Do you remember the video Nintendo used to show off the Switch for the first time? The one where hip 20-somethings would bring their Switch consoles everywhere, breaking them out at parties for some local multiplayer action, or playing Mario Kart in the back of a van en route to a real go-kart course. It seemed more aspirational than practical at the time. Sure, the Switch was a machine designed with flexibility, but who would actually use it like that? Turns out, I would. And one of the reasons is the steady stream of solid multiplayer games Nintendo has been releasing since the console debuted back in March.
Local multiplayer has always been a core part of the pitch for Nintendo’s new platform. It’s meant, at least in part, to be a device that you can carry around and use for impromptu gaming sessions with friends. The included Joy-Con controllers are generally serviceable, if not ideal, for two-player action in most games. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was the first major release to make good on this concept, though it was preceded by a pair of launch titles, the quirky (and adorable) puzzle game Snipperclips and mini-game collection 1-2-Switch.
Since then, Nintendo has released a handful of titles that further flesh out the lineup. Chief among them are the colorful fighter Arms, which launched in June, and pokémon battler Pokkén Tournament DX, out today. And while paint shooter Splatoon 2 is largely an online-focused experience, it does offer the ability to link up multiple systems for local play.
Both Mario Kart and Pokkén are updated versions of games that originally appeared on the Wii U, Nintendo’s previous console. This makes them perfect examples of how much the Switch hardware can change the experience. Both games were already pretty solid from a design standpoint, and the Switch ports don’t add all that much in that respect. Mario Kart features a few new characters and some useful accessibility features, while Pokkén includes some additional fighters and a handful of game modes. But fundamentally they’re the same games.
What the Switch versions really offer, though, is the ability to easily play these games with your friends, on your own terms. Pokkén, in particular, is a game that doesn’t stand on its own as something you’d want to play much by yourself. It originated as an arcade game, and is at its best when you’re furiously battling against someone sitting right beside you.
The nature of the Switch means it’s much easier to have that kind of experience — there are simply more ways to play. With a console like the Wii U, playing with a friend meant you both had to be sitting in a specific room at a specific time. The Switch is much more flexible. You can play in the living room, on a train, or basically anywhere. It doesn’t have to be something you plan out in advance. It also doesn’t hurt that games like Arms, Mario Kart, and Pokkén Tournament are designed to be easy to get into.
This flexibility also extends to games not made by Nintendo. In fact, a number of ports of third-party games have added multiplayer functionality specifically with the Switch in mind. Venerable adventure game Cave Story was recently updated with a two-player co-op mode that’s exclusive to the Switch, while the ubiquitous Minecraft has a perfectly suited split-screen mode. Cars-meets-soccer game Rocket League is also making a belated debut on the platform. When it does arrive, it will include a two-player split-screen mode that, on the surface, seems like an ideal fit.
There’s also a lot to look forward to on the multiplayer front. An expanded version of Snipperclips, complete with all-new content is coming on November 10th, while the Switch version of FIFA 18 will include split Joy-Con multiplayer support. Even the tentpole release Super Mario Odyssey will feature rudimentary co-op. Then there are the games launching next year and beyond, like the four-player Kirby Star Allies and the inevitable Switch version of Super Smash Bros.
Most of these games would be just fine on another platform. But what the Switch offers is a level of freedom and spontaneity that’s not possible on a traditional console, or even a portable device like the 3DS. At any point, you can pull a Switch out of your bag and start racing on Rainbow Road — and look like you’re in a Nintendo commercial in the process.