Games: Nintendo's Season of the Switch
I'VE danced to the bubblegum beat of Nintendo's drum with unguarded bias since first cradling an NES controller and while I'll still defend to the hilt their design genius, the House of Mario's business nous has rarely hit such giddy highs of late.
With the sales-famished Wii U effectively out to pasture, the company's latest could well be their last chance saloon as a hardware manufacturer. Sure, they could have played it safe with a "'normal' console and innovate with games rather than hardware, but that's just not Nintendo, and the Switch aims to marry home and handheld gaming with a fully loaded curio that's bristling with features.
At a Japanese event last week it was revealed that Nintendo's season of the Switch starts in Europe on March 3, with an eye-watering price tag of £279. Earning its place in Nintendo's oddball history, the Switch's hybrid design provides both console-based and on-the-go gaming, switching from your telly to its generous screen in seconds.
And though priced out of impulse-buy territory, the ultimate luxury handheld comes loaded with motion-sensors, cameras and rumble feedback. Its Joy-Con controllers can be detached for two-player sessions, but while their Kinder egg-grade dimensions may suit the diminutive hands of kids and carnies, they may prove fiddly for banana-fingered adults.
Nintendo will also find it hard to wow lapsed fans with paid online (thanks, Microsoft for setting that ball rolling) from autumn and a scant 32GB on-board memory – Zelda alone will eat up nearly half of that. With five games at launch – Skylanders, Just Dance, 1 2 Switch, Super Bomberman and Breath of the Wild, it's safe to say the gorgeous looking Zelda is its killer app.
The variety of 1 2 Switch's party games really show off what the console can do, though it should have been thrown in free with the hardware, a la Wii Sports. A slow trickle of software in the first half of 2017 includes a revamped version of Mario Kart 8 on April 28, a sequel to the wildly popular paint ‘em up Splatoon this summer and Arms, a deranged take on Punch Out.
Nintendo's poster boy returns for the holidays with Super Mario Odyssey, early impressions of which draw comparison with Sonic Adventure (which, ominously, appeared on Sega's final console). Set in the hub world of New Donk City, the open sandbox features a real-world look and looks suitably incredible – even though the last time Mario rubbed shoulders with humans he was taking on Dennis Hopper in the god-awful Mario movie.
Third-party support from Western developers is scarce. Skyrim doesn't drop until later in the year while EA's FIFA will be a "custom" version. No doubt Nintendo will trumpet some big announcements at E3, and by year's end the line-up should be in rude health.
With the console scene dominated by Sony and Microsoft's powerful, serviceable but bland hardware, trust Nintendo to bring in something more leftfield and, well, fun. Here's hoping the Switch doesn't become another expensive boondoggle as the market would be that much poorer without them.