Clicking into place?
High-profile indie and middleware support ramps up as Switch prepares for liftoff
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