It’s been almost two weeks now since Nintendo’s new system, the Switch, arrived and I’m still not sure who is the target for this odd new toy. The love child of the Wii and an Android tablet, it’s a hybrid of traditional, TV-focused gaming console and portable gaming machine. Sleeker and definitely more stylish than Nintendo’s ubiquitous 3DS, the Switch is certainly likely to turn more heads than the company’s traditionally kid-focused endeavors.
The first ad announcing the Switch was a weird fever pitch dream of millennials taking the device everywhere and impressing everyone with their incredible technology fashion sense. It made it clear Nintendo wanted to make the Switch seem like more than a toy, but maybe that misses the whole point of what makes Nintendo products great. The Switch is definitely playful with its tiny, removable controllers (called, funnily enough, ‘Joy-Cons’), available in bright colors and current games-only focus — but that’s no bad thing.
Basically a tablet with a docking station that pipes video to your TV, the Switch is amazing in the sense that you can seamlessly go from seated console to entirely portable without pause. There’s a unique sense of freedom and wonder to the idea that games you play on your TV can now be carried. It’s a feature no one else can claim.
The Switch uses cartridges, much like the 3DS — not a stretch, since they’re basically just memory cards — and has a hefty focus on party-style multiplayer. 1-2-Switch, for instance, is a launch title that is just a bunch of two-player games highlighting the motion controls of the Joy-Cons. At first blush, it seems like an updated take on Wii Sports, but instead of bowling we get weird quick draw, yoga, and samurai sword swinging games.
The brilliance of Wii Sports was its unheralded level of cross demographics appeal. Everyone from preschoolers to grandmas loved virtual bowling back then, but it’s hard to imagine either trying to balance a Joy-Con in a yoga pose or catch a pretend sword on the Switch. Also, Wii Sports came with the Wii. 1-2-Switch is a separate $50 purchase that serves to show off the potential of the tiny controllers more than sell a system.
Of course, the system seller here is the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For the hordes of Nintendo fans streaming out to buy the Switch, this is the only thing that matters. The Switch doesn’t have any video streaming services yet (not even Netflix), it’s online store is nearly empty, and the rest of the launch titles are mostly just a rehash from other systems. There’s Just Dance!, FIFA, Skylanders… None of that matters in the face of a new Zelda game.
Which brings us to: Breath of the Wild. The new Zelda entry is a beautiful epic adventure that shows off the capabilities of the Switch by letting players wander freely through a stunning fantasy landscape. The Switch, like all Nintendo’s systems over the last decade or so, isn’t concerned about competing with Sony and Microsoft over hardware power. Zelda isn’t even running at the standard HD resolution of 1080p, let alone 4K, and runs at a lower resolution in tablet mode.
Somehow, this doesn’t matter. Zelda uses a graphic style that brings to mind a moving painting. It’s gorgeous without being overwhelmed with fine details and suits the game perfectly. More importantly, fans of the series are so starved for new adventures with their beloved pointy eared elf that they’ll happily shell out the $300 for the Switch. Nintendo will sell the first million purely on this one game.
Past that mark though, the Switch has a lot to prove. Video game systems aren’t just for games anymore. They have to be all-purpose entertainment boxes, whether they stay at home or go out with you. There’s little doubt Netflix and other similar apps will hit the Switch, but right now this is a system with great potential desperately in need of content to justify the price.