Hands-on with Nintendo Switch shows off mobility

Nintendo has banked heavily on the go anywhere, play anything notion for its new game console, the Nintendo Switch. By focusing on its different configurations of screens and joysticks, they want to highlight how one player or many players can use the console for entertainment, whether at home or on the go.

At a hands-on demonstration in Washington, D.C., it was easy to see why Nintendo chose this route. Ultimately, the success of any gaming console will be the games, but the variations of how the Switch can be played will be a key feature for potential customers.

Nintendo Switch will be available on March 3 around the globe, priced at $299 in the U.S. Pre-orders for the console have been selling out at retailers. The hands-on tour visited New York and Toronto before making a stop in D.C. It will also head to Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles before the launch date.

The console has four different configurations – handheld, tabletop, cradle, multiplayer. Nintendo set up different scenarios to display how the Switch can be best used with just one title, “Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.”

The Switch, with the Joy-Con controllers attached on the side of a 6.2-inch touchscreen, is slightly wider but significantly thinner than the Wii U gamepad controller. It is also heavier, since it contains the power of the Switch inside and is not just an external controller.

In tabletop mode, in the simulated airplane cabin, a built-in kickstand keeps the Switch steady while the Joy-Con controllers are detached so passengers can lean back and play. In the demo living room, two players each took one Joy-Con to have a multiplayer match, while the Switch screen stayed connected in its cradle, which was connected to the television.

The demo RV cabin was the place to try out the Switch in handheld mode with the Joy-Cons attached for a complete package. Finally, the diner showed off how four people can get together with two Switch consoles for group play using the built-in local wireless connection. A demo of “Splatoon 2” got eight different Switch consoles to work together for 4v4 gameplay.

Each configuration felt comfortable, and while the detached Joy-Con controllers appear small, they are perfectly sized to either fit in the palm of a hand or, turned sideways, act as a four-button, one-joystick controller.

It was also very easy to move from one configuration to another. The Joy-Cons slide into the sides of the touchscreen with ease and remain very stable.

The Joy-Con controllers can also be attached to a Joy-Con grip for easier handling of the two controllers together. There is also a Pro Controller, which looks like a standard controller but includes a built-in gyroscope, accelerometer, motion control and HD rumble pack.

Many of the games for Switch will work in any of those configurations. Some, like “1, 2, Switch,” will have specific gameplay that requires a specific set up so the Joy-Con’s motion sensors and infrared motion camera can be used.

Only two first party games, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “1-2-Switch,” will be available on the day of the launch. There will be eight others from third party and indie developers.

While the small opening roster is a concern to some, many more games have been announced for later in the year, and more than 80 developers are committed to bringing a wide variety of games to the Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo seems to be relying on early adaptors and word of mouth to get out the benefits of the Switch to consumers. The hands-on tour reinforced those who already liked the new console and seemed to positively change the minds of those who may have been on the fence.

The company is counting on the flexibility and mobility of the Nintendo Switch to win over consumers. It is counting on games to keep them playing.

NOTE: An early version of the story stated Nintendo only confirmed two games at launch. After clarification, it was determined they meant first party titles only and not third party or indie titles. The story has been updated to reflect the clarification from Nintendo.