The Nintendo Switch was the Kyoto-based videogame company’s fastest-selling launch in its opening weekend… ever. Much of this success can be boiled down to one word: Zelda. More specifically: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its radical departure from franchise traditions while boiling down modern open-world game conventions into their creamy, free-roaming essence.
More tent-pole games are coming. Before the year is out, Nintendo holds a full hand of blockbusters, including an update of the latest and greatest Mario Kart, a sequel to 2015’s freshest new IP Splatoon, fan service favorite Fire Emblem Warriors, and the latest Mario title from the team behind Super Mario Galaxy. But a year is a long time. doesn’t drop until late April. So how can you use your new toy in-between sessions of Triforce hunting? Plenty. Nintendo Switch is more than a Zelda Machine. Here’s what else your home/portable console hybrid can do.
The Switch User Interface may be largely silent, but poke around and the system greets you with a host of charming squeaks and chimes. Each button has a unique sound and tiny animation: The Setting button looks like a gear, and when you select it, the icon spins and makes a metallic shuffling sound. The Controller icon emits some weird lost sound effect from an unreleased prototype sequel to Space Invaders. Click on your Profile picture, though, and the style has a bit of substance. As the page loads, a two-note whistle in the key of D rings out (as observed by TIME magazine game critic Matt Peckham). Once the profile page opens, the two-note sequence repeats, only this time it’s one octave lower. Get your six-string ready and twist those tuning pegs accordingly.
Last week I took the Nintendo Switch out to a favorite brunch spot. Because I could. Such is the magic of the Switch’s singular feature: It can go wherever you do. Now, I’m not usually one to mix syrupy fingers with capacitive touch-screens. But I had a plan.
The server placed the receipt down. As my friend eyed his share, I took out the system, unhinged the kickstand, and set it on the table. I handed him a Blue Neon Joy-Con. “Defeat me in 1-2-Switch,” I told him, “and I’ll buy your breakfast.” It was a deal.
Our diner booth ruled out the more active games, identified by a number of chili peppers. So we settled on the default for all mano a mano duels: “Quick Fire.” We sat with our Joy-Con at our sides. The screen called out over the restaurant’s din: Ready… We stared into each other’s eyes. Steady… He cracked a quick smile. I widened one eye more than the other. Around us, the townspeople clinked their forks into mounds of scrambled eggs.
He was faster on this day. Though I took the next round, he bested me again in the rubber match. A cool-down round of “Zen” only furthered his domination: As we raised our hands above us, saluting the halogen lamp sun above, his hands were steadier; I had had one too many refills of coffee.
So I bought his meal. He earned it. But I’m ready for a rematch. Brunch at High Noon?
Why spend hundreds of dollars a month at couples’ counseling when you could just buy SnipperClips for $19.99? The download-only puzzle game is the equivalent of a relationship stress test: How strong are your bonds You’ll find out when you’re yelling across the living room to rotate your shape 45 degrees while ducking so you can cut the other person into an obtuse triangle.
The game, originally known as Friendshapes, was developed by SFB Games, a two-person team out of London. Representatives from Nintendo noticed the title at GDC’s European Innovative Games Showcase in 2015 and asked about helping finish and publish the game. It slots into their deceptively challenging portfolio nicely: Games that appear harmless but require deft mastery to complete. That SnipperClips requires cooperative mastery only ups the challenge. And provides an opportunity to see just how committed you and your partner are to one another.
Both the Wii and Wii U were region-locked, meaning a system bought in the Americas could only play software released there. Interesting games like Captain Rainbow or Kiki Trick that came out in Japan could not be imported and played (at least not legally). The Switch, however, is region-free. You can open a new User Account, list your country as “Japan,” and voila: Open the eShop and access the Japanese digital store.
But once you have a Japan-based account on your Switch, the system assumes a Japanese speaker is using the device. A “News” channel, periodically updated with game trailers, info, and details, begins populating with updates on Japanese games, all in Japanese. If you’re like us and just wanted the ability to download Neo-Geo games a week early, you can, but you’ll also be inundated with messages written in unintelligible graphemes. Time to start learning.
For over a year, we knew of the system only by the codename “NX.” In October, Nintendo released the first public glimpse in a three-minute music video which also unveiled the name. More importantly, it was the debut of the animated logo that precedes any Switch commercial or game trailer: A Joy-con inspired duo of yin-yang shapes that slide together with a loud, crisp SNAP.
When you take the Switch out of the dock and slide on the controllers, that very same “Snap” sound emits from the embedded speaker. And when each Joy-con attaches, the respective side of the screen flutters a bit, as a serene pond would having just made contact with a stone. It’s a nice little unexpected sensation that connects the simple but effective branding with the actual experience of using the device. Now if only our apartment furnishings were as swanky.
Okay, so odds are you will be playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a fair amount. But how much? The system’s User Profile page provides a ballpark figure, although curiously only after ten days of play. A more detailed breakdown is available via a free Parental Controls App with, perhaps, the greatest trailer in the history of Parental Controls Apps. Even if you don’t have kids it’s worth controlling yourself, if only to have an attractive breakdown of each game you played on any given day or week.
Is Hyrule proving too riveting for a balanced eat/sleep/play schedule? Can you not trust your own self-restraint? Set up a play-time limit and a message flashes on the TV letting the player know he or she has reached their capacity. The system won’t automatically shut-down; Nintendo believes in useful suggestions, not draconian ultimatums. But if the Switch owner notices a game is going on for too long, they can pull the plug from afar. Will you be cruel or just? This sovereign land is yours to rule.
Though the Virtual Console service is still lying in the wait, the Switch can still play old games. Hamster Corp. has been releasing their Arcade Classics line on PS4 for years now. During the early days of the Switch, they’ve turned their attention to SNK’s NEO-GEO, that system whose cartridges were over $200 each and looked exactly like the arcade. While you were smacking Blanka with a Hurricane Kick in Street Fighter II on SNES, that kid in the gated community who got haircuts every other day was throwing fireballs in those other fighting games, the ones with giant characters and zoom-scaling. Classics like King of Fighters ‘98 and World Heroes Perfect are available already, with more obscure NEO-GEO titles like Waku Waku 7 and Shock Troopers giving Switch owners a cheap way to experience the fantasy of a middle-upper class upbringing during the Clinton Years. And the pair of break-off controllers are perfect for instant one-on-one matches anywhere.
For the Switch’s next trick, it will change logos with the blink of an eye. Or at least a shift of perspective.
Both the system’s Dock and Joy-Con Grip (that plastic contraption that merges each Joy-Con into a more traditional controller) incorporate the standard logo: Those two yin-yang shapes, each with a dot representing the respective joysticks. But the logo is not simply painted on or emblazoned as a high-quality sticker. Each is stenciled on using some kind of reflective coating. At first it appears an odd choice; the boldness of the crisp reds and stark whites in their touted Super Bowl commercial are tossed aside for this mottled image that doesn’t photograph well. This must be some mistake.
But then you see it. Stare at the logo and see the left shape an outline surrounding black plastic, its embedded dot lighter than the rest. Shift your gaze and the light shines differently. Now the dot is darker and the outline is filled in with light. The opposing side reacts accordingly, each pseudo-Joy-con swapping places as you tilt your head. As you raise and lower your perspective, watching the logo flip-flop between two distinct color schemes, you realize even the Switch’s logo switches. And everything snaps into place.
Since 2003, Jon Irwin has been paid to write about film, techno, ice cream, wine, golf, drag-racing, French children and videogames. His first book, Super Mario Bros. 2, was published last year by Boss Fight Books. Follow along: @WinWinIrwin.