Nintendo Switch hands-on review: Ready to rumble

Brodie Fogg 17 January 2017

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What's it actually like to use Nintendo's latest console?

After Nintendo's live Switch stream, members of the public and press were given the opportunity to get up close and personal with the upcoming console at Melbourne Convention Centre. The three-hour session aimed to show off the versatility of the new console's hardware while demonstrating a handful of Nintendo Switch titles, like 1-2 Switch, Arms, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2.

Each booth mixed up the Switch's configuration to give punters a glimpse at every use case. There were lounge rooms set up with the Switch docked and displayed on the big-screen, smaller dining table arrangements that utilised the Switch's tabletop setting, and other booths that showed off the Pro controller and detached Joy-Cons.

What we liked about the Nintendo Switch

  • Ready to rumble: One of the more unusual features from the reveal stream was the Joy-Con's touted HD Rumble. The Switch's haptic feedback system is capable or conveying much more subtle vibrations and therefore more realistic, tactile feedback that can emulate unique sensations, like ice rattling in a glass or squeezing bovine tit. The Switch event used a 1-2-Switch game to show off the marvel of HD Rumble. In this particular mini-game, two players tilt an on-screen wooden box by mimicking the action with a single Joy-Con. The goal for each player was to guess how many marbles are rolling around inside the box, purely by counting how many times you could feel the marbles collide with one end of the box. I had doubts about HD Rumble when it was shown in the stream, but the demo honestly blew me away. The vibrations were so delicate, it was as if I could actually feel the marble rolling over the woodgrain. While that demo was used to show how HD Rumble can be effective as a specific gameplay mechanic, it also felt great in general gameplay. The rattle of Splatoon 2's dual-wield paint guns was especially satisfying, as were some of Mario Kart 8's road textures. The word evolution is thrown around a lot in the tech world, but this truly feels like a huge step forward for haptic feedback and one that can genuinely influence unique gameplay ideas. We'll have to wait and see if Nintendo and third-party devs actually use it (it seems primed for a Breath of the Wild puzzle), but what we've seen so far is very impressive.

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  • Different configurations are a joy: One of my biggest concerns when the Switch and its Joy-Con controller were first announced, was the size of each separate Joy-Con. The launch trailer showed players detaching each side of the Joy-Con, making one controller two. The individual controllers looked too small, cramped and a little awkward to hold. While they are definitely tiny, I was surprised how quickly I adapted to the sideways arrangement. Granted, I tried it out with Mario Kart 8 which only requires you to accelerate, steer, powerslide and occasionally fire off a red shell. I'm not sure how it would fare with multiplayer games like FIFA, which have a much more complicated button layout. Obviously, you can always buy a second set of Joy-Cons, but they ain't cheap. Currently, EB Games lists them at $119.95 for two, or $69.95 for one (more on expensive accessories in a moment). If you're going to fork out the extra dosh for another controller, I would definitely recommend the Switch Pro which retails at $99.95. The Switch Pro is a more traditional controller with no removable parts, but it felt more premium than the Wii U's glossy gamepad.

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  • Handheld with horsepower: If you view the Switch as a console and not a handheld, it doesn't really compete with the PS4 or Xbox One in terms of power. But if you look it as a handheld, you've got the most powerful handheld console available to consumers. In reality, it is both but the fact you will be able to play console-quality titles (and Nintendo console titles to boot) on the train, in bed or on the toilet is something special that should not be forgotten. I played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Wii U demo at the EB Games Expo in Sydney and left that showing a little deflated by games sub-par visuals. The same demo I played on Switch at this event looked near-flawless and totally rekindled my enthusiasm for the new Zelda.

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What we didn't like about the Nintendo Switch

  • Joy-Cons could be a problem for parents: Joy-Cons are modular by design. This makes for a fun way to (ahem) switch it up but the sheer number of parts involved is going to be a real headache for parents and people with black holes between the cushions on their lounge.As mentioned above, Joy-Cons are tiny (small enough to fit in the palm of your hand) and not cheap, not cheap at all. The Joy-Cons also aren't sold with the grip that transforms them into a more traditional controller, so if you happen to lose an entire set you will be looking at a total of $159.90, which is frankly a little insane. It has also become apparent since the event that the Joy-Con grip you get packed in with the console isn't the "charger grip" you can buy separately, but simply a plastic shell. A facepalm moment if I've even seen one.

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  • Too many ports: Look, without Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2, the Switch's software lineup would be looking a little underwhelming. I've got absolutely no problem with rereleasing games on the Switch, especially considering the Wii U's dreadful fate, but these two games should not be taking front and centre. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 took up a fair portion of the show floor at the Switch event, whereas Super Mario Odyssey had a photo booth. A photo booth! I want Super Mario Odyssey to be the very best it can be, so I have no problem waiting for it, but having Super Mario Odyssey available would have taken some of the heat off the five-game launch lineup. Also, I realise it's still a while off release but Splatoon 2 feels more or less like a prettier Splatoon with some extra DLC packed in. It's almost as if Nintendo noticed the dire situation with its launch lineup and slapped a 2 on the end to make it seem like a new game. Then we have Skyrim (5 years old), Dragon Quest X (4 years old), Lego City Undercover (3 years old) and Rayman Legends (3 years old). There's also Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers which is the seventh version of a 1991 game and if Japan's pricing is anything to go by, it will retail for around $60 in Australia. To top off the poor software situation, there's also no pack-in game. Where the Wii and Wii U had games like Wii Sports and Nintendo Land included with the purchase of the console, the Nintendo Switch comes with nothing. There is a similar party-style game called 1-2-Switch, but that will set you back an additional $69.95. Nintendo's US President Reggie Fils-Aime offered a pretty rubbish excuse when Gamespot asked about this, stating the company didn't want to have to push the console over the US$299 mark.

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Who is it best suited for? What are my options?

With some good party games, like Arms, 1-2-Switch and Super Bomberman R on the horizon, I have no doubt families could accept the Switch into their homes with the same affection they granted the Wii. It's also worth noting that the Wii actually cost more than the Switch at launch when adjusted for inflation and it sold like hot-cakes (it is, in fact, the third best-selling console in history). Aside from that, the people who are going to get a real kick out of the Switch are the die-hard Nintendo fans. The crowd who will be calling in sick on launch day to binge Breath of the Wild and the same group will do it all again when Super Mario Odyssey releases in December. They will love this console with all their heart. I just hope Nintendo treats them right.

As the Nintendo Switch intentionally blurs the lines between handheld and console, it's a little difficult to recommend an alternative. There are powerful handheld PCs in the works, like the Smach Z, but they are still in crowdfunding.

Other than that, you could always keep your console and handheld separate. If you do go down that route, the obvious choices are an Xbox One S or PlayStation 4 for your console and a New Nintendo 3DS for your handheld.

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