Mario Kart 8 Deluxe only needed a few days to prove that good Wii U games play better—and sell better—on the Nintendo Switch. Coincidentally, the next major game for Switch seems poised to capitalize on the same idea: Minecraft, which officially goes on sale this Thursday, May 11, for $30.
How big of a whoop can the zillionth port of Minecraft really be? Consider this rough VGChartz estimate for Wii U game sales worldwide. Minecraft is the only true third-party game to crack Nintendo's ironclad grip on the console's top 20 games (yes, Nintendo produced the other 19), and it did so despite being available for less than two years.
Add in the sales proposition of splitting your Minecraft time of creating and adventuring between home and portable use, and you've got a potential super-hit. Unless Mojang or Microsoft screwed this up.
I have very good news: our cursory look at the game's launch version revealed nothing in the way of red flags or giant alarms. Consider this a confirmation that your $30 will not be wasted if you or yours hunger for a Switch-specific Minecraft, along with an elaboration of what differences and quirks you can expect.
The biggest thing to confirm is performance, which hums at a 60-frames-per-second refresh in both portable and docked TV modes. I don't have pixel-counting gear handy, but I am confident that Minecraft on Nintendo Switch renders in native resolution however you play it—meaning, 1080p resolution when docked and 720p resolution on the go.
In addition, you're getting a lot more Minecraft to play than on the Wii U version. Each generated Switch world can be as big as 3072 x 3072 blocks, which is roughly 13 times larger than the Wii U's pokey 864 x 864 world limit. That's a bit more than a third the size of the PS4 and Xbox One versions' 5120 x 5120 limits—which, honestly, seems about right when comparing those systems' specs.
The Switch's clock speed dips so much in portable mode that Minecraft also has to sacrifice portable draw distance. The above gallery shows the game's maximum rendering in the Super Mario universe while looking at the same chunk of terrain. You can see which distant details get reduced or outright removed in portable mode (the first image). It looks a little tacky when flying around in the game's easier “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 pushing the system in local three- or four-player split-screen modes, frame rates and resolutions remain locked. However, I have one big warning to offer families who want to jump into a group session on the couch: you may need more controllers. Minecraft for Nintendo Switch does not support playing with a single Joy-Con. All players must have at least two joysticks. So, for now, everyone either needs their own pair of Joy-Cons or a single Switch Pro Controller. I wish that the port's developers, 4J Studios, offered a “tourist” mode for a single Joy-Con, which would have let kids and novice players fly around with only one joystick. Alas.
Additionally, Ars' Kyle Orland and I tested the Switch version's online modes, and they worked fine. You cannot issue an invite to a friend to join your own Minecraft session; instead, anyone on your friends list will automatically see your instance is live if you're both connected to the Internet, and they can jump in via the default “join” menu. It's actually much easier than having to rely on an invite system. However, 4J didn't step up with any sort of emote or chat system for this launch version, and the Nintendo Switch does not yet support voice chat in online modes, so it's a little solitary to play this way. Better than nothing… but barely.
This is apparently derived from other console versions' late-January build, and the series' producers at Microsoft have pledged to get the game version up to the current April build post-haste (which Wii U players are currently enjoying). 4J and Microsoft have also pledged to patch in the ability to port your existing Wii U worlds and saves to the Switch version, but that functionality is not yet live. Perhaps all of those updates will be timed for Minecraft on Nintendo Switch's boxed launch, which is still “TBA.” Right now, you can only buy this via the Switch's eShop. (The Wii U's disc version was staggered in similar fashion.)
Listing image by Mojang / Microsoft