The Nintendo Switch is finally out, but developers have had their hands on the console for months. So when I went to the 2017 Game Developers Conference this week on the eve of the new system's launch, I couldn't resist the opportunity to ask game makers big and small what they think of Nintendo's new hybrid console, and what it means for their games.
The big takeaway? Developers are loving the Switch, and they think you will too. Here's why.
Multiplayer Anywhere, With Anyone
Talk to folks making games for the Switch, and you’ll hear a big recurring theme: they’re really excited about the console's ability to deliver two-player gaming right out of the box. The system's two included Joy-Cons aren't just meant to work in tandem — they can also each be used as a standalone controller, which is a big deal for developers making multiplayer-minded titles.
"The 3DS, Vita and even smartphones all primarily require both players to have the same hardware in order for multiplayer to work," said Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka, whose parent company Sega is bringing both the retro-inspired Sonic Mania and the new-school Project Sonic 2017 to Nintendo's new system. "With just one Nintendo Switch, you can take multiplayer gaming with you."
For Cardboard Robot Games' Christian Stewart, the Switch feels like the console that his pixelated fighting game Pocket Rumble was always meant for.
"As soon as we heard you could have local multiplayer with just one console, and it's a portable, and our game's called Pocket Rumble and it's about two people playing next to each other… it's like we designed it for the console [before it existed]" a very excited Stewart said. "You can very organically get a two player game going."
Keeping It Simple
Developers are also taken with the sheer simplicity of the Switch. Since the console provides the same experience both on the go and when docked to your TV, it could avoid many of the pitfalls of previous Nintendo platforms.
"It makes life simple," said Brjann Sigurgeirsson of Image & Form Games, a studio that's bringing indie platformer SteamWorld Dig 2 to Nintendo Switch first. "The 3DS was so relatively weak. The Wii U was so cumbersome with [juggling between] the GamePad and what was happening on TV. With Switch, what you see is what you get."
Iizuka echoed this sentiment, noting that the Switch is a much welcomed unification of Nintendo's portable and living room consoles.
"The concept of being able to play a console-level quality of game whenever you want, wherever you happen to be really fits well with people's current lifestyles," added Iizuka, who also noted that the Switch's uniquely portable design could make it a compliment to a PS4 or Xbox One rather than a competitor.
Joys and Cons
The Switch is a neat piece of hardware, but as early reviews have pointed out, it's not without its flaws. Naturally, developers share some of the same concerns as critics and fans.
While the Switch is clearly designed to be taken on the go, Sigurgeirsson is a bit worried about how well it'll survive wear and tear on the road. "If you stick it in a bag, the Joy-Con controllers are sticking out," he said. "You'll want something that's padded in some way."
You can solve that problem by getting a Switch carrying case from either Nintendo or various third parties, but that'll add at least another $15 to $20 to a system that already has a bunch of unpleasant hidden costs.
Carl-Henrik Skarstedt of Yacht Club Games is a big fan of the Switch, but thinks that the difficulty of buying one right now could pose a problem. "It's a great console, but with it being sold out everywhere it's hard to tell [whether it will resonate with gamers]," said Skarstedt. His team at Yacht Club is one of the bigger indie developers backing Nintendo's new console, having just released Shovel Knight: Spectre of Torment as a temporary Switch exclusive.
When walking through Nintendo's indie game showcase at GDC, the palpable energy in the room made it hard not to feel like the Switch is going to be something big. The developers I spoke to gave the sense that their games found a very special home on Nintendo's new hardware, where they can be enjoyed anywhere and with anyone.
For game makers, the Switch is both Nintendo's simplest and most capable hardware yet, freeing creators from having to deal with limited power on the 3DS or developing for two screens on the Wii U. For gamers, that hopefully means a steady stream of great, focused titles from both big and small studios, especially when it comes to local multiplayer games.
"Nintendo was under pressure after Wii U," said Sigurgeirsson, citing the Switch's relatively fast turnaround time in the wake of an underwhelming console. "But it feels like this thing has been baking for 20 years. The hype is real."