The Switch has seen a trickle of top-tier AAA ports in its life, and each release is often more surprising than the last. We have seen a fair share of last-gen titles come late to Switch, but current-gen releases like Wolfenstein II impress us most. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is another surprising Switch port. Originally released for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC, virtually nobody saw this release coming to a Nintendo console. Yet, here it is. Fortunately, while Hellblade has its faults, the game runs stunningly well on the Switch.
How does the Hellblade port run?
Graphically, Hellblade was never going to look as pretty on the Switch as on other consoles. However, it looks good enough. On a TV, environments often look a bit muddy. It looks like a PS3 game, not a current-gen game. However, there are better ways to play through Senua’s story on Switch. In my view, playing the game in its handheld mode with headphones plugged in is the best way to play. Unfortunately, you can’t use headphones while the console is docked, so while using headphones is the best way to play the game, you only have access to that manner of play if you are playing with the Switch in your hands. Moreover, in your hands, the visual downgrades no longer stand out. Rather than looking like an inferior port, Hellblade looks really impressive hand-held.
There are other slight visual shortcuts as well. Many of the cut scenes, for example, aren’t rendered in real time. Instead, it seems like the developers placed actual videos of the cut scenes throughout the game. I only learned about the shortcut myself thanks to a video by Digital Foundry that pointed it out. However, another thing that is noticeable is that the visuals often downgrade in order to keep the game running smoothly. On TVs, the resolution can frequently drop well below 720p.
The game revolves around Senua, a Nordic woman that ventures into Hel to find her lover. Through the adventure, she encounters lore from Norse mythology, completes environmental puzzles, and battles a variety of enemies. Through all this, Senua struggles with severe psychosis. Throughout the entire game, she has voices in her head blabbering with one another. While the voice acting is quite outstanding, unfortunately, it is easy to miss when coming out of your television speakers. For real, this game is best played with a headset.
The puzzles throughout the game are okay. Honestly, I thought that some were a bit too obtuse while most of the others felt too slow. I think the biggest reason is that Senua is a pretty slow character to control. While I understand why she’s slow in combat, her slow movement (even at her top running speed) made exploring the environments a drag. It made the relatively easy environmental puzzles tedious to complete.
The best part of the gameplay was the combat. I really enjoyed Hellblade’s slow and deliberate combat. I loved the counter system, which rewarded the player for carefully-timed parries. Hellblade also has a mechanic where a player would be able to slow time after a certain number of successful attacks. Timing this ability with the thoughtful combat made each battle really engaging. My only complaint with the combat is that there wasn’t enough of it. While the end of the game really ratchets up in an epic fashion, I couldn’t help but feel that there were still a lot of possibilities left on the table. There could have been so many more enemies to defeat and mechanics to flesh out. I was sad to see the combat take a minimal role throughout the game.
A great Switch port
Overall, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is wonderful on Switch. If you’re planning to play the game on TV, you should probably buy it for another console. However, if you’re willing to play the game held in your hands with headphones — the best way to play — then it’s a rewarding experience on Switch. Senua is a great character, and with the exception of God of War, Norse mythology has been relatively unexplored in gaming. While some gameplay elements left more to be desired, Senua’s journey is well worth seeing through on Switch.
A review code was provided by the publisher.