Events, News, Opinions, Previews, Reviews

Nintendo Switch and the UK Switch Premier

The early, early hours of Thursday morning saw Nintendo unveil some of the more important details about the Nintendo Switch – such as price, release date and a plethora of games coming to the system within its first year.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Hammersmith Apollo in London visit the Switch UK Premier event and get my hands on the new hardware and some of the new software too. As we walked into the historic venue, we were greeted with the usual “event goodies”, namely a lanyard and a card to get stamped at various stands go enter a competition, then there was a walk through a corridor of Nintendo history before being guided into the venue proper with Switch paraphernalia all over the place.

(If you want to skip the recap of my day, just scroll down to the TLDR run down of my reviews and impressions)

After a quick walk around to see what was on offer, we decided to start with the Third Party games. Naturally I was drawn straight to Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers to showcase a quick game of the new Evil Ryu vs Bison but more importantly this gave us our first look at the Switch’s Pro Controllers. The game seemed to run much like Street Fighter 2 HD Remix, but the Pro Controller felt very comfortable in my hands, and for Street Fighter the d-pad was very nice to use.

Next we took advantage of an uncharacteristically short queue for the new Bomberman R. This was our first play with the Switch in its kickstand table top mode, each of us using one of the Joy Con controllers. The game played very much like classic Bomberman, even if it seemed overly detailed for the screen being as far away as it was it looked very crisp. The left hand Joy Con felt very natural to use, however the right hand Joy Con did feel a little awkward as the analogue stick was a little out-of-the-way.

As good as these games were, they didn’t really use any of the Switch’s fancier features within their gameplay, just two of the controller and screen options. So while we were eager to see what the Switch could REALLY do, we needed one more “Publisher” stamp on our cards. While looking to see what we fancied, we got roped into playing Just Dance…. Yeah, that happened… but it really showed off how responsive the Joy Con’s motion controllers were, so surely it was worth it, right?

I came 2nd at Just Dance… Yay?

With unplanned dancing out-of-the-way, we moved onto 1, 2 , Switch. Essentially this consoles hardware demonstration title, much like Wii Sports was for Wii and Nintendoland was for Wii U. 1, 2, Switch has lots of fun mini games that show off some of the fancier features of the Joy Con controllers. First off we played a safe unlocking game, where you had to rotate the Joy Con until it vibrated and then hold it there, doing this three times unlocks the safe, and it is a battle against the other player as to who does it first. Next up was a Samurai showdown in which you face off against your opponent, one is selected to attack while the other defends, and after the game says start it’s a battle of mind games and reactions, where the attacker must try to cut their opponent who has to try to catch the “blade” with a clap. Lastly we played a Cowboy style quick draw game.

After leaving the 1, 2, Switch stand we wondered over to check out Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, where we got to play with the Switch in its “handheld” mode multiplayer style with other Switch consoles in an 8 player race. After taking an early lead I held the top spot right until halfway through the last lap where the rubber band mechanics got the best of me as I was bombarded with blue, red and green shells. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough race left to make it back to first, so I had to settle with fourth. While we didn’t have time to play on the other MK8DE modes, they did have the new battle mode stages available to play, as well as showing off “portable” mode which involved playing using just the Joy Con controllers in their own tiny little wheel accessories which were so cute!

Onward we went to Splatoon 2, much like how convention demo’s worked for the first Splatoon title, it was a 4 vs 4 Turf War setup, with two players on each team using the Switch in portable mode and the other two using the Pro Controller. I chose the Pro Controller setup, and was surprised to see that the Pro Controller used the same gyroscopic controls as was the standard (that everyone turned off) in Splatoon 1.

We were getting ever close to getting to play Breath of the Wild, as I decided to “save the best for last”, with only two more titles to play before I joined the queue for Zelda. ARMS was our next game, and what looked like an upgraded version of Wii Boxing was actually a very fun game. This saw us each holding a pair of Joy Cons and doing the whole boxing thing. Again showing off the responsiveness of the motion controls.

Next up was Snipperclips, which looked REALLY random, and while I honestly only queued up for the stamp needed to fill my card, I was actually surprised at how good Snipperclips was. With the Switch in its portable configuration two players cooperatively have to solve the puzzles the game throws at you.

But ultimately with that out-of-the-way I finally joined the queue for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And only just with time to spare, as it would happen I was one of the last players of the session to get time on the newest title in the Zelda franchise. While they had multiple setups, there was one I was hoping to test, and luckily did get, which had the only remaining controller option I’d not used yet, and that was the Joy Con Grip. A controller that looked hideous to hold and play with, but it was actually very nice to use! While Nintendo create some weird-looking controllers, you can count on them to get the ergonomics just right. After surprising the Nintendo Rep with my knowledge of the game, and being one of the only players to defeat the Bokoblin “boss” to retrieve the fire arrows, the PA system sounded off that the session was over. Reluctantly I put down the controller and walked away from Zelda, handed in my competition card, claimed my free pin badge and set off home…

 

TLDR Start here:

So that was how the day ran, however the more important information for you, the reader, is my thoughts on everything! So I’ll run through the games first and then my impressions at the hardware.

