The words ‘shooter’ and ‘simulation’ don’t often populate the same sentence, especially when using them in relation to Nintendo Switch. You’re more likely to empty a magazine into an alt-history Nazi in Wolfenstein II or riddle knees with arrows across the unforgiving tundra of Skyrim. But now Nintendo’s hybrid machine has another, very niche, dimension to its FPS throng - the humble hunting simulator.
This game is actually called Hunting Simulator, just so there’s absolutely no confusion as to what you’re buying. There’s no semi-cryptic Deer Drive Legends or The Hunter: Call of the Wild nonsense here. It doesn't even use the word 'Cabela' anywhere. It's just a simulator that lets you shoot defenceless animals in the face from the comfort of a nearby hill.
If you are a shooter fan, this is not the kind of fast-paced, death-dealing frag fest you’re used to. This is the anti-DOOM; a slow, measured experience that purposely makes you take care with every step, punishing you for making too much noise or failing to take note of the wind when it changes. It's an experience that demands a great deal of patience. To get the most out of it you need to leave your usual shooter muscle memories at the door. You can sprint, but you’ll never use it (not unless you want every animal on the map to immediately run like the clappers). You’ll boast a couple of shotguns or sniper rifles at any one time but you’ll use them sparingly.
The game’s own mechanics are often at odds with one another, the strength of one system ultimately dragged down by the mediocrity of another. For instance, the gunplay is quite forgiving. There’s no consideration given to bullet drop or wind sway, so at its core, you’ll simply hold your breath and shoot, a successful shot producing a Sniper: Ghost Warrior / Sniper Elite-style bullet cam.
The act of hunting is also solid. The myriad species that populate its 32 maps (which cover everything from the mountains of Colorado to the snowy drifts of Alaska) all boast very different levels of perception. Deer, for instance, have exceptional hearing so you’ll need to crawl to a good vantage spot. Meanwhile, bears or wolves can smell you a mile off, so you’ll need to use a chalk-like item in your inventory to check the direction of the wind to ensure your scent isn’t needlessly alerting them to your gun-toting presence.
Combined together, those two elements of Hunting Simulator are immensely rewarding, but they’re let down by an artificial tracking system that robs each map of a true sense of life. When you enter a map for the first time, you’ll see a series of white marks scattered across the map. These are usually droppings, which when checked, will reveal the type of animal, the amount of time elapsed since they were made and a few seconds of tracks to show you in which direction the animal went.
The problem is, these tracks aren't made by animals in real time. In fact, the beasts themselves don’t make any tracks at all. Your own avatar - which can be chosen from a series of laughably poor character models in the menu - leaves tracks, yet for whatever reason, your prey does not. These tracking spots are instead generated by the game in advance, presenting you with a rough circle on your map where your chosen target species may be grazing.
Even if you wound an animal, there’s no blood trail to follow, which is doubly frustrating if you strike an animal but fail to mortally wound it. Bodies will appear on your HUD, but hurt animals often disappear as they bolt from the map. Considering much of the game’s core premise is based on investing a great deal of time - from slowly crawling around a map, to setting up the perfect shot - this unreliable tracking system too often ruins a hunt.
You also have to complete all the hunting challenges on a map - which require you to kill and collect the carcasses of specific species - in order to unlock the next. It’s a system designed to make you get the most out of one map at a time, but considering most are sparsely populated collections of rocks and trees, the result is an experience that fails to consistently reward those without the time-honed patience of a veteran virtual hunter.
This Switch port runs surprisingly well, with most slowdown resigned to menu navigation rather than actual hunting gameplay. Environment textures and lighting are rather basic on the whole, but animal models and gun details are actually quite impressive, considering the hardware the game is running on. With plenty of modes to choose from - ranging from Free Play to a Shooting Range - there’s a decent level of parity with other versions found elsewhere. There are also motion controls, but they're not well-suited to the constantly moving targets Hunting Simulator presents you with.
While it's not the best looking FPS on Switch, Hunting Simulator still manages to offer an experience that brings something new to the console’s growing library of software. The issues with its tracking system will rankle both veterans and newcomers, but if you can move beyond this roadblock then the bullet mechanics and actual minute-to-minute hunting have plenty to offer. Just remember to pack some sandwiches before you head out, because this is no ‘pick up and play’ purchase.