Nintendo Switch UK hands-on
Author: Joe Perrin | Posted: 26 January 2017, 09:16

I was one of those lucky enough to win entry to the UK hands-on premiere for the Nintendo Switch. Turning up there, I quickly discovered this was a less exclusive affair than the competition aspect implied, as it drew a large crowd. After waiting some time for the event to open (check-in took longer than anticipated), and walking through a small exhibit of Nintendo’s previous consoles, I got into a room where multiple games were available to try, and you would queue up to have a go – a similar arrangement to what you’d expect at EGX (or as I call it, The EGX Queuing Experience).

With varying lengths of time waiting in queues, I was able to play most of the first-party games available, which I will cover below. I was not able to play any of the third-party titles on offer, nor was I able to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2.

I first got my hands on the Joy-Cons when playing Arms, where you hold each one facing upwards. At first, I held them with my thumb on each analogue stick, which was actually a bit awkward, due to the asymmetry of their positions. I imagine this would not be an issue if they were joined together in the Joy-Con grip, and you don’t use the analog sticks to play Arms, but if you were to play a game like Skyrim with the Joy-Cons separate – like in the reveal trailer – you will likely face something of a learning curve. The face buttons are quite small too (similar size to that on the 3DS) and the trigger buttons are a little awkward – the ZL/ZR buttons (unfortunately digital) are OK, but the L/R buttons required adjusting my fingers to press them properly. It’s nothing you couldn’t get used to, but they’re not immediately comfortable (unless you’re playing with one Joy-Con sideways, like with SnipperClippers).

Some Switch units on display.

The motion controls on the Joy-Cons are much improved over the Wii remote – when playing Arms, it soon became apparent that simple waggle wasn’t going to suffice here – you do actually need to make sure you’re moving them in the right direction. The HD rumble was definitely a step-up over existing rumble too – I’ll cover this more when discussing 1, 2, Switch.

Arms was the first game I played. The demo had you in a best-of-3 match in a stadium against another player. You tilt the Joy-Cons to either side to move your character, and you use the Joy-Cons to throw punches, grab your opponent, or block their punches (the direction you move the Joy-Cons matters here – punch arcs can be curved). Attacks work in a rock-paper-scissors style system – blocks stop punches, punches stop grabs and grabs stop blocks. Players have health and combo bars, similar to games like Street Fighter. When the combo bar is full, you press R to unleash, for one character at least, a flurry of punches (which you have to do yourself).

You could play through a tutorial before getting into a match.

Obviously the game cannot escape comparisons to Wii Sports Boxing, although it certainly looks to have more depth to it than that game, How much you’ll like this will depend on whether you liked playing that game – if you did, or at the very least would have liked to have seen it more fleshed out, Arms may be worth your time.

Apparently, this can also be played without motion controls, but that was not demonstrated at the event, so I cannot comment.

1, 2, Switch
1, 2, Switch had multiple stalls, one for each minigame in its collection. I was able to play three of them – unfortunately excluding the internet’s favourite, where you milk a cow.

Each game I played was two-player, with each player holding one Joy-Con.

First was the duel minigame the reveal trailer started with. You stare into your opponent’s eyes, wait for the signal to fire, then quickly raise the Joy-Con to shoot them. You then look at the Switch screen to see who won. The game measures reaction time and the angle of your shot, so if you weren’t aiming at your opponent, it says you “shot the dirt”. The minigame lasts for one round, but we played best-of-3. It was interesting to play a game without you even looking at the console itself. Out of the three I played, this was the most fun, although perhaps with the least longevity.

Westworld, The Game Also Westworld, The Game Westworld, The Game

Second was a samurai-style game – one player would attempt to strike you with a sword by swinging the Joy-Con down, and you’d attempt to catch it by clapping your hands. If you catch it, it’s then your turn to attempt to strike your opponent. This goes on until someone gets hit (not literally of course, although maybe that would stop the game too). This is another game where you’re looking at your opponent rather than the console, and you need to pay attention to their actions to block their strike. You especially need to make sure they’re not going to, say, move one of their hands down first before swinging with the Joy-Con afterwards, which I learned the hard way. I can see this causing many arguments around the phrase “That’s not fair!” unless you set some ground rules with the other players in your group.

Finally, there was a game where you rotate the Joy-Con to crack open a safe, stopping three times at a point where the rumble changed before your opponent does. This one demonstrates the HD rumble capability – there is a much more distinctive ‘ping’ feeling when you hit the point you’re after. Remember that your hand can’t rotate 360 degrees, or else you’ll do badly at this like I did.

My lasting impression of this game is probably what you’d expect – I can see it being great fun with a group of friends, but not really worth £50.

Nintendo has made less of a fuss about SnipperClippers than the other games in the Switch line-up, but it still drew a large crowd. This game puts you and another player as two shapes with legs, and you chop off parts of each other to solve puzzles – for example, in one level you need to join up to form a certain shape, while another level would have you chop a part of the other player off so they can carry a basketball to a hoop. This game has you holding a single Joy-Con sideways, and using it like a conventional controller. I found the size of the face buttons to be less of an issue here than with other games.

I don’t have a lot to say about it, to be honest. It’s a charming game, and working with a friend to solve the levels should be good fun. It’s also going to launch at a considerably cheaper price than the other games too, so as long as that doesn’t mean it has considerably less content, I’d recommend it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The final game I played, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, was the one I wanted to play the most, and naturally (and expectedly) was the game with the largest queue. In fact, there were two separate queues, and they closed off access to them for a while to stop them getting too big, but it was still a long wait.

