Last updated on October 21st, 2018
As a first time souls-player, I had a few expectations before playing. I predicted a challenging, traumatic yet rewarding experience. To reach levels of salt that I had not previously endured and hopefully have a new appreciation for the action-RPG genre. My only frame of reference for gruelling and brutal combat would be the unforgiving Salt & Sanctuary which I also experienced for the first time on the Nintendo Switch, and from a MMO perspective the Mage Tower for World of Warcraft Legion. I expected the entire game to follow suit to these predictions, if not worse. Whether the Nintendo Switch could handle Dark Souls Remastered especially as portable device, I was a little sceptical.
Dark Souls on the Go – Nintendo Switch Review
Coming to the Nintendo Switch, Dark Souls Remastered gets an added benefit that no other current platform offers, being able to play anywhere at anytime. So knowing that Dark Souls, death on-the-go was an option, I spent a good amount of time testing the game in handheld mode. I also tried it in docked mode, to see the difference in performance, as well as gamer experience. Readers should note since I was given an early copy of Dark Souls Remastered before it’s release date, I was not able to test the online mode, so this will be strictly from a single-player stand point.
You will either love it or hate it, gathering souls is your method of increasing your stats or buying special items from the merchants that you encounter. Dying will cause you to lose all your soul progress, but being able to retrieve those souls from the spot that you died at, provides some solace. At times the game is very all or nothing, either you bide your time grinding that souls count to get that much needed boost in stats or you end up losing everything. Defeating bosses of course rewards you more generously than smaller enemies or the large souls that you find. There were moments where I knew it was better to play it safe and return to a lit bonfire to spend my souls, but thinking I can push it just that bit further caused me to die on the spot. Returning to bonfire to spend your hard earned souls resets the enemies you’ve killed, meaning you have to destroy them all once again.
Items are precious, if you’ve never played a Souls game before you might be tempted to consume those Estus flasks as you wish, but this is not the way the game is played. Every decision you make will have a consequence down the line. Weapons degrade with use, which is not a new idea but really does affect the way you approach combat and how far you can stray from the bonfires.
Inventory space is infinite, but management is still a thing. For example I love to hoard items, but realised it was not doing me any favours to carry 10 axes and clutter my inventory when I tried to figure out what was my latest acquisition.
Getting used to the controls was a bit of an uphill struggle, partly due to them being quite different from other Switch games. The B button is used to accept actions in-game which usually is the decline/back button in others, and the A button is used as the back/decline, but in Souls these are swapped. You can change these controls settings if you wish to make them more Switch-friendly.
The menu that you use to access items/weapons appears in the top right of screen, and you use the L/R back buttons to scroll through the different menus, but I found in the beginning that I would completely forget that the menu was still open, leading to untimely deaths when I couldn’t use light or heavy attacks due to this. It’s a quick but painful lesson to learn, and just something to keep in mind after you’ve slotted your items.
The game sticks to the original controls, close to that of the original platforms, so this could be why it’s quite different from Switch exclusive games. It’s not a huge gripe to be concerned with but takes some getting use to as a Switch player.
Combat overall is smooth, but quite different from more modern games. The heavy attack has to be used wisely, as you may hit the heavy attack button a few times before it plays out, this could be due to heaviness of the weapon or just a slight input delay between hits. For newer players like myself, it took a bit of practice to get used to the rhythm. It becomes quickly apparent that managing your stamina, health and even your flasks is needed. When going toe-to-toe with a mob, you cannot simply go head on with the group and button mash (this is seriously ill-advised), but instead your should learn tactics to defeat them. Using your surroundings is a really good way to separate those enemies and provides cover from the ever-present archers.
But be warned, some walls have a tendency to grant no protection, which I found out the hard-way when tackling some undead on a stairway: they were able destroy a bookcase that was located on the otherside of a wall.
I made good use of the lock-on feature which allows you to set a target on your enemies and helps with aiming your hits automatically. However, if you’re not use to this feature, trying to roll away from an enemy while locked on is more of an evasive maneuver and will not let you escape their grasp. While in other games enemies will tend to run off when out of range, this is not the case with Souls, you can run all you want but these guys are relentless and will track you down. This is not necessarily a bad thing as you can lead them out of close quarter areas to more strategic locations such as stairs to help pick them off one by one.
