What a difference a few weeks make. After delivering a presentation that left even the most hardcore of Nintendo fans confused and a bit emotionally bruised, it seemed like we were heading towards the calm before the proverbial shitstorm that was their eventual new Home Console release. This was until I got my chance to try the damn thing out at this weekend’s Toronto Switch Preview Event. And you know what? Color me impressed.

Walking into the convention hall, we were treated to eye candy for nerds. Games, Gadgets, and a dancing Mario, what else could anybody ask for? It was here that I made sure to pick up my ticket to play the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before heading onto the show floor, and what a set-up it was. I’ll give Nintendo credit, if they didn’t sell me on their console via presentation, they sure did in person because they did what Disney is so good at doing: making you feel the joy of being a kid again. Anyways onto the show!

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The Controllers

The first thing I got my hands-on ended up being my biggest surprise take away from the event – the Joy Cons are actually solid. They are light, but by no means cheap; small, but very functional.

I first used one of them in detached mode for Sonic Mania. While using the left Joy-Con as the controller, it actually felt great. The analog stick was nice and sturdy and while the buttons are smaller than I’d like, they feel responsive. For short bursts of play, the Joy Con is something I could actually recommend to someone as a viable input option. While no means the optimal way to play games, it was perfectly serviceable for a game like Sonic or even Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

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There has been much debate on the right Joy Con, which sports its analog stick closer to the middle of its body. I requested to try it out for a couple of races in Mario Kart and while I can fully understand some of those concerns, it was by no means unplayable. In fact, I would go as far as saying, as long as you don’t have giant hands, there isn’t as big of a difference between using the right and left Cons as one would think.

The Joy Cons, for me, really shined when they were used in tandem in Tabletop Mode – the tablet leaning on its stand, while using the Joy-Cons similar to the Wiimote and Nunchuk. Unlike the Wiimote and Nunchuk combination, having the freedom of not being tethered together makes for a very comfortable and enjoyable experience. This freedom is further illustrated in games like Arms, which takes full advantage of motion control. Throwing a punch, blocking, moving from side to side, all feel great due to the Joy Cons fairly impressive motion tracking. It all makes the Joy Cons feel like an extension of your body.

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Surprisingly I only tried the Joy Cons in the Joy Con Grip (the standard controller method) for a short time, but in that time it felt fine. It feels very satisfying snapping the individual Joy Cons in and out of the grip and the controller doesn’t lose any of its structural integrity that some might’ve feared would occur with a controller with removable parts. It feels very sturdy and compact but there are a couple of things that are concerning. First is the positioning of the right analog stick, which is a little farther down in the grip than I would like – surprising as it is placed in the middle of the Joy Con as discussed earlier. Secondly, the face buttons, as aforementioned, are quite small, which doesn’t transition as smoothly to a full-fledged controller. It feels almost like using the 3DS buttons, which work perfectly fine for a handheld, but since Nintendo is positioning this as being the primary way to play your Switch, it’s too early to tell, but one might want to think about investing in a Pro Controller.

Speaking of which, I got to use the Pro Controller for the majority of the games I played and it was uniformly excellent. The form factor is great, the layout is near perfect and most importantly it sports big, chunky buttons that are, ironically, a joy to use in comparison to the Joy Cons dinky buttons. Nintendo has also finally added in full Gyroscope support that was featured in the Wii U Gamepad and it works wonders here as well, especially for a game like Splatoon 2. I’d say the controller is on the same level in terms of quality of build and ease of use as the Dualshock 4 and Xbox One Controller, except that’s not to say it doesn’t have any drawbacks. First of all the controller is being sold at a premium to its competition ($70 to $60 USD) but it by no means better than either of them – call it the Nintendo luxury tax. Also, I found the back trigger buttons to be a little to stiff in comparison to the Dualshock 4’s back triggers, which go down all the way. Overall I enjoyed using the Pro Controller enough to make me reconsider forking over the obscene asking price ($89.99 for us Canadians).

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The Hardware
In an age of 4K resolutions and high resolution Retina Display technology, there has been much criticism of Nintendo for yet again releasing a new console that comes in under the specs of the current console landscape. Yes the console will only play games up to 1080p and the tablet’s 6.2” display is only 720P, but none of this actually matters when you see the games actually running on both.

The console itself is quite sleek. Compared to its predecessor, something akin to what it would look like if Fisher Price made a console, the Nintendo Switch looks like what you would expect high-end technology manufacturer to make – a console for adults. In the flesh, the console looks a lot smaller than I expected to be. The dock is very compact and houses the dock port as well a back compartment for its inputs (power, USB C). It is a very fitting home for the main attraction, the Switch Tablet.