After about two hours of standing in the queue, I was able to get a turn, luckily with one of the consoles accompanied by a Pro controller. The buttons on this are (or at least felt like) three times the size of the buttons on the Joy-Cons. At the time I thought they may even be bigger than the buttons on the Dual Shock 4, but I’d need to compare them side-by-side to be sure. It was certainly enough, however, to convince me to grit my teeth and pay up for a Pro Controller.

The demo for this game took place in what I was told matches the beginning of the game, with Link waking up from a slumber, picking up a slab called the Shiekah Stone, briefly talking with an old man who is totally not the King of Hyrule (although according to the staff member by the demo, other players have theorised him to be either Ganondorf or an older Link, which I think is nonsense) and starting out on his quest. You had 20 minutes to either move to the objective, find and fight an optional boss, or just explore. I chose to move to the objective (and skipped all the cutscenes, as I had seen them already several times while in the queue).

When starting the game, the staff member by the demo asked me “You ever played a Zelda game before? This is nothing like them”. This became apparent straight away. The controls are different, with a dedicated jump button, and Y now in charge of the attacks. When the demo opens up, I noticed the game now has a mini-map in the corner, which brought GTA and Assassin’s Creed to mind. The stamina gauge from Skyward Sword makes a return, and I was warned that if this runs out while swimming, Link will drown. I was also warned that if Link falls from too high up, he’ll die, so fall damage has also been revised. There’s also the lack of hearts, with you having to scavenge food instead – certain items, like apples and meat, could be cooked to restore more health than if eaten raw.

Weapons work differently – Link is not given a sword to hold onto until he gets the Master Sword this time. Instead, he has to scavenge the weapons he can find, and these break when used enough times. There’s a nearby axe at the beginning, but other weapons can be taken from enemies and found in chests (shields work like this too). Clothing works in a similar way – Link starts out in his underwear, but he quickly finds a couple chests offering a shirt and trousers. These offer levels of armour, and it didn’t take long to find some better clothes. Only through playing the full game will we know if Link ends up with his traditional green-gnome tunic and unbreakable Master Sword, but it was about time for Link to be wearing something else.

There’s also the Shiekah Slate – as with items like the Ocarina of Time and the Wind Waker, this is the central item around which the narrative revolves. In the demo, this would be inserted into podiums to advance the plot, or to collect a magnet ability to control certain objects, working similarly to how the wizard in Trine can control objects. One criticism I have is that the Shiekah Slate was obviously meant to represent the Wii U gamepad, driving the point home that the game was originally meant to use the gamepad to its full potential (this was confirmed in Eurogamer’s interview with Eiji Aonuma). To me, the Shiekah Stone looks to be a victim of the game’s long development process and the decision to port it to the Switch, and while I imagine I’ll be one of the only people to think this way, but I can’t help but look at it as a lost opportunity, and wonder what might have been.

The last thing to mention is the graphics. It looks similar to Skyward Sword, but there are certain areas where the extra detail sticks out – for example when talking to Definitely-Not-Hyrule-King. The game runs at 30FPS, as with the other recent Zelda games, and at no point did I notice the frame rate drop.

My lasting impression of this is that it was able to keep a Zelda feel about it, despite changing almost all the rules. If you’re planning on getting a Switch at launch, this is definitely one to get. If you have a Wii U and are not sure whether to get the game for that or for the Switch, it depends on how much you care about performance – the Wii U version is stated to run at a lower definition and struggle with the frame-rate, but of course you won’t have to buy another console for it. Either way, this is definitely one to get, and if you do upgrade to the Switch for it, I doubt you’ll have any regrets.

Switch Pricing
Obviously, the pricing model Nintendo is going for with the Switch was not on display at the event, so I’ve mostly left it out of the previews above, but as it forms the main drawback of the console, I wanted to add it to this article.

Personally, I think the price of the Switch itself isn’t too bad, for the tech being used, but the peripherals are more expensive than I’d like, and it would have been nice to have some bundles available – at least a bundle with a Pro Controller included. The console was never going to be cheaper than a PS4, as that has been out for four years, but Nintendo should have tried to be somewhat more competitive against it. (At this stage, the only lead the Switch really has against the PS4 is that you probably already own a PS4)

If you preferred to not play any games and spend the entire session watching the Super Mario Odyssey trailer over and over again, Nintendo had you covered!

While the games are expensive, I think they’re simply going through the process most console games go through – starting out at the RRP, but eventually settling down to more reasonable price points. (£45 3DS games, anyone? Remember that?)

1, 2, Switch is already going through this process, as Amazon is now selling it for a much more palatable price of £34.99, rendering it easier to recommend.

If you haven’t pre-ordered the Switch yet, the sensible route may be to wait for the prices to drop before investing (not least because the initial Switch stock is already sold out). The console will probably stay at its price point for some time, possibly for the duration of the console’s lifespan (unless Nintendo does a 3DS-style price cut, which I don’t remember them doing for the Wii U) but the games & peripherals may get cheaper.

If you have pre-ordered the Switch, it’s up to you how you much you want to endure the launch period. (I’m still planning to keep my pre-order – paying big money for a slightly technically-superior version of a game is how I got my current graphics card.)

If they ever release Ice-Cubes-in-a-Glass Simulator, you should drop everything and buy it immediately.

Read everything you need to know about the Nintendo Switch here.


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