Nintendo Switch: what we’ve learned from its big unveiling

The successor to the Wii U is mere weeks away. Here’s what we’ve learned from Nintendo Switch’s official unveiling...

Late last year, Nintendo ended month after month of speculation with a single video. Through the medium of happy, smiling models pressing buttons and staring at a TV screen, the Japanese giant announced the Nintendo Switch – formerly known under its codename NX, and the successor to the likeable yet sadly obscure Wii U.

Much of what we saw in that sunny promo had already been bandied about online in the weeks running up to it: the detachable controllers, the hybrid home/handheld console design. Yet still there were a few surprises here and there – the ability to link more than one system up for local multiplayer gaming, the adorably lop-sided, soft edged design.

Now, at the start of 2017, Nintendo’s finally ready to reveal their latest console in a bit more detail. The company’s finest took to the stage in Japan to show off the Switch’s features, from its games to the various ways those dinky controllers can be put to use. So what have we learned, and should we be excited? Let’s take a closer look…

The price

Right, let’s get the (mildly) painful bit out of the way first: how much the Switch costs. Nintendo has set the RRP at $299, or £279.99 in the UK. That’s more than some industry types were predicting, but not entirely reasonable, we guess, given the price of the Switch’s competitors. The Wii may have sold for a more affordable £179.99 at launch, but well, that was almost a decade ago, and the Switch appears to be a more sophisticated beast than that old system.

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The release date

We’ve known for some time that the Switch would launch in March, but now we have a precise day: the 3rd, meaning that, if you put a preorder in now, the system could be parked under your TV in less than eight weeks.

The controllers

The Switch’s broader features were pretty clear from last year’s announcement promo, but Nintendo still had a few surprises on offer at the launch event. The right detachable controller contains a near-field reader to read and write amiibo data; the same controller also has some kind of infra-red sensor capable of detecting hand gestures, like a miniature Kinect. Both controllers have Wii-style motion sensors, so you can use them independently to play a game like Arms (see the games later in this article) to mimic the left-right punches of a rock-hard boxer.

Again, as we’ve already seen, both controllers can be used independently, so two players can effectively play together on one system. What we hadn’t reckoned on was that these individual, miniature joypads are fully-featured, with tiny shoulder buttons and everything – this makes them far more useful (and less gimmicky) than we were initially expecting.

As is Nintendo’s wont these days, additional controllers will be purchasable in two different colours – neon red and neon blue – so you can customise your system if you’re not into the whole grey look. It’s probably safe to say that all kinds of additional controllers – and ones with fancy decals – will be made available in the coming months. A Zelda edition of the Switch is already on the way, for example.

Like the Wii’s remote, there are also little straps that slide onto the side of each controller, so you can tether them to your wrists like a pair of mittens. How many people will actually use these remains to be seen, but the straps also have shoulder buttons mounted on their base, which is a nice touch.

Local multiplayer

This is a really nice surprise: remember how Nintendo showed a bunch of guys playing a basketball game on two screens? Well, the Switch will allow up to eight systems to connect wirelessly for local multiplayer. For something like Mario Kart 8, that could result in some really fun (and incredibly sweary) evenings in.

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Online support

Nintendo have always lagged behind with their support for online multiplayer, what with all the finicky friend codes and painfully slow eShop loading times on the Wii U. It seems that they’re making an effort to change their image with the Switch, though, with a more comprehensive suite of online features available for a monthly subscription. Like PlayStation Plus, that subscription will also offer discounts and the odd free game, though the things Nintendo are offering don’t exactly sound enticing at the moment: you’ll get to choose one NES or SNES game per month, as we currently understand it. Oh, and early adopters will have to wait a bit until the online support is fully up and runnning – it won’t launch until the winter.

If you’re into capturing and sharing images and footage from your game sessions, there’s also a social button, though the function to capture video won’t be up and running for a few months yet.

