Switch-ing: With Reservations (And Some Ironing), Yes.

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Not surprisingly, actually getting out and about to lay eyes on and try out something for oneself is a hell of a lot better than sitting on one’s rump in front of a computing device babbling nonsense about what one thinks they know about something they haven’t touched yet. Be it food, books, movies, or in this case, Nintendo’s upcoming Switch game system, you really aren’t doing anything other than heavy guessing and heavier petting of your own negativity until you try the darn thing out.

Spending about three hours with the system and way too many games for one event revealed at its recent NYC showcase reveals it’s a solid bit of kit with a few big to little issues around things like software/peripheral pricing and a to be announced (imperfect) online service that sounds as if will need some major tweaking if it’s going to compete with the (less imperfect) services Sony and Microsoft offer for their game hardware.

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Let’s get the first point out of the way: that live press conference from Japan was somewhat awful if judged by western perspectives. The droning English narration, the greatness of Goichi Suda trying to work the room off-script and failing spectacularly as he revealed work not yet started on the return of Travis Touchdown, the too-sedate responses to every announcement – none of these made for good optics.

Couple that with too many YouTubers and a few games journalists putting out quickie bash pieces so quickly that by the time a bunch of post-conference trailers that weren’t shown dropped online, many complaints about the small software lineup were rendered invalid and worse, the short attention span theater antics didn’t take into consideration that early announcements change into more concrete plans that make better sense as launch windows open.

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But let’s talk games from this point onward until I get to the problem stuff I see that needs ironing out.

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Super Bomberman R was my first stop and while Konami hasn’t been the best of buddies with the gaming world in some circles, this one’s a quite fun return to form that should draw in gamers of all ages. Traditionalists will appreciate the return of classic Bomberman play for up to 8, the cute character art, minor customization and not to be taken at all seriously story mode. Playing with the Joy-Con or Pro Controller was fun either way and the simplicity of drop bomb, run away, try not to blow yourself up was easily grasped by everyone who played during my session. The graphics could use aliasing, though. On a big screen, large shadows have that jagged saw-tooth look like old PS2 titles. I smell a patch coming if the complaints get to be as frantic as the multiplayer action.

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Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers will appeal to fans of that classic 2D fighter who may not mind the game seems a bit light on content compared to other entries in the long running franchise on other consoles. Then again, as a package that focuses on Capcom’s best-known fighter with two distinct visual styles, solid gameplay with a few modern tweaks and two new playable characters (Evil Ryu and Violent Ken), the game’s got some great nostalgic appeal. Interestingly enough, at the event only the bigger (optional) Pro Controller was used even though the game has full Joy-Con support. For those grousing about the game’s price point, a video posted more recently by Capcom in Japan shows the game also has a first-person beat ’em up mode done in the visual style of Street Fighter IV or V. That will be at least worth a look, although I can hear the whining coming from those who hate simulating punches and super moves.

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Sonic Mania is going to get fans of Sega’s mascot jumping out of their seats and  blazing to the nearest game shop (or harassing the postman if they order online and get it delivered). The mix of classic Sonic elements with new and excellently implemented animations and moves gives the 2D art a liveliness it’s not seen in some time on a console. It’s a throwback you won’t be throwing back and will also hopefully show the play once and trade in crowd how it’s done when it comes to hidden secrets making for great replay value. People were walking up grinning and walking away grinning wider, so this is a good sign for the often beleaguered franchise.

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Puyo Puyo Tetris is going to make a lot of puzzle game fans very happy campers. Two classic puzzle games meet and the colorful, fast paced results are exactly as you’d think and then some. Super-cute visuals, expected multiplayer modes and solid controls will make this one an instant hit among those who crave block-dropping, bubble popping action. You’re not coming here for cutting edge anything, just pure, unadulterated fun for the whole family.

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Fast RMX is the game futuristic racing fans will be talking about until Nintendo wises up and lets talented Munich-based developer Shin’en Multimedia go make a super F-Zero game for the Switch. Blazing fast 60fps gameplay, gorgeous visuals, split-screen play and pretty tight controls make this a definite purchase provided you’re a fan of the sub-genre. As I’m not so crazy about Mario Kart (yes, it’s brilliant, but…), I’m one of those who thinks Nintendo really, REALLY needs a marquee racing not-quite sim like Sony has with Gran Turismo and Microsoft has with its more casual Forza Motorsport. But for now, this wickedly fast slice of powerhouse programming will tide me over.

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Arms made me think as soon as I saw it at the Direct video presentation that those great-looking nimble characters needed to be in a far better game. Playing the game at the event confirmed this. Don’t get me wrong, folks. The lightning fast gameplay, great-looking characters and maps and yes, even the motion controls are all dead-on fun. But the ho-hum arena style seems bound to grow stale outside whatever e-Sport and party game plans Nintendo wants gamers to be a part of. If there’s a sequel (and there most likely be one), it would be nicer to have more than a Punch-Out meets Ready2Rumble variant. Give these stretchy super-heroes a world to explore and a story to be part of. Oh, and yes… once this cast enters the Smash Bros. realm, things are going to be NUTS.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was going to be my first stop, but the cheerful Nintendo reps who kept roping me in to play stuff (I submitted happily and willingly, mind you) made my second foray into this new but old Hyrule delayed but as satisfying as my time with the Wii U demo last year. 15 minutes of waiting with a line of eager fans made for some nice conversations as we watched the game being played and my second go, this time with every Switch controller option out of the gate.

