I just finished up with session one in D.C., and I tried to take note of aspects that haven't really been talked about here yet. Let's just dive right in.
First, Zelda. Damn was this disappointing. Not because the game itself is bad, far from it, but there were a few major issues with it. First off, the demo is presumably right at the beginning of the game; it doesn't just throw you into the action. Because of this, there are at least 6-8 minutes of dialog and cutscenes in a 20 minute demo. It may have even been more than that.
But what was more disappointing than that was the TV it was on. For some dumb f*****g reason, they had the TV in 120hz interpolation mode. Presumably to make the shitty framerate when docked look more smooth. (This definitely explains why a lot of people thought the game ran at 60fps when playing it.) This was the E3 demo, only built for the Switch. Because of that, there were numerous framerate issues when docked. It hovered at around 25fps and dipped to 20 on frequent occassions. What was even worse was because of the TV's 120hz frame interpolation, there was at least 100-200ms of input latency that made the game feel sluggish as s**t on the TV. God, it was awful.
On the plus side, it was BEAUTIFUL in portable mode. It was genuinely hard to tell that it was running in 720p, especially compared to some of the other demos I played (more on this later). It ran at a LOCKED 30fps, and was just beautiful all around. In my 20 minutes of play (more like 12 minutes amirite) I managed to complete one of the first rune puzzle room thingies. It took about 5 minutes, but I was speedrunning it. In this particular puzzle, you used Link's Gravity Gun (for lack of a better term), but I won't spoil anything else unless explicitly asked.
Onto some hardware stuff:
Holy crap, I'm sure you guys are sick of hearing about it, but this piece of tech is GORGEOUS. I mean that. It's got just a perfect weight to it – not too light, and feels ultra-high-quality. The screen is as beautiful as everyone says it is, despite only being 720p. It's vivid, bright, and sharp. Obviously I wasn't able to perform a drop test, but I did sort of press on the screen kind of hard to see what it felt like, and it didn't have really any give. I would equate it roughly to an iPad or any random smartphone. Unless they're using some crazy new type of glass, it will definitely crack if dropped from a decent height on pavement with an unlucky landing, but it's very doubtful it would crack from a drop like that if the Joy-Cons were attached. Because the back of the Joy-Con has a protruding ZL/ZR and the front has a protruding analog, and the sides are made of Nintendo's durable plastic, I absolutely feel like the Joy-Cons, themselves, will protect the Switch if they're connected to it during a fall. Pure speculation, but based on the build quality I saw, I would not expect the Switch to crack/break with a normal fall from, say, 3-5 feet.
Now let's talk about these Joy-Cons. WOW. Very surprised at how small they are and yet how comfortable they feel. I have pretty large hands, and they felt great. But let me back up. The moment I held the switch for the first time, it didn't instantly feel good. Specifically, the Joy-Cons. They felt really thin and small, and most notably the analog sticks are shorter and smaller than that of the Wii U or GameCube controller. They're almost an exact middle-ground between the Wii U analogs and the Vita analogs. That worried me in the first moments of holding the system.
Then everything just melted away once I got into Zelda. They felt f*****g GREAT. I genuinely mean that. The click on the sticks was exactly what you'd expect, the travel of the sticks was short but perfectly acceptable, and the size of the Joy-Cons was just wonderful. After just a minute, I already liked the Joy-Cons waaaaay more than a Wiimote/Nunchuk, which I greatly enjoy. The buttons are exactly the same as on a N3DS, and the triggers are clicky as well. Not much travel on either of them, but it's worth noting they're both in a great position and feel just fine.
They are also incredibly durable. You can tell just by holding them. I put a ton of hand pressure on them and they were solid. Most notably, when they were attached to the Switch system itself, [NSFW] I attempted to bend them back and forth in the worst possible way, to see how much give they had when connected. The answer? NONE. I mean that. They are so ridiculously solid when connected to the Switch, that they feel like they're permanently afixed to the system itself. Somewhat amazingly, they still are able to slide out of the system with the greatest of ease.
