To the sanctimonious glee of lifelong fanboys everywhere (*stands proudly, hand on heart*) the Switch has had an absolutely storming debut year. With frequent major first-party drops, robust third-party support, and an indie library that’s threatening to be the very best in the business at the moment, it’s never been a better time to be a Nintendo fan.
Fortunately, the old masters have no intention of slowing down and, on top of the release of the massively anticipated Smash Bros Ultimate (read our hands on here) in December, the Switch is coming into the second half of 2018 with the deck very much stacked in its favour.
Here are three titles we got our hands on that you should start getting hyped for.
Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee!
I’ll admit – I was as cynical as the next armchair-critic on Twitter when Nintendo finally, after a good decade of hype and expectation, announced that they were going to make a fully 3D console version of the original Gameboy Pokemon games… only to base the whole thing around Pokemon Go functionality.
This is nothing against Pokemon Go – I’m one of roughly 15 people that still play it regularly in my area – but the whole thing just felt a little sacrilegious. Had it been an entirely new Pokemon adventure then maybe the concern wouldn’t have been so keenly felt, but Red, Blue, and Yellow are legendary – the very essence of childhood – and the casual social-gaming focus of Pokemon Go is like putting tea on your cornflakes.
Anyway – I was completely wrong. Because Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! (which I played, so here’s assuming it’s the exact same case with Pikachu) is great and fully delivers on the long-developing promise of a console-based Pokemon adventure.
First off, it’s visually lovely, absolutely drenched in colour with some wonderful character and environment design. The Pokemon character models seem to have been taken directly out of Go and given a polish, which is no bad thing, while the humans are very much in-fitting with the aesthetics of the original games.
The demo build was set entirely in the Viridian Forest and seeing that area, which I’ve played so many times I could do it blindfolded, fully realised in three bright and beautiful dimensions really was a treat. Unlike in previous games, all wild Pokemon are visible on the map and you run into them to battle in a separate screen, like in the Persona or Ni No Kuni games.
One one hand, it really was quite special seeing the world of Pokemon brought to life in a way you’ve always had to imagine before now, and the ability to be able to skip Pokemon you weren’t interested in was very much appreciated. Having said that, the randomised nature of catching Pokemon has always been part of the experience – grinding in Viridian to finally uncover that elusive Pikachu is a vivid joy of the original games and that charm is lacking when you can see one waiting for you over there already.
Trainer battles work as they always have done except with flashier presentation, so there’s little to report on that front, but wild Pokemon “battles” are a different beast altogether and where Go’s influence is most visible. As in Go, there’s no fighting a beastie to weaken it before going for the catch: instead you’re straight into using various Pokeballs and berries; for a core game equivalent, it’s like the entire Poke-world is now a safari zone.
I assume that when played with a controller the balls will be thrown using the analogue stick and buttons, but the game is clearly designed for motion play here, either using the Joy-Con or Poke Ball Plus to “throw” the balls. Ten years after the novelty of Wii Tennis (for serious, it came out in 2008… time is cruel), motion controls in general have become a bit clichéd and, while it was undoubtedly fun on a gimmicky level, the motion controls here don’t really add anything you haven’t seen before. Personally, I’ll probably skip over them for the full game.
The inability to fight wild Pokemon felt a bit odd, with experience points instead coming from multipliers based on the quality of your catch/ the size of the Pokemon/ chaining catches together etc. It’s an interesting system for sure, with your own Pokemon leveling up via the experience points you gather (rather than their respective candies being battery farmed like in Go) but it’s unclear how this fits into a long-term experience; nobody wants their storage boxes rammed full of the same Pokemon!
I played using the new PokeBall Plus peripheral that will be bundled with certain packages of the game (or sold separately) and was pleasantly surprised. It controls well and feels far sturdier than I expected. It’s quite small which helps with comfort – I expect that anything bigger may eventually lead to hand cramps, especially with younger players – and sports just a control stick, which is also the A button when pressed, and a B button on top. With that, the peripheral fully recreates the classic Gameboy’s interface in the palm of a single hand.
I wasn’t able to test its other functions – namely carrying one of your Pokemon around with you in the real world and importing your favourites from Go – but judging by the series’ past success with similar systems there’s little reason to doubt that Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! will be very well received.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas
Not a Switch exclusive this one (it’ll be released on X-Box and PlayStation too) but with the added excitement of Fox McCloud as a bonus character it’ll surely be the definitive version (the Arwing is greatest spaceship in video game history after all and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees).
