I’d describe myself as a non-gamer. That’s not to say I’ve never been a gamer. Perhaps ‘lapsed gamer’ is a better description. I was definitely into gaming as a kid. Well, the Nintendo Switch launches in March and with its promise of fun and versatility, my latent gaming impulse is re-emerging.
Nintendo provided some of my earliest gaming memories. It was the console of choice when I was growing up. My peers coveted the little grey box, lured by the charms of Super Mario. Along with a small handful of friends, I’d make a daily pilgrimage after school to a nearby department store, which had an NES set up in its toy department. We’d sit on the floor and play for a couple of hours.
At home, my brother and I eventually became the proud owners of our very own NES and we’d play Super Mario Bros. and the very first Legend of Zelda to death. We followed up with a Super NES and then finally a Nintendo 64 – the last Nintendo console I ever owned. I did also at some point own a Game Boy, and I even had the compatible camera and printer to go with it.
That’s my history with Nintendo. As a child from pre-teens through my teenage years and even beyond, I played games on a series of family computers and even owned a couple of PlayStations after I left home. But gaming is something I’ve kind of consigned to the past. You know how it is, life gets in the way. That left me in an interesting place this last week.
Testing out Nintendo Switch
When I got the chance to try out the Nintendo Switch recently, it was through the eyes of someone who’d been on the periphery of gaming during some of its most significant modern developments. But this Nintendo console seems like a good way back in for someone like me. Or a starting point for someone with even less gaming experience. The Switch seems accessible; unpretentious. Plus, it seems simple to get the hang of, and has an emphasis on fun with friendly, non-intimidating titles in its roster like Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Splatoon 2.
Quite apart from the spectrum of lighthearted games, the versatility of the Nintendo Switch makes it very appealing. A truly portable console, you can play it through your TV, or take it out of its dock to play using its built-in screen. You simply remove the controls from either side of the main controller and slide them onto the console. Then, when you want to play a two-player game, you can slide them back off to form two controllers, and stand the console on a table – or hook it up to a TV.
I tested out a number of games at the recent Nintendo Switch preview event in London. Here’s my verdict on the games I played and the console itself.
I didn’t take to the Wii, but the Switch’s launch title 1-2-Switch takes its cue from the kind of motion-controlled minigames that made that previous console so popular. The Wii was often pulled out at parties as family members and friends attempted to outdo one another with their bowling/tennis/golfing skills.
The 1-2-Switch minigames are simpler than a lot of the Wii Sports games. They're designed so that players look at one another as they’re pitted against each other while everyone else in the room looks at the screen. They’re quick challenges, essentially, meaning that it’s always someone else’s turn very soon.
Ball Count and Samurai Training
For instance, there’s a minigame in which you have to guess how many balls there are in a box. The ‘Joy-Con’ controllers have ‘HD rumble’ capabilities which mimic what it feels like to hold a box containing balls. By shaking the controller and tipping it to make the virtual balls roll around inside the virtual box, you should be able to make a decent stab at guessing the number of balls you’re virtually holding. I have to say, I got it wrong every time.
In another challenge, Samurai Training, you stand facing your opponent while you take it in turns to bring a sword down on the other person. The controller stands in for the sword, of course. The other person has to ‘catch’ the sword between their hands by clapping one hand firmly against the controller. It’s good to know they’re sturdy enough to take this kind of treatment.
I didn’t really get why you’d play a game like this one, though, where you don’t look at the screen. It’s really tempting to watch the screen instead of your opponent, but you’re supposed to look into their eyes, like in a game of slaps, to judge when they’re going to strike. You’re basically the entertainment for whoever’s watching.
There are a host of other games in the 1-2-Switch package, including one where you milk a cow, a quick-draw challenge, table tennis and more – some of which sound more fun than others.
Another game which makes fun use of the Joy-Con controllers is Arms. A hand-to-hand combat title has you jab using the controllers to punch your opponent. You can punch with both hands together for a double-fisted attack and use motion control to maneuver. Jumping and special moves are executed by pushing button.
