Nintendo Switch Hands On Preview

More and more people are starting to get some hands on with the Nintendo Switch. As part of Nintendo’s Switch in unexpected places campaign, I have also joined the party. This first event was invite only, it was more to ensure small group sizes, rather than a celebrities and media event. This allowed me to not only get some impressions for myself but see how die-hard Nintendo fans reacted to the Switch in real time. While certain aspects of the Switch turned heads, there are still some concerns.

As you can see from the header image, the Switch isn’t that big. In fact, I felt like it was slimmer and lighter than I expected, and that was the general sentiment of those around me. While larger than the 3DS, it feels sturdier, probably due to having a single screen. In some ways, it feels like a natural evolution of gaming tablets in ways the Wii U couldn’t exactly pull off. That being said, I’ll miss party games like Mario Party 10, which allowed one player to have a separate screen to work off of in secret while other players shared the main screen.

nintendo switch hands on

Game Demos

Our first demo was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Apparently the demo we had was slightly different from the E3 one I previously covered, but it was still just a demo. One interesting thing that came up, though, was that players were able to skip much of the tutorial, including the parts about picking up your clothes. This caused certain key items in the game world to not function, so it will be interesting to see if this carries over into the live game.

As I’d already played the game on the Wii U, I allowed others to get some hands on time with both the pro controller and the Switch as a portable device, while I simply held an inactive system to get a feel for the design. The control sticks aren’t as good as the GameCube’s, which is still my favorite controller period, but better than the 3DS ones. I could see myself spending a lot of time with it. Basic play as a portable console was fairly comfortable, despite the wide screen in the middle of the controller, much like the Wii U’s gamepad. Undocking the console to play on the small screen does result in a short loading screen delay, but after that, gameplay looked rather smooth, especially for a portable console. It’s kind of magical to simple dock and undock without losing data or much time.

I found out that everyone in my group of nine had already pre-ordered the system except for two of us. Those who had pre-ordered the pro controller and experienced it said they felt satisfied with it and said it reminded them of the Wii U pro controller. However, for those worried about the Joy Cons (the detachable controllers on the sides of the system), they felt fine. As many people have seen, they’re quite small, and the layout visually bugs me because they’re asymmetrical with not-quite centered layouts while many controllers have buttons laid out more on their edges. That being said, they actual feel was decent enough, at least for what we used them with: 1-2-Switch.

zelda nintendo switch hands on

You’ll notice from the product page that the number of games has increased from what was originally revealed. I had hands on time with the milking, ball, and safe cracking mini-games, but others played quick draw as well. Although Nintendo is pushing this game to be off-screen, It’s interesting to note that we were constantly looking at it and had to force ourselves to look at each other. Not only are directions on the screen but there were visuals that helped to indicate progress, like how much milk was gushing out of the udder we were squeezing. In addition, there was no physical feedback about who won each match (I always won, so I’d know), so playing without the screen just isn’t going to happen.

 

New Tech

While gameplay was rather simple, the HD rumble feature works as advertised. In a way, it’s like virtual reality for your hands, more so than the Oculus Touch in some ways. For example, one mini-game has you shifting the Joy Con around to figure out how many “balls” you sense inside. The controller rather accurately simulated the feel of having small, lightweight balls inside it (at one point simulating 7 of them), but as a game, it’s not amazing. You can do that with physical objects. It only felt like a step above the milking game, which felt like something that should have been possible on the Wii U, as there’s really no HD rumble being featured in that game. However, when you consider it’s an electronic simulation, the tech feels great.

And that is where the fans started to have issues. No one present batted an eyelash when I mentioned the lack of virtual console at Switch’s launch. There was little support for my sentiment about the loss of asynchronous play between two separate screens in multiplayer. However, everyone agreed that 1-2 Switch seemed more like a tech demo than an actual game. The tech is interesting, similar to VR, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s being properly used yet. If the controller was used to pick up swords and fight or crack locks with then we’d be on to something the Oculus Touch can’t do while enhancing the virtual experience.

While talking to a veteran Nintendo representative after the event, I mentioned the issue of VR lacking touch feedback. For example, it’s jarring to do a sword strike, see that my blade was blocked and my character is recovering but not feel it. It’s why Wii Boxing, while fun, didn’t feel quite “right” because the strikes almost never matched our actions. I then asked if 1-2 Switch’s samurai sword blocking mini-game gave any rumble feedback to see how Nintendo might be tackling this issue. I was told that, while he’d had experience with the title, he couldn’t recall how it was handled, which still leaves room for concern.

Nintendo Switch Mario Kart

System Doubts

As my own Oculus Rift and accessories are largely collecting dust, I worry if the Switch will have the staying power the Rift and Touch currently lack. Both use some amazing new tech, but the execution still feels small in scope. Maybe more hands on time will reveal something awe-inspiring. Maybe it would be more fun if I were playing with friends rather than random people in a strange wilderness living room. Maybe Nintendo has a big announcement about their online plan that will come closer to launch day.

I’m a long time Nintendo fan, even owning a Virtual Boy, but as I’ve gotten older and have less free time, Nintendo’s mobile move is feeling sturdier to me than their latest console approach. Zelda looks impressive, but it’s a title that will also launch on the Wii U with a slight graphics downgrade. It lacks any solid “Switchness,” while the aptly named “1-2 Switch” takes advantage of Nintendo’s latest tech, it felt half-baked in our demo.

If you love novel tech and the idea of a portable console more powerful than the 3DS and (seemingly) more flexible in terms of gaming than the Vita, the Switch is looking like a solid choice. However, for PC gamers, it’s feeling like a hard sell. We’ll see how things shape up as Nintendo continues to release more information and gives more Nintendo Switch hands on opportunities as we approach the console’s March 3 launch date.

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