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Review: Nintendo Switch is impressive, but needs more games

March 6, 2017 11:48 AM
22 0

When you're deep in a video game, the last thing you want to do is leave home. If only you could take the game with you for your commute to work or your bus ride to school, or to liven up your lunch hour.

Nintendo's new Switch console tries to address that by letting you play it anywhere. You simply yank the Switch out of its docking station. It functions as a tablet with a built-in display, so you don't have to worry about finding a TV. Games typically work without a persistent internet connection. Once you're back home, just slide it back into the docking station to play games on a big-screen TV.

The Switch works like a traditional game console when you want that; it offers portability when you need that. Over the past week, I've played the new "Legend of Zelda" game at home, outside, in a laundromat and in a mechanic's waiting room. The game picks right up wherever I left off.

The big question, as it so often is with Nintendo, is whether it will be able to deliver enough games. When the console starts selling Friday, for $300, the Switch will have a paltry nine titles, leaning heavily toward familiar franchises such as "Just Dance" and "Skylanders." By contrast, Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One had about 20 games each at launch.

A new hardware introduction is big for any company, and even more so for a company in such a state of transition. Nintendo's Wii U console bombed when it came out in 2012, and its long-held dominance of the portable game market has been usurped by smartphones and tablets. Its two big successes of 2016 — "Pokemon Go" and "Super Mario Run" — were made to be played on other companies' devices. "Pokemon Go" wasn't even developed in-house, but under license by a California company called Niantic.

The Switch is a gutsy attempt by Nintendo to reclaim its territory in both the home and portable markets.

The console comes with two controllers, known as Joy-Cons. Each has a control stick, four buttons, two triggers, motion sensors and haptic feedback. The right one also has an infrared sensor to detect nearby objects.

On the go, you can turn the tablet into a hand-held game machine by attaching Joy-Cons to each side. Or just prop the tablet on a table with a built-in kickstand and use the Joy-Cons as wireless controllers, just as you would at home. You can also transform the Joy-Cons into a more traditional game controller by sliding them into a wireless grip accessory, which is included.

To play a solo adventure like "Zelda," you'll need all the buttons on both Joy-Cons. But Nintendo also wants you to play socially, so each Joy-Con functions as a freestanding controller for party games like "Just Dance 2017" and "Super Bomberman R."

The Joy-Cons are surprisingly comfortable given that they are small, about the size of a candy bar. I'd be more worried about losing them than getting hand cramps. They slide into slots on the tablet and the grip with a satisfying snap.


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