It's perfectly understandable why there's a good deal of enthusiasm for porting games to Nintendo's Switch. Fans want to play their favorite games on a portable console, and developers want to increase sales by bringing their games to the wildly ...and more »
Kevin Murnane , Contributor Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
'Skyrim' ported to the Switch
It’s perfectly understandable why there’s a good deal of enthusiasm for porting games to Nintendo’s Switch. Fans want to play their favorite games on a portable console, and developers want to increase sales by bringing their games to the wildly popular Switch. Some ports are a great success, but others are not, and turning a good Xbox One or PS4 game into a bad game on the Switch is in no one’s best interests. Fans and developers alike need to accept that the Switch’s limited hardware can’t handle modern state-of-the-art games without serious and sometimes game-killing compromises.
The undocked Switch is king in the world of hand-held consoles. Docked, it can't compete. Marquee games developed for Sony and Microsoft's consoles make processing and memory demands that the Switch’s mobile chipset can’t meet. A quick hardware comparison makes this plain.
Xbox One S
Xbox One X
CPU clock speed
GPU clock speed
768 MHz docked,
307.2 MHz undocked
8 GB DDR3
8 GB DDR5
12 GB DDR5
The specs tell a straightforward story. The Switch’s clock speeds are slow compared to the other consoles. It has less memory. Memory bandwidth is substantially less than the others. It does manage to produce one trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS), but that falls behind the PS4 and One S, and far behind the Pro and One X.
The point isn’t that the Switch is a third-rate console. Far from it. It’s a unique machine that’s created a new and exciting space in the world of console gaming. No other current generation console can do what the Switch does.
However, the other side of the coin is that the Switch can’t do a lot of things that the other consoles can. The task for fans and developers alike is to take a clear-eyed view of the Switch’s limited hardware and make reasonable judgments about which games can be successfully ported to Nintendo’s machine and which cannot.
Credit: Square Enix
'Dragon Quest Builders'
Successes and failures
Older games like Bayonetta (originally published in 2009) and Skyrim (2011) have been successfully ported to the Switch. Skyrim plays well at 30 fps in both docked and undocked modes and the graphics look very good. Bayonetta demands a faster frame rate, and the Switch can stay close to 60 fps in docked mode. It doesn’t do as well undocked, but the game can still be played with enjoyment. The visuals are good in both docked and undocked modes.
Dragon Quest Builders (2016) shows that ports of more recent games can also find success on the Switch. The game’s simple graphics and relaxed style of gameplay are a good fit for the Switch’s hardware.
Other games that have been ported to the Switch have met with mixed success. Rocket League (2015) and Doom (2016) are both fast-paced games that require high frame rates. A recent patch helps Doom stay close to its 30 fps cap in both docked and undocked modes on the Switch. However, the game plays at frame rates in the 50 to 60 fps range on the base Xbox and PS4 consoles. Rocket League stays close to 60 fps both docked and undocked.
Credit: Digital Foundry
'Rocket League' on the Switch
Both games sacrifice graphics to achieve their respective performance levels. The loss of visual quality is so severe that there’s no good reason to play either game on the docked Switch if any other console version is available. Undocked is viable on the Switch, but the experience comes at the cost of a substantial loss in visual quality.
And then there are the Switch ports that should have been abandoned long before the games were brought to market. Both the Crimewave Edition of Payday 2 (2015) and WWE 2K18 (2017) offer notably poor graphics in both docked and undocked modes on the Switch.
Unlike Doom and Rocket League, the weak visuals seen in these two games aren't offset by an adequate level of performance. Frame rates are low and game speed is tied to frame rate in both games. The result is that playing either game can feel like a slow-motion slog through unattractive environments whenever frame rates drop and the game slows down.
Credit: Blizzard Entertainment
Balancing desire with reasonable expectations
Fans have expressed a good deal of interest in porting Diablo 3 to the Switch. The game was originally released in 2012, but it has been re-released and expanded so many times since then that success on the Switch is likely to depend on which version Blizzard might decide to port. The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro enhanced 4K versions of Diablo 3 are obviously beyond the Switch’s reach. However, Blizzard is careful about its games, and if it decides to port Diablo 3, the chances are good that the port will be a success.
Monster Hunter World is another game that many want to see on the Switch. Adam Boyes, the CEO at Iron Galaxy, got some buzz with a tweet asking Capcom to give them a shot at a Switch port. Iron Galaxy may be able to pull it off, but it might be wise to consider that Capcom surely knows more about the nuts and bolts of its game than somebody looking in from the outside. Capcom has indicated that a port to the Switch would be difficult, and fans might want to keep in mind that Monster Hunter World already has notable technical shortcomings on the Xbox and PlayStation consoles.
The desire to play a favorite game on the Switch or generate an additional revenue stream with a Switch port should be tempered with a realistic appraisal of the limitations of the Switch’s hardware. The Switch can’t handle games that are built to take advantage of the processing power in the base Xbox One and PS4, let alone the One X and Pro. The gap between what games demand and what the Switch can do is only going to increase as developers continue to push the limits of the current generation consoles and prepare for whatever Sony and Microsoft are working on for the next generation.
Embrace the Switch for what it is
The ideal solution for fans would be if developers refrained from porting games that played poorly and looked bad on the Switch. Unfortunately, the lure of lucre is too great for this ideal to become reality.
The next best solution would be for Nintendo to set a high bar for quality and refuse to accept a port that doesn’t meet their standards. The existence of the Payday 2 and WWE 2K18 ports shows that this isn’t happening either.
If developers won’t police themselves and Nintendo won’t police the Switch, players will have to do the job themselves. The Switch is a great console. Embrace it for what it is, understand it’s limitations, and when a new port appears, wait for reviews that take graphics and performance seriously, and balance realism with desire.
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