When it comes to delivering a memorable and tense experience, not many games can match up to the original Dark Souls. Many fans swear by the approach From Software takes with its stoic and uncompromisingly bleak action-RPG series where one wrong move can cost you dearly, and it's become one of the most challenging and anxiety-inducing franchises in recent memory. Coming off the recent release of Dark Souls Remastered on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, the Souls series now brings its particular style of high-pressure gameplay to the Switch--marking its first appearance on a Nintendo console.
While this new release isn't as visually and technically impressive as the other current-gen versions, it is an admirable port that reinforces what makes Dark Souls memorable. It effectively makes use of the Switch's capabilities as a portable console, which in turn offers a slightly different feel to the Souls experience that's surprisingly refreshing.
As a recap, Dark Souls Remastered is an enhanced port of the original 2011 game. On PC, PS4, and Xbox One, the remaster runs at 4K and at 60 FPS and features a much sharper visual look, along with a suite of quality-of-life improvements--such as improved matchmaking with dedicated servers and a variety of gameplay tweaks. The Switch version is very much in line with what came before. However, due to the limitations of the system's hardware, it's seen some clear downgrades compared to the previous Remastered releases.
While playing through the Switch version, it felt closer to the original PS3 and Xbox 360 releases, albeit far more stable. Running at a consistent 30 FPS, the docked version of Dark Souls on Switch displays at 1080p, with the handheld mode set to 720p (the same resolution as the original game). Aside from the drop in resolution, general frame-rate between docked and handheld is largely consistent, which is great when swapping between the two modes during a session.
If you're used to Dark Souls Remastered running at 60 FPS on the other platforms, the Switch version will take some time adjusting to. In addition to some fairly short draw-distances on environmental details, the audio quality sounds far more subdued and quiet compared to other releases. While this doesn't happen often--and most times isn't that noticeable--it can create odd moments where some sound effects get drowned out by others, or when there's a slight delay in hearing a sound effect. Moreover, playing in docked mode with the Joy-Cons can often induce some lag with the camera controls, which can be a dire issue during careful platforming or an intense combat encounter. Fortunately, the Day One patch does work to address these issues to success, but some of the technical hiccups still linger.
Despite these rough edges, Dark Souls on Switch is an impressive port that manages to keep the Souls experience intact for its new platform. In a surprisingly neat feature, it's possible to pause the game when playing in the offline mode by backing out to the Home menu or setting the system to sleep. If you're planning to take Dark Souls mobile, then you'll more than likely make use of the offline mode often, and the Switch feels much more suited to.
To properly put this version through its paces, we journeyed to one of Dark Souls' most notorious levels, which frustrated and unnerved many players upon its original release. Blighttown, the derelict shanty town full of diseased creatures, was a nerve-wracking descent into a grotesque atmosphere filled with narrow walkways and an infamously unstable frame-rate. Many years later, it's still among one of the most game's most memorable and feared areas. The Switch version is fortunately able to keep a stable 30 FPS throughout, which includes the depths of Blighttown.
While there are noticeable dips during some encounters, particularly during bosses and set-pieces that have lots of action, the Switch handles the true Dark Souls experience quite well. The most notable success that Dark Souls Remastered has on the Switch--aside from the sheer fact that it runs properly on the hardware--is how it can feel like more of an involved journey. This is mostly due to how it works in handheld mode, allowing you to play Dark Souls on the go. As a returning player, it often felt like I was bundling up with an engrossing book, voraciously exploring and unearthing the game's many locations.
In an interesting way, playing in handheld mode can make for a more personal experience with Dark Souls, which is something that's entirely exclusive to the Switch release. While the portability feature of the console can often feel overstated for other games, it truly does amplify the core of what Dark Souls is all about. Over the course of your personal story in-game--which is on a road paved by defeat, small victories, and occasional humiliation--you'll eventually come to a major win, making the challenging journey feel worthwhile.
While Dark Souls Remastered on Switch possesses some odd quirks and isn't as technically impressive as its current-gen counterparts, it still retains the heart of what the original game is all about. To this day, Dark Souls remains a watershed moment for the action-RPG genre. Getting to re-experience many of the game's most nerve-wracking and iconic moments can be satisfying in its own right, but coupled with the Switch's flexible playstyle, this equally haunting and triumphant game becomes an even more involved journey.