At the beginning of my summer break from teaching, I purchased a Nintendo Switch and have spent the last two months playing it quite a bit. Here are some of my thoughts about the device and the games I have for it.
The Nintendo Switch is arguably the best video game console ever made. Before it arrived, I wondered if I’d play it more docked or handheld and have found it really depends on the game. However, the portability and modular nature of the device is what has won me over ultimately. The Switch is 6.2 inches diagonal LCD screen with the core hardware built-in. It resembles a variation on the Kindle Fire with a little more weight to it. It can be played in handheld mode or inserted into a dock which, if attached to a television or monitor, makes the experience identical to a standard console experience.
The controllers for the Switch are detachable Joycons. The left Joycon contains an analog stick, directional buttons, a select or minus button, and a button primarily used for taking quick screenshots. The right Joycon contains the ABXY buttons, a second analog stick, a start or plus button, and the Home button. Both Joycons have bumpers and triggers which are labeled as ZL and ZR. There are pro-controllers available that are more akin to a classic video game console device, but I have only played with the JoyCons.
The Joycons can be snapped onto the sides of the Switch when in handheld mode or played with on in either hand while the device is docked or not. The Switch comes with a gamepad grip that the Joycons can slide into if the player wants a more traditional experience. The Joycons have rechargeable batteries built into them, and this can receive power when attached the Switch while it is docked. When docked, the Switch charges and maintains its battery.
The portable nature of the Switch is what has completely sold me on it, and this weekend I actually refrained from purchasing a game off of Steam because it was in the Nintendo eStore for the same price. When given the option of having something I can play on my quality but bulky laptop or on the much more comfortable to transport Switch I will go with the second option every time. The battery life has not been an issue for me; however, I am not someone who sits and plays for hours on end.
Nintendo has created a stable of characters and a reputation for quality gameplay that acts as a standard-bearer for the industry. The teams behind the core Mario and Zelda games never fail to live up to the hype, and they put a ton of care and detail into every single aspect of the games. The price point of these games can be annoying because Nintendo rarely drops the cost of its official titles, which means a few years out and Mario Odyssey still regularly sells for $60. If you keep your ear to the online ground and check on various deals and sales forums, you can come across the occasional price drop, but if you go out to spontaneously purchase a game, you’ll be paying SRP.
There’s also the annoying bit that specific titles need online connectivity and Nintendo charges a monthly subscription fee for its Nintendo Online service. There’s the selling point that you get some free games with that subscription: Tetris 99, a battle royale take on the classic puzzle game, and NES, a collection of classic original Nintendo games. The NES collection is an incredibly mixed bag. It has the games you’d expect like the Mario trilogy and the two NES Zelda games. Kirby is there as well the original crop of Nintendo sports games. I’ve had fun played Startropics. However, as new games are added each month, Nintendo seems to have a problem working out their licensing deals with third-party developers. This means you won’t be seeing any Castlevania or Mega Man anytime soon. There’s also the annoying bit that Nintendo should be able to give away some classic game content for people who have purchased the Switch without having to shell out money for the online service.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This is unlike any Zelda franchise entry thus far. There’s more player freedom allowed here from how you want to approach or avoid combat to the way you traverse this massive open world. To some extent, this landscape is just too vast, and I can’t imagine myself ever finishing this game, maybe never even completing the main story quest. The scope of games like Breath of the Wild can be very overwhelming to casual gamers, and I know I could devote 40 hours of gameplay and not even make a dent in this beast. Breath of the Wild is enjoyable and itches that exploration itch I have. There are so many details and sidequests to keep you busy, and it’s just a beautiful world to look at.
The frustrating part for me is the combat. The enemy AI is very good, and the part that annoys me the most is the weapon durability system. Instead of starting with a dull sword and upgrading to the Master Sword, Link can pick up anything from a rake to a shovel to a spear to a rusted broadsword and use it in melee combat. However, these weapons can break when used over time. Some of them, like a wooden club, shattered after a couple of swings. The weapons breaking has been the element that has driven me to turn the game off multiple times, feeling like I’m in an impossible situation against enemies I don’t have a chance of defeating. There’s a touch of Dark Souls in here which makes this element odd for a Zelda game. I find myself looking forward to the remaster of Link’s Awakening later this year as a way to have some classic Zelda gameplay.
Breath of the Wild is not bad, but it is most certainly the most challenging Zelda game to date. There’s a fantastic depth with mechanics that allow for cooking and ways to create armor sets that give Link bonuses on stats. This is likely the closest the franchise has come to being an RPG over just an action-adventure game. The massive temples are gone with room after room of puzzles, replaced by temples that pose only a handful of puzzles to solve. The addition of infinite bombs, time-freezing, and magnetism gives the player an extensive toolset to determine how they work through a problem. Breath of the Wild is the Nintendo Switch game you can get lost inside of.
Super Mario Maker 2
The first Mario Maker for Wii U was the game that drove me to purchase that console, and its sequel is what finally convinced me to get a Switch. Mario Maker 2 does not disappoint and once again presents the player with an in-depth collection of assets so that they can create their own variation on Mario levels. You can choose from the game styles of classic Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros, and added for this sequel Super Mario 3D World.
