Late last week we attended press events for the Nintendo Switch in London and New York, the same venues that then hosted lucky ballot winners over the weekend. As the first real public pitch of the Switch, along with the main event in Tokyo equivalents in Paris and Frankfurt, these settings were an important first testing ground for the console and some of its earliest games.
We'll have New York impressions with you soon, but first up are some thoughts from the team that headed to the Hammersmith Apollo in London - Alex will pitch in with a video soon.
It was clear that Nintendo wanted to create some theatre around their first hands on event for Nintendo Switch, so why not hold it in one of London's most famous locations - the Hammersmith Apollo - merely hours after the announcement live stream ended, on a bitterly cold Friday morning. After being littered with Switch paraphernalia we were ushered down a corridor lined with artefacts of Nintendo console past - with the notable exclusion of the Virtual Boy - and we emerged into the dark upper stalls to finally thaw from the arctic weather.
Having been to a number of these events now, you quickly spot people you know and have a few quick exchanges, "what did you think about this?", "what did you think about that?". There was a sense of cautious optimism in the air as we awaited the instruction to head down to the show floor to try the console, the only thing we were really here for.
After some flashy lights and a loud announcement we were unleashed, and everyone shuffled their way down towards the games, excitement palpable. Centre stage was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, occupying the largest area for a single game closely followed by new IP Arms. The Wii-boxing-on-steroids title had more than ample floor space; perhaps Nintendo feel it's one of the better games to demonstrate the new and improved motion controls? 1-2-Switch was located smack in the centre of the floor with a circular booth; 12 mini-booths for 6 mini games. To the right of the stage were the titans of familiarity, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2, and to the left was a collection of third party offerings including Sonic, Street Fighter and surprise announcement Super Bomberman R. Finally, tucked away in a corner was the delightful Snipperclips, which appears to have become a universal favourite in games writers circles - one to watch.
Myself and Thomas took our time and visited all the different booths and played against each other where possible, something of a tradition now and trying to get a feel for how things would work with your friends. Playing against Tom is one thing, but as probably the most casual gamer on the team these days I always get slightly nervous playing against strangers in, say, 8-player local Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - but I had nothing to fear, coming home with 1st place; good job Roy. Likewise I had nothing to worry about with Splatoon 2, Tom and I won both rounds played, coming out as 1st and 2nd players, just taking turns for the top spot.
The Switch game I imagine we both wanted to play the most, Super Mario Odyssey, understandably was not playable, but still present in trailer-only form. Nintendo had created a micro-theatre setup simply to show off the spectacular trailer, but curiously only at 30fps - it was a lovely 60fps in the live presentation only hours earlier.
The event was enjoyable and gave us lots of food for thought, but as a whole felt more like EGX or a trade show than a press event. Which is fine, Nintendo invited a lot of different people, but it didn't give us the chance to closely examine the hardware in the detail or manner we perhaps would have liked at this stage. That said, we did get a good amount of play time with the console itself and it felt good as a system; it's a solid concept and console.
Having been up a long time with no sleep, it was nevertheless a treat - and a privilege, of course - to have a chance to try the Switch. It was a bit farcical at the start, though, as in freezing temperatures a long queue was stuck outside despite invites saying check-in would be 30 minutes before the 'session' started. In the end Nintendo eventually had to drop aspects of check-in as it was already running late; after 45 minutes stood in the wintry weather we were then held up inside waiting for a random noisy intro to the hardware. It was clearly a dress-run for the public event the following day, which is fine, but I hope those that made their way to London over the weekend were allowed in more promptly and out of the cold.
Anthony has outlined the games on show and layout rather nicely - and my thoughts on the hardware are in our write-up - so first of all I want to give some praise to those often ignored: the game demonstrators. From conversations in the past many travel from all over the country to do the gig, and on every booth they were warm, friendly and enthusiastic. Pretty much all of them seemed thrilled to be there and excited about the games, which was lovely as opposed to being given a PR sell. They helped as much as their demo units allowed, let us try things and fiddle around as far as possible, and were patient with over-tired but willing 30-something game writers. To the woman hosting the dancing minigame in 1-2-Switch, I can only apologise for how awful I was at playing that with you - I have about as much rhythm as your average X Factor contestant (shots fired).
Overall it was a good effort by Nintendo UK, which was just as well - we saw Nintendo of Europe boss Satoru Shibata taking a look around. I was surprised by the space given to Arms, which even had a small stage area made to look like a boxing ring. A bit like 1-2-Switch, I'm not convinced that Arms has the legs (oh dear) for retail success, but that's something for our upcoming write-ups to address more fully. I liked the wall of third-party games, and Sonic Mania was wonderful to see, with myself and the rep boring onlookers with our reminiscing on the originals on Mega Drive. The Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe setups were also great, and will clearly be reproduced at expos, with 8-player matches showcasing the joy of playing together.
