Feature Article

Overwatch Switch Has Problems, But It Can Still Be Fun

Heroes never die… for a price.

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It took a bit of experimentation, but I found my ideal way to play Overwatch on Switch: hunched over the console, undocked and propped up by its kickstand, using a Pro Controller. It's a peculiar setup that feels as awkward as it sounds, but there's a method to my madness.

The concessions made to get Blizzard's shooter on Nintendo's modestly powered hardware are immediately evident. There's no denying that--unsurprisingly--it doesn't look or perform as well as its counterparts on other platforms. But while the technical performance on Switch may falter, Overwatch's core design still shines... under the right circumstances.

Overwatch on Switch bears the familiar hallmarks of a game ported from decidedly beefier platforms onto the less powerful Switch. When docked, the visual blemishes are noticeable, ranging from reduced details in the environment and character models to low-resolution textures and an abundance of jagged edges. Displayed on large screens, the vibrancy of Overwatch's world and the charm of its characters are diminished.

The game also frequently reminds you that compromises have been made. Often it takes a good few seconds for character models to load in, so you'll spend the start of each match looking at orbs floating around the spawn room and darting out into the field of battle. The orbs linger just long enough to be noticeable before the models pop in. In more intense clashes, the effects tied to special abilities and weapons become lost in each other. For those not already intimately familiar with the visual language of Overwatch, and thus capable of picking out what's important in heated moments, that loss of clarity could be frustrating.

These big team battles are usually decisive ones, with their outcomes dictating whether your team or the enemy team goes on to victory. Unfortunately, it's also here where the dips in performance are most likely to occur. The game runs at 30 frames per second but, under the strain of a chaotic skirmish, that number is liable to drop. Again, in the midst of a crucial push, this can be distracting enough to let victory slip away.

In handheld mode, Overwatch Switch moves a step closer to the experience offered by its counterparts, though it's a small step. Crammed onto the smaller screen, it goes from just-rolled-out-of-bed to buttoned-up, tucked in, and straightened out. Visual details pop more, the iconic cast of heroes and villains regain some of their panache, and what is there becomes more noticeable than what isn't. The performance hitches occur much less frequently and those that did happen were more of a flick of the ear than a push of the shoulder. It's for this reason that I opted for handheld over docked, with my face inches away from the Switch's screen.

With the Switch in my hands I faced new problems, however. Although Overwatch may be among the most approachable multiplayer shooters on the market, it's still demanding. Whether it's Support characters such as Mercy or Ana, Tanks like Reinhardt or Zarya, or DPS like Reaper or Soldier, playing well requires quick fingers and thumbs as much as it does quick minds. After a short play session, holding the Switch in my hands became a hindrance. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, the thin profile of the device and its hard edges started to press into my palms enough to become a nuisance. The stiff and clicky face buttons felt harsh on my thumbs, and, similarly, the lack of travel on the shoulder buttons sapped all satisfaction from pulling a virtual trigger. The diminutive analog sticks became constrictive, making the act of moving my fingers and thumbs to where they needed to be feel like playing thumb war with the Switch.

I tried using the gyroscope to aim, as well as Joy-Cons for a laser pointer-like control style, but felt they were more of a novelty than a viable way for me to play, owing to the jittery movement and occasional bouts of reticle drift. The former, however, definitely feels like it could be beneficial to someone that sinks in the time to tweaking the settings and finding the sweet spot, then practicing. In conjunction with the more drastic movements from the analog sticks, a gyroscopically-inclined person could fine-tune their aim for precision shots. That person is very much not me, though; I ended up using it primarily to spin around in an office chair in the hopes that my character looked like an out-of-control Beyblade.

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Pick up a Pro Controller, though, and playing Overwatch Switch feels natural and comfortable. The controller is ergonomically designed and, as a result, far better suited for fingers and thumbs to dance around as you carefully aim gunfire, launch Ultimate abilities, and frantically reposition your character. And that's why I found myself hunched over a Switch placed precariously on a table with a Pro Controller in hand.

That's also when Overwatch on Switch felt most like Overwatch that's available everywhere else. To be clear, I would not and could not recommend it if the PS4, Xbox One, or PC versions are available to you, but I also can't deny that I had fun playing. Overwatch remains a thrilling game and, even on the small screen, with bells and whistles binned, I gleefully hooked a Pharah out of the sky as Roadhog, inched forward in my seat as my team fought for that final push of the payload, and held my breath as I desperately tried to take out a Mercy before she could resurrect that annoying Reaper that had been victimizing me the whole game. The fundamental design of Overwatch is so strong that, even in its most compromised form, it still offers a compelling gameplay experience.

The question, however, is if you really need to have it on Switch. If this is your first and only way to play Overwatch, I can't begrudge you for doing so. It's one of my favorite games of all time and much of what I love can still rise to the surface when playing on Switch. If you have the ability to play Overwatch on any other platform, however, you should. Those worlds could always use more heroes.

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Tamoor Hussain

I am your OG and I will be respected as such
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