Can Nintendo's latest console turn the company's fortunes around?

 
Steve Hogarty
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The Nintendo Switch, in its portable tablet guise (Source: Nintendo)

The Switch is the latest console from Japanese playing card manufacturer Nintendo, who experimented with creating video games about large monkeys in the early 1970s and never looked back.

A portable gaming machine that can dock with a television to become a regular console, the new device is the glorious end result of the company merging its handheld and hardware divisions back in 2013.

The Switch replaces the tepidly received Wii U, which most critics agree fell somewhere between a “nyehh” and a vague hand-waving motion that suggests no strong feelings in either direction.

The beating heart of the new console is a 6.2-inch, multi-touch tablet, which slots inside a dock that connects to your TV for big screen gaming. When docked the console gets a processing boost, displaying at 1080p resolution (rather than 720p on the smaller screen) and running at a higher framerate.

Attach the two controllers to the sides of the tablet and you can slide it from the dock and take it wherever you please: into the bathroom, on to an aeroplane, into a swamp (or any kind of morass or bogland really), it’s entirely up to you.

The announcement and reveal of the Nintendo Switch follows years of speculation as to what comes next for the company, whose original Wii console broke pretty much every sales record going by appealing to children and grandmothers.

When you undock the tablet, whatever you’re playing will seamlessly teleport from the TV, slipping like a digital ghost from the wall to your hands.

The controllers are called Joy-Cons, and they can be detached from the tablet and used separately by two players, like Wii Remotes. They can also plug together without a screen to form a more traditional looking controller when playing on a television.

There’s an impressive amount of technology crammed into each one, in particular “HD Rumble”, a vibrating, haptic feedback similar to the “fake click” of the new iPhone 7 home button. The controllers can create the uncanny sensation of holding virtual objects.

In one demo, you tilt the controllers to guess how many virtual balls are knocking about inside them. In another you tug on a cow’s turgid teat to fill up milk jugs as quickly as you can. Both are silly and short-lived distractions, but an impressive demonstration of what the little controllers are capable of.

The announcement and reveal of the Nintendo Switch follows years of speculation as to what comes next for the company, whose original Wii console broke pretty much every sales record going by appealing to children and grandmothers.

And where the Wii U suffered from a poor post-launch line-up of game releases (and a dual-screen concept that players never truly got on board with), the Switch does away with the Wii branding and instead doubles down on a portability feature that feels like more than a gimmick.

It’s rock solid too, with the chunky Fisher-Price plastic of Nintendo’s earlier consoles replaced with sharp, snap-together precision and a grown-up, expensive feel.

There are some concerns, however. Nintendo is launching a new console in mid-cycle again, and with hardware specs that already lag behind the 4K-capable PlayStation Pro. But that didn’t harm the defiantly standard-definition Wii, which was voraciously adopted by an audience that simply didn’t care about specs.

A software developer first, Nintendo’s real offering will be in the first-party titles it can bring to the Switch, rather than in the hardware itself. In this respect the company needs to get its act together. With just five launch games to speak of, even the most ardent of Nintendo fans will struggle to be excited.

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1-2-Switch

Analogous to the Wii Play compilation that launched with the Nintendo Wii back in 2006, 1-2-Switch presents a series of mini-games that demonstrate the new hardware’s capabilities. There’s a safe cracking game in which you slowly rotate the Joy-Cons while feeling for the “click” of the lock, as well as a gun duelling game in which two players draw and fire their Joy-Cons as soon as they hear the fire command. Launches 3 March

Arms

Arms is a robot smashing game in which players hold a Joy-Con in each hand and physically punch the air in order to control their springy-armed avatar, which is about as exhausting as it sounds. The original Wii was mired in this sort of arm-waggling nonsense, and while Arms has some tactical depth (you can tilt your fists to hook, and accurately block oncoming punches), it feels very much a novelty. Launches 3 March

Snipperclips

An innovative little co-operative puzzler in which two players control two scraps of paper, who can overlap to snip and cut one another into different shapes. You might cut your mate into a pointy shape to pop a balloon, or snip their head flat so that you can stand on top of them while you dunk a basketball. You can also brutally snip your friend into pieces if you’re feeling particularly anti-social. Launches later in March

Splatoon 2

The original Splatoon launched on Wii U in 2015, and summarily proved that you don’t need drone strikes and exploded limbs to be a top-tier online shooter. Instead, players use paint guns to slap their chosen colour about the level before transforming into squid to swim through the ink they’ve splooged. Giddy, silly and eccentric fun. The sequel looks to introduce new characters and abilities. Launches summer 2017

Super Mario Odyssey

Revealed alongside the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey sees Mario transported to the real world, inadvertently confirming that he’s only about as tall as a fire hydrant. Little is known about the new platformer other than that it portrays Mario at his absolute rudest. The egregious plumber now throws his hat at enemies and tresspasses on private property with seemingly no respect for the law. Launches late 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Delayed for so long it became a launch title for the Switch, Breath of the Wild is the first main-entry Zelda title since Skyward Sword on the Wii and promises to be the first truly open-world Zelda game. Expect lots of fields and countryside to run around in, dungeons to explore and a princess to rescue. Breath of the Wild will also be available on the Wii U, with just cosmetic differences between both versions. Launches 3 March

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