There's a button on the back of each Joy-Con, and I quickly got the hang of pulling each one out with each hand, using my thumb on the side of the top of the Switch for leverage. It is worth noting that the most natural place to put your thumb for leverage when removing the left Joy-Con is RIGHT on the power button. I anticipate people accidentally pressing the power button a lot when removing the left Joy-Con. I'm sure I did it, yet the system didn't go into sleep mode or anything. Presumably you'll have to hold the button down for any significant action.
The Pro Controller. Before I went in, I was talking to someone who had already gone to one of these events, and he said he hated the pro controller because it was too big and felt cheap. I mostly disagree. First off, it's extremely comfortable. Certainly not too big. Roughly the same size as an Xbone controller, maybe a bit wider. The buttons are much different. Instead of being clicky, they're squishy, exactly like the Wii U gamepad and most Nintendo console buttons.
The d-pad was the same. I read earlier about someone who really hated the d-pad, for various reasons, like it traveled too far and then "clicked". I don't know if he had a defective controller or something, but I didn't get that at all. More or less, it feels like the d-pad on the Wii U pro controller. It's squishy with good travel, and it rocks in the way that you'd expect a Nintendo d-pad to. Also, the sticks were bigger than the sticks on the Joy-Cons, pretty much identical to the Wii U pro controller. They were fine and felt great.
Someone had asked me about the fan in the Switch, and whether or not it's loud and blows hot air. Well, it was impossible to hear even when I held it directly to my ear, but it was also ridiculously loud at the event. If I had to guess, judging by the amount of air it was blowing out at the speed it going, I would absolutely assume the fan to be next-to-silent. I roughly measured the amount and temperature of the air being blown out at the beginning of the Zelda demo (before play had started), during, and at the end. It didn't seem to change one bit. It constantly blew out a warm air. Definitely not hot, like a video card, but warm. Most importantly, it didn't seem to increase the amount of air circulating during prolonged gameplay. Again, these were not ideal circumstances for testing, though.
Oh, and the HD Rumble was pretty cool. I didn't try 1 2 Switch (yet), but Skylanders made use of the HD Rumble, as did Zelda. So, don't expect "big rumble" like a GameCube controller or N64 rumble pack. It's far more subtle and distinct. Almost identical to the haptic feedback in the iPhone 7, only you can tell there are multiple haptic modules throughout the controller to give you that feedback in different places. It was pretty cool, overall. I have a lot of hope for it in the future.
Now, the games:
Here's what I played. Zelda (we already talked about that), Skylanders, Sonic Mania, ARMS, and Street Fighter 2.
So, Street Fighter 2. There's nothing about the game I really need to talk about, everyone here surely knows what to expect. One thing to note is that I played it with a pro controller and used the d-pad, and I had absolutely no trouble performing special attacks like the Shoryuken and Hadoken. In my opinion it's the best way to play that game, though I wasn't able to try with just the Joy-Cons.
Skylanders. I don't personally care about this game, but it ran fine. Seemed like 30fps – looking back on it I didn't really take mental note. I did however mess around with the touch screen, and it was responsive (even though the UI wasn't great, overall in the game). Even tapping tiny buttons like "B – Back" worked, not just the large selectable buttons. It's worth noting that the load times for this game were f*****g atrocious. Like, at least a minute – felt like an hour.
Tapping in the amiibos – sorry, Skylander figures – was pretty simple. When you start the game, it has you select a figure. You hold it directly over the right analog stick to scan it in. It scanned immediately, and it was sort of surprising, since on the Wii U and N3DS, sometimes amiibos are a bit finicky on where you have to scan them. This was not the case – clearly the NFC reader in the Joy-Con is an upgrade to the on in the Wii U. Amiibo lovers rejoice.
