Ah, the tiny, diamond hard incandescent fury of being one shotted by a boss in Dark Souls. Or being mobbed by a bunch of gutter enemies, hacked to death in a flurry of blows you can’t break out of. Those moments of perceived injustice and just plain bad luck are now on Switch, meaning you can throw the whole console away in a rage, not just the controller.
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Don’t, obviously. But for someone like me, who occasionally squeezes the controller so hard it makes cracking noises while muttering ‘it’s fine’ through clenched teeth, playing Dark Souls on a handheld is a tender exercise in impulse control. So far, no incidents. Mainly because this is Souls and, by now, most people know what to expect: challenge and difficulty. Never unfair (mostly), just an unforgiving test that always waits patiently for you to make a mistake and punishes you ruthlessly for it. You can kick and scream all you want when you die but, secretly, you know you ran around that corner too fast straight into a trap, or got cocky tangling with an easy enemy.
Never say die
And death has meaning in the Souls series, even though you’re an cursed immortal husk. If you’re not familiar with it and are considering this on Switch for the first time then here’s the core loop: killing enemies gains you souls which you can spend on gear and levelling up. When you die you drop them all, respawning at the last bonfire you found (a sort of base area where you spend souls and tune abilities). You can then get everything back if you can reach it without dying again. Oh, and restarting or resting at a bonfire resets all the monsters. As you progress the cost of gear and levels increases, forcing you to run around with more and more souls in your pocket. Losing 2000 in the early stages is no big deal; losing 80,000 after 40 odd minutes of challenging fights and fraught exploration can be very… well, it’s a personal moment.
It’s fun. No, really it is, honestly. It might take some getting used to if Switch is your first outing, but this is a world to disappear into whether you’ve played it before or not. The setting of Lordran looks great thanks to a resolution boost although if you do dock it expect a slightly less smooth experience - on the big screen the frame rate can fluctuate a little. It’s not terrible, just inconsistent enough to be noticeable. Playing handheld though has no issues, even with the enormous screen furniture that hasn’t been updated from its 2011 pre-HD standards - your equipped gear basically takes up the entire bottom left hand corner of the screen.
What’s shines through though it how well this all still works. It’s seven years old and feels fresh, especially in a handheld format. Even now few games manage to match what the Souls series brought to the table with it’s huge, fascinating worlds full of environmental storytelling and open ended lore. It’s a story you tell through the physical journey of exploring and fighting through its crumbling walls and eerie dungeons.
The combat you need to survive feels deceptively simple at times - mainly light and heavy attacks, a parry and some dodging - and yet dancing with even the lowest of enemies can still feel like a complex warring duel. If I’m honest, some of the boss fights still fill me with dread but only because they are designed to be lost, repeatedly, until you master every subtly of their patterns (and even then, getting lucky helps…). It’s a great game but there are times where you just have to be in the right mood.
Aside from those docked framerate hiccups there’s little to criticise here. The accept/cancel buttons in-game are inexplicably reversed compared to the Switch default, and you can only use the D-pad in menus, which is irritating. The target lock can also get really creative sometimes (I once died because the lock found an unseen overhead enemy, instead of the one right in front of me, and I walked my character off a cliff before I even realised what was happening). But in the grand scheme of things we’re talking mild annoyances more than anything game breaking.
While Dark Souls Remastered has already been on PS4, PC and Xbox One, there’s something refreshing about having it on Switch. It’s the same game, and still requires your full attention, but having a portable version somehow makes it that little bit more accessible - I felt far more likely to pick it up and have a quick go than I ever would on any other platform. It’s the one big advantage this brings over the previous versions on other consoles and of course the 2011 original. Right now we haven’t been able to the Nintendo Switch Online functionality, and if there’s enough players to flesh it out. There’s a whole extra online layer to test, from the ability to share messages, see how other players died, summon help for boss fights or even invade and fight each other. Although Dark Souls Remastered on Switch is an enjoyable journey already.
If you’re going to go back, or take the plunge for the first time then read our guide - Dark Souls Remastered explained: best class, combat tips, humanity and summoning