A good event overall, which I'm sure lucky lotto winners in the public draw also enjoyed over the weekend. It pitched the Switch rather well.
Oh, and a final point - Snipperclips is amazing.
I have to admit that having travelled to London to play Switch after getting up at 3:30AM that same morning to cover the presentation in Japan, I wasn't in the most positive frame of mind for a hands-on session with Nintendo's new platform. Thankfully I left the Hammersmith Apollo in much higher spirits than when I entered; sure, there are some concerns with the Switch (it wouldn't be a Nintendo console if there weren't) but on the whole, I like the concept, I love the hardware and I'm positive about the software, even if there isn't enough of it.
First off, the Switch itself is just lovely. It's always a risk when handling new hardware that you'll allow your judgement to be clouded on purely physical terms, and as a lover of handhelds I'm especially guilty of falling into this trap. However, if you'll indulge me for a moment, the Switch is gorgeous - especially when it has the neon red and blue Joy-Cons fitted (that's the version I've pre-ordered and I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would want the dull grey controllers). It's lightweight but feels solidly built, and most importantly is compact and portable - I took along my Game Boy Micro for a comparison and was amazed to find that there's not a gigantic gulf in size.
The Switch's screen is wonderful too, and seeing it first hand put aside any concerns I may have had regarding that 720p HD resolution. It's bright, punchy and looks wonderful in motion. However, by far and away the best feature for me personally is the Joy-Cons, which are simply adorable. I was genuinely worried that they would be too small even for my Hobbit-sized hands, but that wasn't the case. They feel comfortable in the hand and I didn't have any issues reaching all of the buttons. How they'll feel after a prolonged play session remains to be seen, but for now I'm positive. Having Wii-style motion control in a portable is a genius move if you ask me - social gaming is no longer confined to your living room. The HD rumble effect is also remarkable, especially on 1-2-Switch mini-games like Ball Count, where the device feels like it has tiny ball bearings rolling around inside it.
Much has been said about the Switch launch lineup and the titles coming in 2017, but I found a lot to like on the show floor. ARMS in particular surprised me with its depth and visual splendour, and I think that has the potential to become a Splatoon-style hit. 1-2-Switch is brilliant too, and the way it sells the hardware is so effective that I have absolutely no idea why Nintendo isn't pre-installing it on all Switch consoles - it's the kind of advert that Wii Sports was for the Wii. Super Bomberman R, Sonic Mania and Ultra Street Fighter II might not have mainstream appeal but I'll be buying all three, as they speak to the retro gamer in me. Zelda is Zelda, and will of course be a must-have at launch; what surprised me during my time with the game is how great it looks in 1080p when running via the dock. Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are also solid additions, even if the latter is worryingly lacking in fresh content.
Despite the close proximity of the Switch launch, there's still a lot we don't yet know about the system, so I'm not going to get too hung up about issues regarding software just yet. I fully expect Nintendo to announce a raft of eShop titles prior to release, and given the portable nature of the console I think we'll see the digital downloads becoming bigger than ever when it comes to unique games and experiences. Cost remains my sole headache; the machine is expensive, the games are expensive and peripherals are expensive - I was hoping that Nintendo might try and hit a cheaper price point across the board, but that's clearly not the case - at launch, anyway.
As I said, I left the event with a more positive vibe than when I entered, and now I can't wait to get my hands on Switch. That perhaps is the only thing I need to clarify when it comes to impressions; I'm cautiously excited, but excited nonetheless.
As we approached the Hammersmith Apollo (strong coffee in hand) we were greeted with a long queue of bleary-eyed media types who like us would have been awake at 4am covering the Nintendo Switch Livestream. Delighted to get out of the cold British weather we entered the lovely Art Deco surrounding of the Apollo to see what Nintendo UK had on show for us.
1-2 Switch took centre stage at the event and proved to be the source of much amusement as journalists made questionable wrist movements while milking an imaginary cow. Other mini-games in the package such as attempting to crack a safe or trying to guess how many marbles were in a box cleverly demonstrated the nuances of the Joy-Con controllers, and helped us loosen up before trying out the other games on show.
Of course Zelda BotW was the star of the show and had a long queue to play it. Splatoon 2 was incredibly popular too and prompted some healthy competition, thankfully our man Alex is more than a formidable opponent. There was lots to get our teeth stuck into as well as some ever so slightly underwhelming efforts from third parties. Nintendo UK put on a nice event as always, but I left with the feeling that the launch window is a little bit barren. Of course patience is a virtue and we'll have the breathtaking Super Mario Odyssey to look forward to later this year.