Nintendo first teased its new "Switch" console at an event last October, and ever since then we've been wondering if the new device would make the company bounce back from the disappointing performance of the Wii U.
On Thursday night at an event in Tokyo, Nintendo finally revealed crucial details on what the Switch will cost and what games to expect at launch. Now that we have a clearer picture, we're excited and a little confused, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
First, the big news: The Switch is region-free and costs $299.99, and it'll release worldwide March 3 along with the long-awaited The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although it's not coming at launch, there's also a new Mario game on the way, Super Mario Odyssey. The Switch will come with a service specifically aimed at online gaming, which will be free at first but transition to a paid service sometime this fall, like Microsoft's Xbox Live. There's currently no word on how much that service will cost.
It's a decent price point, but it's not so great as to give the Switch an immediate advantage over its competitors. As we said when Nintendo announced it back in October, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 already have models available at the $300 price point, and Nintendo consoles have been cheaper than the competition in recent years.
One of Nintendo's great strengths is innovating gaming through the use of hardware, and in theory, at least, the Switch fits that trend. When it's docked and connected to a TV, it acts like a regular game console along the lines of the Xbox One or Nintendo's own Wii U. But then, with very little effort, you can pull a small screen out from the dock and "switch" (aha!) to a portable gaming device with two "Joy Con" controllers attached to the sides.
Nintendo placed a lot of emphasis on the rather tiny Joy Con controllers, which are even weirder than we thought after the initial reveal. The Switch comes with two, encouraging local multiplayer play right off the bat. They support motion control like the Wii, and will eventually let players capture videos they can then share on social media.
The Joy Con controllers will also support a launch game called 1-2 Switch, which highlights some of their unique features and takes the admirable angle of not focusing on the screen for play. Instead, player's focus on each other, looking for cues in each other's eyes for timing when they press buttons on the Joy Cons. By way of example of what it has in mind, Nintendo showed off two gunslingers in a high-noon showdown using Switch controllers rather than pistols. Another game called Arms, due out sometime this spring,uses similar technology while using a Joy Con in each hand to mimic punching opponents with extendable arms.
Nintendo also said the Joy Cons have "HD Rumble," a nonsensical term alluding to the claim that they vibrate with such accuracy, they'll be able to convey to the player whether he's holding a glass with one ice cube, or three. Yes, that's the example, they used. How is that useful for a game? We don't know, but it sounds cool!
Similarly, the Joy Con controllers have a camera that can recognize object and distance from those objects. The example Nintendo used during the presentation was that the camera would be able to detect the hand gestures for rock, paper, scissors. How is that useful for a game? We don't know, but it sounds cool!
Nintendo claims players should be able to get around 2.5 to 6.5 hours of play out of the Switch, although it can also charge while you're playing. Such a low charge time could pose problems. The handheld Nintendo DS console from 2004, which sold 154 million units and essentially ties with Sony's PlayStation 2 as the best-selling console of all time, could deliver 10 hours of play with the backlight turned on. The followup Nintendo 3DS fared far more poorly, delivering only around three to five hours of play with its signature 3D technology turned on.
Other games included Splatoon 2, Xenoblade 2, Fire Emblem Warriors, and a new Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey, which features everyone's favorite plumber trotting about an open-world sandbox version of what looks like New York City and other locations that look more like Earth than the Mushroom Kingdom. It was the best looking game announced in the presentation. It's sharp and colorful, and it seems to split the difference between Super Mario 64 and Super Mario 3D Land. Splatoon 2 (we really like the first one) and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild also look great, but more familiar.
Overall, the presentation made another good impression, with the controllers being the most interesting part. They make it seem like Nintendo is trying to recapture the intuitive, motion-based interface that made the Wii so successful, but also give players enough other input methods and mobility to recapture the success of the Nintendo DS. This is what we assumed the plan was as far back as when we first saw patent filings for the Switch, and now we see it all come together, plus some unexpected new ways to interact.
They don't all make sense right now, but that could be a good thing. The Wii and Nintendo DS seemed insane when we first got a look at them, and they turned out to be two of the best devices the company ever produced.