It takes a lot to get me up at 4am UK time, but that’s exactly what Nintendo did when they captured the imaginations of many gamers around the globe with their Nintendo Switch in-depth reveal last Friday. With specific details of the hardware, release date, and a whole host of game reveals for the upcoming twelve months, Nintendo demonstrated a device that has the potential to be truly game-changing, but still leaves us with a lot of questions. Is the Nintendo Switch worth its $300 price tag, and how does it compare to similar touch-screen devices such as the iPhone and iPad and their unparalleled library of games? Last Sunday, I attended the Nintendo Switch Premiere Event in London’s Hammersmith Apollo, and my hands-on experience of the revolutionary new console alleviated many of my initial fears, even if some lingering doubts regarding the extent of developer support for the device remained.
My first impression of the Nintendo Switch was during the demo for the phenomenal The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and holding the device for the first time in its ‘handheld’ orientation was genuinely shocking. Having had extensive experience of previous Nintendo products, especially the wieldy, plastic construction of the Wii U Gamepad, this was an entirely different proposition. The 720p screen was incredibly sharp and colorful, the JoyCon attachments were comfortable to grip (even if the weight of the device may make extensive gaming sessions slightly more difficult), and the general build of the device was closer to that of the Microsoft Surface than its hollow plastic predecessor. Its size was also a relative shock, and the Switch’s promotional images make it seem far bigger than it actually is in reality. With a 6.2 inch screen size, it’s closest to that of the dimensions of the 5.5 inch iPhone 7 Plus. In comparison, an iPad Mini is 7.9 inches diagonally, and a fully sized iPad over 50% bigger at a whopping 9.7 inches. The later confirmation of the Switch having a capacitive touch screen confirms what many have hypothesised but Nintendo would perhaps not want to explicitly admit – the Nintendo Switch is, on the games side of the spectrum, competing directly with the iPhone, iPad, and the vast array of Android tablets and phablets on the market.
I was lucky enough to try the Switch in a variety of orientations – through the Tabletop mode, using the JoyCons separately and in their grip formation, as well as attached to the screen. Similarly to my initial reaction of the screen itself, all configurations were impressive, and underline Nintendo’s emphasis on creating a quality device that justifies its price tag. Even when the Switch was in tabletop mode and I was using a single JoyCon like a NES controller, I was still fully in control of the action taking place on the tablet screen; even if it is a little cramped, for multiplayer on-the-go it is an ingenious utilisation of the device’s characteristics. In essence, the JoyCons are the perfect MFi controllers that Apple and other third party accessory creators have so far failed to create – they are portable, versatile, and allow as much control on the handheld configuration as they do when they are in the more traditional grip controller formation. While Breath of the Wild on the big screen with the Switch Pro Controller was an ultimately better experience, transitioning to the handheld device was seamless, and at no point did the JoyCon setup affect my ability to control Link, even in the more heated moments of battle. This is entirely down to the strength of the JoyCons – I couldn’t help imagine what the App Store would be like if the iPhone or iPad was bundled with such controllers.
