Mario Kart 8 Deluxe only took a few days to prove that good Wii U games play better – and to sell better – on the Nintendo Switch. Coincidentally, the next big game for Switch looks poised to capitalize on the same idea: Minecraftwhich officially goes on sale this Thursday, May 11 for $30.
How big can the innumerable port of? Minecraft be real? Consider this rough estimate from VGChartz for Wii U game sales worldwide. Minecraft is the one and only third-party game to crack Nintendo’s rock-solid grip on the console’s 20 best games (yes, Nintendo produced the other 19), and it did so despite being available for less than two years.
Add the sales proposal of splitting your Minecraft time of creation and adventures between home and portable use, and you have a potential super hit. Unless Mojang or Microsoft screwed this up.
I have very good news: our cursory look at the launch version of the game revealed nothing in the way of red flags or giant alarms. Take this as confirmation that your $30 won’t be wasted if you or yours hunger for a Switch specific Minecraftalong with an elaboration of what differences and idiosyncrasies you can expect.
The biggest to be confirmed is the performance, which buzzes at a 60 frames per second refresh in both portable and docked TV modes. I don’t have any pixel counting equipment handy, but I’m confident that Minecraft on Nintendo Switch displays in native resolution however you play it meaning, 1080p resolution when docked and 720p resolution on the go.
Plus you get a lot more Minecraft then play on the Wii U version. Each Switch world generated can be as large as 3072 x 3072 blocks, which is about 13 times the size of the Wii U’s tiny 864 x 864 world limit. That’s just over a third the size of the 5120 x 5120 limits of the PS4 and Xbox One versions – which honestly seems about right when comparing the specs of those systems.
The Switch’s clock speed drops so much in portable mode that Minecraft also have to sacrifice portable pulling distance. The above gallery shows the maximum view of the game in the super mario universe while looking at the same patch of terrain. You can see which distant details are reduced or completely removed in portable mode (the first image). It does look a bit tacky when flying around in the game’s simpler “creative” modes, but it certainly doesn’t break the game – and is barely noticeable when you’re running around on the ground or in caves.
Even when the system is pressed in local split screen modes for three or four players, frame rates and resolutions remain locked. However, I have one big caveat for families looking to hop on the couch in a group session: you may need more controllers. Minecraft for Nintendo Switch does: not support for playing with a single Joy-Con. All players must have at least two joysticks. So for now, everyone will need their own pair of Joy-Cons or a single Switch Pro controller. I wish the port developers, 4J Studios, offered a “tourist” mode for a single Joy-Con that would allow kids and novice players to fly around with just one joystick. Unfortunately.
In addition, Ars’ Kyle Orland and I tested the online modes of the Switch version and they worked fine. You cannot invite a friend to join your own Minecraft session; instead, everyone in your friends list will automatically see that your instance is live if you’re both connected to the internet, and they can jump in via the standard “join” menu. It’s actually much easier than relying on an invite system. However, 4J hasn’t introduced any kind of emote or chat system for this launch version, and the Nintendo Switch doesn’t support voice chat in online modes yet, so it’s a bit lonely playing this way. Better than nothing… but barely.
This is apparently derived from the late January build of other console versions, and the series producers at Microsoft have promised to rush the game version to the current April build (which Wii U players are currently enjoying). 4J and Microsoft have also promised to patch the ability to transfer and save your existing Wii U worlds to the Switch version, but that functionality isn’t available yet. Maybe all those updates are timed for Minecraft on the boxed launch of Nintendo Switch, which is still “TBA”. At the moment, you can only buy this through the Switch’s eShop. (The Wii U disc version was staggered the same way.)
List image by Mojang/Microsoft