Why Nintendo Switch’s multiplayer Joy-cons and portability are its most important features

Rik Henderson
Shareable: the Nintendo Switch features controllers designed for multiplayer: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty

The Nintendo Switch is just one week old but already it is at the centre of a changing attitude in gaming.

The new console is bringing the capital’s gamers together, away from their single-player, solo exploits and pitting them against each other in the same location, on games like Super Bomberman R, Snipperclips and 1-2 Switch.

Experts believe it re-embraces a games genre that fell by the wayside over the past few years, one that even Nintendo largely turned its back on: party and social gaming.

“The Nintendo Switch is perfect for groups to enjoy games together,” says Andy Robertson of YouTube channel Family Gamer TV.


“This is not only thanks to updated motion controls for a game such as 1-2 Switch but being able to connect multiple Joy-Con controllers to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in split-screen mode when it arrives next month.”

Official figures are yet to be revealed, but Nintendo’s US president, Reggie Fils-Aimé, and Nintendo Europe both claim it had a better opening weekend than any other console in the company’s history. It sold more in its first two days than the SNES, N64 and the Wii.

Many would put that down to the similarly exuberant success of launch game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That too smashed records. According to Fils-Aimé, it sold better than any other launch title in Nintendo history.

But the console needs more than one massive hit. With party and social gaming, it has a relatively underserved audience ready to flock back.

Such games were huge in the heyday of the Nintendo Wii. Its motion-gaming aspects encouraged family and friends alike to crowd around the same screen, wave their arms in the air like semaphore signallers and, importantly, play together in the same room rather than solo or online with faceless strangers.

And while the predecessor to the Switch, the Wii U, featured some elements of party play, they often required additional accessories. The PS4 and Xbox One, too.

The Switch, however, comes with a couple of multi-use controllers — Joy-Cons — in the box.

The main unit comprises two distinct parts. There is a plastic dock you plug into your TV, in which the console sits for home play, and there is a 6.2-inch HD LCD screen you can take out and about, using the included Joy-Con controllers attached to either side.

They can also work independently, as mini joypads for same-screen play or as motion controllers for the same sort of high-octane fun that’s been missing for a while.

“Nintendo’s Switch really does embody that party feeling when playing games with friends,” says Marine de la Seiglière, executive producer for Ubisoft’s motion game Just Dance — one of the Switch launch titles.

“The console is accessible, innovative and immediately fun. Also, because the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers track motion, Just Dance is natively and seamlessly compatible with the Nintendo Switch.”

Forms of the game on other consoles require different devices, even smartphones, to get the same experience.

There is one last aspect of the Switch that swells enthusiasm for a new age of social gaming, and it transcends what was possible with the Wii: portability.

A small kickstand on the console’s rear enables players to use it as a gaming screen outside of the home, not just as a tablet-like device. And with a mini Joy-Con in each players’ hand, local co-operative or competitive play can occur anywhere.

It’s this feature that excites Seth Barton, editor of games industry trade publication MCV, most: “The Switch takes the couch out of couch co-op, letting gamers get together for head-to-head multiplayer anytime and anywhere,” he says.

“Getting gaming out of the home has huge advantages for gamers and the industry, making it more of a year-round activity and pushing its profile — just look at the huge take-up of Pokémon Go.”

So not only should you be prepared to once again act like a fool in front of your friends at home, this time you’ll be doing so in public. But in the current climate, there’s nothing wrong with a little silly fun. You won’t be alone, at least.

Follow Rik Henderson on Twitter: @RikHenderson

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