It’s still rare for the Switch to get blockbuster games that weren’t made by Nintendo, but there has been a trend in recent months to port older games from the last generation of consoles onto the Switch. Last week’s launches of The Outer Worlds, BioShock: The Collection, and Borderlands: The Handsome Collection were some of the most high-profile games to hit the Switch yet. And the result is a pile of great games that simultaneously highlight the Switch’s biggest strengths and weaknesses.
The biggest name in the batch is The Outer Worlds, which is actually a “current-gen” title, having been first released for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC late last year.
From a performance standpoint, The Outer Worlds runs… fine. It is certainly playable, which is impressive for a game that’s so new and graphically demanding on other platforms. But the biggest miss here is the visuals, which are straight-up bad. The Switch lacks the firepower to handle the game well. If playing The Outer Worlds on a PlayStation 4 is like seeing regularly, the Switch port is the blurry, hazy world when you can’t find your glasses.
If you’d like a better idea as to how things stack up, I’d recommend checking out Digital Foundry’s comparison, which gets into the details far better than I can here. Digital Foundry also reports that performance starts to take bigger hits later on in the game — I haven’t experienced this yet, having only played a small piece so far — but it’s something to consider.
Looking past the poor visuals and pop-in, the idea of having a Switch version of The Outer Worlds is appealing. Sprawling RPGs like this are long games, and being able to play them in smaller, bite-sized pieces without having to commit to planting myself in front of my TV for hours at a time makes the idea of playing through more manageable.
It’s that idea that works extremely well for the other batch of recent Switch ports: 2K Games’ BioShock and Borderlands collections — older games from the previous console generation that get a fresh new life on the Switch. And since the Switch is far more adept at handling what are effectively Xbox 360 and PS3 games, those classic games run and look just as good as they did when they were originally released years ago — with the added benefit that they can be played anywhere.
BioShock’s haunting underwater series looks great and runs perfectly. That’s not too surprising since the original game was ported to the iPhone back in 2014. Comparatively, the Switch has plenty more power. And even the more graphically intensive BioShock Infinite looks great. (The Clash in the Clouds round-based challenge mode is particularly well-suited for the pick-up-and-play nature of the Switch, too.)
Weirdly, none of the BioShock ports feature gyroscopic aiming, something that nearly every other Switch port (including 2K’s Borderlands collection) offers, which is a minor gripe in what’s an otherwise excellent set of ports.
But the best of the ports that I tried was the Borderlands collection. I only had the chance to try out Borderlands 2, but the action RPG series feels perfect for the Switch as a second-screen game. Performance is excellent (within the bounds of the Switch, which means 720p graphics and a 30fps frame rate), and the series’s iconic cell-shaded style graphics look the best of the various ports here.
Borderlands’ occasionally mindless Diablo-esque loot-and-shoot gameplay is ideal for quick, short gameplay sessions to farm new guns and gear. It’s similar to Overwatch (another good Switch port) in that regard. The Switch version even has split-screen multiplayer, although that’s best saved for an actual TV set.
It’s true that all of these titles suffer from the usual gripes for the Switch: you’re not getting the best graphics or frame rates, and the Joy-Con controllers are still painful to use for long stretches, especially if you’ve got bigger hands. And these games are big (for the Switch, anyway), with 20GB-plus install sizes, so prepare to delete some stuff or buy a new microSD card.
But I can excuse those issues because of the benefits that the Switch versions of these games offer. Are these the best possible versions of BioShock or Borderlands? Maybe not, what with upscaled versions available for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC. But the Switch makes them far more accessible, without the extra baggage of having to set up a whole TV system, which makes them more playable.
It’s a common experience for me: putting games on the Switch, where I can play a quick level before bed while bingeing some bad TV in the background, or without having to share the TV in my living room with my roommates. This makes it far more likely that I’ll actually play it.
And when these ports are done right — which, unfortunately, isn’t always the case, as The Outer World’s attempt shows — it’s hard to see the downside. Players who might have missed these titles the first time around can play them on a modern console with a few compromises and some enjoyable advantages, thanks to the Switch’s portable nature. But with massive catalogs of older games still out there stranded on older devices, it’s exciting to imagine that other classics could eventually make their way to the Switch, too.