The demo was the shorter approximately 15 minute one that begins at the beginning of the game and ends right after the first tower is accessed. Each Nintendo rep worked between two stations, popping in to guide players through changing controller options from using the complete Joy-Con pad, a Joy-Con in each hand, the Switch as a portable and back to the dog-faced controller for the  final stretch. Unlike my time with the Wii U version, I came into this event with the idea to test a no-kill run just to experiment with the idea some have of rushing to the end boss with as few battles as possible.

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I’ll successfully report that not only was I able to hit that target tower without killing an enemy, controlling the game was fantastic overall using all the permutations noted above. The Joy-Con in each hand mode took a bit of fussing with simply thanks to me not playing a game this way before. Amusingly enough, I got the hang of it just as it was time to slide the two controllers into the Switch and go portable. On the big 1080p HDTV, the game looked fine, albeit in need of aliasing on the characters to smooth things out a tad more. On the smaller 720p screen, the game looked magnificent. Big or small screen, that 30fps frame rate was smooth overall.

While this one will be my go-to game for quite some time and it’s guaranteed to be a huge smash packed with secrets galore, there will be a handful of people who might miss out on some of the exploration because they want to race to the finish. Personally, I think those trying to speed to wherever Gannon is waiting as soon as they get the game are a tad daft because there’s SO much to see and do here. That and I think Mr.Aonuma was pulling our collective leg when he suggested players “try” to get to the endgame quickly. Eh, I’ll leave those folks to their own amusement. I’ll be taking my sweet, sweet time.

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Has-Been Heroes had me intrigued because it’s coming from Finnish developer Frozenbyte (the Trine trilogy) and it’s an odd mix of real-time and turn-based strategy that’s really challenging despite the cartoon looks and kind of lame story. As a trio of past their prime or not yet prime time RPG stalwarts, your party is tasked with escorting two princesses to school while going up against hordes of enemies. The game excels at keeping your eyes glued to the screen as you lay out lane combos using magic spell combos (hundreds of them are available as the game progresses) ans as maps are procedural, the replay value is endless.  It may look casual, but it’s absolutely not. Hopefully this will do well on the Switch, as Frozenbtye REALLY needs to get both its old Shadowgrounds games back up and running on this new hardware.

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Disgaea 5 Complete ended up being the game demo I played the second most thanks to the “Just For Fun” mode that had overpowered characters and enemies to mess with. It was kind of impossible to get good pictures while playing thanks to the flash on my camera ruining pic after pic. But the 2D sprite art and explosive special moves (Flonnezilla FTW!) look great, big ol’ pixels and all. Fans of the long-running series picking up a Switch will want this one for sure. Those new to this turn-based strategy RPG will find it refreshing, hilarious and yep, daunting thanks to all those characters and the usual incredible customization that can be done. In terms of sheer bang for your gaming buck, it doesn’t get much better than this. For those curious PS4 owners reading this: yes, this is Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance but with all the DLC on one came card.

1-2 Switch surprised me because it’s probably going to surprise you with how much fun it is. Everyone I saw walk out of the demo rooms was grinning and/or laughing as if they just won the lottery, so I hopped on line to try and yeah, liked what I played. Granted, you’ll need to go all in on the concept, ignoring the full retail price point in favor of a fun party game/spectator sport. In a few cases, embarrassingly strenuous movements are required, so wallflowers and grumpy, arm-crossing folks who don’t think this is a game need not apply.

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The game also works on a personal level not seen in online games or social networks because it forces you to look the other player in the eyes in some games, removing the barrier a monitor normally places between opponents. The balls in the box/ice cubes gimmick with the controller works well enough, as do the other quick mini-games I tried. The big issue here is where this goes in the future. A sequel might work well, but a longer story-driven game like a detective story or adventure seems like a no-brainer to me. Of course, I’m still waiting for a game dev to catch up to older stuff in my head that seems obvious and make it playable.

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Snipperclips – Cut it out, together! was another smaller surprise. It works best as a short burst pick up and play family game without a fail state if you and your partner are in sync and can cut each others paper character up to solve all sorts of goofy puzzles. Still, as engaging as the demo was, it really feels like an appetizer for something more substantial (which is what the final game will reveal, of course). Then again, that $19.99 price point isn’t that bad a slice on the wallet if you’re into quirky puzzle games. That said, both this and 1-2 Switch really seem as if they should have been pack-in games on a single card. My money says this just might happen at some point down the road.

