Growing up, the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the big hook for me in terms of gaming, and a system that began a long history with the famed brand. From there, I had the Super Nintendo (SNES), Virtual Boy (first-day buyer, sadly), Game Boy Color, N64, GameCube and Wii. While we skipped the WiiU, The Rock Daughters™ have the 3DS XL and there’s an NES Classic here in my office. With the latter two in mind, something I’ve mentioned before (most recently, here) really applies – the trip I took with our oldest daughter last November to Nintendo’s North American Headquarters in Redmond, Washington, has created another pair of lifelong fans. Addie spreads the Nintendo gospel daily, and little sister follows-suit. While we were able to see a short preview of the Nintendo Switch when we were visiting Nintendo HQ, we didn’t get to go hands-on… something that changed recently as I headed into Chicago proper for a preview event ahead of the official launch. With the next chapter of Nintendo’s legacy about to begin, here’s some thoughts after experiencing the Nintendo Switch for myself. It should be noted that these are first impressions based on a few hours of play, as I have not received a review unit to thoroughly evaluate here at HQ
I jumped right in on Skylanders Imaginators, an easy way in since most attendees headed straight for games that haven’t already been released from other consoles. This was a great opportunity to become familiar with the dynamics of the Switch, both docked for tv use, and undocked for mobile play. There’s two “Joy-Con” controllers that are joined together by their own dock for an experience comparable (albeit a bit “narrower” feeling to standard controllers. For a more “classic” experience, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller (sold separately) is perfect, and one I enjoyed playing some ULTRA Street Fighter II and the futuristic racer, Fast RMX (which I loved) on. As you’ve no doubt seen in the commercials, swapping the Joy-Cons onto the mobile screen begins the portable experience, and it’s pretty impressive.
Here, the Switch feels pretty wide, but it’s easy to get used to. The 720p screen looks good, and the transition is smooth. At one point I played a bit of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on an airplane “set,” using the Switch screen on an included kickstand, both Joy-Cons removed and in my hands. Unusual and probably not the way I would personally opt to play, but still fun.
What I did really enjoy were some of the active games like 1-2 Switch and ARMS, which used the Joy-Cons with wrist-straps (like the Wii) for some genuine, physical game play. ARMS is like a cartoon mech-suit version of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!, and I had to keep reminding myself to stand back and not punch the screen and full force. Holding the Joy-Cons in each hand feels natural, so much that the experience is hard to articulate in words – it’s something you have to try for yourself. And, while it’s not something that I tried personally, it was pretty fun watching people bust a move on Just Dance 2017.
While the gameplay might be futuristic, there’s also some serious nostalgia factor happening here, with plenty of cross-generational titles popping up like Super Bomberman R and Sonic Mania in the mix, but nothing is more Nintendo-centric than the lastest from the Mario and Zelda franchises. Super Mario Odyssey is one of my most-anticipated games of 2017, but not yet available to play. I did get some time with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it was gorgeous. This is the launch title that everyone will need to get, and in my short 20 minutes of gameplay, it felt like playing an animated film.
First impressions aside, the big question now is what the availability will look like at launch? Officially on-sale March 3, 2017, retailers blew through their pre-order allotments long ago, and others are expecting some long lines. With last fall’s NES Classic just starting to catch-up to demand some four months later, hopefully we’ll see some better stock levels at stores for the Nintendo Switch this spring.