I loved this game. It was easy to pick up, mostly because it was so intuitive – punch, and your character punches. I could easily unleash a barrage of blows on my opponent, even if I wasn’t yet a master of the game’s more strategic methods. I felt I had an advantage as long as I kept moving around and punching. That tactic paid off – I won two out of the three bouts I played.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game I’ve played since the original. And in some ways, it took me right back. There was plenty that felt familiar about Link, Hyrule and the adventure as it unfolded. But in many ways it was vastly different.
The way Link moves is incredible – he’s certainly way more agile than I remember from the NES. Climbing was fun, as was jumping and running fast, although I got a bit carried away and dove to my death jumping from too high a height. I didn’t realise that was a thing that could happen. Lesson 1: Link is not invincible.
It was a lesson I should have bore in mind when it came to enemies. Initially, enemies seemed easy to kill – once I’d picked up an axe that I was able to swap for the branch I’d previously been carrying.
When I ran into enemies that could spot me from a distance and had bows and arrows they were very accurate with, it was a different story. I learnt to my cost that this was also not as easy as I’d at first assumed. Lesson 2: Link will die if you don’t strategise.
Strategising involved working out that I could crouch and sneak to avoid detection by those bow-wielding bad guys, roll boulders and throw barrels.
What I liked about Zelda was also the thing I disliked – its open-world nature. It’s great to know you’re free to explore and not tied to a set adventure but I also wondered what the point of exploring was if you weren’t achieving; if you weren’t heading directly towards completing the game. I struggled with finding the satisfaction in it but perhaps I need to spend more time with it to understand. Or perhaps open world is not for me.
Nevertheless, the game, with its setting and backstory, seems to have a wide appeal and tackling it as a first-timer feels unthreatening. I see it as a gateway game to other sprawling open-world adventures for those new to gaming.
Incidentally, I found the cumbersome-looking main controller awkwardly configured when playing Zelda. I also found the camera joystick counter-intuitive, although I was told that I could change the configuration in the settings which is a bonus – although I doubt this is something exclusive to the Nintendo Switch.
Finally, I’d add that I died three times in 20 minutes playing this game, which I don’t think was good.
Now Splatoon 2 was fun. Eight of us played together sitting around a table in two teams, four against four. The object of the game is to spray as much paint over the ground as possible in your colour – my team’s colour was pink. You can also shoot at other players to temporarily disable them (they die and get returned to the start) if you’re so inclined. If you’re me, you just squirt paint willy nilly.
I played it both in handheld mode and on the TV screen and enjoyed using the gyro-controls to look around and aim. If I tilted the controller down, I looked down. If I tilted it up, I looked up. You get the picture. A nifty new tool called Splat Dualies had propulsive qualities and I spent most of my time rolling around in my own paint, which kept my paint levels topped up.
I didn’t have to get involved too much in battle to make an impact on the game – by staying on the outskirts I could still cover a fair amount of ground in pink paint. Unfortunately, whatever I was doing failed to pay off as my team lost by a substantial margin every time. I wasn’t disheartened though – I could have played on and on, the game is so addictive. And I suspect it’s one of those games you can quickly get good at.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart is dependable. It’s always so much fun to play. What I liked about this new Switch incarnation is the addition of five new characters. I’ve always had my favourite character to race with in Mario Kart, like most people. But in trying out Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I chose to race as one of the new Splatoon crossover characters. I used a Pro Controller to race and found the character easy to handle, and I finished in first place. Definitely went smoother than playing as Link.
So, Would I Buy the Nintendo Switch?
In a word, possibly. The biggest selling point for me as a non-gamer is, without doubt, its versatility. It’s truly portable, and I’d definitely take it to friends’ houses as well as family get-togethers. Perhaps even on holiday with me. I’d certainly whip it out when friends come over and get them involved in some 1-2-Switch challenges, although I think there's a chance the novelty might wear off. It also gives me the opportunity to indulge in some more in-depth solo gameplay should I fancy it.
As a non-gamer, the one thing the Nintendo Switch would need for me to fully commit, however, is streaming media capabilities. I want to be able to watch Netflix through it at the very least and we're yet to hear conclusively whether this will be possible. Perhaps they'll announce Switch's streaming plans before the launch March 3.