Beyond that, you have a more substantial choice of level types from default grassland to the jungle to an ice world and more. Additionally, using the Sun enemy transformed into its counter, The Moon, you can go into Night mode, which has a different effect on each of those level types. Gravity decreasing, the water turns to a glowing purple poison, the ice gets slicker, levels can even turn upside.
As you make your level, you can also hold down on almost every asset to see the variations which allow you to use multiple versions of enemies or change the behavior of gadgets and traps. There is even an excellent library of music to put into your level to give it the epic feel of Super Mario Galaxy or the jaunty fun of Mario 64. It should be noted that there are empty slots in the game styles selection that hint Nintendo has plans to bring over the looks of other Mario games though they haven’t announced them yet.
Multiplayer has been added to this sequel, and as of this writing, players are still waiting for the patch that allows friend play. Right now, your choices are random online multiplayer matching for either cooperative or competitive or local multiplayer with friends. I’ve dabbled a little in this but not much yet. Creators have the choice of assigning a ‘multiplayer’ tag to their level, which allows Nintendo to pull from that pool when doing online randoms.
Mario Maker 2 is sort of the perfect game for me. It allows me to make my own levels from my favorite video game franchise and then play other creators’ levels forever, or as long as Nintendo supports the servers. This means that I can wake up every day, fire up the Switch and play brand new inventive and creative Mario content. It’s incredibly inspiring as a level creator to see some of the ingenious things other creators come up with.
Super Mario Odyssey
The 3D version of Mario was one I never really mastered, not in the same way I can still pick up Super Mario Bros 3 and whiz through, picking up warp whistles and skipping to the end. That third dimension added a type of play and new move sets I just don’t consider myself great at. Even old man me, with my limited abilities, has had a ton of fun playing Odyssey. I think the main reason is that it realizes Mario games should just be a ton of fun to play and feel light.
Mario and Peach are about to be wed when Bowser shows up and kidnaps the princess setting Mario on a new journey. This time around he’s joined by Cappy, a living hat who becomes Mario’s classic chapeau but can be thrown and used to possess select enemies and NPCs. For example, toss your hat onto a Goomba, and now you become that creature, able to jump on the heads of his fellow Goombas and create a walking tower of them to reach spots Mario couldn’t. Beyond the traditional platforming mechanics, this hat possession will be the core way players traverse the world.
The way you move across the globe is by gathering power moons to fuel the Odyssey, a hat-shaped airship. These power moons can be found by defeating bosses but are also hidden all over each environment in the form of platforming puzzles and simple collection of coins to purchase them. Each locale has special outfits, Mario will need coins to buy and once he has these outfits on many of them help Mario access blocked areas. Our hero can’t go into an urban construction zone until he is decked out in red overalls and a hard hat.
Odyssey is colorful and fun to play, with reasonably easy controls and moves for Mario. My one complaint is the lack of variety in some of the world. You have two water levels: one involves underwater mermaids, and the other has a giant angry octopus with mutton chops. Some levels are woefully short with just a few moons scattered about that doesn’t encourage replaying. The foundations of Super Mario Odyssey are fantastic, but I just wish they could have spent some more time refining the environments to give us some more variety. I would have loved to have seen a Haunted world with boos or a Pipe world that acts as a giant maze.
New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe
This is a Wii U port brought to the Switch as almost a Game of the Year edition. The gameplay is classic 2D side-scrolling Mario with a rounded 3D polish over the assets. There are some new moves, like wall jumping and some new items, the propeller hat, the penguin suit, and the ice flower. The story isn’t anything revelatory, the same save the princess and fight Bowser presentations. One significant addition is the up to 4 people multiplayer, allowing you to choose from Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Toadette. An easy mode character of Nabbit is added as a way for a more casual player or young child to join in the fun without reaching a frustration level.
There is an additional mode for people who like timed challenges, so even after you finish the core story,, there is more content to play through. Included in this Switch release is New Luigi U, a remix of the game with levels designed specifically around Luigi’s running in the air ability. This essentially doubles your content from the original Wii U edition and its just a great staple of a game to have on the shelf.
Super Mario Party
The latest installment in the super casual mini-game collection, Super Mario Party is the best entry into the franchise. This is a game that is super easy to pick up and play with a great variety of mini-games. The boards are fun with lots of neat twists on each one. My favorite addition is Partner Play, where you can split into two teams of two on a free-roaming board. When you roll, you have any way to wander around up to that number of spaces and to get stars you have to land precisely on those spots. It adds a puzzle element you don’t get on the other boards, and the coop play is excellent if you have siblings, children, nieces, or nephews wanting to play.
I’m already anticipating the releases of Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and the latest Animal Crossing when they release and find myself incredibly satisfied and happy with everything the Switch has to offer. It was the first new console I’ve bought since the Xbox 360 in 2010, and I can’t see myself wanting any other console.