Nintendo Switch UK Premiere: Thoughts and Impressions

I was lucky enough to attend the Nintendo Switch UK premiere at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, a chance to get hands-on with the new Nintendo console for the first time, marrying a home device with a portable one (as evidenced by the entry corridor displaying both arms of Nintendo’s console timeline on either side, merging into one with Switch). I’m just going to talk about my experiences on the day and with the machine, rather than get in depth about pricing, Nintendo’s strategy, whether it will be a success or failure. All I’ll say is that I rarely ever get a console at launch (except for the NES Mini!) as it usually takes a few months for them to bed in, and I have plenty of games to be getting on with. Much will depend on whether I can resist the charms of Splatoon 2 come its summer launch, hence why it was the first game I rushed to once the gates were open.

Welcome to the Splatzone

Welcome to the Splatzone

Fans of Splatoon will be entirely at home with Splatoon 2. I played with the Pro Controller and the in-built gyro worked perfectly in replicating the motion controls of the Gamepad. I used the new dual pistol weapons which were really nicely done, with the special jetpack really fun to play around with, getting some juicy airborne strikes. The only thing to adjust to is the need to bring up the map with X in order to check your progress and jump to your team-mates. It’s an extra step and might force you to be more tactical, interrupting the flow of gameplay whereas a quick glance was fine first time round, but it will become familiar with practice. It’s apparently set 2 years after the first game, according to the helper at the stand, which would indicate some story mode is retained, which is a comfort. And the ability to play local multiplayer with fellow Switch holders as well as online is good thing indeed. Of course, Splatoon was mainly about online play, so we’ll have to see if the sequel has the same take-up given Switch owners will have to pay for online access this time.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was up next, and what we got to try was the intro to the game. Seeing other players wandering off in multiple directions within the 20 minutes or so play-time showed that even in the opening area (representing 2% of the entire map), there was much to explore and get stuck into. I fannied about a bit too much to make much progress, and mixed up buttons a fair bit, but I enjoyed the style and presentation and it seemed like offering much in terms of story and set-pieces as well as general larking around. Having been using the Pro Controller, we switched to the handheld set-up, and I was impressed with how crisp and bright and clear the screen was, something that could not be said of the screen on the Wii U gamepad. The button placement in relation to the right hand control stick was an issue, making it hard to hop your thumb between commands without rubbing up against the “look” stick, so I imagine the dedicated home experience with a Pro Controller will still be the ideal way to play. It’s been a while since I played a mainline Zelda instalment (i.e. not a 3DS spin-off), with Majora’s Mask probably the last one I properly had a go at (and that I didn’t even finish), but I’m determined to give Breath of the Wild a try, though I’ll be doing so on Wii U (hey, if Gamecube copies of Twilight Princess were anything to go by, could be a sound investment).

Breath of the WITCH?

Breath of the WITCH?

I also had a brief turn on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, racing with eight-player local multiplayer on handhelds, which was much the same as online play, complete with lobby filled with Miis selecting which course to try (we ended up with Baby Park, natch!). At least got to play as Inkling Boy and Girl and their new themed vehicles. For the updated battle mode, we played on the Splatoon themed stage, which seemed like fun, but this time playing on the dinky screen and using the Joy Con (inserted into one of those plastic steering wheels) made it a little tricky to manouevre as well as to make out your opponents. But on the big screen or handheld, it’d probably work out fine. As I already own Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, I can’t imagine the extras will be enough to justify purchasing again, it will just depend on online support for the Wii U version and how long that lasts and if I need the portablity.

Super Bomberman R remains a mystery in terms of what the R stood for (Revival? Remix? Retro? Romberman?), R just being one of those cool suffixes added to video game titles to make them seem cool, like X or Z. But any generation feels like it’s missing something if it doesn’t have a Bomberman title, and given the franchise’s long history with Nintendo and surviving the demise of Hudson, it’s a pleasure seeing it make a comeback, and as a launch title of all things (not that there’s much competition currently shown). And in many ways, the Switch is perfect for it, a portable gaming machine that encourages local competitive play. The core gameplay remains much the same, combining elements of past iterations into a refined and still entertaining whole. With added story mode and up to 8 players (if you can find them), its combination of cuteness and destruction continues to shine. It was also my first game played with a single Joy-Con and on the screen, and a simple game liked Bomberman worked fine with the miniature controller (the size isn’t much of an issue, being around the width of a smartphone, but a more complex game like Ultra Street Fighter II – which I didn’t play – may be more of a challenge). The tiddly screen was a bit squinty, so it’d better suited for a few rounds on the go than extended tournaments, but it worked well.

