Launching this week on Nintendo eShop (and also available physically) is Xenon Racer, an arcade speedfest from 3DClouds with futuristic supercars burning around city street circuits. Earlier this week we posted news of the launch trailer with some lovely-looking gameplay that got us rather excited. The Switch isn’t exactly blessed with an overabundance of top-class racers, so we've got high hopes for this promising-looking example.
Or should we say we had high hopes. While we’ve yet to receive a review code and therefore can’t offer a conclusive verdict, comparison videos have sprung up across the internet revealing that, to put it mildly, the Switch version doesn’t compare favourably to the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game. Nothing new there, you might think, but the videos highlight a vast difference between what is advertised and the reality of the final product on Switch.
As you can see, there’s a gulf between the framerates, with Switch struggling to maintain 25fps, let alone the 30fps minimum we’d hope for. Road texture detail, reflections on the bodywork and shadows, if they're present at all, are all vastly reduced on the Switch version which also boasts levels of pop-in not seen since the N64 days.
Disparities between platforms are nothing new, but this particular example highlights an issue on Nintendo’s digital storefront that needs to be rectified – the trailer and accompanying screenshots sitting on the eShop simply don’t reflect the actual product you get for £44.49. They’re obviously taken from the Xbox, PS4 or (most likely) PC build of the game.
Quite rightly, Switch gamers have reacted angrily:
Unfortunately, misrepresentation is not an uncommon occurrence on Nintendo’s handheld. A quick trip to the eShop reveals various multiplatform titles which are rather disingenuously using media assets from other versions of the game. The launch trailer for Xenon Racer on the official Nintendo YouTube channel features a big old disclaimer at the beginning, but the eShop trailer (the same found on the game's official website) features no such warning.
Here at Nintendo Life, we receive press packs all the time with assets for media use, and the images provided are often the only visual materials we have to work with. Some publishers take the time and effort to produce bespoke screenshots for Switch and we, as gamers, greatly appreciate this. In an ideal world, we’d only use our own screenshots or materials that have been verified to come from Switch, but unfortunately, that simply isn’t possible – at least not until we have the game in our hands (we do, where possible, try to capture our own screenshots for reviews so you have a more accurate idea of what a game will look like on Switch).
Taking a look on the eShop reveals that some publishers are doing right by Switch owners. The game pages for DOOM and Wolfenstein II, for example, feature authentically muddy screenshots. Frankly, it’s a marvel that those games are on the console in any form and the ports, courtesy of Panic Button, hold up excellently, despite the dynamic resolution shenanigans. Other examples of accurate advertising include Yooka-Laylee with both accurate stills and video, and even Trials Rising. The Switch version of the latter may not be the pick of the bunch in comparison to its brethren on other platforms, but Ubisoft isn't trying to fool you into thinking you’re getting the Xbox One X version while browsing Nintendo's online store.
Elsewhere, Ubisoft is perhaps a little more liberal with the truth. Compare the two images from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle below, the left showing a still from the eShop and the right a screen capture courtesy of Nintendo Life's very own Alex Olney:
We’ve enlarged the 720p eShop shot to the same size as our 1080p capture to aid comparison, but even with that disparity, there’s more detail in the image from Nintendo’s store. Admittedly, this is hardly night-and-day, but there are plenty of subtle differences in lighting and camera angle – enough to suggest that this might have come from an earlier build of the game, or it could be a press image rendered at a much higher resolution than you'd get on Switch. Of course, in the past, it was common to have screenshots on the back of the box that came from alpha builds – packaging materials often had to be sent to printers months in advance of release, although Ubisoft can hardly use that excuse now.
Those are minor differences in the scheme of things and could easily be ascribed to somebody in PR using assets from an old folder rather than an attempt to intentionally mislead potential customers; we haven’t heard of anybody being disappointed with Mario + Rabbids’ visuals after checking out the game page assets. Likewise, the E3 trailer on the Skyrim game page shows some 60fps footage which is not actually present in the final version. Hardly reason to break out the pitchforks, but still worth noting.
