The hype cycle of my Switch port has become painfully repetitive in the years since the release of the hybrid handheld console. A game that interests me is announced for him. I’m thrilled to finally have it in portable form, kicking off months of anticipation and accumulation. And then, when I play it, I remain disappointed. There have been exceptions, of course, but this disappointment has largely been the norm. Fortunately, Deny automata is one of those exceptions.
It’s honestly remarkable that the Switch version of Nier Automata achieves this. Over time, I found myself less and less likely to make Switch my go-to platform for multi-shipping games. The release of Valve’s Steam Deck, home to a slew of great RPGs, hasn’t helped that. As a result, when Automata was announced, I raised an eyebrow. It seemed a port destined to disappoint. And yet, here I am, as an unofficial RPG Site Switch Port Nerd, able to say five wonderful little words:
It is a miracle port.
The developers of this port took the trouble to use all the features of the system, even if they didn’t need them. They went above and beyond.
I don’t understand how Square Enix made a game like Nier Automata look and run so well on undeniably outdated hardware – looks like there’s magic in play. PlatinumGames struggled to make it work less ambitious games as well, with the best example to come being its Nintendo-published action-adventure Astral Chain. This game was also made for Switch, so seeing Automata outclass was something I didn’t expect in a million years.
This piece is going to talk about the Switch version of Nier Automata on a mechanical level. Technical stuff. If you want to learn more about the game as a whole, as a game, and as a work of art, I suggest reading Josh’s 10/10 glowing review from 2017. For what it’s worth, I pretty much agree with Josh’s verdict – it’s a really special game. And if you’ve never played it before and don’t have any other platforms to play it on, this port usually gets a glowing recommendation.
I don’t know what the target resolution is, but as James said in his preview post earlier this month, it’s not too far off what the PS4 could achieve. It produces a crisp image, especially during cutscenes. Textures have been downgraded if you’re really looking for them, but on my OLED Switch model I found it to be a high-quality viewing experience. The pop-in that typically mars open-world Switch games is much less of an issue here thanks to an impressive draw distance. Grass load is generally unnoticeable, same with textures. The few loading times that exist are also reasonable in my experience. There is a long load when starting the game, but that’s really all.
I played most of the game undocked, as that’s probably why a lot of people are looking to check out this version of the game. Switch fans are used to the concessions that have to be made to get games to work on the machine. If you’re looking for the highest possible resolution running at the perfect 60 FPS, you’re probably never going to worry about the Switch port anyway. 30 FPS is something I’m willing to deal with if it means I can play a game like this on the go (or let’s be honest here in bed). Automata achieve this easily most of the time, with occasional dips when things get hectic. While I have no way of calculating actual performance, these drops don’t seem to go below 20fps at worst, and that was only on finishing special attacks. What worried me the most was how it would work in the open world, but that worry was unfounded. In both directions of play, the performance is quite good.
Although it’s a Platinum Action game with some pretty flashy combat, Automata’s main draw for me has always been the open world and story. I’m glad the combat held up well and the game was great fun, but this port shows you can afford to cut the framerate in half without ruining the Automata experience. While it doesn’t run quite as well as its main console counterpart, the feel of speed remained mostly intact.
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Apart from the new costumes (which were unavailable during the review period), there are new unique features exclusive to this version. I was quite surprised to find that this build had motion controls via joycons – something that feels like a generally underutilized feature of the platform. When playing with both Joycons, the left one can be used to dash or flip, and the right can be used to swing one of your weapons depending on the direction. Most people probably won’t use it, and it’s entirely optional, but I’m glad they bothered to include it. If you’re playing Undoked, they’ve also recreated the touchpad swipe on a dualshock for stroking your Pod with the Switch touchscreen. The developers of this port took the trouble to use all the features of the system, even if they didn’t need them. They went above and beyond.
This port may be a miracle, but it’s not perfect. I noticed an extreme visual bug in the ruined city when switching from Docked to Undocked. The lighting system began to panic, rapidly changing every second. This is the kind of flashing that could be a medical concern for some users, and therefore seems like a big problem that will need to be fixed. All the water has also stopped flowing, causing the tiny water bodies to empty. The only way I was able to get it back to normal was to restart the game. I was only able to find this bug once, but since the game doesn’t have autosave, it could lead to Problems with losing progress if you can’t afford to go back to a save point. If you suffer from epilepsy, it might be worth waiting for Square to address this issue in a patch.
Other than that (perhaps glaring) issue, this port might be one of the best PS4 to Switch conversions I’ve played. In the short time I had to rewatch Nier Automata on Switch, I realized I could easily replay the whole thing like this in my spare time. Even if you’ve played it before, this could be the perfect build to kick back and relive the story, or mop up one of the multiple endings you missed the first time around. For newcomers, it’s a perfect entry point into the series. It’s a comfortable experience that I’d recommend for newcomers and fans who aren’t too picky about running their games on a handheld at 1080p 60 FPS.
There are definitely better ways to play this game, and for less, but if Switch is your console of choice, it’s worth it. I don’t know how the porting team pulled it off, but if the Switch is truly here to stay, I’d love to see them take on bigger projects.
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