It's rare that a game launches these days without a dreary, ill-defined subtitle hanging off the end, and that's doubly true of Switch ports. 'Definitive', 'Enhanced' and 'Special' Editions are ten-a-penny, and it generally takes some digging to find exactly what makes them so. Frontier's upcoming Switch version of its well-received dinosaur park builder and management sim looks to make things much simpler for Nintendo gamers from the outset: Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition does exactly what it says on the tin.
The 'Complete Edition' is just that: the base game that launched on PS4, Xbox One and PC back in 2018 along with every single update, patch and DLC pack released to date, now available to play on your favourite Switch-able Nintendo console. We recently caught up with director Rich Newbold and the team at Frontier for a remote hands-off demo and a chat about its journey to Switch, and after probing to find out what might have been lost in translation to the handheld platform, it seems this game really earns its subtitle.
Our session began with a look at the main campaign mode. Preserving the full experience on Switch seems to have been Frontier's top priority. During the demo, Rich described how every studio department revisited its previous work to rework audio codecs, textures, game code and more with optimisations across the board. For a game that originally began development well before Switch was ever announced, a handheld port was always going to be complicated, but the team was up for the challenge.
According to Newbold, a Switch version was first properly discussed following the release of the 'Return to Jurassic Park' DLC pack last year, which saw Sam Neill, Laura Dern and the inimitable Jeff Goldblum reprise their roles in a scenario set just following the events of the 1993 film. Being big fans of Switch, the team proceeded with preliminary tests on the platform and were evidently satisfied with the results. Given the type of game — with players able to zoom in and drive jeeps around the park, or zoom right out and view the entire park and terrain from afar — it's certainly not the easiest genre to port to a handheld, but what we've seen so far is encouraging.
After viewing Jurassic World Evolution running on Switch for around 40-minutes, Frontier seems to have done a commendable job... it ran well for the duration and looked better than we expected
After viewing Jurassic World Evolution running on Switch for around 40-minutes, Frontier seems to have done a commendable job (check out the video at the bottom of the page for edited highlights of our session). Taking into account the familiar caveats of the console's mobile chipset versus other non-portable systems, it ran well for the duration and looked better than we expected. It's certainly worlds away from the horrors of certain other dino-filled ports we've witnessed on Switch, and although it remains to be seen how gameplay holds up in handheld mode, docked mode looked acceptably solid.
No, you're obviously not getting the crispest foliage or the highest LODs or a locked frame rate, and you'll notice distant trees and shadows fade into view as you pan around the terrain, but given the scale of the world and nature of this park sim, performance and texture detail on the dinos in particular was surprisingly good.
All the beasties you'd want to see from across the entire franchise are faithfully reproduced and available to breed and release (once you've obtained the requisite DNA), and Frontier paid close attention to the differences between the representations of the same species between movies. Triceratops from 'Return to Jurassic Park', for example, are based on Stan Winston's animatronic model from Spielberg's original movie; the more modern iteration is subtly different, and this impressive eye for detail extends to the buildings and other facilities you'll place around your park as well.
During the demo, Rich described the new behaviours and additional aspects of the dinosaurs that the team had to be implemented beyond what you see in the films — sleeping dinosaurs, for example. Managing the happiness and well-being of the animals and park guests is one of your primary goals, and building and maintaining the appropriate amenities affects your overall rating. You'll also have to deal with other (dino) crises, including storms and disease. However, we're reliably informed that at no point are players required to go elbow-deep into a steaming pile of triceratops dung. Frontier side-stepped replicating that particular facet of the universe. Probably for the best.
The team's attention to detail will excite anyone who loves any or all of the movies. As we mentioned, the Complete Edition comes with every expansion (so that's 'Return to Jurassic Park', 'Claire’s Sanctuary', and 'Secrets of Dr. Wu'). You also get four Dinosaur Packs and the Raptor Squad Skin Collection into the bargain. If you simply want to build a kickass dinosaur park without the pressures of storms or saboteurs knocking out the power supply and escaped dinosaurs eating your customers, Sandbox mode offers a totally tweakable experience. Turn off any threats, adjust the day-night cycle to whatever you wish (it cycles approximately every 15 minutes in the regular modes) and simply build the island how you desire without the worries of making money or keeping animals and attendees in check.
the only difference [between versions] mentioned during our demo is a 100-dinosaur limit in the Switch version designed to maintain a smooth experience
If you've played the game elsewhere and were hoping to pick up where you left off on Switch, you're out of luck unfortunately: there's no cross-play or cross-save compatibility here. There's no touchscreen implementation, either, with the total rework to the user interface and text this would require cited as the reason. UI and text scaling between docked and handheld modes apparently isn't employed, although for the most part, the interface looked reasonably legible to our eyes. The frequent use of capital letters helps keep the most important info readable, although you may have to crack out your specs for the tool tips, flavour text and dilogue snippets (which are voiced anyway). We've seen far worse offenders when it comes to small text on Switch, although how text holds up on Switch Lite's smaller screen will be something to investigate.
While the lack new or Switch-specific features may be a tad disappointing, the game maintains almost 100% feature parity with other versions. In fact, the only difference mentioned during our demo is a 100-dinosaur limit in the Switch version designed to maintain a smooth experience. That's still a fairly large number, and far from a deal-breaker if you're interested in the building dino parks on-the-go, but it's still a limit that doesn't exist elsewhere. Given the restrictions of the platform and the desire for smooth performance, it's probably the right compromise to make.
Speaking of smooth performance, the majority of the movies' principle surviving actors reprise their roles (with the notable exception of Chris Pratt). Rich tells us that working with them was a particular delight as, having lived with the characters for many years, they provided their own insights and suggestions for dialogue tweaks. Happily, it seems the bespokely eccentric Jeff Goldblum was more invested in this project than previous Jurassic Park video games.
Add in some classic John Williams musical cues (tastefully and sparingly weaved into the fabric of the soundscape so as not to pall after the fortieth time you hear 'dah-dah-DAAA-dah-daaah'), as well as the vehicles, architecture and calamitous atmosphere of the movies, and this could be the perfect way for Switch-owning franchise fans to get their dino fix while waiting for the upcoming film in 2022. We enquired as to future DLC plans or tie-ins, although Frontier has nothing to announce on that front.
Overall, we went into the demo ready to accept compromises but, from what we've seen, Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition looks to translate the experience to Switch in largely intact form and we're eager to get our hands on it. And we haven't even mentioned that it's got Mr. DNA bouncing around the menu screen. If that doesn't get dino-fans grinning like a 'raptor, we don't know what will.
Well, would you look at that — not a single 'life found a way' throughout the entire article! Our thanks to Rich and the team at Frontier for their time. Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition is out on Switch eShop on 3rd November 2020. It's confirmed to be a digital-only release on Switch at present, with no current plans for a physical version
Let us know your thoughts on what you've seen so far below, and look out for our review of the game in the coming weeks.