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A reflection on 2023’s mixed bag of Switch releases

Is it really acceptable that the performance of Switch titles ends up being a coin flip, or am I just being salty? Let’s look at the state of this year’s games.

mixed bag of 2023: a character in Mortal Kombat 1 with questionable graphics

2023 was certainly a year for games on the Nintendo Switch. Some of the best and worst-looking titles we’ve ever seen came to the console, so it’s time to reflect on the overall quality of what we have and highlight the issues in an attempt to make future releases a little more reliable.

Since its initial release, the Switch has seen some bad game releases across its catalog, but this year, it feels like there’s been a significant spike in the number of games with disappointing performances and truly terrible graphics. For some context, I’m talking about things akin to what we saw in our My Time at Sandrock review and Railway Empire 2 Switch review.

First, here are the case studies we’ll be looking at. Our first frankly awful release of the year is Gollum, though you can also expect to see Mortal Kombat 1, Paleo Pines, and some other honorary mentions. This could be a long one, so I feel it’s best to lay out the contents to pique your interest.

Let’s mosey down to disappointment town and start with Gollum. Do I even need to explain why it was such a kick in the gut for gamers? It looks awful. It plays dreadfully. It cost upwards of $40. Somehow, this game made it to shelves in the state it did and never got a fix. Daedalic Entertainment canceled the Switch port, but it was on track for release in the same state – if not worse – than other platforms. Who let this happen, was it all just a very expensive joke?

mixed bag feature - a screenshot of the Gollum game showing it's fuzzy quality

Moving on to some wholesome indies, we have Paleo Pines and Mineko’s Night Market. We here at Pocket Tactics love cute indie games – especially ones that involve dinosaurs – but the first couple weeks of playing these games weren’t without issues. Some graphical and frame rate issues harmed the experience, but Mineko and the dinos win because of how cute they are. Our reviews highlight the issues our team faced, but it seems we got off lightly compared to some players’ experiences. Both games did receive updates to address a lot of problems, but it still disappointed a lot of eager players initially.

Granted, our expectations for games, specifically in the cozy, farming, and wholesome circles, are incredibly high thanks to games like Stardew Valley that are just so good that no others can come close. Even so, I don’t think it’s too much for us to expect a working game when it releases instead of needing a pre-release and day-one patch to make it remotely functional.

I can somewhat forgive indie studios as they have fewer resources, money, and manpower, but what is the excuse for large studios? Even then, take a game like Dredge – I’ve not seen any complaints about how it runs or looks, and it fits perfectly on the Switch, and a team of four people is behind that game.

Speaking of, a much larger game with frankly rubbish graphics is Mortal Kombat 1. Personally, I don’t know why Shiver Entertainment planned this for Switch – in my opinion, the game is too large and intense, but lord bless them, they tried, I guess? Footage and screenshots appeared ahead of the release and gosh, did they look terrible. And for only seventy-five of your finest dollars! I get it, it’s hard to squeeze an entire triple-A game onto the Switch’s old and useless hardware (not my opinion, but it seems to be the recurring argument), but surely there was more they could do. mixed bag - A comparison between Hogwarts legacy on PlayStation 5 and Switch

Hogwarts Legacy is another title that I never truly expected to come to Switch. It’s a huge game with impressive graphics on other platforms, though it did struggle with some performance issues there, too. This didn’t bode well for the Switch, and lo and behold, it appears fuzzy and a little rough around the edges. Unfortunately, this points out that gigantic games such as these need a Switch version of their own built from the ground up, really paying attention to the hardware’s actual capabilities instead of shoving the entire thing onto the console.

Now it’s time for some honorary mentions – Skull Island: Rise of Kong, a game that I can’t work out if it’s real or a joke due to how bad it looks, released this year. The only real reason people know about it is this scene, where developers left a JPEG image of a dinosaur mixed in with some astoundingly bad graphics. Absolutely laughable. What even happened here? Allegedly, the game came to fruition within a year from an overworked team, so the lesson here is, please take your time and don’t force studio staff to work themselves to the bone. Clearly, it’s not worth it.

Recently, The Walking Dead – Destinies found itself on the Switch, not for better, but for worse. You may have missed it, but you’re not missing out on much, as it has an average two-star rating on Google and has almost entirely negative critic and Steam user reviews. Was the objective to make a really middle-of-the-road game? Because if that’s the case, the studio behind it sure managed it.

The argument people usually go for is “Well, it’s the Switch, not a high-end PC, what do you expect?” – that it’s all down to the Switch’s hardware – which doesn’t seem likely or else no game would run well, but we have plenty of examples where games across the board do function well.

I don’t think it’s just a Switch thing. I think it’s a studio thing. Taking Nintendo and its own brands as examples, let’s compare Pikmin 4 with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. What on earth happened in Scarlet and Violet?! The DLC’s performance is just as shoddy as the first release, and there hasn’t been a big fix for the game at all. Pikmin 4, on the other hand, looks beautiful and has plenty of details, and there’s not a single issue in sight. Yes, Game Freak is a subsidiary, but it’s still a gigantic company that produced a subpar game under one of the biggest licenses in the world. The follow-up to this was Detective Pikachu Returns. Granted, children are its target audience, but the game felt lacking and had some half-baked graphics in it as well.

mixed bag feature - A city scene in Astral Chain with adverts and skyscrapers

Some smaller studios like the aforementioned Black Salt Games behind Dredge have made perfectly performing games without compromising graphics or load times, so it’s possible. If you need more examples outside of Nintendo’s family, then look at the ports of Persona 5 Royal and Doom: Eternal, or games like Persona 5 Tactica, Astral Chain, and even Alien: Isolation. Now those are some good-looking games on the Switch.

The question is, why are we expected to settle for broken games when good quality, and frankly, beautiful games exist? Could it be due to – mostly in the wholesome game space – the overhype of titles from influencers and streamers making fans clamor for the earliest release date they can get despite the actual performance of the game?
Is it a case of studios forcing their staff to crunch and release on time, despite the quality of the game, that they don’t have time or resources to fix it before launch (or even after, sometimes)?

This, unfortunately, seems like the most logical answer. It’s also no secret that the game industry is in veritable tatters this year with layoffs, redundancies, and studio closures almost every week, which can only negatively impact the state in which games release.

Of course, not everything is going to be perfect, but it seems the majority of releases have issues these days and, more often than not, don’t get a fix. Hopefully, calling out some of these shoddy performances means that future releases get better, but only time will tell. We know that amazing games can come to Switch and be excellent performers, which is something I definitely want to see more of going forward.

For some actually good experiences worth your time, here are the best Nintendo Switch games and the best mobile games out there for you to sink your teeth into.