Click­ing into place?

High-pro­file in­die and mid­dle­ware sup­port ramps up as Switch pre­pares for liftoff

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Soft­ware sup­port ramps up as Switch pre­pares for liftoff

The best thing to hap­pen to Switch since Jan­uary’s for­mal un­veil­ing came just two weeks be­fore the con­sole’s launch, and did not come from Nin­tendo. Epic Games’ re­lease of a new ver­sion of Un­real En­gine 4, the first to for­mally sup­port Switch, could pro­vide the soft­ware shot in the arm the sys­tem, on Jan­uary’s ev­i­dence at least, sorely needs. Na­tive sup­port from one of the most pop­u­lar, and pow­er­ful, third­party en­gines around is a big boost for a con­sole whose early months look, to put it po­litely, a lit­tle on the quiet side.

Yet to be fair, things have im­proved markedly on that front in the few short weeks since Nin­tendo un­veiled its am­bi­tious, if some­what mud­dled, con­sole to the world. A more open at­ti­tude from Nin­tendo to the in­die scene is long over­due, cer­tainly, but no less wel­come for it, and smaller stu­dios have helped bol­ster Switch’s mod­est first-year lineup. Mul­ti­for­mat play­ers might not be too ex­cited by the an­nounce­ments of games such as Stardew Val­ley and The Bind­ing Of Isaac, which have long been avail­able on other plat­forms. But se­cur­ing some of the best and bright­est names in con­tem­po­rary in­die de­vel­op­ment will help shift, if only sub­tly, the com­mon per­cep­tion of the con­sole. Switch is now about more than Zelda on the move.

The Un­real deal, how­ever, could prove crit­i­cal to the con­sole’s prospects in the longer term, and not just be­cause Nin­tendo is us­ing the en­gine it­self (Shigeru Miyamoto claimed in a re­cent in­ter­view that his em­ployer’s in­ter­nal teams had “mastered” the en­gine). It makes Switch that much more at­trac­tive to de­vel­op­ers of mul­ti­plat­form games, mak­ing com­pil­ing a build for Nin­tendo’s con­sole as eas­ily, the­o­ret­i­cally, as any of UE4’s other sup­ported plat­forms. It has al­ready yielded a Switch re­lease for Snake Pass, the play­ful Sumo Dig­i­tal puzzler that has al­ways looked like it be­longed on a Nin­tendo con­sole. Oth­ers may fol­low: Un­real sup­port does not nec­es­sar­ily elim­i­nate the risk of re­leas­ing a game on a plat­form fac­ing a highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, but it cer­tainly re­duces the in­vest­ment re­quired.

It’s good news, then, and big news too – though much of that is down to how oddly silent Nin­tendo has been about its new con­sole since that Jan­uary un­veil­ing. Un­der­stand­ing that, as Eiji Aon­uma told us last month, Nin­tendo needs to get Switch into as many pairs

A more open at­ti­tude from Nin­tendo to the in­die scene is long over­due, but no less wel­come for it

of hands as pos­si­ble to prop­erly show­case its po­ten­tial, the com­pany has em­barked on a se­ries of pub­lic tours around the world. Yet as we send to press, two weeks out from launch, many of the con­sole’s finer de­tails re­main un­known. There’s been a lit­tle drib­ble of in­for­ma­tion about the on­line ser­vice – the value propo­si­tion when com­pared to PlayS­ta­tion Plus and Xbox Live Gold now looks a lit­tle more flat­ter­ing given a pre­dicted an­nual cost of be­tween ¥2,000 and ¥3,000 (£14 to £21) – but there’s still no news on how its match­mak­ing and voice-chat fea­tures will work. There’s been noth­ing about the Switch Vir­tual Con­sole or eShop. The one con­stant has been Nin­tendo’s con­tin­ued in­sis­tence that Switch is not in­tended to re­place 3DS, or kill the wider con­cept of a ded­i­cated Nin­tendo hand­held. In re­al­ity, this is Nin­tendo merely hedg­ing its bets, leav­ing the door open for a re­turn to old ways if Switch fails to gain trac­tion. Given the ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits of fo­cus­ing its ef­forts on a sin­gle sys­tem that sat­is­fies the needs of both its home- and hand­held-con­sole au­di­ences, it is still un­fath­omable to think that Nin­tendo in­tends to split that fo­cus again in the near fu­ture – un­less, of course, it has no al­ter­na­tive.

