Nintendo’s New Console Will Switch The Way We Play [Preview]
I’ve always held the belief that the gaming industry is at its peak in the lead up to a new console release. Whenever a new set of hardware is being teased the masses go into a fever pitch, dreaming about what new feats of visual mastery or gameplay wizardry with the new piece of tech on its way. The build to the Nintendo Switch is no different, especially now that the curtain has been lifted on the new console and its new approaches to gaming. Will this be the next great Nintendo initiative? I’m not sure yet, but after four hours of hands-on time I think I’m ready to make the switch (and I promise that’s the only Switch pun I’ll make).
If I had to simplify the Switch experience, I’d focus on three key features: the home/portable console hybrid functionality, the JoyCon controller and its many forms, and the HD Rumble in each JoyCon --- which is much more a big deal than it may seem. The most impactful of those in my eyes is the home/portable hybridization, particularly in how unbelievably simple the transition can be. Moving from the TV to the smaller screen is literally as easy as picking the screen up. There are no other steps that need to be taken, no buttons to press or anything like that; just remove the screen from its dock and away you go. Of course you still need to attach the JoyCon controllers to either side of the screen or else you'd have no way to play the game you're bringing with you, but that’s also as simple as lining up the controllers on the track and snapping them on.
Moving from TV to portable is so simple a child can do it with ease. In fact, as I was trying out the transition for myself at the Switch event last week, all I could think about was the millions of children out in the world who will never have the “just one more level” or “I have to find a save point” argument with their parents before leaving the house. As long as everything’s charged up (and the parent allows the Switch to travel of course) all the kid has to do is detach and be on her way. The amount of stress this alone could alleviate should win Nintendo some kind of mental health awareness award, as Switch kids will never have to dread the words “time to go!”
More traditional players like myself will likely be keen to leave the two JoyCon pieces on the JoyCon Grip, creating the “normal” controller that kind of looks like a dog. When leaving the house the two pieces connect to the screen as mentioned above, creating a play style almost identical to the Wii U GamePad. If I’m with friends and there’s a multiplayer game available, a quick flip of the kickstand turns the Switch into a tabletop gateway to fun, with each individual JoyCon acting as its own controller if need be.
There are obvious pros and cons with the JoyCon. First, its adaptability makes it perfect for any type of gaming style, so anyone can pick them up in any form and play without much of an issue. The only problems I foresee are during multiplayer games with one JoyCon splitting into two controllers, as the two side are not perfectly identical to one another. The Right JoyCon’s stick is in a different and admittedly odd place, making adjusting to it a bit more of a chore than the other play formats. This could create a problem when assigning controllers to younger players, as one kid might not want to play with the weird controller, but that’s really the only issue I foresee with the JoyCons at this time. I’m amazed at how comfortable they feel during single-player, even in tabletop mode, as I zoom through Battle Mode in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Ergonomics were clearly a focus in making these controllers the best they can be, and I’m hard pressed to find any major issues with them.
The final piece of this puzzle is the HD Rumble, which sounds like a feature that shouldn’t warrant its own analysis. “It’s just rumble, big deal” I even said myself when the Switch presentation focused on it, however in practice I don’t really know how to explain its eerie realism. HD Rumble uses multiple sensors throughout each JoyCon to precisely simulate certain feelings, to the point where I was forgetting I had a controller in my hand. The manner in which this rumble was able to mimic the real world is downright scary, leaving me at a loss for words multiple times.
Take one of the demos in 1,2 Switch, called “Ball Count.” During the demo, I had to hold a JoyCon like it was a small box, and the game chose a random number of marbles to be packed inside. I had to shake the box as if the marbles were inside, listen to and feel the audio and haptic clues, then make a guess. That rumble was so precise I correctly guessed the number of marbles both times --- the first time five and the second time three --- because I could feel those balls rolling around in the box. I could hear them clinking together, and I could even imagine how they were lined up in the box before the game gave me the visual after a correct guess. I don’t know how other games are going to implement this, but it could become a major selling point for the system despite being “just rumble."
The Nintendo Switch could be the House of Mario’s glorious return to the top of the video game industry. The Nintendo Switch could also become Nintendo’s next big gimmick and once again underwhelm at retail. After getting an extensive look at everything the console has to offer, I’m leaning more toward the former than the latter. I left my preview thinking about how what I had just played was in some ways unlike anything I’d ever experienced before --- which has suddenly become Nintendo’s forte --- and if those experiences are punctuated in the weeks leading to launch, Nintendo could be sitting pretty once again. Will the gaming world be willing to make the Switch? Only time will tell. (Okay I lied, one more pun.)
The Nintendo Switch launches worldwide on March 3.