Months and months on end of speculation and leaks about Nintendo’s latest foray into the home console market finally came together this past week in the form of the officially official reveal of the Nintendo Switch. The general idea of the new, more mobile console was shown in a teaser for the Switch in October, but there were still a handful of blanks that I was hoping would get filled in tonight.
While waiting for the show to begin, I jotted down a few items that I wanted to be addressed. What games can I play if I pick up the Switch on day one? What comes in the box? Can the Switch charge outside of its dock? And finally, what is Nintendo hiding about this thing? A plain tablet with a controller is just not like Nintendo to release. I felt like all bets were off of what Nintendo could and would reveal about their new brainchild. As the event began, my mind was running wild with all of the possibilities.
Cutting to the end of the hour long presentation, questions had been answered and eyebrows were definitely raised. This roller coaster of a show made me feel like I was copilot in a stunt plane being steered by Nintendo. Even if it looked like the plane was plummeting to the ground, I felt like they were going to pull up at the last minute.
The beginning of the presentation was uniquely straightforward and informative. Almost right off the bat, the global March 3rd release date and MSRP of $299.99 USD were thrown out there. I was thinking that the release would be more at the end of March, so I’m sure that a short month and a half wait to release is very welcome for all the Nintendo fans out there. Also, the price is $50 more than I expected and sets it competitively with its other console competition. However, to be truly competitive it would need have some stellar 1st party games, courtesy of Nintendo, and also have the support from big 3rd party developers.
The next few minutes detailed that Nintendo would utilize a paid online subscription service, no more region locks on retail games, the battery life would range from 2 ½ to 6 ½ hours outside of the dock depending on the game, and thankfully the tablet portion can plug and play when on the go. The online subscription service was a shocking revelation, which only stands that multiplayer should be a more prominent and well supported feature this go around. Additionally, it sounds like they are doing a free trial version of the service to give users a chance to check it out before diving in.
The final moments of this intro gave a rundown of the controller and the various ways the Switch can be played. TV mode keeps the tablet in its dock while video plays through your TV and also gives extra processing power to the system. Tabletop mode features the kickstand on the back of the tablet while one or more players use a controller. The last mode, handheld mode, slips half a controller on either side of the tablet so you can pick up the device and play on the go. The controllers of the Switch, questionably dubbed the Joy-Con, seemed to be versatile and also come in either neon red or blue colors. And to cater to the classical gamer, Nintendo showed a little bit of the pro-controller, a hybrid between a Playstation and Xbox controller. The Joy-Cons also have a record button featured to take screenshots of gameplay and in a coming update, record video. Looks like Nintendo might be gearing for future after all!
But just when my hopes were the highest, Nintendo pushed down hard on the metaphorical yoke, putting this presentation and my hopes into a steep nosedive. This is the moment things got very, very Nintendo-y. The presentation cuts to a pre-recorded video where a man on screen holds a half of the Joy-Con in either hand, wrist straps on, and a CGI ping-pong paddle jutting out of his hand when he makes a swipe in the air with the controller.
Just like that we are back in 2006, flashbacks of the Wii unveiling pulse in my mind. This time however, the giddiness my 13-year old self felt has been replaced by wariness knowing how the gimmicky controls failed to stand the test of time. But they didn’t stop at motion controls either. Apparently there are some IR sensors that can detect distance and certain shapes in front of the controller, the example given was a bizarre rock, paper, scissors demonstration. The other addition to the controller was an advanced rumble system that can make your controller simulate the feeling of a piece of ice tumbling around in your hand, among other sensations I’m assuming.
All of these control innovations pieced together led to the introduction of 1-2-Switch, the Wii Sports of the Switch, a collection of mini-to-micro games that only use the gyroscope, vibration, and sensor in the controller. Even though the purpose of 1-2-Switch is to teach newcomers the functionality of the new Joy-Cons, it was nonetheless bewildering to me. The most bizarre part being how you don’t look at the TV or tablet as you play, the screen only plays the part of scoreboard. For example, a dueling game has you hold the controller as a cowboy’s revolver and the player that fires the fastest and truest, while facing the other player, wins. An amusing, if novel looking experience that might have less lasting power than Wii Sports, especially considering the game isn’t packed in with the console. You’ll have to purchase it on your own accord.
The next game to show off the new controller functionality actually seemed more like a game. The appropriately titled “ARMS” features robots with long springy arms punching each other from a distance. And if you missed the feeling of looking like an idiot flailing your arms while playing Wii Boxing, I think this game has you covered. To be fair, it looks like this game has a fair bit more nuance in the controls and mechanics than past motion control games, I just don’t know how games like these will fair outside of a VR setting. On a side note, I am crossing my fingers that the Switch will support VR in the future, even though it may seem like a long shot.
After this point of the presentation, it seemed like Nintendo had finished relaying all of the new stuff about the console and it was time to move on to non-motion controlled games. Nintendo had pulled out of their nauseating tailspin and I felt that I could finally relax, kick up my feet, and enjoy the rest of the ride. This portion of the show featured videos and teasers for Splatoon 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a few Square Enix games, Fire Emblem Warriors, several Dragon Quest games, Shin Megami Tensei, some unspecified Sega games, Skyrim, and the most exciting to me, Super Mario Odyssey. While most of those games are going to be Japan-exclusive, the brilliant part of the Switch being region free is that you could play those titles with a simple import.
Another noteworthy aspect of this game showcase was EA Sports announced FIFA 18 would appear on the Switch. For those of us that have had the luxury of owning a Playstation 4 or Xbox One, a FIFA release is a yearly tradition, but the last FIFA game to be on a Nintendo console was in 2012 with the release of FIFA 13. This could be a great sign that 3rd party developers are going to regularly start releasing Switch versions of their games. Lack of 3rd party support was one of the many reasons the Wii U wasn’t commercially successful. Only time will tell if this is a resurging trend or a one time pleasantry.
After descent coverage of games in the middle of the production the focus turned around to the imminent global release of the Switch. Nintendo showed off what came in the box:
- Switch Tablet
- Switch Dock
- Left and Right Joy-Con
- Joy-Con wrist straps
- Joy-Con Controller Grip (this puts the two Joy-Cons together into one controller)
- AC Adapter
- HDMI cable
They also announced the Switch traveling tour where you can go have a hands on go with the contraption if you live in the right city. Finally, ending with their big guns, Nintendo showed an all new trailer for Zelda: Breath of the Wild and announced it as a launch title for the Switch. In other words, the Nintendo stunt plane has successfully touched down.
A lot is riding on the Switch being successful for Nintendo. This could very well be one of their last chances at an independent home console. I hope and pray that Nintendo still has some secrets hidden up their sleeves and that 3rd party companies have a reason to develop for the system. As Bethesda Games Director Todd Howard, said during the Skyrim sizzle reel, the Switch is “classically Nintendo and something all new”. But what better way for Nintendo, or any of us for that matter, to start a brand new year than putting your best foot forward and giving it your all.
To catch the Switch presentation in its entirety, check out the video below. It’s SO worth the watch if only to listen to the Japanese to English interpreter struggle during some of the stranger parts.
If you were expecting more Will Smith references to his 2005 single “Switch”… Here’s that too.