I know I probably left it a few decades late to join the games console generation but with Coronavirus ravaging the land and the prospect of a long winter mainly spent indoors I thought it was worth trying. Also, games like Ring Fit: Adventure made the Nintendo Switch an easy choice.
The Nintendo Switch (£279.99, Nintendo UK) is a really unique concept in that it is a gaming console that can be used hand-held while you are travelling or away from your TV. But it can also be plugged into a cradle that is left attached to the TV to be played on the big screen. This makes for a very versatile system which can be both personal in your hands or can be shared with friends playing with multiple controllers (where the game allows).
In the box you get pretty much everything you’ll need to get playing:
- the console itself
- a TV cradle with power supply and HDMI cable
- 2 joystick controllers (“joy-cons”) that slot into the sides of the console to be charged and to use in hand-held mode
- 2 wrist-straps to dock the joy-cons into when using them for a game that needs physical movement – this prevents you accidentally throwing them into the TV!
- a “Joy-Con grip” which allows you to leave the Switch in the TV cradle and connect the 2 joy-cons together to make a small controller
Once unpacked you just have to assemble it all, power up the console and connect it to your WiFi, to start downloading games.
Ring Fit: Adventure
This was my initial reason for buying a games console because I like to have a positive excuse, rather than to just mess around with games! It’s quite an expensive game (£69.99, Amazon) but the box includes a leg-strap and the ring itself, which is quite well engineered and looks very sturdy. You’re really not going to be able to break it unless you’ve got the biceps of a gorilla! In which case why would you be buying a fitness game!?
You start but attaching the right joy-con to the top of the ring and the left one slips into the leg strap. Put the strap around your leg and you’re good to go. Menu items are selected by squeezing the ring; you go back by pulling the ring wider; and you move menus by turning the ring clockwise or anticlockwise. Easy!
Anyway, I found the whole game side of it a bit contrived but the jolly narrator and silly story move you along nicely while you jog on the spot to run down paths or do squats and leg lifts etc to beat your enemy at each stage along the run. I really like the way that it gets you to do warm-up stretches and warm-down exercises to prevent injury and it also stops you doing the same little exercise again and again – it forces you to use all of the different moves at each stage, which is good for sharing out the work around your body. It also puts great emphasis on your “form” and the sensor in the ring and on your leg do a good job of working out if you are doing the exercises properly. If you don’t do them how the commentator tells you to do them then you’ll find yourself beign beaten by the baddies. The exercises also include a few nice yoga forms too, so it’s not all about squats and lifts and you can use these to keep working while catching your breath.
All in all I like the game and I’m going to keep going but I worry that it is just too easy to exit-out and call it a day before you’ve had a real workout. That said the game keeps a good track of your work rate and calories burned and it also reads your heart rate at the end of each strenuous part (using the infrared reader in the right joy-con) and so you can see that you have been working hard. I think it will keep me exercising a little but it probably won’t give me the kind of cardio workout that I got on the rowing machine in the gym and it won’t tax my muscles as much as the weight machines either. But it is probably going to keep my muscles toned the way that yoga or other forms of at-home exercise can do, so in that way it is useful.
I found out about this little game quite by chance and wondered why something so original hadn’t got more publicity. It’s basically a platform game – you move through a level avoiding traps and baddies to collect diamonds and pollen, for which you get points. All fairly easy so far but then it gets weird – instead of the joy-stick controlling you, it controls the world, spinning the screen around or flipping vertically. The character just walks or drops according to gravity and you do have a jump function but it is hardly used and the controls are remarkably easy to use.
It seems to have started off as an Android phone game where of course it used the geo-sensors to rotate the world but in the Switch port the graphics has been beefed up a bit and the geo-sensor movement has been replaced with the left joy-stick (or the L + R buttons). In some ways I am sad that the geo-sensor isn’t an option but when you start playing the game you realise that you need to make quite a lot of movements so it might have got messy. I was worried the joy-stick controls would be too sensitive for careful adjustments but I needn’t have worried – they are set just right even for this klutz!
I motored through the first 7 levels and have found it really addictive. Even as a relative novice to consoles I have found the gameplay tough but not too tough. The puzzles are fairly easy to understand – you just have to work out how best to move through each tunnel/world avoiding the dangerous things (coloured orange) like monsters, electric fields, water & spikey ground; and finding good things (coloured blue) such as pollen and restore-point swirls. There is no concept of “death” too – you just “vanish” in the words of the game. Also, you don’t have “lives” or options to save games – you just start each level at the beginning and if you pass a blue swirl then that becomes the point where you restore to. If you vanish too many times though you do get dumped back at the start, so watch out!
I saw a video review of this platform game on YouTube and immediately fell in love with the 1920s-30s cartoon themed design. The characters all look and move like they have come straight out of the first Disney (e.g. Mickey Mouse) and Fleischer Studios (e.g. Betty Boop) cartoons. The sound track is even 1930s jazz inspired and matches what you see on the screen perfectly.
Everyone says that it is insanely difficult to play but it is cheap so I thought it was worth a download (£16.59, Nintendo eShop) … I mean, how difficult can a platform game be, right? Oh boy … I know I’m a bit of a novice but still, this game is crazy. Unless you are utterly fluent with the controls then you’ll be dead within 30 seconds. It’s gorgeous to look at while you are being killed by a dancing flower, but it would be nice if you could dial-down the rate of attack.
