THE NINTENDO SWITCH is seen by most as the firm's last chance in the console market. While not an all-around flop, its Wii U predecessor sold just 13 million units in its four years on the market, while the original Wii sold 84 million units in the same period.
Thankfully, after our hands-on time with the Nintendo Switch, we're convinced that the firm doesn't have anything to worry about (although not everyone on the INQ team agrees). Its modular design is innovative, the console itself gorgeous, and although its launch games lineup is a bit 'meh', it's bound to be more successful than its uninspiring predecessor.
We were sold on the idea of the Nintendo Switch from day one, and thankfully it didn't disappoint during our hands-on time with the console. It's a truly capable hybrid system - acting as a traditional games console when sat in its dock and as a portable on-the-go system when the bundled Joy-Con controllers are tacked to its sides.
The console itself has a reasonable 6.2in display, and while many have scoffed at its 1280x720 resolution, we found the screen plenty bright and sharp enough while playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and its viewing angles dramatically better than those offered by the lacklustre Wii U gamepad. This display also packs an improved capacitive touchscreen, but we weren't allowed to test this during our hands-on. Boo.
The first thing we noticed after picking up the Nintendo Switch, though, was how solid and well-built it felt. Unlike the Wii U's featherlight and plasticky gamepad, the Switch felt high-end, its metal and glass chassis making it feel reassuringly solid in the hand. It's also surprisingly thin and light, so your wrists shouldn't be aching too much after a solid few hours of gaming.
It's a great looking console, too. While we struggled to get too excited by the standard 'grey' version, the Neon model, which comes with red and blue controllers, is gorgeous and will stand out under any TV or busy commuter train.
When you dig deeper into the console's specs, it's clear that while Nintendo is shifting its focus away from a family-friendly audience to that of hardcore gamers, it's by no means attempting to match the PS4 or Xbox One in the performance department.
Under the hood, you'll find a custom Nvidia Tegra processor, similar to that found inside the Nvidia Shield TV, and while it was hard to judge the console's grunt on the demo software we were using, it showed no signs of struggle. This chip comes paired with 32GB storage and a USB-C charging.
The addition of USB-C means faster charging, a necessity given that Nintendo has quoted a battery life of between just 2.5 and 6.5 hours, depending on which game you're playing. Zelda fan? You'll probably want to carry around a power bank.
Support for 802.11.ac is also bundled in, with online play another of the Switch's selling points. Up to eight Nintendo Switch consoles can link up for local multiplayer play, and when we used this to play Mario Kart, there wasn't any evidence of struggling or lag.
Nintendo's new Joy-Con controllers are the star of the show. When joined together they can be used as a traditional controller, or they can be used either together or separately when not pinned to the sides of the console.
You'll find all the usual buttons correct and present: two analogue sticks, eight action buttons, start and select buttons and two pairs of shoulder triggers, and while we found these easy to navigate and intuitive to use from the get-go, some with larger hands might find them a little close together given the positively tiny of the individual Joy-Cons. They are incredibly small and light, and we're putting our money on having lost approximately seven down the sides of our sofas this year alone.
Each Joy-Con controller has an accelerometer and gyroscope for Wii-style motion control, as well advanced haptic feedback. Nintendo refers to this as 'HD Rumble' and it allows the controllers to simulate a greater array of feedback experience the firm's previous offerings. It's so impressive, in fact, Nintendo claims that you can feel vibrations as subtle as ice cubes shaking around in a glass.
We put this HD rumble tech to the test with a 1-2 Switch mini-game called, er, Ball Count. The aim of the game is to guess how many ball bearings are moving around in a wooden box, with the rumble recreating the feeling of the balls rolling around inside the controller as you tip and twist it in your hands. While, admittedly, this doesn't sound like the most exciting console experience ever released, we were suitably impressed with the haptic technology, albeit unlikely to be a major feature in any of the firm's bigger releases.
The Nintendo Switch is unlikely to win over too many Mario fanatics at launch, arriving with just The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch available when it first tips up on shelves in March. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be out in April, while Arms, an insanely fun (and knackering) multiplayer boxing game which uses the Joy-Con controllers to extend your arms and throw punches will be ready "this spring".
Given that the upcoming Mario Kart release is simply a reworked version of the Wii U title with a few extra characters, courses and new features tacked on, and likely will cost full-price at launch, this line-up is unlikely to get Mario fans too excited, not until December at least. This will mark the release of Super Mario Odyssey, a 'sandbox' that lets you explore wide-open worlds.
Lacklustre games line-up aside, we're really excited about the Switch. Not only is it a drastic improvement on the Wii U before it, but we're pretty much sold on the concept of the hybrid console, which is meticulously designed and offers truly innovative gameplay with its Joy-Con controllers. Of course, we'll reserve full judgement until our full review. µ