With less than two weeks before a worldwide release, there are still questions about the Nintendo Switch, but it is winning over fans as the new gaming console tours the country.
Touted as a dynamic home entertainment center that people can take on the go, the Nintendo Switch will be available on March 3 around the globe, priced at $299 in the U.S. Pre-orders for the console have been selling out at retailers despite persistent questions about some features of the device.
Nintendo took the console on the road in North America, visiting New York and Toronto before making a stop in Washington, D.C. It will also visit Chicago and San Franciso, winding up the road tour in Los Angeles on launch weekend.
At the D.C. event, hundreds of people got their hands on the Nintendo Switch in all its variable configurations. Whether in handheld mode, tabletop mode, multiplayer or TV configuration, the Switch was widely praised at the gathering for its comfort and sturdiness, a trait of particular interest given the thin dimensions of the Switch’s touchscreen.
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The Switch, with the Joy-Con controllers attached on the side of a 6.2-inch touchscreen, is slightly wider but significantly thinner than the Wii U gamepad controller. It is also heavier, since it contains the power of the Switch inside and is not just an external controller.
A new title, “Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” showcased the different ways the Switch could be used in various situations. Nintendo set up a fake airplane seat, living room, RV cabin and diner to let fans try out all the configurations.
In tabletop mode in the airplane, a built-in kickstand keeps the Switch steady while the Joy-Con controllers are detached so passengers can lean back and play. In the living room, two players each took one Joy-Con to have a multiplayer match while the Switch screen stayed connected in its cradle, which was connected to the television.
The RV cabin was the place to try out the Switch in handheld mode with the Joy-Cons attached for a complete package. The diner showed off how four people can get together with two Switch consoles for group play.
“And then, of course, there is the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller,” said David Young, assistant manager of public relations for Nintendo of America. “It feels like a pretty standard controller with two joysticks and lots of different buttons. But also, it has the gyroscope, accelerometer, motion control, and it also has an HD rumble. You get those extra things as well.”
Each configuration felt comfortable, and while the detached Joy-Con controllers appear small, they are perfectly sized to either fit in the palm of a hand or, turned sideways, act as a four-button, one-joystick controller.
The display on the touchscreen varied depending on the configuration. While in the cradle, players will get a 1080p display. In any handheld mode, expect the resolution to drop to 720p.
Games will be on cartridges, similar to what is used in the handheld Nintendo DS and 3DS. It is a move away from discs, which were used for the Nintendo Wii and Wii U.
One of the launch titles, “1, 2, Switch,” offers a variety of party-style games that use the Joy-Con controllers’ abilities of motion control or the infrared motion camera to get two players involved in the action. Virtual table tennis, catching a samurai’s sword strike or milking a cow are just some of the games that utilize the Joy-Con features for a different type of fun.
Another new title, “Splatoon 2,” highlighted how up to eight people, each with a Switch, can get together anywhere for multiplayer competition using a built-in local wireless connection between the devices. Nintendo has worked hard in bringing together previously used console technologies to create what it thinks is the play-anywhere, play-anytime gaming device for the entire family.
With the potential for on-the-go gaming, keeping the Switch powered up might be a concern. Young said the Joy-Con controllers are charged up while they are attached to the Switch screen, but when they are used independently, they can stay powered up for about 20 hours.
He said the Switch has a USB-C connector in the top of the device to power up the screen away from the home cradle. How long the screen stays charged depends on the game being played. For example, Young said “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” a game coming out at the same time as the new console, can be played for about three hours before needing to find a power supply.
“We’re going to have licensed accessories, like car chargers and different things,” Young said. “You’ll still be able to charge on the go, and it still delivers that play anywhere, play anytime.”
There is also a capture button on one of the Joy-Cons to capture and share via social media screenshots from gameplay. Young said he expected a future update to allow the capture of video as well.
For those who have amiibos, those can be used in certain games with a simple tap on one of the Joy-Cons. In “Skylanders Imaginators,” those play figures can also be used with a tap on the Joy-Con instead of using the traditional portal platform that previous “Skylanders” games needed.
While those who got the chance to try out the new Nintendo Switch before its launch seemed happy with the selection of games and different abilities of the console, some lingering questions remain.
Young was not ready to reveal what the home screen of the Switch would look like. He rebuffed any comparison to the tile displays found on the Nintendo Wii and the handheld Nintendo 3DS consoles for now
“We’re not ready to show that yet,” Young said. “We’re not showing that yet, but soon. We’ll be sharing something soon.”
The company also will unveil an online, subscription-based service in the fall, for about $30 annually, with a free trial for online multiplayer. The service will allow subscribers to download and sample a classic NES or SuperNES game each month with the subscription.
Young said a smartphone app will be included in the service and provide voice chat with other players rather than using a separate headset. Gamers will be able to use the app to find other players for co-op or competitive gameplay.
However, other features from previous Nintendo consoles, like eShop and Virtual Console, have not been announced and may or may not be part of the service.
Only two games, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “1-2-Switch,” will be available on the day of the launch. While it is a concern, many more games have been announced for later in the year, and Young said more than 80 developers are committed to bringing a wide variety of games to the Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo seems to be banking on early adapters and word of mouth to get out the benefits of the Switch to consumers. The hands-on tour reinforced those who already liked the new console and seemed to positively change the minds of those who may have been on the fence.
The company is counting on the flexibility and mobility of the Nintendo Switch to win over consumers.
“One of the things I love about Nintendo Switch is that it really lives in the world, the real world of today,” Young said. “It is amazing that all the technology that has been incorporated (into the Nintendo Switch). It is the best of everything we know. Everything that Nintendo has experienced is part of this.”