This game is in the metroidvania* category of platform games. It isn’t famous but it gets a lot of very loyal followers in the gaming world so I decided to splash out the £10.99 (Nintendo download) to buy it. The graphical style is very muted and sombre but beautiful – 2D but with depth in the images. The soundtrack is also moody and gothic to compliment the graphics and the otherworldly theme.
I find the controls quite easy to use and I really enjoy the game. It seems to have great depth and I have hardly scratched the surface.
* metroidvania: where you run, jump and shoot/fight through a world where you find things and solve problems which open up new map areas and which expand the narrative towards a conclusion.
Ori and the Blind Forest
This is my current favourite metroidvania game (£14.99, Nintendo eShop) because the graphics are gorgeous and you move around in a really beautiful world. You control a squirrel-like spirit animal in a search for light to restore life to the forest. The controls are easy to learn but there are quite a few areas where you’ll have to make very precise jumps to avoid getting killed and it can be quite frustrating. I found it challenging over all but each section was do-able after lots of repetition, even for a relative novice like me.
The next game in this series (“Ori and the Will of the Wisps”) has been released and I’m looking forward to giving it a try. It has all the charm and beauty of the first game with even better graphics.
When I was in my 20s I was really into PC Games and the Doom/Quake series were my favourites so I was keen to see if there were any new versions on the Switch. I’m waiting for the upcoming Doom Eternal (October 2020), which looks absolutely amazing, but I spotted that Doom3, which I’d never played on PC, was available for £7.99 (Nintendo eShop), so I had to try it.
I used to be utterly fluid with the controls on the PC but the console controllers were always going to be a bit of a culture shock so I was ready to be killed often. Sure enough the controls seemed clumsy at first and I got a bit better but I still found aiming the weapons was fairly hit and miss (usually miss at long distance!) with the joystick controls because they are very sensitive. But I found it quite moody and creepy to play, in a good way, with all the thrills of the old games so I’ll keep at it and let you know how I get on. As you can see from my images, you spend a lot of time staring at doors, reloading and plucking up the courage to go in!
Captain Toad (demo)
If you like calm, problem-solving games then Captain Toad is a really lovely choice. The characters are endearing and the problems take a little bit of working out to pick up all the points in each level. The controls are very simple (joystick and A) and there is no jumping needed so they are ideal for younger kids and people who get put-off by games where you keep failing because you just can’t get a particular jump combination right.
The demo just contains 3 fairly simple levels but you get a good idea how the game plays and whether it is good for you. I’ll certainly keep playing it.
Rayman Legends: Definitive (demo)
I really love this platform game – the graphics are so smooth and the control system is very tolerant, so jumping between objects just happens if you get the actions in the right order. Well, at least that’s how the demo plays but I’m sure it’ll get harder as the game goes on.
Ape Out (demo)
This is another one of those games that is graphically stunning yet weird, like Cuphead. This time though you have been teleported to a world that looks like 1950s/60s movie titles. Bold blocks of colour and garish music with jazz drum beats follows you as you try to get your gorilla out of a maze, while killing as many guards as possible by hurling them against walls or turning their guns on themselves. The top down view with restricted frames of reference help to make the game exciting and much more difficult and addictive as my description sounds.
The Switch comes with 32GB of internal memory as standard and an empty MicroSDXC card slot for expansion memory. If you only buy physical game cartridges then the internal memory is just used for save games and any personal data that you generate. But if you download games from the Nintendo store then you’ll soon fill that up so you’ll want to invest in a simple memory card.
I bought a bog standard Sandisk Ultra 128GB card* for £14.75 (from Amazon). You can find other cards (like the Extreme or Extreme Pro) that have faster write speeds but these are primarily for use in cameras and you’d get little or no effect in a Switch because their read speeds are the same. You can also find Nintendo-licenced cards but they are the same as an Ultra, but with Nintendo logos are are provided in Nintendo packaging for collectors.
- MicroSDXC, Class 10, UHS-I, 100MB/s, Class 1 (U1)
The joy-cons are great to use and they work very well but some people with big hands or who prefer using a separate all-in-one controller will definitely want to buy a “pro controller”. The joy-cons are also a bit flimsy and have been known to suffer reliability problems with “drift”, where your left joy-stick seems to be always on and you can’t stop your character moving. Thankfully though Nintendo will replace these free of charge, but it is still a hassle to send them off.
A pro controller is a bit pricey (£54.99, Amazon) but is has a very long battery life and feels great in the hands too. It also has a nice sturdy feel to it and feels like it is built to last. Serious gamers report no major problems with them. The only disadvantage, as far as I can see, is that you can’t separate the 2 “halves” and share them with another player for local multiplayer games or hold one in each hand to play physical fitness / boxing games. This is where the joy-cons come into their own but it’s probably best to have both.
Carry cases & protective screens
You can get a protective case for about £8-£25 in just about any colour you like. I went for a slim case which just holds the Switch and some game cartridges for daily travel, and a thicker one with extra storage for cables or additional joy-cons for when I have to go further afield.
I haven’t purchased a screen protector yet but I probably should, just in case some keys fall on it or something like that.