After a notable absence from Nintendo platforms, FIFA is finally making its return to a Nintendo home console. The last ‘current-generation’ release a Nintendo console has seen was as a Wii U launch title all the way back in 2012 in FIFA 13, though a few entries with minimal updates did arrive on 3DS and Wii in subsequent years. EA seems set to reinvest in Nintendo with FIFA 18 for Nintendo Switch, but will it be able to stand up to the offerings on competing consoles, or will the developer again let down its Nintendo fans?
At E3 we had the opportunity to play an extended demo of EA’s latest and we came away cautiously optimistic about the game’s fortunes. The team behind the curious iteration has made use of all of the Switch’s controller configurations, including single Joy-Con play for quick matches with friends on the go. We suspect, however, that longtime fans will prefer the Switch Pro Controller, not only because it is an excellent pad in its own right, but because it so closely resembles the controls they’re likely accustomed to using.
FIFA 18’s controls are laid out similarly to the traditional setup used on other consoles when using the Pro Controller, with the face buttons handling attacking, the sticks handling movement and the bumpers handling advanced maneuvers. If you’ve played FIFA on another console you’ll feel right at home in this setup. These controls also translate well to both portable mode and using two Joy-Con simultaneously in a Grip, though things became a bit more cramped and complicated when we used just one Joy-Con; it was hard to judge just how good the single Joy-Con configuration is in practice given the limited amount of time we had to work with.
The Switch version of FIFA does seem to run at a constant 60 frames per second in 1080p when docked, but performance seemed to suffer somewhat in portable mode. Though a representative did at least confirm that portable mode outputs at a native 720p on the console's screen, we didn’t feel it was hitting the full 60 frames in this setup (that is EA’s stated goal for the final product). The game also appears less visually detailed (unsurprisingly in light of what we know about it) on Nintendo’s hybrid console, with the pitch missing important details like the slide marks and divots that enthusiasts will be looking for. Character models appeared less detailed as well, but they were most definitely serviceable, only looking slightly worse than those on other consoles.
Despite the lower visual fidelity, playing FIFA felt every bit as it should, even in portable mode. Matches were every bit as well-paced and challenging as they always have been, and the roster is seemingly identical to that of the Frostbite-powered versions of the game. When played against a skilled human opponent the game truly shines, too; this is especially true when you consider that FIFA 18 is one of the few Switch games that can be played in local multiplayer without having to split the screen, making for an easy-to-view experience on the go.
FIFA 18 made headlines the week before E3 with the revelation that it would not be running on EA’s proprietary Frostbite Engine and that it would not include the popular “The Journey” mode, but it isn’t all bad news. Fortunately, FIFA’s immensely popular Ultimate Team and Seasons modes will be available in this somewhat lesser version, replete with both local and online multiplayer. We were also told a new mode dubbed Switch Kickoff would be available, though details on the mode are thin on the ground.
All in all, we found FIFA 18 on Switch to be a promising if slightly worrisome title. While EA has crafted a competent albeit feature-incomplete port of its popular franchise for Nintendo fans to enjoy, its sports titles have so far failed to find an audience on Nintendo’s hardware, especially home consoles. That said, the package put together is indeed as EA claims, the best portable FIFA ever. Could that be enough to sell fans on the Switch version? Only time will tell.