While FromSoftware didn’t really take advantage of the Switch’s touch screen abilities when it comes to menu selection, they did add a new feature that allows you use the joycons (when in the slotted controller mode) to gesture. Holding the B button and turning the controls in certain directions provides a quick way to gesture at players for online mode, gestures are important as the Switch does not have an in-built in-comms system, so those who opt out of the mobile app voice chat, this is another way to communicate if you don’t feel like chatting.
Visuals & Audio
While the Switch cannot boast the 4K option that has been brought recently to PS4 Pro and Xbox One X with Dark Souls Remastered, is does add an element that the others do not. Handheld mode brings back nostalgic memories of devices past, the original Gameboy comes to mind. But this experience was pretty painless (apart from the number deaths I endured playing for the first time). The graphics although displayed on a smaller screen, did well to provide smooth rendering and fluid motion when it came swinging an axe or using a spear to poke my enemies from afar. While I had experienced moments of frame rate drops in games such as Zelda Breath of the Wild, Dark Souls Remastered didn’t seem to have this problem and did well in climatic boss fights such as against the Taurus Demon. The cutscenes of course are more detailed than gameplay, but it’s not a huge jump by comparison.
Dark Souls fans must note, however, that there is a difference when playing in handheld and docked mode. Handheld only reaches a 720p resolution, which is definitely enough for the size of the screen. Having it in docked mode will bring out a 1080p resolution that can really show-off the details of the armor, the beastly bosses truly horrifying looks and the effects that are cast by the sunlight. None of this affects the games playability, but it will be down to your own preference whether you opt for a larger screen to enjoy the Gothic aesthetic. Both modes support 30 fps, for those who are more inclined for a higher fps, might find it not reaching the expectation with other current console generation standards.
The audio that I experienced coming straight out from the Switch’s in-built speakers was nothing to write home about, but did what it needed to do, it provided a decent amount of audio to keep from breaking the immersive feel of the game. Granted if I were to take Dark Souls for a spin say on a long train journey or on a long-haul flight, I would use a pair of headphones as I feel it would be highly obnoxious to have this device on full blast in a public area, but that’s just me.
I must admit, I don’t think I have ever felt so stressed out and rewarded at same time. Playing Dark Souls has been a gruelling and interesting experience altogether for a first time player. If you are someone who has never ventured into the world of Dark Souls, experiencing it on the Switch for the first time does not disappoint. The whole unique selling point on playing the game on this platform rather than PS4, Xbox One or PC, is the freedom it brings. I could very well imagine fans playing on the way to school, on the way to work, on a plane, in the park…well anywhere. While the game does require a decent amount of concentration, I’d be very content with whipping out Dark Souls on a long haul flight, and playing for a few hours on a full battery charge, as it definitely will last you 3 or 4 if not more, depending on your game settings (turn down the HD rubble for a longer playtime).
At times I felt I was banging my head against a wall trying to defeat a mob, only to find there was another way around it or I was not levelled enough to face off against them. Few games today opt out of providing their players with a map, or at least a partial one that expands as you discover new areas. Dark Souls tests your patience but at the same time instantly hooks you into playing for hours on end when you only plan to play for one. While I appreciate the option to play anywhere, I feel the game is best played for first timers in a place where there are no distractions to get a truly immersive experience. Playing in docked mode and handheld are both equally enjoyable, although I am a little disappointed that From didn’t take advantage of the Switch’s many features such as touch screen. Using the D-pad alone to select items from the menu seemed a little archaic as more modern games allow you to use touch screen or even analog sticks. However, since this is remaster and not a remake, these issues can be overlooked.
There are some games that are a complete mismatch for the Nintendo Switch in my opinion, ones that are built around their graphic intensity would be a let down for those expecting to see a crisp 4k. However, Dark Souls Remastered offers Switch players a game that not only works well in handheld and docked mode, but actually it makes sense to be on this platform. Games that provide an immersive story and the ability to easily transition from handheld to docked with no difference to gaming experience bodes well in their favour. If you’re someone who has already played Dark Souls on console or PC, the experience will not really differ in docked mode but being able to take the game anywhere, may provide you with some newer Dark Souls memories.
Dark Souls Remastered releases on the Nintendo Switch on October 18th in Japan and October 19th for the west. If you are picking up Dark Souls for the first time or even for 100th there is a lot useful information available on our Dark Souls wiki.
If you are interested in reading an in-depth review from a veteran perspective on the PS4 Pro, you should check out our Dark Souls Remastered Review: Nostalgia In 4K. If you need some help in navigating the netherworld you should read our Dark Souls Remastered Game Progress Guide so you don’t miss out on anything. You also find all your Soul-sian needs with our Dark Souls wiki.