One of the stranger moments of my life occurred this morning, when I competed at virtually milk a cow against a total stranger (hi Garrett!). Using the Nintendo Switch's new Joy-Con controllers, moving it up and down and alternating pressing shoulder buttons, I fought to fill up cups of milk as quickly as possible.
The experience was a mini-game inside the upcoming 1, 2, Switch, one of the titles that will launch alongside the Nintendo Switch on March 3. As utterly bizarre as milking a virtual utter with a controller was, I have to admit, it was a hell of a lot of fun.
In fact, the big takeaway I have after I spent a few hours playing various games with the Nintendo Switch is that this is a really, really fun console. In my time playing different games and in different settings — both connected to the TV and in portable mode — I found myself reminiscing about the fun I used to have playing the Nintendo Wii back in the mid-aughts.
The centre of the Nintendo Switch experience isn't the screen — which can be docked or used as a portable — it's the Joy-Con controllers.
The Joy-Con Grip
The pair of controllers are what makes the system tick. When docked in the Joy-Con Grip, the controller feels like a typical gamepad. Nintendo will also sell a Pro Controller — which feels very, very similar to the Pro Controller for the Wii U — but the Joy-Con is how most users will interact with the system.
Like I said, when docked on the Grip, the Joy-Con controller is instantly intuitive and comfortable. But the trick is that you can undock those controllers and use them in each hand — Wii Nunchuk style. I found the controller to be extremely comfortable when docked in the grip or on the side of the Switch's screen.
You can also remove the controller piece from the grip, and use a single one flipped in a horizontal orientation. I used this method when playing the 2D scroller, Sonic Mania. I have to say, in my hands (which are extremely small), the horizontal gamepad still felt downright tiny. Moreover, after prolonged playing in that mode, my left thumb started to feel sore. Still, the Joy-Con was totally serviceable, which in and of itself was a bit of a surprise.
Single Joy-Con controller usage is more fun in games like 1, 2, Switch, where each person holds a Joy-Con half and aims it at each other — not the screen — to complete actions such as playing a game of Draw or milking a cow. The right Joy-Con controller has a motion sensor built-in and it can apparently tell the difference between hand-gestures such as rock, paper or scissors. Nintendo didn't show off the sensors in action, but the vibration — known as HD Rumble — was very, very rad.
For instance, one of the mini-games in 1,2 Switch asks you to guess how many marbles are in a box. You move the controller left to right in your palm and the vibrations simulate what it would feel like to roll a box of marbles. The sensation, while bizarre, totally did feel like what would happen if you rolled a closed-box of marbles back and forth between your hands.
The vibration was strong in other games too. Playing Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, the vibrations kicked in at the right times when getting hit or when picking up bonus items. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind, the vibrations on the controller added to the sense of climbing up a hill or getting hit by a bad guy.
When you remove the Switch from its dock and use it as a portable, it's still quite easy to use. Nintendo put security locks on the dock to prevent theft, but even that added cable didn't make the process of moving the Joy-Con controller from the Grip to the Dock any more complex.
When docked, it's easy to slide each half of a Joy-Con into the rails built-into the side of the Switch. They easily lock into place and you can then lift the Switch out of the dock.
Locking the Joy-Con into the Switch and sliding it out of the dock is a breeze
I never found the process of moving from the Wii U on the TV to the game controller to be particularly seamless. But on the Switch, it really is. While playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind, I was able to move in the middle of my game without any problem. Removing the Joy-Con controller from the Grip paused the game and as soon as I slid the Switch out of its dock, playback resumed exactly where it was before.
When used as a portable, the Switch was lighter than I expected it to be. With the Joy-Con controllers attached, the Switch is large — it feels longer than the Wii U's gamepad — but it isn't bulky. The weight is definitely heavier than your phone or a 3DS, but it's not something I could see myself having a problem playing for a few hours.
The screen quality is sharp and the graphical response time was fantastic. I played multiplayer Super Mario Kart 8: Deluxe in portable mode and it was a blast. The size of the screen (6.2 inches) is just big enough to keep you immersed, while still small enough to not make lugging it around a total pain-in-the arse. Still, I wonder about battery life. Nintendo promises two-and-a-half to six hours.
When it comes to the games themselves, nothing other than Zelda necessarily blew me away (though the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey looks amazing), but the games I did play were fun. Splatoon 2 docked or in portable mode was a total jam, especially when competing against other people.
Even classic games such as Ultra Street Fighter — which is available in an HD mode and with retro graphics — felt newer than it should have.
The bottom line is that I had a ton of fun playing games and those Joy-Con controllers are an absolute delight. It's too soon to say whether the ideas Nintendo is trying with the Switch will work and if this console is enough to right the wrongs of the Wii U. It will take more than just Nintendo games to make a platform. Moreover, the number of titles available at launch is less than overwhelming. Still, my first impression is that this is much more "hit" than miss.