1-2-Switch, by its very nature, lacks depth. A collection of 28 minigames brings with it broad appeal in its variety–activities include shooting cowboys, strumming an air guitar, cradling a baby to sleep, and more–but little in the way of long-lasting fun or replay value. Wii Sports faced the same problem 10 years ago, and solved it by basing its party games on real-world activities that were enjoyable in themselves before distilling them to simple, satisfying mechanics that were approachable for anyone and everyone. In swinging for the same pitch, 1-2-Switch misses as often as it hits, but it is nevertheless huge fun in the right environment.
Like Wii Sports, 1-2-Switch exists to demonstrate the capability of the hardware it launches with. Many of its minigames, such as the Harry Potter-vs-Voldemort-inspired Wizard, the swing fest Sword Fight, or the catwalk simulator Runway, seek to show off the Joy-Cons’ impressive motion tracking by wrapping them in mini-games that are both quirky and competitive, while being easy to pick-up-and-play on the move.
While Wizard’s TV-based mirroring of your real-world duel means it works well, many of the other motion-based games–especially Table Tennis and Baseball–suffer due to the lack of a visual aid. Hitting a ball between two players is tricky when there’s no ball–physical or virtual–to hit. These games rely on timing and being able to hear a fastball coming your way, but the timing often seems random, and in a party setting peace and quiet is rarely the most plentiful commodity–more than a slight problem for a party game. This lack of feedback leads to a frustrating loss or a hollow win. Either way, these minigames are the ones relegated to the bottom of the pile. Far better are those that use the Joy-Cons’ motion as a supplement to the controllers’ HD rumble capacity and the TV screen. Safe Crack and Joy-Con Rotation both use the tiny pads’ accelerometers and vibrations to great effect while simultaneously giving you helpful, and aesthetically attractive, cues on-screen.
1-2-Switch really shines, however, when it has you look away from the TV and into the eyes of your opponent. Quick Draw, which tests who owns the quicker trigger finger, and Samurai Training, in which one player must correctly predict the swing of and then catch their opponent’s sword, are both hilarious and entertaining in equal measure. These can still suffer in a noisy environment, but the immediately more social and engaging prospect of staring into your friend’s (read: enemy’s) soul as you whack them on the head with a pretend sword is a joy. Locking eyes with an opponent, spaghetti western soundtrack blaring, hand hovering over your trusty Nintendo-branded ‘revolver,’ ears peeled for the “FIRE” command–you could cut the tension with a Joy-Con, and that makes it even funnier when you unintentionally hurl your controller across the room. Serves me right for ignoring the wrist straps, I guess.
1-2-Switch really shines when it has you look away from the TV and into the eyes of your opponent.
Eye contact is also key to a number of 1-2-Switch’s more suggestive games. In a somewhat surprising move for the usually resolutely family-focused company, Nintendo has produced a title whose high points are often centred around euphemisms of–shall we say–‘lewd acts.’ Milk sees you pull on the teats of a virtual cow, Eating Contest sees you hold a Joy-Con close to your face to eat a footlong sub, and Soda Shake has you shaking an imaginary bottle of pop until it bursts, showering its shakers. These minigames are all dressed up innocently enough, of course, but are quite clearly designed to cultivate thoughts of a rather more X-rated nature. Some may call it a vulgar attempt to please both knowing adults and unsuspecting kids with double entendres, but seeing the realisation in your friends’ faces as they realize what hand gestures they’re making serves up some of the funniest moments 1-2-Switch has to offer.
Unfortunately, even these highlights wear thin all too soon when playing with the same people. 1-2-Switch’s considerable breadth (there are plenty of activities to try) but lack of depth (those activities are mostly shallow) is reflected in its lasting appeal. Every new person I introduced to the game enjoyed their time with it, and my buzz was vicariously renewed with every initiation. But playing any one minigame more than a handful of times with those same people leads to that buzz fading rapidly. The innuendo-laden games suffer most from this since they’re a one-note joke–a funny one, but one-note nonetheless. The only ones to survive the effect of diminishing returns are those that either have a layer of strategy–Samurai Training and Fake Draw (identical to Quick Draw but the announcer will fool you with red herrings like “FRUIT” or “FILE”)–or have a high score component. Even this is a wasted opportunity; no leaderboards or Wii Sports-style skill level trackers mean you only find out what the record for the quickest shot is when you break it, starving 1-2-Switch of any meaningful meta-competition element.
1-2-Switch, then, feels a little like a wasted opportunity. Many of its minigames are duds that are too limited to be fun on their first attempt, let alone their 100th, and the remainder mostly don’t have the depth to maintain a consistent enough high to warrant many playthroughs with the same crowd. There’s no doubt 1-2-Switch should have been packed in with the Nintendo Switch, and the decision to sell it separately goes against every fibre of its varied-but-shallow DNA. But 1-2-Switch, at its best, delivers some hilarious moments. Seeing an uninitiated friend milk a cow, looking into your dad’s eyes as you beat him to the trigger in Quick Draw, and making a fool of yourself strutting down Runway’s catwalk is all amazing fun, even if it is short-lived.
Does it live up to Wii Sports? Not a chance. But that doesn’t stop 1-2-Switch being an entertaining minigame collection–just make sure you’ve got enough willing friends to maintain your own fading high.