Nintendo knows exactly what it does well. Innovative technology combined with charming gameplay has always been at the heart of the company’s philosophy. It’s been an extraordinarily successful combination – and one which was once again on display at this year’s Gamescom, as I discovered when playing Super Mario Party’s new two-tablet mode, Toad’s Rec Room.
If you haven’t yet heard of it, Toad’s Rec Room allows the screens of two Switch screens to be joined together for table-top gaming. It’s the ideal set-up for parties, and I can imagine it being a great focal point for social situations.
It’s worth noting, however, that both Switches will need a copy of Super Mario Party in order to play.
One of the games we trialled, “Banana, Split”, involves rotating two Switches to match up pictures of bananas. Once a pairing is discovered, the player can draw a line between the two screens to make a match. It’s kind of like a very expensive jigsaw. Although there was no in-built competitive mode in the version we saw, the game did include a countdown timer, which allows you to note players’ times and discover who is the fastest banana-matcher.
It’s a fast-paced party game that’s equal parts challenging and ridiculous. I was doing remarkably well until the later stages, where I was thrown off track by a puzzling banana bunch that ruined my (until then) record-breaking time. Sigh.
Banana, Split also involves a surprising amount of movement, so when pulling it out at a party, I’d avoid placing drinks near the consoles. Sambuca does not come out of Switch buttons.
The second game we saw, Shell Shocked Deluxe, is where the magic of the two screens really comes into play. The two-versus-two mini-game sees players in tanks fire missiles at each other, but the genius of the two-console mode means the battleground can be arranged in almost any way imaginable. A lengthy corridor of long-distance firing? Yes please. Boxing two players into a tiny enclosure for a hilarious start? Done. All it takes is for players to align the consoles, and then swipe a line across the two screens to connect them.
Interestingly, Nintendo has chosen to keep an area of black screen on the borders where the two Switches meet. It’s possible to hide in this and take your enemies by surprise, but be warned – other players will catch on to this tactic pretty quickly.
The game itself is simple, yet for me, the act of driving characters from one screen to another is absolutely fascinating. It’s a feeling I first experienced when I tried the Wii for the first time as a child – that shared sense of wonder at the potential for playing with my friends in brand new ways. While we were only shown two of the Toad’s Rec Room games, it’s easy to imagine Nintendo has other surprises in store.
It’s a credit to Nintendo that the company is continuing to innovate with Switch technology post-launch. Sure, the two-tablet connect mode is unlikely to shake up the entire games industry, but Toad’s Rec Room displays what Nintendo does best: imagination, and pure joy.