Nintendo Switch hands-on review: Brilliant device, lacklustre launch line-up

Our reviewer plays Zelda, ARMS, 1-2-Switch and Mario Kart

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The Independent Tech

When the Nintendo Switch was announced late last year, fans were understandably very, very excited. Who could resist Zelda, Mario, and Skyrim on the move? The morning commute could - if Nintendo delivers - be something of a blessing, offering an hour of quality gaming that doesn’t drain your mobile data (*cough* Hearthstone *cough*). 

But that’s the big question: can Nintendo deliver? That initial three-minute teaser, released in October 2016, promised so much. A handheld/console hybrid that offers blockbuster games anywhere with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer and quality graphics. 

Nintendo, though, is remaining coy with regard the device's specifications. How powerful is the device really? Will the console’s graphics be worse-off because of the handheld capabilities? Does the dock boost its power? Are third-party developers actually going to make games for a Nintendo device again? 

Finally, late last week, the company invited the press and various YouTubers to their huge hands-on event at the Eventim Apollo. Over a dozen games were on display - the biggest being The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 1-2-Switch, and ARMS - while two big games were notably missing: Super Mario Odyssey and the highly anticipated Skyrim port (it should be noted that, despite Skyrim initially hitting PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 back in 2011, huge numbers of people are excited at the prospect of being able to play the legendary dungeon explorer while on the move/toilet).

First impressions are important, and the first thing almost everyone noticed when finally seeing the real-life Switch was just how small the device is, the screen barely being bigger than a 3DS XL’s. That’s both a good thing and bad. Playing on the Tube would presumably be easier. But, split screen, it’s tiny. That aforementioned introduction video featured people playing against each other on partitions practically the size of an iPhone screen - not exactly an ideal multiplayer situation.

However, when playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at a round table surrounded twelve consoles, the multiplayer aspect was phenomenal. Everyone was linked up, Switch in hand, ready to race. Almost immediately I was transported back 10 years to when everyone who’s anyone owned a DS with Mario Kart and would huddle around racing each other. Not much has changed except the graphics have improved tenfold. The multiplayer experience was exactly what sold the DS by the bucketload: obviously, Nintendo is trying to emulate this while progressing their devices further.

Playing Mario Kart 8 was the only chance I had playing on the Switch’s screen, which looked remarkably sharp. With both Joy-Con controllers plugged in the sides, racing was an absolute joy, the Switch feeling remarkably robust in hand. Unfortunately, this encounter was relatively brief, but - first impressions - it physically felt like a quality device that wants to be played on the move and not just sit in a dock.

Moving onto the phenomenal Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We’ve been waiting years for this, the game having originally been announced for Wii U but Nintendo delaying the release especially for the Switch. Like last year’s The Last Guardian - also delayed across devices - Breath of Wind’s art direction has become more cartoony, and for the better. Graphically, the game looks fantastic, and despite the demo only offering 15 minutes of gameplay, you get a sense Breath of Wind could be very special indeed. 

Nintendo unveils new 'switch' console

Beforehand, I was worried the game may have been made to be more portable-friendly thanks to the console’s nature. These concerns were dismissed immediately: as most of you probably expected, the game plays like a proper console game. The controller - made up of both Joy-Cons - took a little getting used too as rather small and fiddly, but - quickly - I got used to it. 

Moving onto ARMS, the extendable arms boxing game. Surprisingly, ARMS proved one of the most impressive games on display, defeating all expectations because it was just really, really fun. Instead of holding the controllers normally, me and my opponent turned them on sideways, using the extra bumper buttons to use special abilities. Facing the screen, we punched the controllers forward furiously, trying to beat each other. 

Unlike the boxing game on Wii Sports, though, ARMS may be easy to pick-up-and-play, but already there’s a sense that, with time, you would learn certain combos and skills. In short, this could very well be the next Smash Bros-esque game, particularly when you consider how the game can also be played with a normal controller set-up.

Finally, in the centre of the Apollo venue, a ring of booths, each filled with a different 1-2-Switch mini-game. One saw me and a friend copy each others’ dance poses, the game urging us to look into each others’ eyes rather than the TV screen. Another saw us milk a cow, me and my opponent staring at each other while Nintendo’s assigned helper made innuendo after innuendo. Other mini game utilised the rumble feature in the controllers by asking us to feel how many balls were ‘inside’ or crack open a safe. 

Really, 1-2-Switch is to the Nintendo Switch what Wii Play was to the Wii: fun for 20 minutes with a couple of friends around but eventually, you’ll forget the game existed. Unlike Wii Play, though, that basically came free with a second Wii controller, there’s a hefty £39.99 price tag on 1-2-Switch with no extra controller or peripheral.

Considering the game is one of only five launch games confirmed - the others being Zelda: Breath of Wind, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders Imaginators, and Super Bomberman R - the 1-2-Switch's relatively little replay-value is a massive problem. When the Switch does arrive this March, there’s going to be a serious lack of content, with only Zelda being a must-have game (and that’s also being launched on Wii U).

With such a fantastic device, it’s such a shame to think the Nintendo Switch may burn out quickly because there’s so little kindling to burn. The console prides itself on connecting with others, but for the Switch to do that, other people must own the device, and how well the console sells in the long-run will completely rely on the games. From this taster day, it feels like Nintendo should perhaps hold off on releasing the Switch until pre-Christmas - when the likes of Mario, Skyrim, Splatoon and ARMS will be ready for release - to capitalise on all the great software. Fingers crossed Nintendo unveil some surprise launch games in the coming month.

The Nintendo Switch can be pre-ordered from Zavvi here

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