When Dark Souls was announced for Nintendo Switch, I was pretty hyped. Not only was I excited for the prospect of a remaster (you can read my review of the Remaster here) but portable Dark Souls really got me excited. After a delay or two, I finally spent a good amount of time with Dark Souls Remastered on Nintendo Switch, and after kicking the tires and giving it a thorough test drive, I feel like I can make a thorough report.
I’ve seen a lot of reviewers claiming that Dark Souls for the Switch is closer to the 2011 original version than the Remaster version. This is not true. Dark Souls Remastered for Switch is missing a lot of the flashier particle effects, but it does retain the newer textures of the remastered version, as well as the quality of life improvements that the remastered version had. Reports of badly compressed sound, and missing sound effects are accurate, though. After a while, I would forget about it, but the occasional sound would enter the tin-canny valley and remind me that I’m playing the Switch port.
Now, as for actual hand-on impressions, Dark Souls on Switch feels like it should. I played mostly using the Nintendo Switch’s wireless Pro Controller, and while I usually love that controller, it felt a little odd using it for Dark Souls. It took me a while to get back into the rhythm, as it felt everything was slightly off. I didn’t have the same issues in handheld mode with the Joy Cons, but I found the Joy Cons slightly smaller range of motion a little hard to get used to. Once you do, though, they’re totally a viable way to experience Dark Souls.
As far as a review of Dark Souls itself—well, I still think it’s a masterpiece, and a near perfect game. It’s showing its age, but it’s still a game I recommend readily to all that are willing to hear. It’s still the hard-as-nails third person action role-playing game, with almost metroidvania-like elements. You play as the Chosen Undead—one who has been cursed to undeath. You’re not a zombie looking for brains, but a warrior seeking souls—and answers– in a post-apocalyptic world that is crumbling around you. It can be brutally difficult, but never unfairly so–Dark Souls is the perfect intersection of gameplay mechanics and lore. It’s atmospheric, with an extremely compelling story, but it doesn’t hammer you over the head with hours of dialogue cutscenes. Instead, you can take or leave as much of the story as you’d like.
In Dark Souls, you fight through the mostly dead kingdom of Lordran—a place where the world’s self-fashioned gods dwell, each holding immense power. You must seek out their power to either put this dying world on life support for a little longer, or take it for yourself. You will come across all sorts of crazed soldiers, mutated beasts, and even those looking to strip what little humanity you have left away from your character. There is an array of interesting characters you will discover that still have their faculties enough to interact with you. Some will help you on your journey, some will try to stop you—but all have their own motivations.
Unlike most roleplaying games, Dark Souls doesn’t have a quest system to tell you what to do, and where to go. You can get tasks from NPCs, so to say there aren’t side-quests isn’t entirely accurate, but you won’t find them with an exclamation point above their head guiding you to a waypoint. In fact, there is little direction you get from the game itself—instead, players are the ones that leave the most helpful information.
Dark Souls isn’t an MMO, but if you’re online you’ll notice messages scrawled on the ground more often, and phantoms running around. These messages are usually left by other players, laid out using pre-written phrases to create a unique message that may warn players of impending dangers, encourage them to keep moving forward, or to just make a joke.
Multiplayer in Dark Souls was always a little obfuscated: it’s not as easy as clicking on your friend’s list and joining a game. You have to be summoned with an in-game item, and you have to spend an item in order to summon help. And summoning players can open you up to one of Dark Souls more infamous mechanics: invasions. Other players can enter your game and try to impede your progress. Joining different Covenants (in-game groups) or finding certain items can allow you to invade others’ games, or call for help if you are invaded.
Dark Souls has always been about risk vs. reward. If you are carrying a lot of souls on you and you are killed in combat, you will drop those souls as a bloodstain near the location of your death. If you don’t survive a return to that location to retrieve those souls, you lose them for good. This is further made difficult by the fact that anytime you die, or rest at a bonfire, most enemies respawn. There are a few miniboss enemies that won’t return, and bosses don’t come back, but the groups of hollows, and that archer that was taking pot shots at you? Yep, they’re all going to respawn.
Best experienced with as few spoilers as possible, Dark Souls is a punishing, but unique role-playing game experience that has been copied a ton over the years, and for good reason: it’s damned good. It has some incredibly memorable boss encounters, and it’s one of the only games where my perserverance gave me a real sense of accomplishment—it’s exciting when I am finally able to down a particularly difficult boss, or pass a brutal section flawlessly.
Unfortunately I wasn’t yet able to get my hands on a Solaire amiibo, so I can’t attest to the functionality personally, but it doesn’t appear it does much. Enabling and tapping the Solaire amiibo appears to, as far as I can tell, only give you access to the “Praise the Sun” emote before you would otherwise have access to it.
My biggest complaint is one that is based on a personal, impossible, wish list. I wish Dark Souls Remastered for Nintendo Switch had local wireless mode for co-op. I know that playing with your friend offline without the threat of invasion would remove an important aspect of co-op play, but at the same time, it would allow the Switch to be utilized in its natural party mode capacity. Alas, all interactions with other players must be done online—and as a potentially mobile device, you might not always have access to internet to get hints from other players, or use their bloodstains for guidance.
I like this propagation of Dark Souls to other devices. I would be perfectly content to live in a world where people are trying to get Dark Souls to run on as many devices as possible a la Doom. This Switch port may not be the best way to experience Dark Souls, but it’s so close to perfect it really doesn’t matter. Button/menu issues aside, this is the remastered version with less particle effects and lower fidelity sound. Being able to take Dark Souls with me is actually cooler than I would have thought, and I was already pretty excited for it.
Dark Souls Remastered on Nintendo Switch is available now.
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