“Zelda machine” has become a flippant nickname for Nintendo’s latest handheld, the console / tablet hybrid known as Switch. The idea is that, aside from the excellent Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the console launched without many games to play. And in some ways, it’s true. The Switch’s launch lineup isn’t particularly huge, and with the exception of Zelda, it’s missing big-name titles to get new owners excited. Compared to systems like the Xbox One and PS4, both of which launched with over a dozen games each, it’s a seemingly paltry offering from Nintendo. But unlike most console launch lineups, which are rife with filler and forgettable releases, the few games that are available on the Switch right now are mostly great, and do a solid job of showcasing what the system has to offer.
After Zelda, Switch’s biggest title is 1-2-Switch, a mini-game collection that’s something of a cross between the system-defining Wii Sports and the manic WarioWare. It’s a selection of 28 tiny games designed to demonstrate the more unique aspects of the hardware. The vast majority of the mini-games use the Joy-Con controllers’ motion-enabled features, letting you milk a cow, cradle a baby, swing a sword, throw some uppercuts, and so on. It’s accessible and cheeky, easily the best way to play multiplayer on Switch with friends who don’t normally enjoy video games.
Zelda and 1-2-Switch cover Nintendo’s biggest bases. On one side you have a massive adventure designed for dedicated players, and on the other, a lighter, quirkier experience that could only really exist on Switch, and has the potential to lure the non-traditional gamers that loved the Wii.
Joining those two launch pillars is a small but surprisingly sturdy assortment of downloadable games. Leading the way is Snipperclips, an adorable co-operative puzzle game. It stars two pieces of paper who cut each other into different shapes to solve a variety of puzzles. It’s both challenging and cute, seemingly straightforward puzzles given character by lots of hilarious little animations. Snipperclips’ core mechanic also creates some interesting tension, since you can both help and hinder your partner by snipping them. It’s a video game that demands you talk with your teammate, and I suspect will become my go-to for long family trips.
Snipperclips is joined by Fast RMX, the latest entry in an overlooked and underappreciated Wipeout-style racing series. There’s also NES-style adventure Shovel Knight and its new expansion, which helps fill in the retro gap left by the lack of a virtual console at Switch’s launch. I Am Setsuna, which debuted on the PS4 and Steam last year, is one of the best classic Japanese role-playing games in years, and a perfect fit for the Switch’s portable mode. It’s exactly the kind of game I want to play both at home and on the go, squeezing in some battles whenever I have the time. And if you’re adventurous, the region-free nature of Switch means you can head to the Japanese eShop and pick up titles like the new Blaster Master and Disgaea 5 Complete before they officially launch in the West.
These aren’t the kinds of games that sell systems. As much as I’ve enjoyed arguing over Snipperclips with my wife, or exploring I Am Setsuna while commuting, they aren’t reason enough to spend $299 on a new piece of hardware. But they don’t have to be — that’s Zelda’s job, after all. But they are good supplemental experiences that make the Switch more than just a “Zelda machine.”
If anything, the “Zelda machine” quip speaks to the Switch’s launch lineup having a killer app. The best launch game for the PlayStation 4 was Resogun. The best launch game for Xbox One was, what, Madden? Zoo Tycoon? The Switch doesn’t have a lot of games at launch, but barring Just Dance, it trades quality for quantity.
Of course, there’s still a good chance that Switch will follow the Wii U as a system with some great Nintendo games and not much else. But the launch provides some hope. And with Nintendo’s goal of keeping a steady stream of indie titles coming to Switch on a weekly basis, the company may have finally figured out a way to fill in the gaps between its own games — which is especially important with Super Mario Odyssey months away from release.