Einstein famously said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I wonder if ol’ Albert would’ve changed his mind after giving Dark Souls a whirl, then? I say this because so many aspects of From Software’s intensely revered action-RPG riffs on this distinct ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ motif.
From the game’s constantly resetting enemy positions to the unendingly cyclical nature of its narrative, to the interlocking M.C. Escher-esque world of Lordran, it’s the thoughtful blending of all these disparate elements into an electrifyingly addictive gameplay loop that sits at the heart of this brutally unforgiving experience. Delightfully, all this trying, trying again has been made a hell of a lot easier with Virtuoso’s latest port to Nintendo Switch (the China-based developer also ported L.A. Noire to the big N’s hybrid console).
In essence, this is a handheld version of an RPG masterpiece, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, to allay any concerns you may have, this is a truly excellent conversion to Nintendo’s handheld, and its long-awaited arrival cements it as one of the most compelling apps on the system to date.
Right off the bat, the gloomy and forlorn kingdom of Lordran looks noticeably sharper than its PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 counterparts. Each crackling bonfire flickers a little brighter, each grotesque monstrosity pops off the screen a little crisper, and each of the recognizable locales drips with a little more heavy, nightmarish dread. Add to this, the new version’s enhanced atmospheric lighting, which illuminates this grim fantasy fairytale world with an extra dose of gritty, vivid realism when compared to its original 2011 console outings, and you have a terrific visual treat. Across the board, the presentation is as shiny and polished as a freshly smithed broadsword from Andre of Astora himself.
From a performance perspective, the game’s framerate — a bone of contention in last gen’s iterations — has been ironed out in the Switch version and hits a consistent, smooth 30 FPS. Even when the going gets rough and the action drops anchor, it was incredibly rare to see any significant framerate hitches that impacted the moment-to-moment experience in a detrimental way. Long story short, even though Dark Souls on Switch doesn’t quite hit the 60 FPS target that the recent PS4 and Xbox One iterations accomplish, it still looks fantastic on the 6.2 inch real-estate of the console’s diminutive LCD handheld display.
Without any hint of hyperbole, From Software’s sophomore effort with the Soulsborne formula was a real game-changer for the gaming medium as a whole. Despite Demon’s Souls’ popularity — the team’s first foray into the then-embryonic ‘Souls-like’ sub-genre the Japanese developer helped to kickstart — the game’s exclusivity to Sony’s PS3 somewhat stymied its passage to widespread cultural significance. For those angry that Demon’s Souls is more deserving of a remaster than Dark Souls, well, don’t get me wrong; I live and hope that Demon’s Souls will one day also gets its own rerelease (it truly deserves one), but the truth is, due to legal reasons, we’ll likely never see From Software’s PS3 exclusive on other platforms.
Suffice to say, I’m happy to see Demon’s Souls’ distinct DNA live on in this remaster of Dark Souls. That’s because this masterpiece of a game has become a cultural touchstone. Essentially, Dark Souls popularised and helped spearhead the resurgence of hyper-difficult risk/reward gameplay experiences like Necropolis, The Surge or Immortal: Unchained, to name but a few. Much like a maths teacher whose sole teaching method is tough love, Dark Souls’ challenging risk/reward gameplay system remains a stern, enlightening mistress. Unsurprisingly, this elegant system still remains one of the real stars of this savage and merciless show and it continues to shine through brilliantly. It’s amazing how well the title’s core gameplay loop still holds up to this day.
Included in this latest remaster is the Artorias Of The Abyss DLC, which adds several new areas, a handful of new monsters, and a few additional bosses into the mix. As is the tradition in Souls games, accessing the DLC is obfuscated and cryptic, but once you arrive, it offers some wonderfully creepy beasts to slay and a plethora of engrossing locales to explore. Furthermore, there are also some online PvP arenas if you’re hankering for some competitive multiplayer battles against other human combatants, but I was, unfortunately, unable to try the online features out for review. Oh, and before I close this review out, I must mention that for a first time in the series, you can now pause the game by putting the system into standby mode. Praise the sun, indeed.
Though it may sound a little trite, Hidetaka Miyazaki’s grizzly magnum opus feels like a perfect fit on Nintendo’s handheld platform. Lying in bed grinding souls for a short session, or having a cheeky crack at taking down a dastardly boss on the bus ride to work, is an authentically great feeling. It just feels awesome playing a full-fledged version of Dark Souls on the go. So, I guess Einstein may have been right all along. It may be insane doing the same thing over and over again, but the truth is, insanity hasn’t been this fun in ages, which couldn’t make me happier.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Bandai Namco.