PAX South 2017: An Extended Hands-On With the Nintendo Switch

The most popular attraction at PAX South 2017, hands down?The Nintendo Switch. When a line starts to form during the media hour before the event is even open to the public, that’s a sign that people are intrigued by the system. Thankfully, I got to take part in an in-depth hands-on session with the system, and try some of the unique features. First off, the system feels just a lot like using a tablet when you hold it, and probably even better than using something like the Gamevice with an iPad Mini. Nintendo wasn’t yet ready to talk about anything using the touchscreen, unfortunately. However, the process of switching from handheld to docked modes on the TV is fast and works seamlessly. It just takes a few seconds to change modes when you put the system in the dock or take it out. If you’re using multiple controllers, when you switch modes, you’ll get a prompt to hit L+R on your controller of choice to start using that, so you could switch between playing with Joy-Con on the road and using the Pro Controller at home. There’s just something quite cool about the fact that the big, expansive Zelda game on your TV is now on a handheld system.

It really feels like this is the potential gaming convergence that I’ve written about before. I love the idea of a system that isn’t bound by any restrictions of where you can play games. Games that just use the touchscreen have real potential (and the Joy-Con could do some cool things with haptic-style feedback for like, tilt-based games). You’d have the games that would work for when you have quick moments, but also the bigger, more expansive experiences. The Switch has that potential if Nintendo sticks the landing. At worst, it’s really interesting hardware and it’s going to have a bunch of cool Nintendo games for it. But while we’ve seen some Android tablets try this idea before, and certainly iOS is capable of cross-platform experiences, this is the most serious attempt at convergence gaming yet. It works, and the capabilities for games are potentially infinite.

Now what about the games? 1-2-Switch seems poised to be the game that really shows off the unique aspects of the Switch. The HD Rumble is at its most impressive when you play the “Ball Count" game. The game has you twist and rotate the Joy-Con around like you’re rolling balls around in a box, and it feels like rolling balls around in a box. HD Rumble is an impressive piece of technology. How it gets used for games remains to be seen. The other 1-2-Switch games I got to try were plenty entertaining. Have you ever milked a cow using a controller? Uh, that’s what you can do in 1-2-Switch‘s “Milk" game. “Quick Draw" uses just sound and the sensors in the controller, along with the trigger to fire, to have you and your opponent compete to see who hits each other first. And it’s accurate down to a thousandth of a second – as I saw when I managed to win by that margin. “Samurai Training" shows just how durable the Joy-Con potentially is, as you’re supposed to catch a sword by slapping your hands together, hitting the Joy-Con hard to trigger the reaction. “Table Tennis" is impressive in particular because you can play a game of table tennis by sound and motion sensors alone. This whole thing seems like it would work well as a pack-in like Wii Sports to show off the system, bu even not as a pack-in, it could prove to be a popular title as a way to really show off the system.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a unique kind of hybrid approach between feeling like a Zelda game, and feeling like a modern open-world adventure game. The music, graphics, and general feel are all quite Zelda-esque, and there’s many of the hallmarks of the series evident even in jut playing early on. But this feels like the most modern Zelda game yet, and I’m not just saying that because you get the Sheikah Slate, a tablet device that helps Link out. Collecting random items like sticks, food, and preparing for crafting recipes feels a lot like a modern open-world game does. This is more than fine, because games need to adapt and evolve, but it certainly makes for a unique-feeling Zelda game.

Visually, while Breath of the Wild does look better on the TV than on the Switch itself, it feels like it won’t be a huge issue to play on the lower-powered hardware. The fact that the expansive world will be available to you wherever you well please to enjoy it feels kind of revolutionary. And despite the Switch not being at the peak of gaming hardware, I feel like in this era of diminishing graphical returns and many indie games not requiring top-flight hardware to play, the Switch will do fine. The look upon the vistas of Hyrule, and the first Sheikah tower rising out of the ground? Those are impressive moments regardless of however you feel about the Switch hardware’s capabilities.

Arms might be the most blunt name for a game since Game of War (Free). Seriously, why try hard on coming up with names when Arms is available? If you’re just thinking that this is gonna be Wii Boxing again, with frantic fist-waving, don’t. While there’s certainly an element of imprecise chaos because you use the sensors in the Joy-Con controllers to move around and throw punches, there’s strategy here too. Each of the characters (five in the version I played) has three different fists they can choose from, and even the side you pick for your fists is key, as a smart opponent can use a side advantage to make you weaker. Seriously, Arms at EVO seems a lot less crazy than you might think off the bat. It’s certainly a game unlike anything else you’ve ever played.

Snipperclips – Cut it out, together! was a rather fun demo that also shows off some of the Switch’s potential for multiplayer. While there is a singleplayer portion that Nintendo isn’t demoing yet, co-operative puzzle solving is the goal here. You and your ally have yo manipulate objects in the world, and can do so by rotating and cutting parts of each other’s body, while trying to figure out not only the objective but how to get it done. Each player can play with a single Joy-Con controller, and this could make for some fun times with a friend solving some of these tricky puzzles. As a game made by developers who are now a second-party developer for Nintendo, it’s promising to see this kind of game on the Switch. It could work on any platform, sure. But the Joy-Con aspect is rather cool, because you don’t have to worry about having an extra controller if you want to play. You just bring your Switch with you, and you can play with your friends.

In fact, I wonder if it’s perhaps better to buy the Pro controller just because you might wind up leaving them at home on the Joy-Con grip. Maybe that won’t be an issue in practice, but I could see that as a good reason to get the Pro controller. It also has a real d-pad, and while the buttons are fine on the Joy-Con, an actual d-pad is just better. Speaking of which, Ultra Street Fighter 2 looks great, using the HD graphics introduced earlier in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD. The Joy-Con wasn’t ideal for pulling off special moves, though the analog stick worked well enough for pulling off those tricky motions. Another cool thing about the Joy-Con controllers: you can quickly throw down with someone on the go, each using a Joy-Con. Again, the Switch has some killer local multiplayer potential.

And that’s the thing that’s so exciting about the Switch. While I’m curious to see what if anything winds up being the mobile usage scenario for the Switch, as a device that lets you play games anywhere and everywhere, and to play them just as well when docked at home, this is a really exciting system that I am interested to see ow people take to it. As someone who likes to multitask and likes to not be locked down to one place with my entertainment, the Switch fits into a lot of interesting usage scenarios for me where an Xbox or PlayStation does not. Whether anyone else finds the Switch to be useful, or if there’s enough content to justify the Switch’s purchase remains to be seen, but Nintendo seems to have done a good job making a versatile system concept that could someday be copied.