good feel for the small tweaks Nintendo have made to the formula along with our only experience with the Joy-Cons attached to their bundled grip. This controller configuration felt fine, perhaps a little light but easy to use and sturdy enough to withstand regular play. My only gripe was that the bottom of the Joy-Cons flex a bit, so the setup doesn’t feel as premium as the Switch’s separate Pro Controller.
The game played well, and the introduction of new weapons, specials and the ink Jetpack were great fun to try out. Motion controls (swiftly turned off by me on the Wii U) feel much nicer this time around, probably down to the smaller, easier to manoeuvre controller.
If you loved Splatoon, and many people did, this is more of the same. Slick, fun and rewarding but the opportunity to play a single eight player match didn’t give me much of a sense of what’s new.

After our winning round of Splatoon 2 (despite a team-mate who claimed not to play Shooters and my fumbling with the motion controls) we moved on to the most familiar game of the bunch; Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
I’ve played this game to death. What we saw today was sold as the definitive version of a beloved game (my personal favourite in the series) by a duo of enthusiastic chaps who quickly detailed the new item mechanic and new characters. Sitting in a ring of eight players, this was more an opportunity to try the Switch in handheld form. The hardware felt light, but extremely solid. The screen itself displayed the game beautifully, looking sharp and not suffering from the softness the Wii U controller does. Mario Kart 8 is, of course, brilliant fun and ran perfectly. Sadly, I only came sixth! I’m clearly out of practice.

By this point, after a few relatively swift queues and some fun with familiar titles it was time for Zelda. Our tickets were taken and we were ushered to sit down at a bank of large screens and comfy chairs before being handed the Switch’s Pro Controller. Think Xbox One, only a tad lighter and with a nice frosted grey front panel.
For the second time including Splatoon, we sat perhaps a tad too close to screen which made the game look a little jagged but frankly, this didn’t matter. The simple opening menu fades to give way to a subtle opening sequence. In truth, I skipped most of it in favour of getting used to the controls (if you’ve played a 3D Zelda title before, you already are) and running out into the lush, open world of this latest entry in the 30 year old series. What hit me first was the sense of scope, running out onto the edge of a grass-topped cliff was accompanied by a rousing, Ghibli-esque orchestral score. It’s smooth, it’s cel-shaded in a style reminiscent of Wind Waker but altogether its own. By the time my ten minutes were over (they felt considerably shorter) I’d managed to run, swim, chat, eat, climb a tree and fight off a handful of Bokoblins with a large axe I’d found as well as one of their own clubs. The world felt expansive, detailed and a ruined temple (maybe?) felt old and mysterious. As you can probably tell, I can’t wait to sit down with this one again next weekend and lose myself in what feels as though it could be a return to top flight Zelda. Ten minutes was enough to give a feel for the game, but nowhere near long enough to feel satisfied. My guess is, that was exactly the point.

From our comfy chairs, we then joined the queue for an unexpected highlight; Snipperclips. A download only game, recently announced as an eShop launch title as well as a game bundled with sets of Neon Joy-Cons. I get the feeling this could be a great new IP for Nintendo. The characters are simply drawn but full of life, their various animations injecting them with a lot of charm. The aim of the game is to complete a number of simple, single-screen puzzles that ask two players to cut pieces out of each other in order to complete specific goals. For example, the tutorial has you remove a matching chunk from each other before you pose centre-screen to make a particular shape. After that, one player needed to be trimmed down in order to fit inside a hole and activate a tiny button. Once we’d done that, a basketball (an amusing character in itself who seemed to express perhaps a little too much pleasure when manhandled) dropped from the ceiling. It was then up to us to figure out how to get it through a hoop. We opted to scoop a semi-circular chunk out of player two, allowing them to catch the ball and hop over to the hoop for a slam dunk! Simple, tricky but never frustrating and great fun.
We played this demo using, again, each Joy-Con as a single controller with the Switch screen propped up on the table in front of us. It was small, but clear and bright enough to be played without having to squint.
The game also provided a timely reminder that something with a sense of charm and fun can bring people together. A young lad, alone at the event was paired up with a young lady he didn’t know. We spotted them walking around the rest of the event together, chatting away. Thirty seconds of co-op and laughter can forge friendships.

