First Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch

As part of the lead-up to the release of the Nintendo Switch console, Nintendo has been touring the country and stopping in major cities to promote the new console. On February 11, 2017, I had the chance to attend one of these promotional events in Washington, DC. While I’ve attended some Nintendo events over the years – both at conventions and outside of them – I was still blown away by what I saw at the Switch tour.

Before I discuss the system or any of the games I have to appreciate the amount of effort that went into making this event fun and fan-oriented. The show floor was small but it didn’t feel cramped at all. It was also super colorful and very over the top in many ways – they had a number of photo ops around the floor that fit in with what they were promoting, too. Nintendo went out of their way to present everything in a fun and quirky way and it was very much a party atmosphere. They also made sure that the attendees for this event were taken care of by handing out water bottles and various Switch-branded snacks throughout the three-hour session. That was something that made it feel like the company was going the extra mile for the fans, because it wasn’t anything I would have expected them to do.

Let’s talk about the Switch itself. This was the first time that I (and likely everyone else who was there) got their hands on the system. I was surprised by how small it was, honestly. The screen size is great when you’re operating it in handheld or tabletop mode – it’s a little more than 6.2 inches on the diagonal. The games look spectacular on the small screen and even bigger when the Switch is docked for television play. As the first hybrid console, I had concerns about the transition from the TV to the built-in screen, but it was instant – no waiting or load times required. The event made sure to present the games in all three situations – TV mode, tabletop mode, and handheld mode – so that attendees could get a feel for how each of them worked.

I also got my hands on the Joy-Con controller for the first time, and got to use it in all sorts of different ways. When the Joy-Con is in the grip, it definitely looks really stupid and overly square-ish. But I found it remarkably comfortable to hold in my hands. There are probably a lot of people out there who, just based on the silly way it looks, have written it off. But I think those guys will be surprised when they get around to actually trying one out. Separating the Joy-Con halves from the grip and using them one in each hand was also pretty comfortable, though the setup took a minute to get used to. The motion control in this mode is also incredible. I never really cared for the motion control gimmick on the Wii too terribly much but I could get on board with it for the Switch just based on how accurate it is. And then, taking on half of the Joy-Con and turning it sideways is the final way to use it. It looks really small but it doesn’t feel that small. It kind of feels like I’m playing something on a Game Boy based on how close the analog stick is to the buttons, but I didn’t find that uncomfortable. Maybe that’s just because I have small hands, though. Someone with much larger hands might have a rougher time with it – I can only speak for my experience.

I did get to try out the Pro controller, which is also super comfortable. It’s basically the same setup as an Xbox controller, which is my favorite controller anyway, so it works for me. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary about it. But I think that’s the point.

So let’s talk about the games! I started off on Arms, the goofy-looking boxing simulation unveiled at last month’s presentation. When I first saw Arms I really thought it was kind of silly, but once I actually played it I found it to be really fun. Arms is a cartoony fighting game featuring characters that have spring-loaded arms. Though you can play it on a standard controller, Nintendo had it set up with motion control – and it really showed off the accuracy of the motion detection. Short jabs would be short, full punches would go clear across the stage, hooking your arm around would curve the punch, and so on. It was really fun and I got to try out a couple of different characters. While the trailer had left me unconvinced, getting my hands on it showed me how fun the game really is.

I spent some time with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the Switch port of the Wii U game. The game plays virtually the same as it did on the Wii U, though it looks a little sleeker and the addition of the Battle Mode is great. I tried out some of the new characters and am happy to report that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is about as perfect as a Mario Kart title can possibly get.

Sonic Mania was also present, and it’s so, so good. I know I see the heyday of Sonic the Hedgehog through my 1990s nostalgia goggles, but I think most people would agree that it was the best era for the franchise, and Sonic Mania goes back to that. The game feels really good to play and it captures the speed and overall atmosphere of the Genesis era of Sonic perfectly. It won’t be out until late spring but I can’t wait for the full game.

Splatoon 2 was also present, with a new map and new weapons available in the demo. As a massive fan of the original Splatoon for Wii U I knew I’d be getting this game regardless, but it was nice to play it and see what was new. It’s essentially a more polished experience from the first title, but getting to play it with a Pro Controller made it feel as though that was the way it was meant to be played all along. It arrives in summer and I’ll be getting it as soon as I can.

Other games I got to play included Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers (a super fun throwback fighter), Super Bomberman R (classic Bomberman mayhem when it comes to multiplayer), and Disgaea 5 Complete (solid tactical RPG action). I had wanted to try out 1-2 Switch and Snipperclips but ended up running out of time at the session before I got the chance to do so.

The big game, though was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I spent 20 minutes with during a timed session. It was honestly incredible and I was so sad when the demo ended. It is difficult to put into words how smooth the game plays and how beautifully it is presented. While I only spent but a few quick minutes with it, I can already tell what kind of impact this game is going to have for not just Nintendo but the industry at large. This is a day-one release for the system on March 3, and I am so glad I already have a pre-order in on it.

Overall I thought the Nintendo Switch tour event was spectacular. It highlighted all of the different ways the console and the controllers can be used and showed off all of the different games that will be available for the system either at launch or shortly thereafter. The atmosphere was fun and friendly and it was genuinely just a really good time. Now I just need to keep counting down the days until March 3!