Battery life

This has long been a big question in our minds, given that Nintendo are keen to have us take the Switch out of the house and onto the train or down the pub. How long will it actually last as a handheld? According to Nintendo, its batteries will last between two-and-a-half to six hours. That means it won’t keep you occupied for a whole long-haul flight, but with USB connectivity, it’ll be pretty easy to keep charged up as you play.

The games

The successor to the Wii U is mere weeks away. Here’s what we’ve learned from Nintendo Switch’s official unveiling…

Here’s the big bit: what kind of support is Switch going to get at launch? At present, the signs are decent, if not quite overwhelming. Nintendo says there are 80 third-party games in the works for the system, though only a few of those have been announced so far. We’ll get to those in a moment.

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From a first-party perspective, Nintendo’s naturally bringing out some big guns up front. There’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,which we’ve known about for some time, plus expected ports of Splatoonand Mario Kart 8. There’s a new boxing game, simply calledArms, which looks like this generation’s equivalent of Punch-Out.

The biggest reveal was Super Mario Odyssey,which, like Breath Of The Wild, takes the series in a more free-roaming direction: think Mario 64 crossed with the intricate puzzle levels of Super Mario World. The announcement trailer (which you can see above) shows Mario running and jumping through a surprisingly realistic rendition of an American city, which to our bleary eyes made it look like a sequel to Crackdown. But the more typical trappings and settings are in the mix, too: water levels, bosses, a lost-looking Princess Peach. And yes, there will be turnips.

As for third-party offerings, RPG fans will find their hands full over the next few months. Titles on offer include Xenoblade and Fire Emblem sequels, as well as the port of Skyrim we saw advertised a few months ago.

One of the welcome surprises is the return of Lego City Undercover, an early yet thoroughly satisfying release on the Wii U. Packed with film references and quirky sight gags, it was a great little sandbox adventure – a kind of family-friendly parody of the GTA series – and it’s pleasing to see a new entry coming to Switch. We’re hoping the load times have come down a bit between missions, though.

Other, slightly smaller releases include Sonic Mania, Sega’s return to the series’ 16-bit roots, and a multiplayer Tetris-Puyo Puyo mash-up. Another surprise, meanwhile, came from Konami: it’s bringing Bomberman to Switch (the game’s called Bomberman R), reviving a franchise we assumed it had completely lost interest in. This is a pseudo 3D iteration of Bomberman rather than the classic 2D version, though, but we’re hoping there’s a retro mode in there somewhere. At any rate, Bomberman R could be a perfect fit for that eight-screen multiplayer support.

The future

The Switch unveiling gave us plenty to take in and process, and really, we won’t know for several months whether Nintendo has a true return to form on its hands or another misfire like the Wii U. The good news is that the firm hasn’t lost its commitment to quirky design ideas, or its determination to try something at least a little different: we’re not sure we’d actually use the Switch as a handheld all that much, if we’re being honest, but the ability for two players to sit around one screen with those dinky controllers is a solid idea.

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It’s a mid-point between home console and handheld gaming that hasn’t really been explored all that much – handheld gaming tends to be a solitary experience, even if you’re playing a multiplayer game, since your opponent (or ally) is usually in another town or another part of the world. Being able to sit with friends and play, say, Mario Kart 8, whether you’re in the kitchen or in your bedroom, is a fun, utopian idea that is typically Nintendo. Older gamers may remember that one Game And Watch entry had two controllers and one screen way back in the 80s.

We’ll have to wait and see how the public at large responds to Switch. It doesn’t have the immediately understandable quality of the Wii’s motion controls, but the system at least stands apart from the Wii U, which was marred in its early months by some muddled marketing. Maybe the new console’s flexibility and multiplayer appeal will be the killer selling point this time round; whatever happens, Nintendo certainly hasn’t lost its ability to craft a console with individuality and more than a little charm.

The Nintendo Switch can be preordered at Game now.