It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Nintendo Switch really is the oddball of the console space. The Switch has been in my possession since late 2017. Since then, I’ve played somewhere in the realm of three dozen games, if not likely more, most of which have been third-party offerings.
By and large, the little hybrid has attracted some really decent support from these studios, especially when you compare it to the likes of past Nintendo home consoles. It seems like almost every developer large and small at the very least has interest in the Switch, and often that interest manifests itself in ports. Throughout the catalog of games I’ve personally played and others I’ve seen in videos, this world of offerings is both good to see while also making me grit my teeth sometimes.
Punching above its weight
It goes without saying that the Switch is not a powerhouse. It does punch noticeably above its weight but still falls behind the other console offerings. No surprise — it’s all being powered by mobile components. Nintendo had Nvidia take its Tegra X1 chipset and turn it from something originally intended for devices like Android tablets to a chipset that would power AAA games. That’s no small feat, and it’s remarkable what has been achieved between the API that Nintendo and Nvidia have created along with all the different engines that support the Switch. Even so, the gulf between this hybrid and the other consoles is becoming noticeably greater, and more often than not, I’m noticing that studios seem to be having a hard time trying to find a silver lining in that difference.
The limitations of the system became clear to me when I tried out the port of Rocket League first back in 2017. At first, I was a bit jarred since I was used to playing it on PC. But this quickly proved to be a minor hiccup as the core experience of the game was still intact and quite fun. And really, that statement can be applied to a lot of Switch ports: They usually don’t look super pretty, but they can still be fun. However, as the industry begins to move up to the likes of the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, all the talk right now is about specs and visuals. So, I can’t help but think about this in relation to Nintendo Switch.
Panic Button, the studio behind the Switch version of Rocket League and several other ports, released an update in 2018 that allowed players to toggle between the game focusing on prettier visuals or performance. I ran a comparison between the two modes and the PC edition, and even the “Quality Mode” on Switch still lacked a lot of detail. Nonetheless, it looked good enough (especially on the system’s screen) and was a hoot to play — the most important thing. However, as I played more and more multi-platform ports, the differences have continued to mount.
I’ve been noticing a trend, particularly in games powered by Unreal Engine. To note, Rocket League is a UE game, and it’s certainly one of the better ones on Switch. However, it’s also an older game and was never really all that taxing on hardware to begin with, all of which contribute to its smooth transition to the hybrid. As more and more titles have released on Switch, both via UE and other engines, I’ve continued to see that often the Switch build looks noticeably more dated than on other platforms and even tends to have frame rate issues. Again, this is something to be expected, but it’s still a bit jarring in some cases.
For instance, one genre I’ve played extensively on Switch has been racing games. The folks over at KT Racing have been doing a great job at Switch support, bringing just about all of their projects over. Their games like V-Rally 4, WRC 8, and TT Isle of Man 2 are feature-for-feature on Switch, but they all have severely reduced texture quality and choppy frame rates on Switch. It makes it hard to truly like them when they look relatively blotchy.
Meanwhile, you have projects like Saber Interactive’s work with MudRunner, which turned out really well in terms of visuals (though still with a few frame rate issues). Another good example is 2K Games, which has been doing really well with the NBA 2K series on Switch every year (unlike another well-known annual sports series). But, it’s really older games like GRID Autosport that have fared the best on Switch. Often remastered, these games show that the system is capable of producing some sweet results, but then you’re reminded it’s only because these games are already several years old. It’s this mixed bag of ports that range from being decent to just “eh” that make the switchuation a bit unbalanced.
Time will tell
In the early days of the Switch, I chalked the lesser-quality ports of some games up to developers still getting their footing with the system. However, it’s been about three years now, and we’re still getting sub-par ports up until this day. But, again, there are standouts. Shin’en Multimedia is well known for producing technical marvels like FAST RMX, and VD-Dev’s RISE: Race the Future is (seriously) one of the most gorgeous games on Switch, further showing that small developers should not be left out of this conversation.
That’s why it’s unfortunate that, for all the really decent ports out there, you have at least two or three janky efforts like Artefacts Studio’s weak Switch rendition of Moto Racer 4. And now, as the rival platforms are about to get some serious upgrades, I really worry where this leaves Switch.
PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will likely be supported to a good extent for at least two years after their successors have launched. By the end of that, we may have an all-new Switch on our hands or whatever new idea Nintendo is cooking up. But even so, the current Switch is Nintendo’s flagship right now, and the company states we’ve just hit the middle of its lifecycle. Therefore, the Switch will be holding the fort for a while longer. It’s been doing a great job, but I worry that its limitations may be maxed out sooner rather than later as games become even more complex. While just about any title can theoretically be fine-tuned for the Switch, the question always comes up: “How many concessions will there need to be?”
It is still amazing that we already have a console that can transition from home use to handheld in literal seconds, but Nintendo still has its work cut out for it with designing something that’s both powerful enough to run modern titles a bit better while also still being cost-effective. The current Switch has beaten a lot of odds thus far and should be commended. But I do hope that the next console, or even the heavily rumored Switch Pro, really allows developers to do more without sacrificing so much.