One of the finest action games ever made, that’s how I’d describe Dark Souls if I were short of time. I’m not, so I’ll say some more.
After a few month’s delay the Remastered version of the game (released on PS4, Xbox One and PC in May of 2018) came to Switch on October 19th. I’d read no official reason for the delay, but were I a cynic I might assume it was due to the imminent release of Nintendo Switch Online, a paid service that is required to enjoy the fullness of Dark Souls with its often-frustrating PvP system and sometimes-helpful messaging and player bloodstains that may offer hints as to how others have died horribly so that you may avoid their fate.
Whatever the reason for the delay, I have to say the result was worth the wait. I was concerned about the Switch’s capabilities for this game. It runs, frankly, pretty badly on PlayStation 3 and even PC in its original state, so I imagined something similarly unimpressive here. But what do you know, I was wrong. This is truly an impressive port.
Because of the delay to this version, I bought it on Xbox One. Anyone that has played that version and the original will know how it was improved – not just in obvious graphical ways, but also with a higher, stable framerate. As far as remasters go, it is one of the greats. The Switch version is not quite up there with its big cousins, but it’s not very different at all. A few particle effects are absent. Bonfires are less impressively animated. But overall, once you’re playing, the game runs smoothly and is easily amongst the best looking games on the system’s lovely little screen. Battery life suffers as you’d expect, with 10%!disappearing in a short play session. Similar to Breath of the Wild, so I’d assume about 3 hours of battery-fuelled playtime. I haven’t yet had a chance to play it docked, so can’t comment on how it performs there, only to posit that it would be at least as good as in handheld mode.
I’ve played so far through Undead Burg and Undead Parish, defeating the Bell Gargoyles before I called it a night. Everything is where you know it to be from other versions, and whilst I have noticed a small amount of slowdown a couple of times, it’s never been enough to distract. Blighttown is one area that was plagued with slowdown in the original version, but as I’m not there yet I’ll have to trust other reviews that suggest this isn’t the case in Switch.
The controls are surprisingly good too – using the Joycons. I had assumed they’d not be up to the task, and was prepared to return the game if I couldn’t enjoy it fully in handheld mode (the only reason I bought this) but I needn’t have been worried. Those tiny, stubby joysticks are not ideal, but I’ve also had no problems adjusting to them. The only problem I’ve had is with the L and R buttons, used for blocking and light attacks respectively. With my big hands on those tiny buttons I’ve found myself unguarded as my finger has randomly stopped pressing down. Further adjustment is needed I suppose.
Another minor issue with the game, though an understandable one, is that you can’t use sleep mode. This is also true of the other consoles. Put the console to sleep and it shuts down network access. Lose network access and the game kicks you to the title screen, forcing you to reload (but your position is saved). The nature of the game means you should really be quitting to title before sleeping the console anyway, lest something nasty come get you while you’re away.
Fortunately load times are incredibly fast. Some games on Switch take twice as long as their other console versions to load, but not here. A few seconds and you’re ready to continue where you left off. They’ve truly optimised the game for the system, in a way few developers seem to care about.
There’s not really a lot else to say about it. I have Dark Souls (original version) on PC and PS3, and the remaster on Xbox One and have played it through once on each. It’s a fantastic game, and this is a fantastic version of it. If you have an Xbox One, a PlayStation 4, or a PC, and don’t care about being able to play the game in handheld mode, then those are (slightly) superior ports. Otherwise you won’t go wrong with this one, a nice upgrade on the original release with the benefits of the Switch console added to the mix.