Here's a new piece of information I hadn't seen anywhere. I decided to rifle around the settings of Skylanders (since the game wasn't all that interesting) and I went into Controls. In addition to a controller layout there was the option to change controller numbers, or "ports" if you will. This is a problem with older consoles with wireless controllers, notably the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. Modern consoles don't really have a problem switching "controller ports", but it's still sometimes a pain in the ass. Well…
When I went to reassign the controller number in Skylanders, it brought up a Switch UI, something that was very clearly universal across all games. It showed me what controllers were currently connected (in this case Joy-Con L and Joy-Con R) and instructed me to press L and R at the same time to assign the first player. This was instantaneous, and I noticed that while I did it, the lights on the Joy-Con Grip were flashing in a "now pairing" sort of way. After I pressed L and R, it had be press the A button to continue. Presumably, had there been a second controller connected, a pro controller or additional Joy-Cons, I would have been able to switch to first player extremely easily. Also, in this screen it seems like you can pair a currently un-paired controller with the Switch. Overall, it was incredibly fast and fluid. By far the best example of wireless port switching in ANY console to date. Very, very happy about that.
Sonic Mania was, far and away, the best game I played there. I don't mean this lightly when I say that it has the potential to be the best Sonic game ever made, and this is coming from a HUGE fan of 1-3&K. The level design was on point, the visuals were so vibrant and fluid in motion, and the music was classic Sonic. But the thing that really put it over the top is the new Drop Dash move Sonic has in his arsenal. Guys, this is a complete game changer, for real. The way it works is that when you're in the air, if you press and hold jump while in the air, you'll sort of silently "charge" up a drop dash. (The drop dash is always the same regardless of how much you charge it – you just have to hit a threshold.) It takes maybe a second or two to charge, so you can utilize it in 90% of your jumps. This will absolutely change the speedrunning meta so much. Never have I felt like I had so much control over Sonic, and so much agility in ANY of his games. I can not stress enough how f*****g amazing this simple move is. I played both stages available (same as the ones in the trailer earlier demos) and they were both incredible in their own ways. I be happy to expand on this game if anyone requests more information.
Finally, there's ARMS. It seems like every impression about ARMS I read says how "it looks dumb but it's actually amazing". Well, sort of I guess. I got to play it on stage at the event, in a 4-player tournament. It was a little bit confusing – not in theory, but in execution. It's really hard to, for example, determine how much you need to twist the controller after throwing a punch to make it bend around the way you want it.
More importantly, it's hard to tell what kind of game this is. It's clear from videos and stuff that they way Nintendo is sort of marketing the game is as a "get physical, throw punches, be active" sort of "button-mashy" (or "waggle-mash", I guess) sort of way. But based on what I know and the strategy behind the game, this type of play does not translate well to how you should play it. I approached it in a methodical way, where every input was carefully calculated and distinct. My opponent (who had admittedly already played the game a few times) really was more into the "waggle-mash" style of play. I kinda got trounced. (But I still got one of those wicked cool Nintendo Switch hats!)
Perhaps I'm just terrible or was approaching it in a "competitive not party" kind of way, but those are the games I like. Let me be clear – based on my very short impression, I do NOT see this game ever being an eSport. Ever. Now I could be DEAD wrong about that, and maybe there's far more depth than what I could figure out, but it's an incredibly simple game, and in waggle mode, it feels like something I'd play on the Wii for sure.
That's not to say it's bad, because I definitely still had a ton of fun playing it. And, again, I was using motion controls, and not standard controls, so maybe that will make a dramatic difference competitively, but from what I played, there's almost no way people are going to take this as seriously as something like Smash or even Splatoon.
So that's my write-up. But wait! There's more! I'm actually also able to go to the 3rd session at 3pm EST today, so I'll have a chance to play Splatoon, 1 2 Switch, and probably a few more. So with that, if anyone has any specific questions they'd like to ask before I head back in, please do so and I'll try to get you answers!
Oh, and here's my haul for the day. 🙂