Switch Is A Port Machine, And I Love It

Switch Is A Port Machine, And I Love It

Screenshot: Nintendo (YouTube)

I’ve been playing a ton of old games on my Switch. If you own one, you probably have too. Now, sure, that is in part because the Switch doesn’t have that many exclusive games. But it’s also because Switch is a fantastic way to catch up on older ones. This week it’s getting Limbo, Inside, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Yeah, the Switch is turning out to be something of a port machine, but I love it.

Every week, more old games get ported to Nintendo’s hybrid device, and every week I find myself thankful that’s the case. A few months ago, I was afraid 2018 was shaping up to be an off-year for the Switch. After its unbelievable 2017, this year wasn’t looking as strong in terms of great new games. While this is true in terms of exclusives, the overflow of awesome ports is making up for it.

Switch had a shockingly good first year. Close to 18 million Switches were sold in its first year, putting it 4 million units ahead of the lifetime sales of the Wii U and in the neighbourhood of what the PlayStation 4 achieved at the same point in its lifecycle.

There were no doubt lots of reasons for this level of success, not the least of all being that the Switch is simply a really nice piece of hardware both to hold and to play games on. There were also a slate of great exclusives for it in 2017, bookended by two of the year’s most anticipated and, it turns out, best games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey.

In terms of big new releases, 2018 has turned out to be something else entirely. Nintendo kicked 2018 off with a Direct in early January. Fans had been speculating for weeks about what the company would announce. Nothing much new, it turned out.

But the cumulative effect of more and more Wii U ports has been hard to ignore, with games like Hyrule Warriors and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze becoming two of my unexpected favourites among the games I dipped into this autumn.

The former is a hack-n’-slash mashup that will melt your brain and the latter gave one of Nintendo’s best non-Mario platformers in recent years a fresh start in front of newer and bigger audience.

Ask 10 different people to name 10 different ports they’d like to see on Switch, and you could get a hundred different answers. Most of them would probably be decent choices, too. Bayonetta came out for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2009. Bayonetta 2 released on the Wii U in 2014.

Both didn’t find as big of an audience as they deserved the first time around, and combined they proved to be one of the best anthologies you could buy when they arrived on the Switch this past February. Bayonetta 2 + Bayonetta 1 is hardly alone in that regard, though.

Another Direct in March revealed a new Smash Bros. as the console’s big end-of-year release, but beyond that, more ports, like Okami HD and and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

Most recently at E3, Nintendo revealed a new Mario Party game would be headed to the Switch in October, but two of the biggest announcements were that ports of Fortnite Battle Royale and Hollow Knight, two of last year’s best games, would be available to download on the Switch starting that day.

There’s a case to be made that June has been one of its strongest months yet in terms of releases.

There’s a lot of emphasis on being on the cutting edge in games, something that not only comes from the millions spent on marketing but also the culture around comparing everything from framerates to how many characters can appear on the screen at the same time.

Sometimes we talk about old games from a few years ago as if they’re ancient. The barrage of sequels doesn’t help either, especially given their iterative nature. Every new game in a series is supposed to be better in every way than its predecessor. As a result, games that look like the next big thing one year can feel disposable or even obsolete not long after.

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There are more than a few great games on the Wii U that have gotten the second looks they deserve thanks to the Switch, but also a long list of indie games, like Shovel Knight and Enter The Gungeon, which released forever ago on other consoles but received newfound love after coming to Nintendo’s hybrid console.

It’s partly a testament to just how many great games have been released over the last few decades that deserve to be played and replayed. In years past, ports were often games I’d already beaten or decided never to touch again, but now they’re more often stuff I always meant to get around to trying or finishing but could never find the time to like The Binding of Isaac, which I fell in love with all over again when Afterbirth+ was ported last spring.

Some games sell millions of copies, many only sell a few hundred thousand or less. The end result is that most people haven’t played most games, even the great ones, something that only becomes more true as each new year goes by.

When old stuff reappears on the Switch though, surrounded by a sea of white space thanks to the interface’s minimalistic layout, it feels like thumbing through a set of timeless classics at a bookstore, or critically-acclaimed movies and TV shows on Netflix.

Most of them are also unquantifiably transformed by being playable anywhere at anytime on a lovely tablet screen with analogue sticks and mechanical buttons on the sides. Having Stardew Valley or Darkest Dungeon integrated into the ebbs and flows of daily life — commutes, lunch breaks, waiting for friends to show up before a Happy Hour or movie — also makes it possible to enjoy them free from the churn of new games vying for my attention when I sit down to stare at my Steam library or whatever’s new on Xbox Marketplace.

And unlike the company’s previous handhelds, the Switch also plays gorgeous-looking games in the ballpark of what’s possible on modern consoles. The port of Doom 2016 is proof of that.

There’s something fashionable about Switch, too. It feels fresh, even cool — not things we normally associate with Nintendo, but it’s 2018 and here we are. Like any trend, this phenomenon is also self-reinforcing.

The more people are excited about the Switch and talking about what they’re currently playing on it, the more other people feel like it’s the place to be and want to be a part of the scene, even if it’s to play games that have already been available on other platforms for months or even years.

Where Steam is an overwhelming marketplace where what’s being played on Twitch and YouTube on any given day receives outsized attention, the smaller, more curated Switch ecosystem is out of sync with, and therefore somewhat protected from, the normal half-life of game-centric conversations.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a good example. If there’s a poster child for games that are played out, Bethesda’s open world RPG should be near the top of the list. Seeing it on Switch, the sixth platform it’s appeared on in almost as many years, even I, Skyrim hater that I am who ditched the game after only 10 hours when it was on the Xbox 360 back in 2011, felt like last fall was the time to be playing it again and I had licence to give it a second chance.

