Milking a digital cow: Nintendo Switch's bet on the wacky

Nintendo is clearly drawing inspiration from its prior products and games with its latest console. The result? Silly, off-the-wall games like 1-2 Switch.

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Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
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I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Alfred Ng
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4 min read
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Nintendo's first product it released was playing cards in 1889. It's a major inspiration for the Switch, releasing on March 3.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Nintendo wants its Switch console -- as well its kooky launch title 1-2 Switch -- to be as ubiquitous as a deck of cards and a round of Go Fish.

To prove that point, Nintendo producer Yoshiaki Koizumi pulled the portable console from behind him when he heard I hadn't tried 1-2 Switch yet. Koizumi said in the interview that he thought about pulling out the Switch at a London pub as if it were a deck of cards, with the game offering a social element that can draw in multiple players.

Looking at the Nintendo Switch, it's easy to see the gaming giant drawing inspiration from past products for its latest console.

The tablet style is reminiscent of the Wii U's GamePad, while the Joy-Con controllers is a callback to the Wii's motion-controlled games. But the Switch's key features -- its portability and accessibility -- are a callback to Nintendo's first product sold in 1889: playing cards.

"The importance and the role of playing cards was something that we thought of as being very important to that process," Koizumi said through an interpreter.

Nintendo is looking for an ace in the hole with the Switch after its gamble on the Wii U failed to pay off. The company, known for taking daring leaps with new concepts for its consoles, is betting gamers will warm to the Switch. As more casual gamers are playing on mobile devices, Nintendo wanted to develop a "home console" that you could bring on your commute to work.

The key feature for the Switch was its ability to play anywhere when you have a free moment, Nintendo director Shinya Takahashi said. It needed to be small enough to carry, but powerful enough for an enjoyable experience.

Leaning on its plethora of big names like Mario and the Legend of Zelda, Nintendo is hoping to win back its dedicated fans with the Switch, now aimed at young adults with disposable incomes instead of children.

The past isn't just inspiring the hardware; its wacky roots are evident in the games too.

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Nintendo knows how silly you look playing 1-2 Switch. It's a part of their strategy.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Take a look at the mini-games found in 1-2 Switch. They all urge you to make eye contact with the other player while you play games like milking a cow or try to feel how many balls are inside a wooden box (seriously). Nintendo knows exactly how silly people look playing it, but that's a part of its strategy, Koizumi said.

"Good weirdness is really important to us," he pointed out. "You might play Milk and you're laughing, you're enjoying yourself, but you're going to refer back to it later and think about how wacky that was and how much fun it was."

Drawing off playing cards, Koizumi wanted a wide variety of games for 1-2 Switch, as well as it to be easy to learn. The same way you could play Blackjack, Solitaire, Go Fish or Golf with cards, Nintendo has the same hopes for with 1-2 Switch.

Battery an issue?

But unlike playing cards, the Switch does have a battery. At an average playtime of three to five hours, the Switch has one of the shortest battery lifespans of any Nintendo handheld console. But Koizumi believes that range is the sweet spot for the Nintendo Switch.

Balancing the Switch's hardware, size and gaming power, three to five hours was the proper range, especially when considering Nintendo's target audience, he said.

If Nintendo expects young adults with a decent income to buy the Switch, it meant designing a console for people on the move for business trips or commuting to work. The commute time was what Koizumi had in mind when considering the battery for the Switch.

The Switch comes out at a time when people spend hours on their phones playing mobile games. To be fair, few of those games are as polished as the latest Zelda title.

"The one that really stood out to me and I spent a lot of time thinking about was, 'Will I be able to take the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild from the house to the office and back again and be able to play it the whole time?'" Koizumi said.

Nintendo also needed to make sure that the experience didn't change as players switched from home console to handheld. They didn't want the small-screen gameplay to feel like a watered down version of the docked gameplay.

The wanderlust gamer and the homebody player should have the same experience, Takahashi said.

"Everybody has their own different style on how they prefer to play games," Takahashi said. "Our goal with Nintendo Switch was to make it versatile enough to adapt to any personal style."

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