The stakes couldn't be higher for Nintendo’s Switch. After the Wii U tanked harder than Arnold Schwarzenegger in an 80s blockbuster, there is the very real prospect that this could be the last console it makes. So is this ‘game over’ for the maker of the SNES, Wii and GameBoy? Don't be so sure about that.
For all the millions of marketing dollars spent on saying otherwise, the PS4 and Xbox One are basically the same thing: a big, powerful box that sits under your TV forever. Compared to these static beasts, Nintendo’s Switch is very different.
You can play it at home while slouched on a couch - or pluck it from its dock for some real magic: you simply carry on playing. That means a full blown Mario adventure on your journey into work, a sojourn with Zelda on your lunchbreak and an evening with Mario Kart when you need to show who's king of your own castle.
Sounds like the old Nintendo you know and love, right? New, inventive and - most of all - fun. Well, we've taken a long hard and exclusive look at the Switch to find out. Read on for everything you need to know about this unique console.
1) It’s the ultimate pick up & play portable
Pop this sleek machine out of its Dock and you’ll begin to believe Nintendo might have finally nailed the modula console concept. In a matter of seconds you can flit from playing Zelda on your TV to playing Zelda in the palm of your hands. It’s a pretty much instantaneous transition and one that’s free from obvious side-effects.
Job done, then? Not quite. Nintendo's recent approach to console design has been chock-a-block with garish, shiny plastics, awkward button configurations and all-too-dim touchscreens. The Switch bucks that trend like a rodeo bronco.
Sleek and impressively sturdy, it feels like a premium bit of kit. Which is just as well since, at £280, it costs significantly more than either a PS4 Slim or Xbox One S.
Even though its touchscreen only has a 720p resolution - that’s less than Full HD - it’s crisp, sharp and dealt well with the ridiculously Nintendo creations we’ve played so far. Whip this thing out on a train and you’ll have a whole carriage of commuters peering over your shoulder in jealousy - or howling with derision should a last-minute blue shell derail your Mario Kart hopes.
3) It's a home console first
The Switch is the most powerful console Nintendo has ever made - and you can play it wherever you please. Most of the time, that'll be at home: it's where your games will look best and you won't be constrained by any worries about battery life. In this setup, you either pick up the Joy-Con Grip or Pro Controller and play in comfort for as long as you like.
Compared to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, the Switch isn't capable of Ultra-detailed 4K resolutions and it can't claim host to the same scale of third-party support. FIFA, Skyrim and Sonic Mania are confirmed for Switch, but the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield and Overwatch all remain MIA.
Last we heard, Zelda: Breath of the Wild will clock in at around 100 hours of gameplay. That’s a lot of time to be hogging the TV if your better half doesn’t care a jot for the Triforce, Master Sword and Hyrule’s ever-perilous fate.
Fear not, though, for a handy variation on the Switch’s tablet mode means you pop up the two kickstands on its rear to use its screen and a controller in conjunction while Broadchurch plays out in the background. This’ll also work as a ‘party mode’ of sorts allowing you to share out your Joy-Cons for multiplayer shenanigans like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and, erm, milking a virtual cow.
4) The specs won't blow you away
If you want to get really simplistic, the Switch is basically an iPad with a controller slapped on either side. Only, it doesn’t play apps and actually has a smaller 6.2in touchscreen than Apple’s mini 4.
As a portable, the Switch will live or die on the strength of its battery life and so far that looks… OK. With 4310 mAh of capacity, Nintendo claims it’ll last for a minimum of 3 hours if you’re playing an intensive game like Breath of the Wild.
Graphical grunt has never been an important feature of Nintendo’s consoles, so it’s no surprise the Switch skips out on the 4K arms race with a Full HD resolution. Besides, the games we’ve seen so far look gorgeous in their own right.
As for game space, the Switch only packs a paltry 32GB of internal storage. Downloading the 13.4GB-sized Breath of the Wild on day one will eat up almost half of that total, so you’ll want to pick up a microSD card sharpish.
5) Breath of the Wild is essential
Forget everything you thought you knew about Zelda. Breath of the Wild takes a formula that was established 30 years ago and throws it out of the window.
The first open world adventure in this epic saga allows you to take on its final boss only minutes after taking control of Link. Or you could spend hours roaming around a Hyrule that’s far bigger than the map you piddled across in Skyrim.
