In only its first year of existence, the Switch has already managed to succeed in a place its predecessor, the beleaguered Wii U, was unable to: enticing third-parties to port games to a Nintendo console. In 2017, it lured back venerable cash cows like the NBA, FIFA, and WWE series, while also attaining its own edition of Skyrim, Doom, LA Noire and more. Long carrying the stigma of ‘you only buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games,’ the Switch has another draw card that can appeal to developers: a handheld device that is capable of running home console-quality games.
Obviously, sacrifices have to be made, and models lack the polish they have in the competing versions on PS4 and Xbox One. Textures are a little muddier; load times can sometimes be a bit longer. But this seems a small price to pay to finally have such quality right there in your hands. People may have doubted the necessity of the Switch’s portability at first, but if anything, its capability to be used as a docked console on the television has been the actual novelty: the Switch is a console for people on the move, first and foremost.
Now, we’re hungry for more. Rocket League on the Switch? Yes, please. Stardew Valley on the Switch? We’ll gladly buy it for the second or third time. No longer trying to stack up against the deeply entrenched console frontrunners, Nintendo has found a niche, able to fill all of time when you’re away from your TV, a perfect supplement for anyone’s main console – console 1A, if you will.
In 2018, however, it would behoove Nintendo if third-party developers were better adjusted to this new piece of tech. In most instances, the first entry for a series on a new hardware can be a little bit rocky, dating all the way back to Madden 06 on the Xbox 360, which feels like an eternity ago.
Some of these ports have been admirable efforts to squeeze so much content into a smaller package, and for this, Bethesda is to be applauded. Skyrim has comparable load times to the PS4, and though putting the two side by side reveals the diminished visuals, on its own, you won’t even notice, too engrossed by the gripping action onscreen. Similarly, Doom on the Switch is an achievement unto itself: there is occasional slowdown, and again, reduced quality on the textures, but these are necessary admissions that do not largely detract from the gameplay. These are ports done right, and most impressively, achieved within the console’s fledgling first months.
But that isn’t to suggest that all of the entries have been successes, and this will need to be addressed if this relationship is to continue. The Switch version of FIFA has fewer features and bewildering AI issues that its contemporaries lack, and this puts it firmly at the back of the line. It’s acceptable – but it needs to be more than that. FIFA 17 outsold competition as fierce as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in its calendar year, and there’s reason to believe this season’s edition will have had comparable success. This is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – series in gaming, and that’s not something to be taken lightly.
Meanwhile, 2K Games had a disastrous first year on the Switch. NBA 2K18 launched with bugs so severe, it was practically unplayable. These issues were soon ironed out, and the final product was a fine first effort, but a broken game simply should not be released, particularly from a AAA studio like 2K. Considering the amount of casual players who have been lured in by the Switch, some may not have even bothered to wait for a patch. The game lost them there, and it may be hard to win them back.
Then, WWE 2K18 happened. My goodness, did it happen. The slowdown on the entrances are so pronounced, you would almost think it was a stylistic choice. This isn’t as much of an issue in-game, until you dare to display three or more wrestlers onscreen, at which point you’re practically swimming in a bog. Selecting Xavier Woods should be fun – with his catlike agility and stablemates Big E and Kofi Kingston in his corner. After they’ve sauntered towards the ring with all of the urgency of a dying sloth, Woods plays nothing like he should, and you really wish the other members of the New Day would just leave you alone.
Effectively, WWE on the Switch plays like a digital version of the original Sin Cara, routinely botching even the simplest of moves. Alas, it doesn’t have the flashiness or hilarity of the hapless luchador. Adding insult to injury, even with all of their cutbacks, these games are absolutely huge, basically mandating the purchase of a micro SD card to play them. The physical copy of NBA gobbles up about 23 GB of storage, while WWE demands 24 GB. Considering the Switch’s paltry 32 GB internal space, this is a heavy investment. Despite the cover’s claims that the games require a micro SD card, you can actually play them without one, however to make room you will have to delete other save files, most of your photos and videos, and possibly your soul.
These are big games, no doubt. But Nintendo has been able to create spectacular results on the Switch without such space requirements or technical issues. Soaring over Hyrule in Breath of the Wild? Seamless. Surveying New Donk City at its highest point in Super Mario Odyssey? Breathtaking. As per usual, Nintendo knows its hardware better than anyone else, pushing it to its limits without ever sacrificing quality or playability. We can’t expect everyone else to be at this level, but we should be able to expect working products.
The Nintendo Switch had a spectacular debut; as editor-in-chief Ed McGlone said in his original piece, we want more ports, and yes, we are accepting of the fact that they will be scaled back. But if studios are not able to provide games that are at least playable moving forward, the path ahead may be a little less grand than we once envisaged.