Staring intently into each others eyes, our Joy-Cons are ready. With a firm grip on the top shoulder button we have one thing on our mind. Our ears perk up for the signal. Here it comes…. FIRE! POW-OW!
What seems like a very simple one-button game reveals itself to have some impressive technology under the surface. With a live tracker showing exactly what your angle was before and after the shot, where you shot, and the timing nailed down to the thousandth of a second, 1-2-Switch means business and that 0.001 just cost you your life.
This game launched with the Switch over two years ago now, and I’ve only just given it a proper play. All the PR shots made it look quite sterile to me but when you actually play the game it’s something else. The live action videos introducing each game have their own wacky charm as the actors force out extreme facial expressions and fight back sarcasm in their words. The struggle to keep a straight face is even used as a gameplay element.
If you think Dark Souls is hard, a game of Zen brings a true test of composure. You have to hold the Joy-Con completely still while looking directly at the other person. This isn’t too hard at first, especially if you both like each other. 10 seconds of pleasant silence pass and everything is under control. Things get a bit tricky when the announcer gets involved. He compliments your hair in a flamboyant voice and suddenly there’s an unexpected element to deal with. He keeps saying ridiculous things as you try to ignore it and appreciate it at the same time. Suddenly your hand is shaking and you want to look down at it to correct yourself but that just makes you move even more. Your body desperately wants to express itself but you also want to win. You peek at the TV to see if there’s actually a person saying these things. Your eyes dart back up to your partner as their eyes also return from somewhere. You try to focus on them but they are holding back something too and it just gets funnier. You can both tell failure is imminent. BZZZT game over!
Much like Quick Draw, Zen shows a chart after the game showing a curvy line that details how much movement came from each player. The line starts to zigzag more at the end when everything falls apart in comical fashion.
I’m not going to talk about all 28 games but there’s a dozen more impressive ones like answering the phone, unwrapping treasure, cracking a safe, and a very impressive eating contest that uses the IR camera to track your mouth movement. Nom nom nom nom nom. I’ve never seen another game even use this feature of the Joy-Con. There are a few stinkers like the guitar hero clone and Gorilla which don’t feel as natural, but at least they are all different and the visual presentation is still worth a laugh. Perhaps the most impressive game of the lot was Ball Count. This uses HD rumble inside the Joy-Con to imitate marbles inside it. Before the real game starts you can actually see a box on the screen with marbles rolling inside it, and it’s surreal how accurate the feeling is. You don’t just roll them in one direction, but they can go up and down too. If you close your eyes you can imagine not just where they are, but how many and how they roll. In a way this makes it even more difficult to guess the correct amount, because they don’t just fall straight, they can all drop to the bottom of the box in a row if you aren’t careful.
I think 1-2-Switch is worth a play because there’s nothing else quite like it. No other Switch game to this day has innovated with the Joy-Con this much and playing it now makes it feel like it was ahead of its time. Many of these concepts could be expanded on very easily like safe cracking or ball count, but they haven’t been. These are things that could go in adventure games but we’re still getting straight ports and games that don’t even have motion controls for basic uses like aiming. I played with one friend but it might be even more fun in a big group. The lasting appeal of the games themselves isn’t strong, we pretty much moved through one after the other then had our fill. It’s the lasting appeal of the ideas and different style of play that will stick with me for a while though. Next time I crack a safe, twist objects around or answer a phone I’ll think about how cool it was in 1-2-Switch.
What felt like a gimmick at launch is still the most impressive use of the Joy-Cons two years later. The game has an extremely low metacritic of 58, but has sold 3 million copies on its own with no bundles or price drops. It’s a game that shouldn’t be judged on its content but on the experience you have. I found it very refreshing, and the thought that we are still barely scratching the surface of controller technology is quite exciting.
Now if you will excuse me I have some cows to milk.