I bought it, started it up again, and found it oddly comforting to occasionally wander through the snowy mountains of Tamriel again while sprawled out underneath the covers of my warm bed throughout the winter.

Nintendo has not solved the lack of triple-A third-party support that has been plaguing it since the days of the Wii. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 won’t be on the Switch. But those absences feel less acute when filled with a burgeoning library of the past decade’s best games. There’s no denying that the post-Breath of the Wild, post-Odyssey Switch is, at this moment at least, primarily a port machine.

But instead of being hurt by that fact, it’s instead managed to make the reemergence of old games feel trendy by reflecting them through the gloss of sleek new tech. Where the App Store led to a great devaluing of mobile games, including console ports, the Switch seems to have successfully raised the value of everything it touches.


  • Wish the ports were cheaper, i got stardew and wanted to get some others like darkest dungeon but when they are still $40 and you already have it from a steam sale on pc it’s hard.

    • Just wait for sales. That’s what I do, whenever there’s a big sale it’s party time. Unless I really can’t wait for something, which I couldn’t in the case of Darkest Dungeon… 🙂
      Worth it.

    • I wonder if the higher price translates on higher revenue for the makers. Hard to believe that Nintendo actually takes all the difference.

  • Whilst I quite like the amount of ports coming to the Switch, after playing Doom & Skyrim, I can’t get away from the niggling feeling that AAA titles on the Switch are too compromised an experienced from what most developers originally intended to be picked up for anything other than shits and giggles after completing the game on an actual console.

    • I hope now that it’s actually out for a bit we will be seeing more games in the same development cycle as those on PS or XBOX and because they will be made by the actual developer not a third party hopefully the quality will be better.

      Still going to buy the more graphics intensive games on my PS4 first and the rest on my Switch. I do like the ability to take games like Crash Bandicoot and hopefully Spyro with me wherever I go.

    • Eh, depends on the game. Skyrim works great, and the clips I’ve seen of Wolfenstein look good too. I have a gaming PC if I want graphical fidelity, but I’ll happily trade some fidelity for portability.

  • It’s a dumping ground for developers to make a 2nd round of cash from a tapped out title (Skyrim).
    I’ll admit that I LOVE my Switch Skyrim (somehow, I ended up playing it far longer on Switch than 360-PS4 releases) but it was still confounded by bugs like that fucking Draugr Eye glitch and random freezing etc.
    I just don’t trust 3rd Party developers to carefully produce these type of ports on 2018.

  • Weird how being a port machine was considered a problem for the PSP…
    Not claiming any kind of console bias. Just an interesting observation. Maybe that’s the state of the market now. That we’re generally more open to ports than we were back in the day.

    • Not more open, just people spent several hundred dollars on a machine and need to justify there expense.

      • I’ve heard a few people say this in forums. Honestly, it’s not hard to feel like the Switch was worth it. I’m not a Nintendo fanboy – only other Nintendo console I’ve owned was a DS. I do all my current gen gaming on a PC (which cost way more than the Switch), an Nvidia Shield Tablet, and my Switch. I rotate through all 3 pretty regularly, but in terms of design and feel the Switch is a standout. Yes, many of the games on it are ports, in particular ports of Steam indies that I can play on my PC. But the quality of the ports on the Switch, combined with its portability, make it a must-play. Console quality games on a portable is what the PS Vita lacked, and what the Switch has in spades. Wolfenstein, Bayonetta, and Skyrim on a handheld! Freakin’ love it.
        The Vita’s biggest problem was that instead of getting decent ports, it got bad remakes of AAA titles, or let you stream from your PS3, which isn’t quite the same. If the Vita had ports of this caliber, this would have been a different conversation.

  • I want a port of every game ever made to come to Switch, if I’m honest. It’s just that nice of a system to play them on.

    In the past month I’ve grabbed Ikaruga, Hollow Knight, Gunbird 2 and Lumines, and have spent quality time with all of them.

    Though I do wish the compromised tate modes in Ikaruga (UI remains in yoko orientation 🙁 ) and Gunbird 2 (movement and shooting remain on separate joycons 🙁 ) would be fixed.

  • My Switch library is smaller than that of any other Nintendo console I’ve owned at their respective point of life, because it’s full of ports I either already own or could get on a better platform elsewhere. And I hate it.

    • Exactly.

      Why should I buy a switch if the only games released on it are ones that I can play at a better quality, for cheaper?

      It’s ridiculous that people are defending it’s place as a port machine since, as stated by another commenter, the PSP caught a lot of flack for the same thing.

    • I’ll be getting a Switch pretty soon myself, but I won’t be purchasing ports of games I’ve already played on other systems, so I think my library may be a bit limited for a while. There are still some decent exclusives on the system though with more on the way.

  • Switch is usually the longest gap i get to play while on the tram. with a baby At home as soon as he’s asleep it’s chores chores chores.
    The big first party games are drying up by the looks of things but there are still some games that have my attention. Banner saga was something i wanted to try for years but 30 feels a bit too steep.

  • I just don’t get the price disparity. Street Fighter 30yr anniversary is $54 on ps4, $79 on switch.
    So many of these games are at least $20 more expensive on switch. I find it hard to justify when it’s likely these purchases will be limited to the lifetime of the console whereas a steam purchase almost guarantees a long lifespan.

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