Nintendo knows how to throw a party. Outside the doors of the Melbourne Room at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (colloquially called Jeff’s Shed), Nintendo displayed a history of their consoles, from the NES all the way to the Wii U. However, it was the console on the inside of that room that I was keen on playing. I’d previously had the privilege of a friend handing me a spare invite to the Wii U hands-on experience in Seattle, so I roughly knew what to expect. But unlike last time when a friend brought me to the Wii U sneak peek in Seattle, this time there was a Zelda title awaiting me on the other side of those doors, and that meant my excitement was at a much greater fever pitch. I’m normally pretty immune to marketing ploys and the normal PR spiel, but I hadn’t been able to help myself this time. I needed to get in there and play some games.
The Melbourne event wasn’t as lavish or as public as the event in Tokyo. Instead, it was a rather intimate experience. The lines to play games were never that long; it was simply a matter of waiting a few minutes before earlier players cleared out. What makes the experience special is that it’s not just a room filled with sprawling tables littered with consoles like that you might find at a PAX convention. Instead, Nintendo decorates each of its mini-booths with iconography and printed material that helps get you into the environment. The Zelda booth had that iconic ruined Master Sword stuck into a triangular pedestal. Splatoon 2‘s area had that street grunge vibe straight out of Inkopolis. ARMS included a veritable boxing ring. And well, 1-2-Switch? Yeah, you can tell Nintendo is gambling big with this one seeing as it was the only booth that saw volunteers dressing up as samurai, Wild West gunslingers, and (yikes!) farmers instead of their normal red Nintendo Switch T-shirts.
Before talking about the games, the Nintendo Switch itself merits discussion of its own. I had a few concerns going in. Those Joy-Con look so terribly small and so worryingly flimsy. Yet for me, they really were neither. When playing the Joy-Cons alone, they’re incredibly comfortable. They fit into your hands in so many form-fitting ways; there’s a lot of good design in them. And when attached to the Switch Grip, it feels oh so natural. They’re really a pleasure to game on. The placement of the buttons is a little unfamiliar, but that’s the territory when learning a new controller. Best of all is that everything feels incredibly sturdily made. Don’t worry about breaking these; worry instead about losing your Joy-Cons if you just leave them lying in strange places. The Switch itself looks great on the TV and in your hands. I didn’t play a lot in “portable mode”, and I didn’t play at all in “tabletop mode,” but I think the form factor and the weight are perfectly fine. As far as I can tell, it’s a beautiful system. I only wish it had a bit more built-in memory, but that’s what the SD expansion bay is for, I suppose.
I didn’t get to play everything I wanted. I missed out on playing Splatoon 2, though I feel okay about that since I’m already fairly convinced that it’s going to be an eventual buy for me. Instead, outside of Breath of the Wild, I went after the games that I had doubts on or the ones that were complete surprises.
I was intensely skeptical of 1-2-Switch before going to the event. The fact that it was a near-full-price game had me scratching my head as I heard stories about cow milking and counting balls. As a result, I knew I needed to play, just to see if I was missing something. As I said before, this was one of Nintendo’s prime attractions with five of the minigames on display taking place in triangular rooms that everyone could look into. They’d ask us to don some prop to get into the mood: a samurai headband, a cowboy hand, or a bandana. After a quick tutorial, we were off.
I got to play four of the five minigames on display: Quick Draw, Samurai Training, Eating Contest, and (yes…) Milk. Of the four, Samurai Training and Quick Draw are the only two that I personally found engaging. Admittedly, I think Nintendo is onto something with this idea of looking your opponent in the eyes rather than having to be glued to the TV screen. In this regards, it’s very similar to the game Johann Sebastian Joust, a game that only uses the TV for “scoring” but otherwise is completely physical… as well as mental. Samurai Training is all about psyching out your opponent; it’s an intense game of tactics and concentration. The attacker of each pair has to bring down his “sword” at a surprising time while the defender needs to simultaneously “clap” his hands together in order to stop the sword from conking him on the head; it’s surprisingly easy to master and fun to play… and fun to “cheat” on. Quick Draw is about honing your reflexes and being fast, waiting for that signal to quickly whip up your “pistols” and squeeze the trigger. Both presented well, and I could see them played at most parties.
The other two, unfortunately, fell rather flat. Eating Contest is a one-trick wonder. It uses the right Joy-Con’s IR camera to capture your mouth, which means your mouth is the primary input device. It’s novel, I suppose—certainly something I’ve never done before—but is it something I’d play more than five minutes? Hmm. (For what it’s worth, I nearly scored a perfect score of 11¼ out of 12 on my first go.) Milk is only slightly less awkward given the context that you’re milking a virtual cow’s udder. To Nintendo’s credit, this HD Rumble thing works exactly as they claim. It flat out feels good. It really did not take all that much imagination to visualize a cow standing above me as I, ahem, milked. The Joy-Cons have some impressive tech inside them, and 1-2-Switch shows it off.