That Nin­tendo lacks the con­fi­dence to be hon­est about its plans is re­flected in its ad­ver­tis­ing strat­egy which, ter­ri­tory by ter­ri­tory, lacks the crys­tal clar­ity of its Wii and DS mar­ket­ing. A slot dur­ing the Su­per­bowl cov­er­age – the most ex­pen­sive TV-ad space in the world, run­ning a re­ported cost of $5 mil­lion – por­trayed the con­sole as be­ing, like Wii, all things to all peo­ple: a sleepy-eyed mil­len­nial rolling over in bed to pick up Zelda; a fa­ther and son play­ing Arms; a group of of­fice work­ers link­ing mul­ti­ple con­soles for a lunchtime Spla­toon ses­sion, and so on. A trio of Ja­panese TV ads fo­cus on a sin­gle 30-some­thing male, and stress the con­sole’s porta­bil­ity above all. In Europe the sell has been to­wards af­flu­ent, di­verse and un­fath­omably at­trac­tive peo­ple in their early 20s play­ing 1-2-Switch at fes­ti­vals and house par­ties. A con­sole that of­fers so many ways to play is a tricky thing to pitch in 30 sec­onds, sure. And it re­flects an un­der­stand­ing of how gam­ing cul­ture varies by ter­ri­tory. But never be­fore has a Nin­tendo con­sole had a fea­ture­set that can be in­ter­preted in this way.

While fi­nal hard­ware nar­rowly missed de­liv­ery in time for our send­ing to press, we spent sig­nif­i­cant time with one of only a hand­ful of con­soles in the UK as part of our re­view of Breath Of The Wild (p104). Those Joy-Cons still feel a lit­tle small – in the heat of com­bat we had a few too many ac­ci­den­tal clicks of the left stick, which causes Link to sheath his sword and en­ter a crouch, which is hardly ideal. But that aside, the con­sole is a de­light, its dis­playswitch­ing seamless, its con­trol op­tions plen­ti­ful – us­ing the Joy-Cons un­docked is an un­ex­pected plea­sure, rem­i­nis­cent of the Wii Re­mote and Nunchuk combo with­out the teth­er­ing wire.

The UI, mean­while, is a gi­gan­tic leap for­ward from Wii U’s mo­lasses-slow fron­tend, ap­pear­ing the in­stant you press the Home but­ton, keep­ing the game run­ning in the back­ground. It’s even got PS4 and Xbox One licked in one depart­ment, but it’ll per­haps mean more to those of us in the busi­ness of tak­ing screen­shots: the Cap­ture but­ton re­sponds im­me­di­ately with the sound of a shut­ter and a thumb­nail of the im­age briefly ap­pear­ing in the top cor­ner of the screen. The dash­board it­self is clean, sim­ple and in­tu­itive, avail­able in black or white themes, and comes with a set of comic­strip tu­to­ri­als that are sim­ple, play­ful and only oc­ca­sion­ally pa­tro­n­is­ing: the HDMI ca­ble, so you know, is the one with ‘HDMI’ writ­ten on it.

With that in mind, per­haps there’s a cer­tain logic in Nin­tendo pre­fer­ring to fo­cus its pre­re­lease ef­forts on get­ting Switch into as many peo­ple’s hands as pos­si­ble, rather than por­ing over its fea­tures. This mul­ti­fac­eted con­sole de­fies easy categorisation, and has clearly rather be­fud­dled the mar­ket­ing teams. Bet­ter to let the peo­ple play it, and let them de­cide what makes it most ex­cit­ing. That should do for launch, when the life-long loy­al­ists will en­sure Switch is a sell­out and Zelda will spark a wider surge in in­ter­est. There­after, Nin­tendo needs to de­cide what Switch re­ally is, and shout it from the rooftops.

This mul­ti­fac­eted con­sole de­fies easy categorisation, and has clearly rather be­fud­dled the mar­ket­ing teams

While it’s ef­fec­tive in show­ing how 1-2-Switch can be played with­out crowd­ing around a screen, this scene from a Euro­pean Switch ad takes a rather fan­ci­ful view of how the con­sole is likely to be used for so­cial play

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