Back in the mid-2000s, I played a lot WarioWare: Smooth Movement. Nintendo Wii games were the ultimate local multiplayer experience at the time. Whether I’m chatting with some friends at home or playing some casual games at a college party, it’s been a social element for at least two years. That’s in large part thanks to the Wiimote’s heavy use of motion controls, which turn play sessions into a hilarious comedy routine. I have fond memories of a room full of friends playing hot potatoes with a Wiimote, frantically trying to complete minigames in seconds.
When Nintendo first announced the Nintendo Switch, I thought we were going back to that era. While the Wii U’s dual-monitor setup is too conceptual for casual party games, the Joy-Cons show a lot of potential. The gyroscope controls and IR sensor seem ripe for a wild range of party games, which would be perfect considering the console’s portability. In the Switch’s first trailer, we saw “Karen” bring it to a rooftop party and hand out Joy-Cons to her friends. I really want that absurd scene to happen.
But more than four years later, the Switch is still lacking when it comes to the right games to own. I, for one thing, blame the Switch Lite for that.
Look back at the Nintendo Switch’s first two years on the market and it’s clear that the unique features of the Joy-Cons are a major part of Nintendo’s strategy. Remote control launched with 1-2 Switches, a mediocre (but really ridiculous) party game that took full advantage of the controllers. It was one of the rare games that actually used an IR sensor, which was quickly abandoned. Nintendo is on track for the next year with games like ARM and Super Mario Party, which focuses heavily on the multiplayer motion game.
The console quickly hit a turning point in 2019. That was the year Nintendo released the Switch Lite, a cheaper model designed as a portable-only console. The Lite can’t be attached to a TV, but more importantly, its Joy-Cons are non-separable. If you’re playing on a game, you won’t be able to use the motion controls at all, making some older titles unplayable on it.
Since then, the Switch’s library has been much lighter for games that take advantage of Joy-Cons technology. Heavyweights like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity It doesn’t use any of its gimmicks, making them exceptionally user-friendly no matter which console version you own. Even Legend of the heavenly sword zelda has been retrofitted to its HD rebuild, adding a no-motion option to the game with mixed results. It was a necessary change, but one that forced Nintendo to step back from one of the console’s defining gimmicks.
Kill the party
That philosophical overturn has taken a toll when it comes to the party game genre. The console is seriously lacking in that part, a far cry from the Wii’s heyday. That’s the most noticeable thing when playing WarioWare: Together! – which transaction? Smooth movement‘Intuitive movement for a weak character swap gimmick requires only a button and a joystick. That makes the game playable on the Switch Lite, but removes all the silly multiplayer appeal of its best predecessors right away.
Upcoming Mario Party Superstars is taking a similar approach, omitting Super Mario Partyentirely dependent on Joy-con’s silence. Nintendo’s list for game goes further than intentionally emphasizing the lack of motion controls: “All the mini games are played with the joystick, so you can use the Joy-Con or break the Nintendo Controller Switch Pro or Nintendo Switch Lite system.”
Motion control has always been a polarizing experiment with varying degrees of success. Their forced implementation in some Wii games frustrates them, but they’re perfect for party games. In particular, the minigame collections had a picnic day with creative ways for players to wave around the Wiimote. There’s only joy in a room full of people laughing together as they make their own stupid jokes.
Right now, the Switch is missing that experience, and it’s a real missed opportunity. When 1-2 Switches not a very good game, it showed the potential of the console as a side platform. I had a blast when I played with a room full of friends giggling as they pounded Joy-Cons in the chest like a gorilla. For comparison, my recent multiplayer session with WarioWare: Together! is a much more tame experience. We sat on the couch typing buttons until we got bored. When 1-2 Switches could have been a worse game, I will miss the pleasure of playing it much more vividly.
It’s hard to say that more Switch games should make better use of Joy-Cons, as there are so many positives that Nintendo stripped them of their features. As long as the Switch Lite is around, no one will have to miss out on a game just because they opted to buy a more affordable model. Motion controls can also limit who can actually play the game, presenting accessibility challenges. It’s important to be selective with special controls and provide alternatives for those who don’t want to engage with them (as is the case with games like Mario Golf: Super Rush).
However, I find myself missing out on the best part of the Wiimote era. I really want to be Karen, break my Switch at a party and upload a silly little game collection. I want to watch my friends bounce around as they pass Joy-Cons back and forth. I just wish Nintendo was as willing to deal with the Joy-Cons quirks as I was.