Otherwise, owing to the fact that none of the games that were playable at the event made use of the Switch touch screen, it was difficult to draw many parallels to titles on the App Store, despite the relative similarity between Nintendo and Apple’s devices. 1-2 Switch was an interesting demonstration of the JoyCon’s HD Rumble and gyroscopic capabilities, but didn’t feel much more than a tech demo, let alone a fifty dollar retail title. Splatoon 2 was incredibly fun, but more of the same for anyone who was familiar with the Wii U’s take on the first person shooter genre, and ARMS was a novel take on the Wii Sports Boxing concept but fleshed out into a slightly more technical fighter, which was very entertaining in person. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was one of the biggest surprises of the day – while merely an expansion pack to the Wii U racer, the multiplayer element was truly stunning. With numerous Switch handheld devices dotted around a table, eight people could take part in a race at one time, and it was truly seamless with no slowdown, lag, or anything else you’d expect from eight devices all connecting to each other at once. Whether it’s the JoyCon-centric titles like 1-2 Switch, or the aforementioned Mario Kart group racing, it’s evident that Nintendo have placed a heavy emphasis on multiplayer gaming with the Switch, even if finding eight people in a room all with Nintendo’s new device may be somewhat of a tall order.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about it thus far, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was, as the name suggests, truly breathtaking. Venturing out of the cave and seeing the expansive and fully explorable world was beyond words, and somehow a lot more powerful than similar perspectives from the trailer convey. I’ve played an endless amount of open world games over the years, but the small portion of Breath of the Wild I was able to play was fresh and fascinating, and I simply cannot wait to dive into the full version with no boundaries on how long I can explore, and where I can venture. This is a sixty dollar game, and beyond anything in ambition and scope that I have seen on the App Store this far. It’s not a particularly fair comparison, but going into this preview event trying to draw parallels with Apple’s ecosystem – which was reinforced when I saw how similar the devices really are – I kept on wondering when, if ever, we will see a similar type of game on the App Store. Don’t get me wrong, we have been a lot of ambitious titles on the iPhone, from Aralon: Forge and Flame ($4.99) to Crashlands ($6.99), but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Apple truly embraced the gaming potential of the iPhone and iPad, created an attachable controller and a docking system equivalent to that of the Switch’s, and truly opened up the platform to sixty dollar games. At the end of the day, these devices aren’t that dissimilar to make such grandiose comparisons.
However, Breath of the Wild, and some of the other upcoming titles such as Super Mario Odyssey, are more the exception than the rule when it comes to the Switch’s future games library. The majority of third party titles shown, such as Super Bomberman R, Fast RMX, and Sonic Mania were far more reminiscent of the sort of games you’d encounter on the App Store, with the latter hopefully making an appearance on iOS later this year. Sonic Mania was actually a lot of fun, and brought back fond memories of the original 2D games – hopefully it can be the true Sonic 4 that fans have been crying out for, and is definitely one to look out for if it does hit the App Store after the console launch. With that being said – Zelda and co aside – why shell out $300 for a Switch when you can just play AG Drive or Sonic CD on an iPad or iPhone? That is perhaps the biggest concern with the Switch – with a relatively sparse library of games on the horizon, and the App Store getting dozens of quality titles every week, how can a tablet-like device survive with only a few AAA console titles propping it up?
Nintendo didn’t demonstrate any games taking advantage of the touch screen – they were heavily pushing the JoyCon controllers, and understandably so – but you can imagine fully touchscreen titles from indie developers being ported to the Switch from the App Store, and vice versa. This synergy between the platforms will likely be a big positive for both the App Store and the Switch, giving the former more quality games, and boosting the game library of the latter, but again raises the question of the value of a $300 gaming-focused device when your $400 tablet does all that and more – let alone one that doesn’t charge you for online play. Ultimately, it’s the JoyCon attachments, the build quality of the device, and the versatility of the docking system and seamless TV to handheld play. As a gaming device, the precision of control, and the different scenarios that the Switch is playable in, make it a far more enticing proposition for the gamer than an iPad or iPhone.
My overall impressions from the preview event were that the Nintendo Switch is an extremely well made and special device, with some majorly impressive games in the pipeline that could only be played – at least in a portable context – on the Switch. I’d highly recommend anyone who may be sceptical to give the console a try if it is demoed more publicly in the near future, as it is definitely a device that you have to have your hands on to truly understand. At the very least, it does offer something that the iPhone and iPad simply cannot in their current guise. However, both the strength of its launch and the future game support of the Switch will determine whether the $300 price is warranted, and also whether it’s worth adding what is ultimately yet another tablet device to your collection. Whether you’ve also tried the Switch at one of the many preview events, or have your own impressions from the reveal last Friday, be sure to head to our TouchArcade forum thread for further discussion, or join our Discord server to learn more about what the mobile gaming community thinks of Nintendo’s newest gaming device.