 

THE GAMES

Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers

While it looked like a port of Street Fighter 2: HD Remix, it actually plays slightly differently. As well as being re-balanced with the new characters in mind, it also has new features and mechanics. You can swap between the pixel sprites and Udon “HD” sprites (which unfortunately I didn’t get to see). Throw Techs have made an appearance, and there is much more leniency in the combo system.

Gameplay seemed fine, however without playing on my beloved arcade stick I always feel a little weird playing fighting game titles on pad…

But being a Street Fighter game I’ll probably pick this up, though it is rumored to be quite expensive, which could put people off.

Bomberman R

We were sat a bit far away to really see the Switch console’s screen, but it played like classic Bomberman multiplayer. Graphics looked pretty crisp, if a bit crowded for how far away from the screen we were. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the single player modes. But this is one I intend to pick up when released.

Just Dance Revolution

It’s a just dance game, you either like them or you don’t…

1, 2, Switch

While the mini games were fun and showed off the hardware, this game has one fatal flaw – it’s not included with the console. If it came with my Switch, like Wii Sports did my Wii, then sure, I’d play it. But I’m definitely not paying full price (£39.99 on Nintendo’s online store) for this.

ARMS

After Zelda, this was probably my favourite “new” game at the Switch Premiere. It combines the silly kind of fun of Wii boxing with actual fighting game mechanics. However, the issue comes in the lack of much information I’ve seen about this game. It is all advertised as this awesome 2 player brawler, but as great as I thought ARMS was, I’m not buying a second pair of Joy Cons just to play it. So it’ll really depend on how good any potential single player gameplay is, and/or potentially any online play.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition

It’s basically a GOTY edition of Mario Kart 8 and all its DLC, plus a few little extras. Its not a launch title, but I’ll still end up picking it up when it does release in April. The “new” features, namely the battle mode maps, are mostly ones that should’ve been in the original Mario Kart 8. And the Switch multi console multiplayer removes the issue I always had with split screen play being far too busy for such a pretty game.

Splatoon 2

Splatoon 1 was a whole lot of fun, Splatoon 2 looks to continue this trend, but thanks to the Multiple Switch console multiplayer Splatoon 2 could have much better offline play available (if you have enough friends with a Switch…)

SnipperClips

This was a fun little game, but be warned it is the kind of “co-op” game that will ruin relationships if you’re not careful! Communication is key here folks! Me buying it will depend on its price, if it is at an indie game price point I’ll probably grab it!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

THIS is the game I’ve been waiting for, while I’ll admit I was salty when it kept getting pushed back, if they game was made better because of it, then I can’t really complain. And from what I’ve seen this looks awesome! The music was simply stunning. The combat seemed refreshingly difficult. And generally everything I’ve seen and played of this game looks incredible. Yes I’m a huge, Zelda fan boy, yes my opinion is probably biased, but I don’t care! Seeing the sheer scale of the game for myself it seems to be taking a step closer to Skyrim in levels of openness, and I had initial concerns about there just being large amounts of travelling with nothing to do between A and B. But certainly at first glance it seems there is a lot going on, especially in the early game. There are lots of enemy camps, with different options on how to potentially take them on. I could see that later on in the game you’d have little to no need to take these on, so might find yourself just skipping them, resulting in long journeys with little going on. But until I get my hands on the full game to see for myself I can’t say. Just a potential worry.

If you’ve played and enjoyed previous Zelda titles you’ll no doubt love this, if you’re new to Zelda but like other RPG to Action RPG titles, it might be worth giving this a shot!

 

THE HARDWARE

As for the Switch itself, coming into it I was quite skeptical, but has getting hands on with the console changed my mind? Partially, yes. I was very impressed with what I saw, everything seemed to run smoothly and look good doing it.

While I can see other people really enjoying the portable console aspect, it wasn’t something I was that fussed about in all honesty. And while I’ve been slightly converted (the idea of propping up the Switch on the car dash-board during lunch breaks and playing Bomberman has sold it to me a bit more!), I do STILL feel I’d have preferred a crazy powerful home console.

But is that what was needed? Realistically while both PlayStation and Xbox look to start taking on the 4K market, very few people are sporting 4K TVs yet, and with Nintendo aiming for a mass market appeal perhaps keeping it at the level it’s at was the way to go.

But to the hardware itself. The Switch console “tablet” is smaller than you’d think, pictures don’t necessarily put it to scale. Without the Joy Con controls attached the size of the Switch is comparable to an iPad Mini, while being roughly as thick as a PS Vita. Which is impressive for how powerful a console it is.

With the Joy Con controls attached to the Switch to use it in “handheld” mode, it is actually a bit heavier than I expected. It becomes slightly longer than the Wii U GamePad, but not as tall (and definitely slimmer) yet it felt slightly heavier. Depending how you’re sitting this may or may not present problems for longer gaming sessions. If you’re sat bolt upright holding the Switch up in front of your face you’ll probably tire or get cramps. But if, like me, you prefer a more laid back approach, sat back, knees up with your arms resting on your legs, it’d be fine. But potentially when the peripheral companies start bringing out Switch accessories, you might find some “grip extenders” to make it a bit more comfortable for longer gaming sessions.