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There were a few games I didn’t play, primarily because I’ve either already played them on other consoles and didn’t see a reason to revisit them or I just wasn’t interested. I did watch people play for long enough to see them having fun, though. Activision’s fun Toys-to-Life hybrid Skylanders Imaginators I’ve played already and like a lot. The Switch version ditches the Portal of Power in favor of a downloadable digital toybox with over 300 figures to choose from. While I know some parents will be pleased to not need to buy a bunch of new toys, Some longtime fans will no doubt miss running down to their favorite stores or clicking around the internet in order to complete their collections. But, it seems the Skylanders franchise is running out of steam and this digital library might be a way for the series to keep going after this year’s being the first without a new entry.

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks absolutely fantastic and is no doubt going to be amazing with those new courses and game modes. My issue is I think Nintendo can’t rely forever solely on enhanced retreads like this when both Sony and Microsoft have marquee racers with actual licensed cars that make them some major bank.There hasn’t been a solid licensed racer on a Nintendo home console since the arcade-like fun found in Need For Speed Most Wanted U on the Wii U, and that didn’t sell as well as it should have.

I’m also not a big Splatoon fan, but Splatoon 2 looks pretty amazing. The huge bank of TV’s set up for tournament play were active the entire evening and it seems Nintendo is planning on making regular Splatoon 2 tournaments a thing. That Switch reveal trailer from last year was their getting the ball rolling on expanding some sort of e-sports empire (outside of any Smash Bros. action happening), but I’m not sure the world has their bodies ready (Hi, Reggie!) for those Inklings. We shall see. Yeah, yeah – esports is huge in plenty of locations. But I’m hoping Nintendo isn’t betting the farm on it being more than a niche part of their future business plans.

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Just Dance 2017? Um, thanks, but no thanks. Well, I don’t wag my tail feathers in public at all unless the crowds are making it rain (ha-ha), so Ubisoft’s instant hit didn’t move me one bit. It was certainly a nice set up at the event with people shaking their groove things in front of a giant TV with lively hostesses luring in anyone who veered close. Still, Ubisoft knows the audience for this is going to eat this up, so this one won’t surprise me when it outsells more than a few other titles once it’s released.

An odd thing about the Switch’s promotion is how Nintendo wants people to truck it around to every conceivable location and plop down in public or in some odd locations to play with friends and like-minded gamers. Well, it’s odd to me, as I do most of my gaming at home and know enough people that are the same. That said, the system’s small profile and portability make it a pretty cool if you ever need to take it on the road. Just don’t be THAT person playing it on public transportation who runs afoul of a thief who hastily relieves you of your $300 investment (plus whatever game you were playing).

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As for what’s coming post launch, as noted above, that reveal conference was misunderstood by many who failed to realize that not only were more games NOT announced due to time constraints, the list of launch window and beyond developers and titles that dropped soon afterwards was actually pretty hefty.

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Speaking of hefty, yes, the price of those controllers is a wee bit extravagant and it should be noted that both Sony and Microsoft have controllers that cost as much as or more than a game does. That said, they feel great and are definitely well designed and made to stand up to some major long-term use. Your peripheral price points, ladies and gentlemen:

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller – $69.99
Joy-Con Controller Sets – $79.99
Individual L/R Joy-Con Controllers – $49.99
Joy-Con Charging Grip – $29.99
Nintendo Switch Dock Set – $89.99
Joy-Con Wheel (Set of 2) – $19.99

The more problematic things with the upcoming system are the still kind of vague online features, NO Ethernet port (something that plagued anyone who played the online-only Lost Reavers on the Wii U and suffered multiple connection drops per session) and lack of in-game communication with other players unless one has a cell phone or other device to access online chat features. While it’s certain to work, its not the smartest or best solution, particularly if one has young kids who have no device access. Or heck, are on metered connections and don’t have a data plan that allows them to keep their devices running while they game. Nintendo will roll out a free version of the service at launch with a paid update arriving in the fall.

Other hiccups include no web browser (but using a browser on a console with no keyboard has always been a bit goofy), no concrete news about whether My Nintendo points will be earned for physical purchases, no news about 3DS functionality with Switch and a few other things we’ll need to wait until March 3 to discover. Oh, you’d better be on the lookout for SD card deals, as the system won’t support external hard drives for game storage, something I hope gets changed so we can at least store games and transfer what we want to take on the road by transferring content to an SD card.

The things to hope for here are Nintendo listening and responding to any major issues Switch owners have at launch and adjusting quickly with fixes and updates. The same goes with games. Get videos and when possible, demos up faster and more frequent than in the old eShop. The system will live or die not by numbers of games alone, but by what happens with the console post launch as sales do their up and down dance. You won’t get any sales projections from me here, but a hope that more people give the system a chance and help spread the word when they play something they like.

-GW

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3 thoughts on “Switch-ing: With Reservations (And Some Ironing), Yes.

  1. I’m not surprised that the whole 1/2 Switch thing is a lot of fun. What worries me is the longevity of such titles and whether Nintendo can sustain success in this party game genre, rather than it just being a launch fad.

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