By all accounts, the demo I played last week was the same as that one, with the only obvious difference being that this time it was running on Switch hardware.
Since the contents of the demo itself are more than half a year old now, I figured I’d spare you the same rundown of what it entails, what I got to see and the like. Every site worth its salt already has a hands-on preview of the Wii U version in its archives somewhere, so me adding my own would be like pissing into Lake Hylia.
What I can do, though, is tell you how it feels playing the game on the Switch, as well as going into other details like playing with the Joy-Con Grip and how easy it is to do the whole ‘switching from TV to handheld’ process.
Goron then, I’ll give it a go
Breath Of The Wild looks great on Switch. That’s because it already looked great on Wii U though, mind.
From what I’ve seen of the Wii U demo, the Switch version is in no way an inferior-looking port. In fact, going by what the screenshot-analysing types online are apparently saying, it may even look a bit better, with a greater draw distance and more detailed environments.
I’m not committing to any technical statements like that. I’ve played enough preview builds in my time to know that six months can be an eternity in game development, so nobody should be giving version comparisons any real credence until both the Wii U and Switch versions are in our gently shaking hands.
What I can say is that controlling Link is a dream once you get used to the new gameplay mechanics. It feels a little odd having an actual jump button for him this time, for example, even though the new emphasis on open-world exploration and climbing makes it necessary.
(Incidentally, don’t buy into this nonsense doing the rounds:
There may not have been a jump button in any of the 3D Zelda games, but retro gamers who know their NES era will gladly tell you Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link let you jump more times than a Kris Kross and House Of Pain mashup.)
Combat is as satisfying as it is in any other 3D Zelda. I got into a few Bokoblin fights and even though I was armed with a pishy wee stick you still felt like you were giving them a sturdy wallop each time.
Long story short (well, short story even shorter), it feels like the Zelda you know and love, but with an extra layer of freedom. It’s lovely.
Get a Grip
I played the demo using the Joy-Con Grip. For those not in the know, this is a plastic shell that you can plug the two Joy-Con controllers into when you’re playing your Switch on your TV (or in tabletop mode with the kickstand).
While it’s perfectly possible to play the game with the Joy-Cons separated in the style of a Wii Remote and Nunchuk, some players prefer the feel of playing with a traditional controller and the Joy-Con Grip is designed to scratch that itch.
I was dubious about the Grip before I got to use it, because its square shape and odd dog ear handles made it look like it’d be awkward to hold. In reality, it’s surprisingly comfortable.
I have average-sized hands and the Grip fit snugly in them. It also doesn’t feel ‘loose’ or jiggly like I was worried it would: each Joy-Con is securely attached to the Grip and feels like a natural part of the controller.
For the vast majority of gamers tempted to pre-order the Pro Controller for the Switch, unless you need another controller for multiplayer games I really urge you to hold fire and try out the Joy-Con Grip first. It comes with the Switch anyway and you may be surprised at how well it fits your needs.
There are only two potential issues gamers may have with the Grip. Because it uses the Joy-Cons for its buttons it doesn’t have a traditional D-Pad, just four buttons. I personally didn’t see an issue with it – after all, the PlayStation D-Pad has been the same since the first one launched – but some may, especially for games like Street Fighter.
The only other issue is that the buttons may be a little too small for some. Again, I had no issues, but if you’ve got particularly large and non-Trump hands the Pro Controller may appeal to you after all due to its much bigger face buttons.
Take my Breath away
Although most of the Breath Of The Wild demo stations at the UK Switch event let players swap between TV and handheld mode halfway through the demo, a couple instead had the docked Switch inside a case and forced you to only play using the Joy-Con.
Guess which one I ended up with.
That said, I was still able to watch a friend playing on one of the other demo stations when I was done and got to investigate the switching process first-hand.
If you’re concerned that there may be a delay when moving from TV to handheld, you may as well be concerned that one day Drew Barrymore will become the president of El Salvador: both worries are as valid.
As soon as you remove the Switch from its dock, the action moves to the screen almost immediately.
There is one piece of housekeeping you need to perform, though. When you take the Switch out of its dock you then have to press L and R before you can play.
This isn’t an arbitrary task. The point of it is simple: for all the Switch knows you may want to place it in tabletop mode and continue playing with a Pro Controller. By pressing L and R it can tell what controller you’re using. After that it’s straight into the action.
Plugging it back into the dock is the same situation, though there’s a little more of a delay before you can get back into the action.
This isn’t the fault of the Switch, it’s just the typical few seconds of delay you get on your TV when you turn on a device and the HDMI channel finds the signal.
Long story short, the promotional hype wasn’t bullshit: other than the need to press the shoulder buttons, the transfer is instantaneous.
Pause and take a Breath
So that’s what it’s like playing Zelda on the Switch. As I’ve said before, I’ve deliberately not focused too much on the game itself, because there are countless other hands-on impressions out there from the Wii U demo six months ago.
I also think it would have been a bit of a fruitless exercise, mainly because it was so clear as I played that that the 20 minutes I’d spent with the game didn’t even gently rub the surface, let alone scratch it.
Telling you what the game’s like based on such a small sample would be like telling you what it’s like to be a world famous pop star after completing Paint It Black on Guitar Hero. On Easy.
That said, there’s one element of the game I do want to speak about: its frame rate.
Any time I see online discussions about Breath Of The Wild, the topic of the game’s frame rate is almost always raised. I’ve even seen some people say they may consider not buying it if Nintendo can’t provide a locked 30 frames per second.
Here’s the thing. From what I’ve played, the Switch version is looking mighty sumptuous, and I could see no performance differences between playing on the TV and the handheld, but that’s not to say it isn’t without its little graphical quirks (at this stage) regardless of which play style you opt for.
And yes, when things get frantic – during fights or when in thick grass, for example – the frame rate does chug a bit. Enough to be noticeable, but not enough to affect the gameplay.
I tell you this only for the sake of informing you, though. This won’t affect my enjoyment of the game and having played it – frame rate drops and all – I’m still hugely excited to see the rest of this world and explore every inch of it.
If the fact it infrequently drops to 20fps for a few seconds is enough to make you say “nah, I’m out” then… well, frankly, you don’t deserve nice things.
The rest of us will be getting stuck into what may be the most epic Zelda adventure yet, one that – judging by the latest trailer – looks like it’s going to have more action, adventure and emotion than the bathroom in a curry house during a food poisoning epidemic.
My Switch coverage continues tomorrow with episode 3 of the Tired Old Hack podcast, which is a Switch Q&A special with my guest, Daily Express games writer Meg Bethany Read. If you haven’t already, catch up on episode 2 to hear more Switch hands-on thoughts from myself and the awesome Kate Gray.
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