The Joy Con Grip, which is the “holder” that turns the two Joy Cons into a “regular” controller is next up. I thought this looked horrible when it was first announced. I didn’t find it aesthetically pleasing, it didn’t look ergonomically comfortable. Generally, I didn’t want it in my life. Therefore, this was something I was very eager to test out at the UK Switch Premier event. And while I’ve not been converted on the Grip’s aesthetic, I was fully converted on its ergonomic aspects. It just felt right in my hands. All the buttons were in easy reach and it was surprisingly light weight as well.

It is, however, important to note that the Joy Con Grip that comes with the console does not have the facilities to charge the Joy Cons. It is just a plastic shell for holding the Joy Con. Nintendo will be selling a Premium Joy Con Grip, which will have USB “Pass Through” to charge the Joy Cons while you play. I really do feel that the Premium option should’ve been the only option here, slightly disappointing. However, if, like me, you hated the look of the Grip, and planned to buy a Pro Controller straight away – I’d suggest giving the Grip a try first, you might be surprised. (Note: I still plan to get a Pro Controller, it just won’t be part of my excessive launch day spending!)

The final “out of the box” controller set up is the Joy Cons themselves. These can be in several “configurations” depending on the game. Some games use more motion controls and you hold them like you did the Wii-motes.  Not really a whole lot to say there, they are comfortable and the motion controls are very responsive.


The other option is to use them “side on” so they’re more like a NES/SNES controller. Consisting of an analogue stick, four face buttons as well as L and R buttons. To make the controller feel more complete in this setup there are also some slot on “top panels” which include the wrist straps to stop you throwing the Joy Con through the TV. These also make the L and R buttons easier to access and press. This is the controller setup you’ll use most frequently when playing multiplayer games in “portable” mode, with the Switch up on its kickstand. Though this will be a bit of a case of “The younger brother gets the ‘rubbish’ controller” days of my younger brother being forced to use the tacky third-party GameCube controller… Because the Joy Cons are designed for the “handheld” setup, the right-hand Joy Con has its analogue stick more central and generally a bit out-of-the-way. It’s not unplayable, but it will almost definitely result in “my console I get the better Joy Con”, I’ll happily use it for games such as Bomberman, but not something like Street Fighter.

The final Nintendo offering is the Pro Controller, similar to the Wii U’s Pro Controller in design, it offers a far more “standard” controller option. It looks and feels very nice. The buttons are all very easily accessible. For those not familiar with the terminology, the Pro Controller is comparable to the DualShock and Standard Xbox controller. Don’t let the word “Pro” fool you into thinking this is more like the Xbox Elite controller or a high-end 3rd party controller such as a SCUF. It does seem to include all the Switch features though, which possibly explains its above average price point (£60), as it has the gyroscopic controls (as shown in the Splatoon 2 demo) and, I assume, the HD rumble.
The Pro Controller is certainly very nice, but it isn’t “mandatory”.

 

Overall I was very impressed with the Switch. But as much as it seems Nintendo learnt from the problems they had during their Wii U launch, the Switch launch doesn’t look to be perfect. Certainly, in the UK with the currently very weak Pound, the price points all seem a touch higher than I’d expect. But not hugely so. I’d have said £250-260 for the console would’ve been a bit more what I’d expect, and then I’d roughly drop £5 off most of the controllers etc as well.

Another niggle is that 1,2, Switch isn’t in the box. Nintendo have said that this was to keep the price under the $300 mark. But, in my opinion, the game was designed to come with the console, and just doesn’t seem worth buying on its own.

The launch titles are what leave me slightly concerned though. If you’re not a Zelda fan, I don’t imagine there is a whole lot to warrant buying the Switch at release. While there are rumours of an additional “big” Nintendo franchise launch title not yet announced, I’m not sure they quite got the launch games right. Take myself and Lefranzine, for example, we’ve pre-ordered the Switch along with Zelda. But Zelda is my thing, and while Lefranzine would enjoy this particular Zelda game, it’s not her main reason for having it. With 1, 2 Switch not really being worth buying. With ARMS potentially needing extra Joy Cons which I don’t think are worth buying day one. And the only other titles announced being smaller end games. There isn’t really anything for Lefranzine to get out of the Switch at launch, besides by unadulterated joy at playing Breath of the Wild endlessly.

The Wii U lacked a big launch title to sell the console, the Switch has a big launch title, but while as popular as the Zelda franchise is, I can’t help but think Super Mario Odyssey would’ve been a better launch title for the Switch. (Partially because I’d have loved a Zelda Special Edition console!) or failing that I hope that the rumoured unannounced game is New Super Mario Bros 3 – something you can just sit and play no matter what kind of games are your thing.

I think the Nintendo Switch has the potential to be great, but it really depends how well it is received and marketed. I’ll be picking mine up on Launch day, will you?

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