The core idea behind Starlink is excellent; sort of straddling the amorphous middle-ground behind Star Fox and No Man’s Sky, it promises a solar-system-sized sandbox to explore, complete with various planets and more alien beasties than you can shake a space-nuke at. There’s a joint focus between completing combat-focused missions against enemy hoards and also exploring and resource-collecting at your own pace and it remains to be seen how these gameplay strands are balanced as part of the full experience (the demo was very much focused on a battle mission against some giant space crab dude).
Gameplay wise it was easy and intuitive enough to pick up and play with buttons to boost, to fire your primary and secondary weapons, to take off and, of course, to barrel roll. Having said that, it definitely felt a little… loose. Granted, my time with the game was brief and there was no chance to get used to its nuances, but there were several occasions, particularly when battles got especially hectic with various blobs of light exploding all over the place, that I didn’t feel entirely in control. This, on top of the general lack of polish in the visuals where it sometimes looked more than a little “last gen,” suggested that the game has some ways to go in terms in quality assurance – though with a little while until its October 16th release date this shouldn’t be a worry.
The biggest, boldest, most exciting string in Starlink’s bow however is its toy functionality. Much like Skylanders, Starlink brings its gameplay into the real world with very cool toy models of its in-game ships. The models themselves are gorgeous, wonderfully detailed and sturdily built, and, most excitingly of all, fully customisable. From your chosen pilot, to your ship base, to your weapons, you can build everything onto your Switch controller and watch it come to life on screen. Not only that, if you ever want to change weapons (like, for example, an enemy pops up that’s resistant to ice attacks so you need to switch to your gatling gun) you quickly change them around on the plastic model and – boom – you’re immediately good to go in-game. It’s very impressive – and fun! – and it’s easy to see how this could take off in a big way of the price-points are sensible and the toys are accessible (looking at you, Amiibos…).
Best of all however is that you don’t need to own the toys to be able to play the game – unlike Skylanders or Disney Infinity for example where content was often gated behind owning certain figures. Not everyone will be able to carry the chunky spaceship models around (not to mention the myriad upgradable and changeable pieces that promise to be very losable), particularly Switch users who often bank a bulk of their valuable gaming time when commuting, so the decision to make the game fully functional minus the peripherals is appreciated. Not to mention that collecting all of the various models will invariably prove far too expensive for most players.
There’s also character and ship customisation galore, levelling up and character progression, branching skill trees, and secret weapon combos, all on top of the promise of a solar system to explore and the toys to collect. In short, Starlink: Battle For Atlas offers a lot of good stuff, all available on October 16th.
Killer Queen Black
Killer Queen Black, I’m reliably informed, is a rebuilt console version of the arcade eSport game Killer Queen. Knowing about as much about eSports as I do about actual sports, I therefore approached Killer Queen Black completely blind – and came away incredibly impressed.
It’s an 8-player action/ platformer played in a fixed arena where teams can win in three different ways – kill the opposing team’s queen three times; fill up your team’s nest with berries; or ride the snail across to your side of the screen.
The gameplay itself is refreshingly refined and simple – run, jump, and attack – which hides an addictive layer of tactical complexity. It’s almost built in the vein of something like Duck Game or Nidhogg 2, the major difference being the emphasis on teamwork. Every team has a Queen and the remaining players are drones, who can either retrieve the berries around the map and bring them back to the nest to win, or use one of the upgrade stations to transform into a knight and take the fight to the opposing queen (or, more importantly, defend their own).
The various different routes to victory give the game a frenetic energy by forcing each game to end sooner rather than later. It’s a clever gameplay gimmick – if one victory strategy isn’t working (e.g. the other team is throwing the kitchen sink at defending the queen in their own nest so you can’t get to her) then you can quickly change tactics (e.g. jump on the undefended snail and ride it to victory) which forces your opponents to come out and face you in the open field.
It hits the sweet-spot of multiplayer gaming: something that’s easy to get to grips with that becomes more enjoyable the longer you play. Having said that, every game I played quickly debased into an all-out queen hunt as it seemed the quickest and easiest way to win, so there may be some balancing issues… but as more people get the chance to play the game, more creative and complex winning strategies will invariably come to light.
Killer Queen Black is due to release in Winter 2018 and promises to be an online (and local-play) winner.
Need more Nintendo? Here’s our hands on Super Smash Bros Ultimate review.