After the Nintendo Switch Presentation drew to a close in the early of hours of the morning, despite some niggling thoughts in the back of my mind I still felt satisfied.
Sure, the presentation itself had some weird issues which we won’t waste time with here, but we got many of the details we wanted on the hardware itself and a strong selection of games to look forward to. Yet there is still a sense of uncertainty which, as the day drew on and more details spilled, did not go away.
As a home console which can be turned into a portable tablet with a single motion, the core concept of the Switch remains as enticing as before. The thought of playing Zelda or Skyrim anywhere you want really is that appealing, especially since the included Joy-Con controllers have so many different configurations from the get go. I’m also glad to hear Nintendo stress the desire for 60 frames per second performance in both home and portable modes, though of course we wait to see whether this statement holds true. The latter configuration’s battery life of 2.5 to 6.5 hours is a bit on the low (and ambiguous – Nick) side as well, though at least Nintendo has finally included a USB connection for using portable chargers.
Speaking of which, the Joy-Con were given a lot of attention this time. They can be used together or as singular controllers in their own right, though in the latter state they appear a little on the small side. Besides their core function in making the ‘switch’ concept work, two features were pushed forward. One was an ‘HD Rumble’ feature which in all honesty won’t mean much until it’s in our hands. But even more time was given to the motion sensors which effectively turn each Joy-Con into a weird mixture of a Wii remote and a baby Kinect, Microsoft’s now-defunct depth-sensing motion controller.
Of the two games being used to showcase these controllers, the colourful stretchy-armed boxing game Arms represents the most enticing source of simple fun, with just enough depth to keep you hooked. Better still, perhaps learning from the mistakes of Star Fox Zero, Nintendo have included the option for traditional button inputs as well as the motion controls. Launch title 1-2-Switch, whilst very simplistic, also works great as a showcase not just of the Joy-Con but also how the Switch, in a time obsessed with online play, breathes new life into the local multiplayer fun which Nintendo has excelled at for so long. However, it hasn’t shown enough to really be more than a distraction and I am at a loss to explain why this £35(!) game is not being included with the system when Wii Sports was such a success with that strategy.
1-2-Switch promises ingenious ways to play with your friends.
Value for money has been one of the nagging worries about the Switch. The £280 price tag for the console itself, I argue, is reasonable given the power being packed into a portable device, though again 1-2-Switch really should be included. The accessories on the other hand are far too pricey, with the Pro Controller coming in at £65 compared to the £40 cost of a PS4 equivalent. Game prices have also increased, with big hitter Zelda: Breath of the Wild coming in at £60 as one of only five currently confirmed launch titles. I generally advise not to buy games and consoles at launch, and with Zelda also simultaneously coming to Wii U the Switch hasn’t moved me from that position as of yet.
Towards summer and autumn, the Switch looks to become a much better value proposition thanks to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms, Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey. Mario’s latest 3D platformer was the biggest surprise hit of the presentation, showcasing a beautiful rendition of Earth to explore with new platforming mechanics. Elsewhere the focus on games was largely on JRPGs with my standout pick being Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a true sequel to one of the best games in the genre. However, there remains a big question mark over 3rd party support, as whilst Bethesda and EA did make appearances with Skyrim and FIFA respectively, it is unclear whether they will provide the same level of support they do to other consoles. This is, of course, an area in which the Wii U suffered considerably.
But the biggest worry I have is not with the capabilities and value of the hardware itself. It’s with the Nintendo’s new online service which will be free until autumn before switching to a paid subscription platform, following the likes of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Firstly, I am largely against these kinds of setups to begin with. It’s not especially surprising that Nintendo followed these examples, but being able to play and interact online for free was a big selling point for the Wii U.
The fact is Nintendo has to offer a number of extra bonuses to justify this change but as of right now that simply doesn’t appear to be the case. For reference paying £40 a year for PlayStation Plus will get you online multiplayer, two free (and regularly high quality) games every month to own forever, as well as exclusive sales and 10GB cloud storage. As of right now all Nintendo’s service appears to offer is online play, a smartphone app and exclusive deals. Though a free game will be included, it is only an NES or SNES game (PS Plus has offered the likes of Dirt 3 and Dragon Age: Origins) and will only be playable for one month, basically making it a rental of a small file over 20 years old.
So, the Switch has pretty much answered our questions on the hardware front. But even with Zelda and Mario in line for 2017, there remains an uncomfortable element of uncertainty for the initial launch window. Hopefully we’ll get some clarity sooner rather than later.