PAX South 2017: Nintendo Switch Hands-On Impressions - An Exciting Piece of Kit
After months of anticipation — and an 8 hour drive to San Antonio — I finally had the opportunity to get my hands on the Nintendo Switch for the first time at PAX South this past weekend. It was exciting to try out Nintendo's newest home console, and the experience left me wanting more. I played a total of five games on the Switch in four different control configurations, and each one felt unique in its own way.
The Nintendo booth at PAX South was by far the most popular one of the show. In fact, the event staff often had to cap off the lines, not allowing any more people to queue up until the crowd of curious conference attendees died down — which it never really did. If you wanted to secure your place in line you either had to stand around and wait until they opened the line again, or get lucky and happen upon an open line when you circled back around. Indeed, the buzz and hype surrounding the Switch and its selection of playable demos was palpable.
The Nintendo booth at PAX South featured two separate lines for those wishing to try the new console: one line for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and one line for the other six games being shown. Since I was unable to secure my place in either of those lines when the doors first opened on Saturday (the line filled up in the time it took me to walk over to the Nintendo booth), I ended up at the Frozenbyte booth to try out their new game, Has Been Heroes. I wasn't super interested in the game itself, but I overheard that they had a demo that was playable on the Switch. So, I decided to get in line to play Has Been Heroes just so I could have an opportunity to hold the Switch controller. As it turns out, I wasn't the only person with this idea. Everyone in the Has Been Heroes line was waiting to play it on Switch. There was nobody waiting in the separate PS4/Xbox One line. Again, this demonstrates the positive buzz around Nintendo Switch and gives me hope for the future of the console.
Has Been Heroes
Has Been Heroes is a lane-based, rogue-like action game featuring a cartoony art style and unique characters. You choose five heroes who will walk along in three lanes to defeat various enemies and collect loot. Some of the characters can cast spells whereas others are damage dealers. To succeed, you must be quick to swap characters back and forth between the different lanes in order to avoid being overrun by the nonstop stream of baddies. I can honestly say that I did not fully understand this game. From a mechanical standpoint, Has Been Heroes is far too dense to be explained and enjoyed in a 15-minute demonstration. I'm not saying the game isn't fun; what I am saying is that I didn't enjoy my time with it — but I also didn't have enough time to really get into the flow of the gameplay. If I had a few hours to spend with Has Been Heroes, perhaps I would be able to wrap my mind around the mechanics of what Frozenbyte is trying to do with this title. However, despite the fact that I didn’t fully understand or enjoy my time with Has Been Heroes, I still had a chance to play the game with the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. For those who are interested, the controller feels about the same as the Wii U Pro Controller, with one major difference: the offset right thumb stick. The buttons on the pro controller are slightly larger than the buttons on the Joy-Con controllers that come with the system, so that should be taken into account as well. I'm sure many gamers will prefer the Switch pro controller over the Wii U one — and possibly over the Joy-Cons themselves — as it is more in line with what many of us are used to.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
On Saturday afternoon, I finally secured my place in line to play my most anticipated game of the year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After a two hour wait, I enjoyed a brief 20-minute demo, which — as far as I could tell — consisted of the first 20 minutes of the game itself. If you watched Nintendo's Treehouse presentation at E3 last year, then you saw pretty much what I experienced in this demo. I played the game using the Pro controller primarily, but the docked Switch tablet was there as well, and I was free to dock it or undock it as I pleased. I did end up pulling the Switch out of the dock and enjoying the game in handheld mode for several minutes, and I can attest to the fact that the system switches between TV mode and handheld mode without any trouble at all. The device itself feels like a solid piece of tech. It doesn't feel cheap, nor does it feel too heavy like the Wii U gamepad. I can imagine myself sitting and playing Zelda for extended periods of time while on the go, and then bringing that adventure home to continue on my TV with the Pro controller. The game also looks fantastic, both on the TV as well as on the tablet. The only thing I didn't expect to find distracting about the Switch — and it’s something I never even thought about — was the location of the thumb stick on the right Joy-Con controller. As I mentioned earlier, most of us are accustomed to the offset stick that is located diagonally from the face buttons. But on the Joy-Con controller, the stick is located below the face buttons. It felt a little strange having to move my thumb down to access the right stick for camera controls, but it wasn't a deal breaker. I'm sure I can get used to it, but this is another reason why many gamers may prefer to play with the pro controller while the Switch is docked.
The Zelda demo itself was a lot of fun, and it left me wanting more. Link has the ability to climb, run, and swim as long as his stamina meter holds out. I got a good sense of the combat and the ability to swap between weapons. The first weapon I found was an axe that was lodged in a tree stump. Shortly thereafter, I came upon an apple tree. I wasn't sure how to shake the apples from the tree, so I simply chopped it down with one mighty swing of my axe. The apples could then be picked up and stored in my inventory for later, where I could eat them to restore my health. Then there is Link’s trusty bow and arrow. Instead of being required to explore a dungeon to find a bow and arrows like in previous titles in the series, you can pick those items up from a defeated Bokoblin in the first 10 minutes of gameplay.