Then we come to the more egregious examples. Taking a look at Rocket League’s page, the screenshots are beautifully sharp – way too sharp, in fact. Panic Button (the same port house behind DOOM and Wolfenstein) has done a great job of improving visuals and performance on Switch with patches over time, but it’s never looked this good.
We're sure the publishers would argue that the lack of HUD in the 'glamour' shots indicates that these aren't intended to represent actual gameplay, but there's no text to say otherwise and the average punter is likely to assume they do. We commonly see disclaimers in small print in images and trailers – presumably for legal reasons – but it's inconsistently applied.
Elsewhere, Monster Energy Supercross - The Official Videogame 2 uses similarly razor-sharp shots that don’t resemble the actual game running on Switch. It gives us no pleasure to kick this next game while its down, either – its performance issues are well documented on Switch and many of them were addressed in a patch last year – but the assets on the store for RiME are blatantly from another version of the game:
We’ve picked a handful here, but the store is full of this sort of thing. As we've seen, Xenon Racer’s trailer and shots are hardly unique on the eShop, and it, too, is supposedly receiving a blessed 'Day One patch' to address some issues. Regardless of its effectiveness, we can safely assume that it's unlikely to look anything like the pictures on the eShop, though.
It is, of course, worth noting that this is hardly a 'new' problem; those of you reading this who are old enough to recall the days of 8 and 16-bit personal computers will no doubt recall seeing print advertisements (YouTube hadn't quite taken off in the 1980s, funnily enough) covered in gorgeous, full-colour screenshots. However, the gulf in graphical power between the supported formats was often dramatic, with the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad and Commodore 64 versions often looking absolutely terrible when compared to the Atari ST and Amiga editions. Nonetheless, we imagine that many a well-meaning parent – when shopping for games for their beloved offspring – would have been fooled into thinking that the Speccy version looked every bit as good as the Amiga screen shown on the page, even though the more responsible publishers were sure to note somewhere on the advert where each screen had come from. Given that the technological gap between Switch and PS4/XB1 is so much smaller today, it's even easier to be fooled.
Who’s responsibility is it, then, to make sure the assets used to advertise games are accurate to the experience Switch owners will get? It’s our opinion that the onus must be on publishers (and we emphasise publishers because developers themselves often have little choice over how their game is marketed) to accurately portray developers’ games. Using misleading screenshots and trailers to hoodwink gamers might work once, but thanks to the proliferation of social media and comparison videos, any company hoping to stay in business only damages its reputation in the long term by engaging in such practices.
Should a developer repeatedly misrepresent their games via eShop screenshots and/or trailers, the burden then falls on Nintendo to rectify the issue. Ultimately the platform holder should take responsibility and step in to prevent persistent offenders from falsely advertising games. Obviously, Nintendo can’t control what developers and publishers do elsewhere, but the eShop is Nintendo’s jurisdiction and it’s arguably required to ensure a level of transparency – to ensure that Nintendo Seal of Quality.
We’re not unsympathetic to the fact that policing these things can be challenging, but on the other hand Nintendo knows its hardware better than anyone and you’d hope it’d be able to smell something fishy – if we can do it, Nintendo can. At the very least, the company should respond to these issues as they’re pointed out by the community, as is the case with Xenon Racer. If the people in charge of a game’s PR can’t replace the assets with platform-accurate versions, we’d say it would be entirely reasonable to nuke all media from the game page.
The key point here is that players shouldn’t have to don their deerstalker and investigate whether the advertising on the eShop reflects the product they’ll be playing on Switch. We don’t expect miracles on the hardware – we understand that there will be cutbacks (sometimes drastic ones) in comparison to the Xbox One/PS4 versions – but we expect honesty, especially when it’s never been easier to find out the truth.
Have you picked up Xenon Racer on Switch yet? How do you feel about the performance? Does it measure up to your expectations? Let us know below.