Platforms: Switch

After Wii Sports on the Wii and Nintendo Land on the Wii U, Nintendo has once again created a launch title specifically designed to demonstrate the capabilities of its new console. With 1-2-Switch, Nintendo has assembled 28 minigames showcasing the many features and diverse uses of Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. The game is essentially a Joy-Con tech demo in disguise, much like how Wii Sports introduced us to Wii Remote motion controls, and Nintendo Land familiarized us with the features of the Wii U GamePad.

There is one huge difference between 1-2-Switch and its predecessors, however. While the previous games were bundled with their respective console, this time Nintendo is asking fans to pay full price. So that begs the question: is 1-2-Switch the second game that new owners of Nintendo Switch should buy?

Exploring the 28 minigames

The collection of minigames included in 1-2-Switch mostly revolve around performing activities and sports from everyday life, though a few plunge us into situations drawn from fantasy worlds. Most games are played 1v1 and face-to-face, and I do mean that literally as the game constantly commands both players to, “Look each other in the eye!” Thanks to 1-2-Switch, you'll know who among your family and friends has the best cow milking technique, who has a knack for putting crying babies to sleep, and who has the potential to be the most convincing gorilla.

A thorough tech demo

As mentioned, all minigames in 1-2-Switch are designed to demonstrate the potential of the console and especially the features of its Joy-Con controllers. One of the best examples is the minigame “Ball Count,” where you hold the Joy-Con and imagine it’s a locked box containing an unknown number of marbles.

By moving the controller left or right, you can feel the marbles hitting the side of the box, and the sensation is highly realistic given the Joy-Con’s HD rumble. Flick the controller up and you can convincingly sense the marbles smacking the box’s top and then falling back down. The goal is to estimate the total number of balls inside the box using only the controller’s haptic feedback as a guide. Everyone I know who’s tried this minigame has been highly impressed with the realistic rumble effects the controller was able to produce.

Another excellent minigame that highlights the Joy-Con’s HD Rumble is “Soda Shake” in which you hold a fizzy bottle of soda (the Joy-Con) and strategically shake until it’s just about to pop. You then pass it along to your partner in hopes that it explodes in their face. The building pressure and bubble effects jolt the Joy-Con in an extremely realistic manner, exactly like you’d expect for an agitated bottle of carbonated soda. In a similar fashion, the minigame “Milk” accurately simulates squeezing milk from a cow, awkward cow movements and all.

Additional Joy-Con features are demonstrated in other games as well. For example, the minigame “Eating Contest” utilizes the IR motion camera in the right Joy-Con, which detects the distance, shape, and motion of nearby objects. In this case, you hold the controller a couple of inches from your mouth and chew as rapidly as possible, as if you were in a hot dog eating contest. Once again I was pretty impressed with how accurate the Joy-Con tech is. It only registers a bite if you fully open and close your mouth, and the speed in which you chew is translated on-screen very well.

My favorite minigame by far was “Joy-Con Rotation,” a two-player challenge to see who can rotate their controller as many degrees as possible in three turns. Each player places their Joy-Con on a flat surface, and then lifts and turns their controller in a circular motion for as long as they can. The trick is you need to rotate slow and steady. If you trigger the Joy-Con’s accelerometer or gyro sensor, you lose your turn and all your progress. These controller features were also found in Wii Remotes, but the Joy-Con’s sensitivity seem heightened and more accurate.

An off-TV experience

Perhaps the most polarizing aspect of 1-2-Switch is the fact that the majority of the game happens off-screen. Your TV is used mainly for audio cues, such as the announcer in the gun-slinging “Quick Draw” minigame smoothly instructing you to “Ready…Steady…Fire!” In other situations, like in “Samurai Training,” you instead need to pay full attention to your opponent’s body language. One player is designated the sword striker and holds a pretend katana above their head, while the other player claps their hands to try and catch the sword mid-swing.

As fun as these minigames are to try out, the loss of visual references sometimes really hurts. For example, the minigame “Table Tennis” is essentially Wii Sports’ Tennis using just ball-bouncing sounds. “Baseball” is virtually the same thing, requiring you to listen for incoming pitches and then swing. By the time you get to “Plate Spin,” the 23rd minigame, the game seems to realize it’s not entertaining enough on its own. During the instructional video, two clowns teach you to spin plates (i.e. rotate your Joy-Con), and encourage you playfully poke and jab at your opponent. As in, poke and jab them in real-life.

And speaking of the instructional videos, boy are they cringe-worthy. They use real actors dressed in ridiculous costumes who over exaggerate every action, including bawdy ones like stroking a cow. Not to mention, they all appear to be having way too much fun for these mostly standard fare minigames. 

More a demo than lasting fun

I’m glad I played 1-2-Switch, but a few hours were enough for me. Mostly, I enjoyed experimenting with the Joy-Con controller and learning about all its features. Frankly, though, I’m not really sure who the target market is for this game. It certainly isn’t hardcore gamers, because there’s virtually no depth to any of the minigames. By the same token, even casual gamers I played with got bored after an hour or two, tops.

The one situation where I thought 1-2-Switch would be a big hit — during get-togethers with friends — actually uncovered its biggest flaws. Most games rely on precise audio cues, and parties generally aren’t quiet affairs. Telling guests to quiet down during a social night ruins the fun rather creates it. At least Wii Sports and Nintendo Land were playable with chatty background noise.

Ultimately, 1-2-Switch should have been a pack-in title, or at the very least a budget title. Perhaps Nintendo could have released a Deluxe version, similar to what they did with Wii U, with a slightly higher price. By making this a stand-alone title, some Switch owners will forego this experience, which is too bad because it serves as such a great introduction to the console. That’s a big missed opportunity on Nintendo’s part.