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The Switch Tablet, for all of its resolution concerns surprised me the most. While playing Breath of the Wild in TV Mode, I was given the opportunity to *snaps fingers* switch over to Handheld Mode for the first time. After undocking the Tablet, I was treated to a screen that was far sharper than I was expecting. Maybe it was because they had us sitting so close to the TV monitors, but the game looked even more gorgeous on the devices small screen. The one thing you’ll notice is how much the screen actually draws you in. Colors are vivid, vibrant and crisp. This was especially noticeable playing the tablet in Tabletop mode, where they had us set-up in faux air flight seating. Even from a few feet away, the screen didn’t lose any clarity. I was fully transfixed on what was going on in front of me, not the person sitting next to me.

The handheld feels great as well. Though it was fitted with a harness, the Tablet and Joy Con configuration still felt impressively light, while at the same time feeling as tactile and solid as a similar single-bodied piece of hardware – notice a trend? My only concerns had to again do with the placement of the analog sticks and the smaller buttons giving, but the more I played in this mode, the more I got used to playing it as a handheld. I don’t know if this is something people are to be spending hours upon hours playing in this mode, but it is comfortable enough that extended play will be warranted.

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Docking and undocking from TV to Handheld Mode is one of the most impressive things about the Nintendo Switch – its instantaneous. When you switch from one to the other there is now loading. In fact there is next to no lag and that’s something that really sells home the idea of this being Home Console/Handheld hybrid.

There are a couple concerns with the system though. How long will the battery life be is still something I couldn’t get a clear picture of, even from the reps working the event. Also, the Switch’s Bezel takes up more Real Estate than I would have liked, especially compared to the thin, almost non-existent borders featured on Apple’s lineup of Ipads. It’s not a deal breaker, but its something worth noting.

The Games
In the 3 hours we had at the event, I tried to play as much as I could. Funny enough, even with the lack of software available to try at the event, I only got to play just over half the games. While I didn’t get to play fan favorite Snipperclips or the enigmatic 1-2 Switch, I did come away with some favourites.

Sonic Mania
Going back to Sonic’s roots, this new adventure takes everyone’s favourite Hedgehog back to the days of 16-bit. In the demo we got to try the classic Green Hill Zone updated with a new boss as well as a new stage as well, which was fun and a bit challenging – especially on the detached Joy Con setup.

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The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild
What else is there to say? We each got 20 minutes to explore the opening field of Hyrule. In my session I got to take on Bokoblins with an assortment of weapons I found laying about, channeled my inner pyro by burning fields with torch, and even got to eat a big juicy steak I found cooking in an enemy encampment. Oh ya, I also unearthed a giant 100 foot tower from the ground – not bad for 20 minutes. This is easily the highlight of the Switch’s lineup and it makes the next 5 week wait unbearable.

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Splatoon 2

While it feels more like Splatoon 1.5 than a full new game, what made the first game shine is still present here. Playing 4-on-4 with other attendees, we got to try a new map as well as the new twin pistols affectionately called “Duelies”, which were the highlight of the match. On top of a new dodge roll mechanic, these splatters come equipped with a new special, which suspends the player on a paint fueled jetpack joyride while raining death from above with paint bombs. If you loved the original Splatoon, you’ll love this one too. Also, the Pro Controller’s Gyro works wonders here.

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ARMS
One of the cool surprises from the show, ARMS brings out the furious competitive spirit in one-on-one fighting/boxing/grappling fun. Each player substitutes their own appendages for some coil ones thanks to both Joy Cons as you an your opponent try to trade blows. The motion works quite well for this game, with individual strikes registering accurately. Connecting duel punches with both hands lands a grab, leaning your hands in any direction moves your character in the same direction, and blocking…well I’m still not sure how to do it, but its available. Each character screams personality and come with there own special abilities, such as Ribbon Girl and her double jump. Im not sure what kind of legs (see what I did there) this game will have on the single player front, but with friends, this is sure to be the life of the party.

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Overall, while the lineup is sparse, there is enough good stuff to keep people interested. And with different ways to play, from Splatoon’s Gyro, to ARMs motion, to Zelda’s classic setup, the lineup is more varied than I once thought. It’s just a shame there isn’t more.

While I do still think the Big N has its work cut out for them in the coming months, especially in the realm of software, I came away most impressed with what was offered on display and more importantly, sold on the promise of the hardware. When you get your hands on the device itself it’s hard to not come away impressed. From the surprisingly well made Joy Con controllers, to the lightening fast transition from TV to Handheld mode, to the little intricate features and details that make a Nintendo product, so…Nintendo, there is a lot to be excited for. If Nintendo’s business practices can learn to be as progressive as its new console design philosophy maybe there’s still hope for the company in being a driving force in the hardware game yet.

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