Wolfenstein II on the Nintendo Switch reviewJune 29, 2018
When the Nintendo Switch first debuted, I marveled at the ability to play a vast open world like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild both in my living room and on the go. Sixteen months into the console’s life and the novelty still hasn’t worn off. The latest such game to inspire those feelings of awe in me is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Machine Games’ gleefully vicious take on the joys of murdering Nazis. Of course, the Switch port isn’t as technically impressive as its counterparts on the PC, Xbox One, or PlayStation 4. It doesn’t look as good nor run as smoothly. But it works. And once again, I find myself surprised at just how good it feels to carry a blockbuster game with me wherever I want.
Wolfenstein II originally launched last October, and it’s a delightfully over-the-top first-person shooter about fighting a Nazi scourge that has taken over an alternate reality version of America. Most of the game is spent exploring grungy locations, like a creaking giant U-boat or the ruins of New York City, while firing machine guns at a seemingly never-ending wave of Nazis. It’s cathartic and absurd in just the right way, and the game backs it up with solid action and a hefty rotation of weapons. Wielding a massive flamethrower can be satisfying in a truly primal way, and Wolfenstein II nails it.
On the Switch, none of that has changed. Aside from the addition of motion controls — which I do not recommend — this is the same game that came out last year. But there are a few trade-offs. Most notably, the visuals have taken a hit in the shift to Nintendo’s tablet. Even at its best Wolfenstein II on the Switch doesn’t look anywhere near as crisp or detailed as it does on more powerful hardware, and it’s really noticeable when the action gets intense. A screen full of gun-toting Nazis will often create a somewhat blurry effect that makes an already brown and muddled world look even more brown and muddled. This happens when you play docked, but it’s even more pronounced when playing the game in portable mode.
While the visuals can struggle to keep up with the on-screen action, I haven’t yet noticed any significant issues with performance. Even during frenzied battles, everything has run smoothly for me so far, with no serious drops in frame rate. It’s not 60 frames per second, but it’s stable at least. Wolfenstein II is entirely playable on the Switch which, again, is an impressive feat.
Bethesda, Wolfenstein’s publisher, has been one of the biggest supporters of Nintendo’s new platform, at least among the big-budget publishers. And with each release, the company seems to be slightly more ambitious. Skyrim felt great on the Switch, but it’s also a seven-year-old game, so it wasn’t unexpected that it worked well. More surprising was last year’s release of the excellent 2016 reboot of Doom, which similarly took a visual hit, but was largely a solid port for Nintendo’s tablet. Wolfenstein II takes things a step further. The Switch version comes out just a few months after the game originally debuted, and it’s the most technically accomplished Nintendo release from Bethesda yet. At this rate, we could have a fully functional version of Starfield available on the Switch at launch. (Okay, maybe not.)
Right now, that gap is a problem; while the Switch version is cool, many of the people who wanted to play Wolfenstein II likely already have. However, Nintendo believes the belated nature of Switch ports won’t last forever. “I would argue that beginning at the end of this year, or next year, that gap will have closed,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé told me at E3 earlier this month. “Because key developers have had the development systems, they’ll have been working to create content for our platform from the beginning. That’s what is going to close that time gap.”
If that does ultimately happen, it will force players to make a choice. Switch ports are never going to look as great as games on other platforms, but for many players that won’t matter; the ability to play a huge game wherever you want is a powerful draw. For me, as great as Wolfenstein II looks on my big screen TV, it’s a lot more fun shooting Nazis from the comfort of my bed.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus will be available tomorrow on the Nintendo Switch.