The Nintendo Switch is home yet again to another one of those “greatest of all time” titles. This time it’s the existentialist poetry of famed game director Yoko Taro’s “Nier: Automata.”
And now, here it is on Nintendo’s underpowered but incredibly popular console, presented at a sharper resolution than the original PS4 release at 1080p, capped at 30 frames-per-second performance (compared to 60 fps on other current-gen consoles) and maintaining that benchmark through all but the most graphically taxing situations.
“Nier: Automata” was never a game on the cutting edge of graphical presentation, with low-resolution textures and far-off objects popping in regularly on the PS4 version. The PC port, which launched a month later, was also famously poorly optimized and taxed CPU usage. Yet “Nier: Automata” runs well enough on the Switch that I forgot I was playing it on Nintendo’s aging, decade-old mobile chipset.
Developer Virtuos, based in Singapore, is no stranger to previous feats of successful Nintendo Switch ports; its past work includes the BioShock series and Rockstar’s open-world detective game, “L.A. Noire.” The studio joins Panic Button, who have ported Id Software’s Doom series to the Switch, in the pantheon of masters of the Switch hardware, responsible for what many consider to be impossible ports of high-end AAA titles to the weakest home console on the market.
“Nier: Automata” is a great example of how strong art direction and design can leave a game feeling timeless. Despite the blurry textures, the game features two sartorially stunning heroes, both drenched in moody, black gothic fashion, blindfolded with silver hair and with sex appeal that transcends the game’s story. Not everyone has played “Nier: Automata,” but millions will likely immediately recognize the hair and dress of one of its main characters, the android 2B.
Playing this game on the Nintendo Switch only underscored how rare such an experience is not just on the platform, but in the medium in general. Yoko Taro has famously said he finds games that stick to genre conventions boring, which is why his titles often mix and match formulas on the fly. In its first five minutes, the game covers twin-stick shooters, side-scrolling action and top-down shoot ‘em up gameplay in a virtuosic opening sequence, all while retaining the same button controls, maintaining coherence in player participation.
The scope of the game expands as the story persists, and so do your enemies — both in terms of size and numbers. The Switch version still depicts large-scale, open-world battles against Goliath-sized combatants, and it’s mostly here where the system strains under the spectacle of sparks, explosions and literally thousands of moving machine parts in a battlefield. Nonetheless, it remains an impressive performance.
Modestly priced at $40, “Nier: Automata” offers dozens of hours of content in a port that sees sensible compromise (blurrier textures, a capped framerate) while retaining what makes the experience an opera of spectacle and mood. Its launch this week further strengthens the deep quality of the Nintendo Switch’s growing library, and it is immediately one of the best titles you could own on the platform.