1-2-Switch is the Pack-in Game Nintendo Switch Deserves (Hands-On)

Part of the widespread sticker shock we saw in light of Nintendo's announcement of a $300 price point for Nintendo Switch was the revelation that it comes with no packed-in software. The Wii famously came with Wii Sports to show off its unique capabilities, and even the Wii U had an optional SKU with Nintendoland. Console pack-ins are a rarity nowadays, but with unconventional hardware like Nintendo's, it pays to have something that can explain the tech. That makes the decision not to include 1-2-Switch especially baffling, because it's so perfect as a system showcase.

1-2-Switch is actually very similar to Wii Sports and Nintendoland, in that it's a collection of short tech-demo-like experiences that, when taken together, explain a broad range of the system's functions. We were shown a handful at our hands-on demonstration, with assurances that more would be included in the total package.

In fact, for the most part these are less mini-games and more micro-games, to borrow a phrase from Nintendo's own WarioWare franchise. Most take no more than a minute at most to play a round, and some like Samurai Training or Quick Draw take even less time than that. Aside from the initial setup phase, Samurai Training lasts as long as it takes for one player to swing his imaginary sword, and the other player to attempt to catch it. It's a game that can be over in mere seconds.

That's not to discount the fun of it, though. It was my least favorite of the micro-games we played, and it was still pretty enjoyable. My biggest reservation was that the catching aspect, which involves clapping your hands down on a Joy-Con controller, was mildly uncomfortable. Quick Draw, a similarly fast game, simply involves waiting for the audio cue and then reaching up and pulling the trigger as quickly as you can. It's basically a game of reflex. 

One aspect that these games share in common, though, is the deemphasis on the actual television screen. While the ideas are illustrated with vibrant, goofy photos of actors dressed in samurai or cowboy garb, you really shouldn't be watching the screen for the cues. In fact, at one point our demonstrator took the Nintendo Switch out of its dock and turned it around, just so I would have to rely on sound. Years of video gaming left me looking at the screen as a matter of habit, and it was one I needed to break.

Some other games were more substantial, but only slightly. One had us simulating a milking motion by "pulling" down on the Joy-Con while gripping the shoulder buttons. A typical round lasted about a minute, and rolling your fingers from one button to the other apparently made for ideal milking. A game of table tennis impressively realized the sport without visual cues, leaving the timing and rhythm entirely up to hearing the audio of the ping-pong ball bouncing on our imaginary table. It's a concept that seemed destined to fail, but a solid 37-hit volley assured us that it really does work.

I was most impressed by Ball Count, a game demo that's veers closest to being a pure tech demo. Both players put their Joy-Con on the palm of their hands, and gently tilt it from side to side, feeling virtual marbles "bounce" inside. The goal is to ultimately guess the number of marbles inside, and in our experience, both of us would either correctly guess or be remarkably close to each other. It's not very fun or long-lasting as a game in itself, but it's the best example of Nintendo's "HD rumble" feature at work. The haptic feedback was precise enough to approximate the actual feeling of rolling marbles, down to pinpointing the difference between four and five of them. It got me more excited about the Joy-Cons as individual units than anything else I played at the event.

Which brings me back to my bafflement. Nintendo hasn't specified how much more will be included in 1-2-Switch, but so far it's a relatively modest collection of micro-games and tech demos. That seems like a tall order at an MSRP of $50, and unless there's more to it that we haven't seen, I don't expect it to sell much.

Even beyond the sticker shock or sales concerns, though why wouldn't Nintendo package its best sales tool right inside the box? 1-2-Switch has the potential to be the Wii Sports of this generation–a clever, small experience that lets each owner act as an ambassador and easily explain to friends and family what makes the system unique. Instead, it appears, Nintendo is insistent upon selling it separately, meaning that even some Switch owners themselves won't grasp its full range of capabilities.

This 1-2-Switch preview was based on a pre-release demo of the system at an event where refreshments were provided by Nintendo.

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