Finally, we had just enough time for a round of the deceptively deep fighter Arms. In front of a TV, we were asked to hold each Joy-Con sideways, giving us the ability to press only the shoulder buttons with our thumbs. Movement in this colourful, cartoony boxing game is fully motion controlled, tilting the controllers moves the player while punching towards the screen fires each character’s spring-like arms at his or her opponent. Our short play gave the impression that there’s a great deal more depth to the fighting mechanics than the title and its childish façade convey. The combat is fast, fun, full of special moves and the kind of game that could prove its worth in both single and two player.

All in all, these few brief demos with Nintendo’s new console impressed. While I won’t be opting to buy one right away, I suspect by the time a couple of new Mario games have surfaced (the first being Super Mario Odyssey in time for Christmas), Pikmin and maybe a brand new Mario Kart are released I’ll take the plunge. Snipperclips feels like the start of something great, Splatoon continues to shine and the option to play the best Mario Kart game to date on the go are all big plusses for a console that feels like a capable home machine as well as the most impressive handheld on the market. We didn’t experience any of the recently reported Joy-Con disconnection issues, either. Nintendo Switch feels like a solid new addition to Nintendo’s rich history of excellent, if not always massively successful home consoles.

While I myself might not be jumping on board right away, why just take my word for it? A couple of days before I got my hands on the Switch, two good friends had their own experiences at the London event.

Here’s Rob and Richard, clearly having fun with Milk, along with what each of them had to say.

I’ve never been able to get into a Zelda game but Breath of the Wild looks like it could change that, the demo time we had was a very brief ten minutes but it looks every bit the epic and one which you could easily take a very long time over. We also played handheld mode and this was great, the switch when unplugged from the dock is instant, the game ran really well and looked lovely on the screen.
Mario Kart 8 on a set of eight wirelessly connected Switches in handheld mode is the Mario Kart 8 we all know from Wii U, it again looked and ran really well in this mode and will be a boon for the commute.
1-2-Switch had the three most euphemistic minigames on display. Each was perfectly suited to party play and I’d imagine this will become ever more hilarious with the addition of alcohol (please drink responsibly).
We played Splatoon 2 using the Joy-Con grip and motion controls, it looked and played very similarly to the original, this will probably be one I pick up a little after it launches as, on this demo online, there wasn’t enough to convince me it’s different enough from the first.
Finally was the download-only Snipperclips. The couple of puzzles we played needed communication between us both to complete and were a good introduction to the game. It feels like a combination of Overcooked and Scribblenauts. I’ll pick this up on Day One.
I’m definitely weak willed when it comes to (reasonably priced) new technology and I preordered a Switch on the day they became available, then almost instantly felt concerned I’d done the wrong thing. However having now played the machine and with a two and a half hour commute every day I feel much happier with my upcoming purchase.

We took our seats at the Splatoon 2 table: it looks good, easy to control and is fun to play.
Over to Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this is where we got to hold the HD screen and clip-on Joy-Con controllers. The screen looks lovely and fits really well in the hand, the “switch” back to console mode when placed into the dock is smooth and quick. I’ve not played any of the previous Zeldas, as I had a fear of all third person RPGs. I am slowly conquering this phobia and I think Zelda will help me with this because it’s so good. The downside was we were only allowed ten mins of gameplay, so having three of those minutes on the opening scene was wasteful. My Switch “guide” helpfully showed me how to skip the cut scene and head into the game, and I managed to grab some trousers, a t-shirt and an Axe. I ran to the nearest tree and cut it down, stole somebody’s baked apple and killed a giant rat and…my time was up! From my short game time, I can tell this is going to be an epic, more hours than I should admit to playing, type of game.
Then to Mario Kart: what’s not to like?! No surprises, it’s a fantastic game that just works! This game is the reason I’ll be buying the console.
Then the surprise of the night happened. As we were leaving my friend suggested we head to the 1-2-Switch area. Ball Counting shows off the very clever Joy-ConsHD Rumble feature – you can feel the balls rolling around inside the controller. This brings us to Milk. You have to use gestures and specific button presses in order to milk a virtual cow, while all the time staring at your opponent. We had a blast playing this. I don’t know if I would have bought 1-2-Switch, but it will be a great party game and a nice way of showing off what Switch can do.

You can tell who your real friends are after you’ve maintained eye contact while milking a virtual cow with them!

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