Back from the wilderness, Nintendo is kicking the sand out of its boots. With a slow first step, they have a steady foothold.
I’ve spent a week with Nintendo Switch, and here’s one thing I can all but guarantee – the other Switch coverage you’ll have seen this past week will not be from someone who’s yet to play the new Zelda game, Breath of the Wild. At the time of writing this paragraph, I’m in that very position: a videogame purgatory, between the early birthday gift of my Switch (thanks, wife) and the tradition that I at least have something of consequence to open on the day (no, really – thanks).
I have a unique perspective on Nintendo’s latest launch, at least. For a console with all its eggs in Hyrule Field, the relative wasteland of Switch’s remaining launch titles forces a sober reflection of the new hardware. Amid a slew of old Neo Geo ports there are few genuinely new or interesting releases in the Switch line-up. Almost all play upon nostalgia to the point of redundancy: Super Bomberman R might tempt at less than £50, while the new Shovel Knight has arguably had its audience on other formats where the new content is free to existing owners.
A visit to Switch’s eShop feels like war-time rationing, but it’s early days yet. Day one adopters will expect and tolerate this, as long as there are one or two experiences to tide them over and show off the device to their friends. 1-2-Switch and Snipperclips are those games. These titles demonstrate the social nature of the Switch in different ways: the former via a myriad of mini games that exhibit the motion and rumble tech in the new Joy-Con controllers. The latter uses more traditional controls for cooperative platform puzzle-solving. Both prove the immediacy of Switch’s on the go multiplayer.
The challenge for me – an habitually solitary player – was to get someone in my household involved. On the first day, my wife played a bit of 1-2-Switch with me, and we had a good time with it. The games have you interacting with each other rather than the screen; a novelty which you imagine is intended to draw in a casual Wii-era audience. The quick draw game (where you try to shoot each other first) was a favourite, as was ‘Ball Count’, which uses the new HD rumble to simulate rolling ball-bearings inside your Joy-Con. It’s surprisingly subtle and convincing.
I’ve had a harder time convincing my wife to play Snipperclips. In bed this morning, I tried again. “Sarah, play with this”, I said. “The Switch, I mean.” Her usual fears that she wouldn’t be good enough aren’t really applicable here; the gameplay is simple and easy to control, and you can play entirely at your own pace. Each player controls a sheet of paper with legs, the idea being to cut each other into shapes and solve puzzles. It’s the kind of game that’s funny when it goes wrong, because retrying is so immediate.
As good as Snipperclips is, there’s only so much my wife will play. The Switch was becoming frustrating without any single player experiences to try, especially in the knowledge that Zelda was hidden away in the bedroom. Without games, the Switch really doesn’t do very much. There’s the eShop, a news page, a screenshot hub that can post to social media accounts and that’s pretty much it. Friends can be added (via friend codes again), but at this point, there’s little reason to do so. With no messaging or activity tracking, you have to hope that the online service Nintendo’s charging for this year gets a lot better than this.
Writing this paragraph a few days later, I have nothing to play. My toilet is also broken, so I’ve set about repairing that instead. Doing some real-life plumbing is the closest I’m getting to playing Mario this week, I guess.
And then, out of nowhere, as a reward for my handiwork, my wife hands me…Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Turns out the Switch only needed one game. If ever a game could single-handedly justify the existence of a console, this is it. Bearing in mind this is a handheld device, Zelda looks breath-taking. The world is enormous yet packed with content and craft. You can genuinely go wherever you like and find meaningful challenges in any order. Unlike most open world games, it is designed for discovery, not mere consumption. With a Switch and a working toilet, I need never stop exploring.
I love the Switch so much. I won’t mention those much-publicised hardware issues because I haven’t had any. I won’t complain too much about the games line-up (yet) because Nintendo, like they do, have proven that quality wins over quantity. Should you buy one? Yes, yes, yes. Not that you need to listen to my advice – it seems they’re selling amazingly well already. If you’re one of those early adopters, congratulations; I hope you love it as much as I do. Oh, and you can add my friend code if you like.