Is The Nintendo Switch A Link Between Worlds Or Another Wii U? – Forbes

Two of the Nintendo Switch's Joy-Con controllers in a Grip attachment. Photo: Nintendo

Two of the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers in a Grip attachment. Photo: Nintendo

I’m conflicted about the Nintendo Switch.

When playing Nintendo’s newest console, I’m reminded of being a kid stranded at my brother’s baseball games with nothing to pass the time except a translucent Game Boy Pocket and a well-worn copy of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Whether playing solo or while a friend looked over my shoulder to help dissect the game’s devious puzzles, the little handheld served as a lifeline in the balmy spring through the chilly fall. No doubt I’d be in a manic fit if I could take the Nintendo 64 to the field to play Zelda: Majora’s Mask. That’s precisely the feeling Nintendo is trying to capitalize on with the Switch.

“It used to be you had to decide, what’s my gaming experience going to be like for this location versus another one,” said Charlie Scibetta, senior director of corporate communications for Nintendo of America. “Now it can be really the same: same game, pop it out, you’re off and running. That’s really the core concept behind the Nintendo Switch.”

Simply put, the concept works in practice. Its elegance comes from not only its versatility in a multitude of spaces and the controller options present therein, but the ease of which “switching” occurs. And unlike the company’s previous two home consoles, the Wii and Wii U, software developers need not tailor entire gameplay systems around gimmicky tech. However, nagging questions abound following the weekend, like its paid online functionality done entirely through a mobile app, the minimal storage space available out-of-the-box, the scarcity of launch titles, the ever-present questions about third-party support, the $299 price tag for its hardware not including additional expensive controllers or a pack-in release, its dated graphical fidelity in comparison to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and even where it fits in the increasingly homogeneous world of gaming and tech.

So I’m conflicted about the Nintendo Switch.

If anything, I walked away with a better appreciation of the console’s versatility, something Nintendo was acutely aware needed to be front and center following the missteps of its predecessor, the Wii U. As Scibetta told me, “People need to understand the core concept of what it is.”

Nintendo made clear the philosophy of its newest console in its set presentation in New York City this weekend: a section of seats in an airplane and a table at a diner, both adorned with a Nintendo Switch sitting with its kickstand out. Two players can race against one another in split-screen Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or solve brain teasers together in Snipperclips. It’s the company’s increasingly unique local multiplayer done outside the home and using a single piece of hardware as opposed to multiple computers or handhelds or smartphones.

Much of the heavy-lifting is done with the Switch’s new Joy-Con controllers. For both Mario Kart and Snipperclips, the two included Joy-Cons are titled sideways to resemble bite-sized SNES controllers. The Joy-Cons offer a number of ways to play games: together in the Grip attachment to resemble a more traditional controller; separately to use freely in both hands; slid into the sides of the Switch console itself; and the myriad of ways to employ the extensive motion control capabilities, like in the surprisingly satisfying spring-loaded boxing game, Arms, in which you hold the Joy-Cons vertically, move about the ring by twisting your wrists and toss curved punches with a swing of the arm.

“The Joy-Con just opens up a lot of possibilities for an interaction that you wouldn’t be able to have if you were just an individual with your handheld,” Scibetta said.

The Pro Controller as well picks up the slack when the Joy-Cons feel too small or not accommodating with a particular game. Essentially a flatter Xbox One controller, the Pro offers more space for the hands as well as a D-pad which the Joy-Cons lack. However, not only is it not as tactile as its competitors, it does not come packed in with the console, costing an additional $70.

Of course, at the center of the Switch is its most intriguing innovation: using a Nintendo home console like one of its handhelds with the Joy-Cons attached on either side of the system. Handheld Mode is at once revelatory and frustrating with a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Halfway through the demo, I put down the Pro Controller, slid the Joy-Cons into the side of the Switch and pulled the console from its dock. Just like that, as advertised, a console-turned-handheld in an instant.

However, the limitations of the format did bubble to the surface. I never felt my hands were too big for a controller until using the Joy-Cons on the sides of the Switch. Precision movement can turn clunky, leading to a few fatal tumbles for Link. Getting at both triggers of one side proves difficult and actually put a bit of fear in me as I felt like I could perhaps lose a handle on the expensive tablet. Without the support of the Grip attachment, simply using both thumbs on the analog sticks and index fingers on the triggers felt awkward. And despite the crisp HD picture without hiccups, more detailed visual cues were difficult to read. Certainly, its functionality may be dependent on the cartridge in the console, and it was apparent Breath of the Wild was meant to be primarily experienced on a television screen at 1080p, 60fps. (Breath of the Wild itself played fine, though the short demo of the game’s beginning didn’t really let me sink my teeth in, so I’ll hold off on any other judgment calls.)

'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild' running on the Nintendo Switch and played with a Pro Controller. Photo: Nintendo

‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ running on the Nintendo Switch and played with a Pro Controller. Photo: Nintendo

The Nintendo Switch I played this weekend is marketed as a link between worlds, but it may end up fighting a war on multiple fronts.

In its dock, it attempts to deliver a home console experience à la Sony and Microsoft, though its necessary hardware compromises likely ensure it becomes the third Nintendo system in a row ill-suited for multiplatform titles like Battlefield 1 and Mass Effect Andromeda. Slipping the console out of its dock, the Switch enters the realm of Apple and Amazon with its 720p, 6.2″ touchscreen. Though hyper-focused on traditional gaming experiences and accessible local multiplayer through its multipurpose Joy-Con controllers, the Switch lacks the all-purpose functionality of a tablet and its deluge of apps, the most important in this case being Minecraft. Certainly it feels like a natural progression from Nintendo’s ultra-successful 3DS handheld, and it perhaps occupies a space similar to an Amazon Kindle, a tablet serving a more specific purpose. But it also could just be a Swiss Army knife with a dull blade.

Taken on its own, I feel optimistic about the Switch’s launch. Though confusing decisions abound and many questions still linger after the reveal, the hardware’s simple core concept both works and looks good on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And it has Zelda. With retailers selling out initial pre-orders and a maintained buzz surrounding Nintendo property since Pokémon GO, the Switch should come out of the gate sprinting, allowing the company to close out its fiscal year strong on March 31. But the future is cloudy with two tent-pole releases occupying the remaining year in Splatoon 2 (4v4 multiplayer felt great at the event) and Super Mario Odyssey. Though the company says 80+ third-party games are currently in development, such a figure could mean anything, and Nintendo may be more so hoping for a big early install base to attract more big-name developers. Whatever the case, the Nintendo Switch is a more intriguing wildcard than the Wii U, and it’ll be interesting to see how the ever-changing market reacts to it come March 3 – and to see if kids stranded at baseball fields in 2017 just prefer an iPad.

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