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Mortal Shell on Nintendo Switch: an ambitious port with big performance problems

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With a surprise release in late 2022 on the Nintendo Switch eShop, Mortal Shell: Complete Edition gives Switch users the complete package; a complete port of the 2020 Souls-like, with all DLC and content updates included. At first glance, Mortal Shell on Switch actually looks like a hit. In a similar vein to other Unreal 4 titles like Mortal Kombat 11, the visual makeup – the basic details of the action – translates well to Switch, but after spending the last week on this handheld version, I have to say that there are glaring problems. Specifically, hitting such an ambitious bar of quality comes at a cost to its frame rate and it also comes at a cost to its playability. The impact is so overwhelming that sometimes the Switch version is a real struggle to control.

To cut to the chase, compared to 2020’s PS4 release, Mortal Shell on Switch is an obvious downgrade in key areas, although it looks like some lighting elements may come from a more modern take on the Switch. PS4 codebase was never updated for . However, starting from the top, you will notice that the texture resources are reduced in resolution. Notably, the floors or walls of dungeons often manifest as a blurry smudge if viewed too closely. The best theory is that the Switch’s 4GB of RAM is the limiting factor here – although there are still some points that take priority for high-quality textures. So, for example, the character texture work is identical to that of the PS4. The armor sets – the so-called “shells” – are clearly defined in close-up, as is the armament. Even clothing physics remain enabled on Switch as we travel the world, with dynamically inflated capes, draped flags and more. But yes, the environmental details are seriously reduced in some places.

A video breakdown of Mortal Shell on Nintendo Switch, stacked against the PS4 version.

A few other downgrades stand out. Grass foliage density and draw distance on trees are reduced, while water ripple physics are completely gone on Switch, with the only thing remaining being transparency effects for caustics and splashes when we cross. Additionally, screen space reflections are also reduced in detail, meaning fewer on-screen elements are reflected in the final mirror image. In fairness though? SSR is definitely committed, and all things considered, it’s impressive it makes the cut at all.

Even with these cuts, Switch does a stellar job of retaining much of the detail, effects, and functionality of the PS4 version. Motion blur effects are included, while haze, fog, and other atmospheric effects roll over the distance. Ambient occlusion is also enabled, adding shadows to his world. Pop-in is surprisingly minimal as we also walk through areas dense in detail, although the contained level design helps with that. Yes, the reductions are easy to spot: the depth of field effect removed, the volumetric lighting reduced in resolution, creating obvious stair steps towards the skylights. Additionally, dynamic shadows, while near torchlight, seem to be lacking on Switch. Even so, Switch has all the core content and offers the world design framework that makes Mortal Shell enjoyable.

In terms of resolution, there is also a difference. The PS4 runs at dynamic 900p, using temporal reconstruction to deliver 1080p output. When it comes to Switch when docked, we get a reconstructed 720p image instead – although typical native resolution is somewhere between 540p and 600p on my count – usually resting on that 1066×600 mark. When it comes to its grounded gameplay, the Unreal Engine TAA does a surprisingly excellent job of rebuilding the framework. Switching to handheld mode we get a range between 360p and 400p, looking at the raw pixel structures. But, again, it all rebuilds via TAA at 720p, matching the handheld screen. Otherwise, all other visual settings appear identical to the docked experience – it’s just the resolution range that changes.

These two performance shots give an idea of ​​the immense variation in smoothness in the experience – and when it’s bad, it’s really bad.

All of this sets the stage for the controversial Switch performance point, where we have to point out the scale of the challenge facing the port. After all, the PS4 version targets 30fps but has issues achieving it: there’s aggressive screen tearing, uneven frame rate, and there’s huge stutter in streaming. Switch has its own issues, starting with the lack of a 30fps cap, which means a frame rate range of between 10fps and 60fps. Typically we’re between 15 and 40 frames per second for game flow. So swamp areas in Fallgrim usually run in this range, which makes inputs for simple navigation or weapon strikes less responsive. . In fact, there are entire sections in a later dungeon that flow at an almost constant 15-20 frames per second. Here, putting too many enemies on screen seems to be the culprit. Handheld gaming is much the same: we’re still in a similar 15-40fps range, generally centered around the mid-20s and lower during combat.

Another key performance point in a Souls-like is load times, due to the number of times you’re likely to die and then reload. There’s good news here as Switch is not only competitive with the PS4, but actually faster in some cases. The only caveat is that Switch goes through a long initial load to start the game itself – an astonishing wait of 100 seconds compared to 40 seconds on PS4. The good news is that Switch’s suspend and resume feature bypasses all of that anyway. After the initial load, Switch improves PS4 load times by seconds. It’s by no means fast, but you’d typically expect a 21 second wait on Switch after you die and wait to respawn versus around 26 seconds on PS4.

The verdict for Mortal Shell on Switch is mixed. It’s an ambitious port, but once again we’re faced with software that’s dying for a Switch successor to make it work well. And thanks to its unlocked frame rate, it’ll be a great title to test out, if and when new hardware appears – assuming the backwards compatibility works and improves performance. As it stands, while visual reductions are expected alongside PS4, the resulting frame rate on Switch just isn’t good enough. A 30fps cap at regular rate might help some points – but with so many games languishing under 30fps and even 20fps, the benefits will be limited. If you’re looking for a taxed Switch port – a title that’s beyond its means with GPU power on tap, Mortal Shell is a fascinating experience to try. However, to play and enjoy the experience developer Cold Symmetry has created, there are much better builds to check out first.

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