I also got a sense of how the game will guide you along during the adventure. Although I was free to explore and do what I wanted to in the open world, I was still given a waypoint to direct me where to go when I was ready to progress the story. By the time I discovered my first Trial Shrine (mini-dungeon), the demo was over and it was time to move on. I wish I was given more time to spend with Breath of the Wild, but I guess I'll have to wait until March 3rd to get my hands on it again!
On Sunday, I waited in line to play some of the other Switch games on display. The Nintendo booth had six game demos available: Arms, 1-2 Switch, Super Bomberman R, Splatoon 2, Snipperclips, and Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers. Out of these six games, attendees could choose three of them to play. Since Splatoon and Street Fighter are known quantities for me, and 1-2 Switch doesn't really interest me, I decided to try out the remaining three choices.
Here's what I thought of each of them:
Arms is essentially a 3D fighting game featuring characters with extendable arms who can punch their opponent from a distance, or reach out and grab their opponent to toss them across the ring. From my experience, I'm honestly not sure if Arms is a game I'll want to buy. I like the fact that it's a new IP for Nintendo. I also like the look of the game and the character designs. There is some fun to be had with the game's mechanics, but I was not a big fan of the motion controls. Arms is played (at least in this demo) with the Joy-Con controllers held in each hand vertically. To punch, you simply move your hand forward as if you're throwing a punch. The top shoulder buttons are for jumping and dodging, and they are the only buttons that are used. You can tilt the controllers left or right to move in that direction. You can also utilize a super move, once your power meter builds up, in which you can unleash a flurry of punches toward your opponent. At the beginning of each match, you can choose from a selection of unique fists that your character will bring into battle. For example, you might decide on a fist that catches on fire as it moves across the arena, or even one that splits into three pieces that spread out as they fly across the battleground. Nintendo has confirmed that Arms does offer traditional button controls as an option, so I will reserve my judgement against the game until I get a chance to try all of the control options. The game does have the potential to be a fun time, though.
Another new IP for the Switch, Snipperclips is a unique, side-scrolling co-op puzzle game for two players, and it is a lot of fun. I played the game in "Tabletop Mode," wherein the Switch tablet sits on a table using the built-in kickstand and the Joy-Con controllers are held sideways to serve as individual controllers for players one and two. In Snipperclips, each player controls a weird little paper man who can rotate his horseshoe-shaped body either horizontally or vertically. Whenever you get close to your co-op partner and your bodies overlap, you can press a button to snip off the covered part of your cohort’s paper body. The goal of the game is to work together, forming each other into different shapes in order to solve puzzles. For example, in one stage we had to get a pencil across the screen and push it into a pencil sharpener. In order to accomplish this, the other player had to cut me into a thinner shape so that I, in turn, could cut a divot into the top of his body. I could then press the button to drop the pencil down from the ceiling so he could catch said pencil in his newly-formed groove. That allowed him to balance the pencil, move it across the playing field, and push it into the pencil sharpener. It may be difficult to envision the game based on what I'm describing, but it is a very unique and fun game that requires communication and teamwork. When playing Snipperclips, I used the right Joy-Con, which is the one that has the control stick situated in the middle of the controller. Although that felt a little strange at first, after we got started playing the game, I didn't even notice it anymore. Other than Zelda, Snipperclips was my favorite Switch game that I played, and I will most likely be buying it when it launches based on what I played in the demo.
Super Bomberman R
The final Nintendo Switch title that I played was Super Bomberman R. If you've never played a Bomberman game, it is a very fun competitive multiplayer game for up to eight players. I had the opportunity to play a few matches with three other players, wherein each of us played on our own Switch console in handheld mode. You can customize the look of your Bomberman with a number of different colors and accessories. I chose a black Bomberman with a guitar on his back (of course). After P1 (Player One) sets the rules and chooses the stage, you're in for some fast-paced bomb-dropping action. You can see the entire stage on your screen, which is laid out like a grid filled with blocks — some are destructible, some are not. As you bomb your way toward your opponents, you can pick-up power-ups that will increase your speed, the blast radius of your bombs, or the number of bombs you can drop at one time. The goal of Bomberman is to be the last one standing. Even if you get eliminated early on, you get the chance to redeem yourself as you are placed atop the outer walls of the stage where you can throw bombs down at the remaining players. There are several different stages and scenarios to choose from that will mix up both the gameplay and the strategy required for victory. If you're looking for a good time with friends, then Super Bomberman R is the game for you. I really enjoyed my time with it.
So there you have it, my (somewhat) brief impressions of the Nintendo Switch, and the games that I had a chance to play on it, at PAX South. Seeing the massive swell of interest in this new console firsthand gave me hope for the future of the Switch. Hopefully, Nintendo is able to capitalize on this hype and use it to carry the Switch past its meager launch lineup. Did you get a chance to attend PAX South and play the Switch? If so, let us know your thoughts. Do you have any questions about the games or the hardware itself that I didn't cover here? Sound-off in the comments below!