The only other third party game I played was a quick session of Just Dance 2017, and as someone who doesn’t tend to play these kind of dance games, it was fun. The track I played involved some unexpected dance moves, including circling my dancing partner, and lots of cute graphics – I sadly didn’t get to play as the blob. It all seemed to work pretty well, proving that Nintendo still remain commited to motion controls and that the legacy of the Wii still casts a shadow. It may not be at the top of anyone’s Switch wish list – or Switchlist, if you will – but the Just Dance series feels most at home on a Nintendo console, and it’ll be as decent an iteration as there’ll be available.

In that vein, 1-2-Switch seems the most obvious play at trying to engage with the “never play games but bought a Wii” crowd. In fact, the first game we played involved striking a dance pose and having to mirror the other player. But one of us properly messed up and still won, so how forgiving it is was not clear. We tried our hand at most of the games available, with Safe Crack and Ball Count offering impressive displays of the HD Rumble, but only time will tell how this would actually apply to other games beyond neat little gimmicks (and Ball Count suffering from showing each player’s guesses to the number of balls in the imaginary box they are holding, off-setting your own decision somewhat). Once we got a hand of it, the much-anticipated cow-milking game probably offered the most amusement, but that’s probably as much down to the bizarre concept ripe with innuendo as actual gameplay. All the mini-games last seconds, which is the case as well with the WarioWare or NES Remix games, so there’s past form, though the generic stock-photo art-style means it lacks character, even if it’s a somewhat cynical way of not alienating non-Nintendo fanboys (in fact, we came up with a suggestion that they could’ve made the whole game Wild West themed and at least added a weird angle to the activities – as well as stealing Red Dead Redemption 2‘s thunder!). It’s hard to imagine it will live past the first few months of the console’s lifespan once more games are released (as of yet it is unclear just how many minigames are featured, but I’d hope for at least 50 or so), but if you are a kid trying to justify your parent’s buying you yet another gaming device, it’s your best bet to convince them.

If Splatoon was the unexpected highlight of the Wii U, an original IP that looked somewhat silly at first but ended up being my favourite game on the console, then Arms would seem to heading in that direction. Though there are similarities to the Wii’s rebooted Punch-Out, there’s a bit more going on here while never feeling too complicated, making it easier to avoid resorting to flailing hands (the motion control version of button mashing) and asking you to pay a bit more attention to your actions and those of your opponent. But the character designs and arenas are charming and imaginative, and there seems to be a lot of opportunity for bright, colourful world-building to surround the surprisingly deep gameplay. I had a really good time with it, and the bumper number of set-ups available meant I got to play quite a few rounds and try out the different fighters on offer, and I could feel myself getting better and uncovering new techniques the more I played. If there’s still a place for boxing-style motion control fighting games, then I hope Arms finds its audience. It deserves a shot.

But the most welcome surprise was Snipperclips: Cut It Out Together, a novel co-operative puzzle game which is probably not too dissimilar to many indie titles that play on a central device – changing colours, perspectives, sizes, etc. – but wins you over with its expressive art style. The goal is to move colourful shapes around the play area to solve puzzles as a team, but you can also snip out parts of each other in order to better fit in place. It’s a good laugh trying to nail the tasks at hand, snipping the wrong chunk off a shape or bouncing on your teammate’s head or balancing a teetering pencil on top of each other, but the cheeky faces the shapes pull and their dancing little feet made me chuckle a lot. If you’ve got someone to play with at home, this could end up being your favourite of the bunch.

Overall, it was a well-organised and enjoyable event. Even when attending the late Sunday session and after a long weekend, the staff were excellent, remaining informative, friendly and enthusiastic, despite no doubt having to explain the controls and sit through the same demos over and over again. That tickets were limited meant I pretty much got to play everything I wanted (the biggest queues were for Zelda – as you got a good chunk of gameplay – and for Snipperclips – as only two set-ups available), and the complimentary food and drink and freebies were nice touches. There are still many questions unanswered about Nintendo Switch, and with not long to go before its release, how much will only become evident once people start to take them home is unclear, but I was generally satisifed with my first hands-on with the new machine.