"Stop looking at the screen!" Nintendo representatives scolded me for TV-peeking at least a dozen times during my Monday visit to New York City's Nintendo Store, during which I got hands-on time with 1-2-Switch, a launch title for the company's upcoming Switch games console.
Stop looking at the screen? That's usually the worst advice anyone playing a video game could receive. But that's not true here, where what's happening on the TV is less relevant than what your opponent's up to in real life. Unlike typical multiplayer games where opponents sit next to one another and stare at their corner of a shared screen, 1-2-Switch games are all about rivals staring into the whites of one another's eyes, trying to anticipate their next move. The result is sometimes awkward and sometimes goofy, but always reliably amusing.
1-2-Switch is a collection of 28 multiplayer mini-games that will be available for $49.99 when the Nintendo Switch launches on March 3. Like Wii Sports did for the original Wii, the game aims to help players learn what makes this console different from all other consoles. In the console-mobile hybrid Switch's case, the differentiating factor is a design that allows the console and controllers to be used in lots of different ways depending on what (and how) you're playing. Most of 1-2-Switch's games require players to swing, shake, and wave their controller in different ways to win.
Pre-order: 1-2 Switch, $49.99, Amazon
The bite-sized mini-game options in 1-2-Switch range from more traditional options like ping pong and boxing to quirkier contests, like one that pits players against one another in a race to squeeze the most milk from an imaginary cow. During the milking game, players hold a controller upright. Then, then move it downward, pressing a button on top and then tapping a lower button as they work their way down. Haptic feedback, which is essentially a high-fidelity form of vibration, signals to players when he or she has squeezed a cup of milk. (Other games, like a fashion runway simulator, require players to move around more.)
The most focus-intensive games are those that mirror real-world sports. When playing a baseball game, for instance, I held my controller over my shoulder like a bat while watching and waiting for my opponent to hurl an imaginary ball in my direction. His motion and the sound of the whooshing wind from the TV were the only ways I could tell if the pitch was anywhere near my bat. In a sword fighting game, meanwhile, I had to watch for openings and strike my opponent with an imaginary saber at the right time.
Read more: Everything to know about the Nintendo Switch
Some Nintendo fans might scoff at the nearly $50 price tag on what's essentially a package of mini-games, particularly as Wii Sports was included for free with the original Wii. But 1-2-Switch packs a wide variety of games, ranging in subject matter and activity level, which may help it appeal to different types of gamers. Given the more social-oriented play style, meanwhile, it could be a big hit for parties and other gatherings, much like the Wii was. (There's even a Mario Party-like team mode, in which players advance along a game board and roll a virtual die to see which game they'll play next.)
1-2-Switch feels fresh and amusing in a very Nintendo way, demanding equal parts imagination and quick reflexes from players. Nintendo has found a novel way to create a unique gaming experience, and mostly without the use of a screen to boot. The magic of Wii Sports was that it was simple for non-gamers to quickly master, but it kept players coming back for more. If 1-2-Switch can replicate that success, it could help the Switch console break out in a world dominated by PlayStations and Xboxes.