The problem, however, is that Wii Sports and WarioWare this is not. Wii Sports at least had the vague illusion that you were accomplishing something, namely the overall illusion that I was good at real sports. I’m not sure what being good at Milk or Eating Contest is supposed to signify or why I’d care. On the other hand, WarioWare is a game about quickly attuning your brain to adapt to the steadily increasing pace of rule changes and contexts, always making sure you were prepared for literally anything next. 1-2-Switch is simply a collection of isolated modes without any overlap. While Nintendo’s website reveals that there are over a dozen more unannounced minigames included in the collection, and maybe some of those are going to be okay, the pricing is a hard pill to swallow. Make it a half-price game or bundle it, and we’d have a more palatable deal. But as is, I’m not yet convinced.
Next up was ARMS, and this game was much more compelling to me. In essence, it’s a fantastical version of the boxing minigame from Wii Sports. And while I was also skeptical of this one as well, I ended up having a really good time with it. Two players face off each other split-screen style, each with their own set of Joy-Cons. Most of the controls are gesture-based, as tilting translated to walking, while quick jabs were for punching. Let me say that the Joy-Cons as motion input devices work better than the Wii Remote or the Wii Motion Plus ever did. I never felt like it wasn’t responding perfectly to my movements.
The beauty of ARMS is that it’s not just a glorified tech demo. There’s a bit of room for customization as well; after selecting your character (out of five options), you can also pick one of three fists you want to fight with on each arm. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, and you have to employ a small dose of strategy when combatting your rival. Knowing when to use your special attacks and the many ways of dodging punches and grabs is essential. The motion controls and the force feedback feel good as the Joy-Cons just melt into your hands as you play. Again, the question here comes down to price and value for the money. Unlike 1-2-Switch, ARMS is a US $60 game. Could this — a two-player only game — have the replayability of something like Street Fighter II? It’s got a fair chance, and I think it at least punches above 1-2-Switch’s weight at being worth that price.
The motion controls and the force feedback feel good as The Joy-cons just melt into your hands as you play.
The other non-Zelda game I took a look at was Snipperclips, and I’m extremely happy (and relieved!) to say that this is going to be a day-one purchase for me. Snipperclips feels like an independent game. It’s incredibly cute and charming. It’s undeniably quirky. And its difficulty is sometimes maddening (in a very, very good way!). It’s a two-player-required game, but that’s actually the beauty of it. Each player starts off playing a character that is, for lack of a better description, a filled-in U shape. Your only ability besides jumping is that you can snip off parts of your ally’s form by overlapping yourself with your friend’s shape and pushing a button. And therein lays the maddening difficulty. Some puzzles will require you both of you to perfectly fit within some dotted outline, but how do you actually do it? Or perhaps there’s an objective to complete: You have to press this button that’s in a narrow gap, but doing so will release a basketball that needs to be placed in the hoop. The game reminds me of Scribblenauts insofar that there’s more than one way to solve any given problem. These puzzles require ingenuity and creativity. Also, they require lots of clever communication and coordination. Package this in a cute and charming environment, and you’ve got yourselves a lot of fun. Sure, this game gears more casual than hardcore, but everyone will find it enjoyable.
And Breath of the Wild? You already know about that. I spent my 20 minutes just goofing off. I drowned in an icky muddy swamp on accident. I accidentally jumped off the Great Plateau while a Guardian’s laser beam was tracking me. I was killed by a Bokoblin tossing an explosive barrel at my feet. And when my time was up, I didn’t want to give the controller up.
I purposefully went out of my way to avoid the plot during the demo. I already know that I’m going to be tackling shrines with ruthless efficiency on March 3, so my goal was to get familiar with the controls, how expressive Link is, and also getting comfortable with the Switch controls. We were encouraged to play in both TV mode and portable mode, and they both felt good to play with. The controls are fairly robust in Breath of the Wild. The amount of actions Link can use to navigate and fight the world are impressive. Jumping and climbing change so many things, not to mention the ability to crouch and sneak. And for the first time in a long while, Hyrule truly is an open world. It’s almost daunting to realize just how small and insignificant you are compared to the world, how far you’re going to have to walk (or ride, I suppose) just to go places. This game is the breath of fresh air that Nintendo has needed for some time. Eiji Aonuma and Nintendo have really outdone themselves in this title.
Altogether, Nintendo threw an amazing event, and the only sad aspect was that we only had two hours to play. I would have gladly tried out some of the third-party and indie titles like Super Bomberman R, Has-Been Heroes, and Sonic Mania if only there had been another hour more on the invite. But sadly, two hours was all we could manage. But Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, didn’t force us to leave empty-handed. As we left, we got a bevy of Nintendo Switch-themed goodies as a way of saying thanks for partying with them. No, Nintendo Australia, thank you.
Altogether, I’m looking forward to the Switch, and I’m happy that there’s one with my name written all over it come the 3rd of March. I don’t know how I’m going to survive the wait over these next six and a half weeks, but getting to see the Switch and play it has certainly whet my appetite just a little bit. Hopefully it’ll tide me over as I wait for Breath of the Wild to come my way.