If that amount of choice sounds overwhelming, don’t panic. What we’ve played so far of BotW suggests it’s all set to live up to its monumental promise. More importantly, there’s enough story to make sure you’re not just aimlessly wandering about in search of bokoblins to slay.
Familiar but different, BotW feels like it's going to be as significant to Nintendo as Ocarina of Time or Wii Sports: a game that will shift units. Even though it’s also available in Wii U as well, with a superior graphical gloss and that all-important pick-up-and-play ability, there’s only one console you’re going to want to play the latest Zelda on.
6) Mario Kart 8 is better than ever
If you missed out on the technicolor glory of Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon on Wii U, they’ve both been reincarnated in extra special for Nintendo’s new console.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the first of these remasters and it bundles together all its previous DLC, alongside a handful of new playable characters and a completely revamped Battle Mode.
That Battle Mode is a big deal as well, since it’s the only banana skin the original slipped up on. Rather than offering bespoke tracks in which you could unleash a reign of balloon-popping destruction, the Wii U’s edition of MK8 simply recycled ill-suited racing circuits from the main game.
That’s all been scrapped now with a selection of fresh and returning tracks, including the GameCube Luigi's Mansion and SNES Battle Course 1. And, thanks to the Switch’s portability, you now can whizz round Moo Moo Meadows whenever the mood takes you.
7) Mario’s back in time for Christmas
In case there was any doubt that Nintendo is going all-in with the Switch, think on this: the last time two new 3D Zelda and Mario games were released in the same year was 2002, with the GameCube. Three consoles later, it’s happening again in a big way.
A sequel of sorts to the Super Mario Galaxy series, Odyssey will once again see your favourite chubby-cheeked plumber mount an effervescent rescue mission to retrieve Princess Peach from Bowser’s scaley clutches.
According to Mario series creator Shigeru Miyamoto this new installment will ditch the pick-up-and-play approach of Super Mario 3D World and "go back to the roots" of more demanding adventures such as Super Mario 64. You know, the greatest platformer of all-time.
Details about Odyssey are thin on the round so far, and Nintendo’s only released a teaser trailer for the game with more details to follow at the E3 gaming show in June. After a fair bit of sleuthing from that 3 minute clip, we’re expecting this new outing to feature a day-night mechanic, a whole new array jumps and special moves for our moustached hero, and a special appearance from Donkey Kong himself.
The game is set for release before Santa embarks on his annual globe-trotting sleigh ride and will be the Switch’s big release for the holiday season.
8) Other games are coming soon
Besides Zelda, the only other launch title is 1, 2, Switch - a collection of bonkers mini games in the same tradition as Wii Sports and Nintendo Land. Ever fancied milking a virtual cow while you stare straight your best mate directly in the eyes? No? Well, now you can anyway.
As for other releases coming soon, well, they're a little thin on the ground. That's not to say that we don't know what's coming - simply that we don't know exactly when.
Top of the next-best-games list is Splatoon 2, sequel to the addictive Splatoon - a shooter with a messy difference. Not played yet? Your team of four squid-things has to spray about as much of the level as possible until a timer runs out. It's laugh-out-loud fun, and version two is essentially a refreshed version of the first game.
Super Bomberman R is making a return, too, with Konami’s most enduring character arriving on Day 1 of the Switch's existence to serve up explosive multiplayer chaos as only he knows how.
Elsewhere, there's Snipperclips to look forward to. This adorable co-op puzzler sees you and friend playing as two shapes, cutting each other into different shapes. It sounds a bit naff in theory, but it's a total joy in practice - and yet another example of why you can trust Nintendo to deliver totally unqieu games.
Another brand-new Nintendo title, Arms, is also set to hit shelves soon - and it's basically Punch-Out!! with motion controls and an even wackier cast of characters. If you feel like swinging one at your mate, this is the best way to do it without bagging yourself a court date afterwards.
Meanwhile, followers of Skyrim have The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to look forward to, while EA's all-conquering football sim, FIFA, will surely make footie fans happy when it arrives on the Switch.
Mario’s maker has been written off more times than a demolition derby banger, and yet it’s still here in 2017. Why? It takes big risks and has an arsenal of gaming legends that Sony and Microsoft would both kill for. The Switch is a gamble of momental portions and - because of that - I reckon it just might work.