Yes, there are still performance issues occasionally - but it’s nothing compared to how bad the original release was. For Dark Souls first outing on Switch, this Remaster should appeal to fans and newcomers alike - just don’t expect perfection.
- Rewarding gameplay loop
- Dense, intimidating atmosphere
- Robust visual reworking
- Great portability
- Compressed audio
- Occasional performance dips
- Review Price: £34.99
- Developer: FromSoftware
- Release Date: Out Now
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Genre: Action RPG
When you port one of the most popular games in the world to a handheld console, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. As it happens, for Dark Souls Remastered, that’s actually quite fitting – in a game all about wailing despair, self-immolation, and thankless punishment, it makes sense to see Bandai Namco sacrifice some key elements in order to achieve that one, lofty goal: portability.
Dark Souls Remastered released for Xbox One and PS4 back in May this year to rave reviews. But the Switch version of the game was promised at the same time, initially, then fell back to a more non-committal ‘Summer’ window, before finally being announced for October. Having now played the release version, it’s easy to see why the team needed more time to work out the kinks. Being able to revisit Lordran on the train is great, but that portability has definitely come at a price.
If you’re coming to Dark Souls Remastered after having played the modern console versions, you’ll notice the drop in framerate from 60 FPS to 30 FPS – that’s still an improvement over the original game, sure, but when you get to more demanding areas later in the game, expect to see a little slowdown and chug (especially in handheld mode). When you’re trying to time frame-perfect dodges and sword-swings, it’s mildly frustrating.
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The Switch version runs at 720p (undocked) and 1080p (docked), and you’ll notice that a swathe of the textures in-game have been updated to match the new, higher resolution. Weirdly, not all the textures have, which leads to this sort-of patchwork feel in some areas – you’ll get a detailed tree texture, say, surrounded by murky, blurry muds and walls. It can be distracting, but it’s not a game-changer.
You don’t even really notice the drop in resolution when you grab your Switch to take with you on the train. That addictive, just-one-more-go gameplay loop that defines Dark Souls is even more refined with the benefit of the Switch’s suspend/resume nature. We’re not proud to admit it, but we missed two stops on the London Underground whilst reviewing this title – once when we were nearing the end of the Undead Burg, and the next in our fight with Capra Demon.
In a game that’s already celebrated for its compelling, addictive nature, crunching all that down into a package that fits in your hand really is special. Being able to play on your TV into the early hours of the morning and then take the game out with you to continue picking away at the hidden passage, dungeons and secrets in the day feel like peak Dark Souls – a celebration of the duality that encapsulates the whole experience.
By taking advantage of one of the Switch’s native hardware quirks, you actually get a bonus feature in this version of Dark Souls, too – a cheap pause button. Thanks to the way the Switch will just soft-shutdown when you hit the power button, you can spoof a pause state by powering down the console (whilst playing in Offline Mode, at least). This supports the portability of the game and offers you something you’ve never really had in the game before – an honest to God, Bonfire-less break when you need one.
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It’s worth noting that simply hitting the Home button to return to the Switch’s menu doesn’t count as a pause, and will keep the game running. Something we learned to our chagrin. That’s the upside of the Switch’s hardware… the downside comes in the form of the Joy-Con. Dark Souls is a game that requires a fair amount of dexterity and (dare we say) training to master: the control scheme at first seems clunky and top-heavy, especially coming from later Souls-likes such as Nioh or Bloodborne.
Wrangling your character’s clunky, plodding body with the tiny Joy-Con controls are never going to be as satisfying as using a DualShock or Xbox pad, and even the Switch Pro Controller does little to mitigate the frustration here. If you’re playing the game in the handheld mode with a ‘naked’ switch (no grips or casing), then you’ll likely find Dark Souls even more challenging – that hand position with the tiny bumper and triggers probably got us killed more than our own greedy desire for more hits against bosses.
But if you’re the kind of glutton for punishment that’s drawn to Dark Souls for its masochistic tendencies anyway, maybe this new level of dexterity-based challenge will appeal to you. As we’ve said previously, a few fiddly changes to how you physically play the game is a small price to be able to take this game on the road.
Dark Souls Switch will require a Nintendo Online Service subscription to play, but once you’re in Online Mode, it works pretty much the same as all previous versions: you can invade/be invaded, and you can summon up to six allies to join your game, collaborating with players from around the world in order to take down some of the more tedious bosses out there (take that Ornstein and Smough).
The Remaster is essential for anyone wanting to sample Dark Souls for the first time, but have exercised caution in jumping in thanks to the inevitable time commitment it will take: the Switch version will undoubtedly have an active online portion, it allows you to take the game at your own pace with the wonderful suspend/resume feature, and the reworked visuals make things that bit easier to read (at the cost of atmosphere in some cases).
Yes, there are still performance issues occasionally – but it’s nothing compared to how bad the original release was. For Dark Souls first outing on Switch, this Remaster should appeal to fans and newcomers alike – just don’t expect perfection.