DC Universe Online Translates Well On Switch, If That’s What Switch Owners Are Looking For
The Switch version of DC Universe Online works like the other console versions; the question is if consoles are the best place to play it on.
I’d like to think that we’ve gotten past a point where Switch owners are constantly berating developers to put everything on Nintendo’s neat handheld hybrid console. If that’s really the case, every Switch port afterward becomes less than a given and more of a surprise. But every once in a while, there’s a Switch port that’s a bit out of left field. Enter DC Universe Online, a massively multiplayer online game that has been out on other platforms since (checks calendar) January of 2011.
Admittedly, I have no background with the game and very little with the MMO genre itself; still, I do know DC properties and can say with confidence that I understand the mindset of the Nintendo Switch owner. After playing a bit of DC Universe Online on Switch during E3 2019, I feel split in a sense. The game absolutely runs fine on Switch, and players familiar with the previous console versions should feel right at home.
But is the Nintendo Switch really the best device to play an MMO on? Of course, that will depend on whom you’re asking, but I’d reckon the answer is “no” for many.
For the unfamiliar, DC Universe Online has players living, breathing, and fighting alongside the likes of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman after creating their own super-powered characters. Players will take quests from the comic book characters, with the Justice League’s Watchtower as a hub area to take them to Metropolis, Gotham, and other familiar locales.
Most recently, the MMO introduced an event that focuses on Atlantis and the characters of Aquaman and Mera. For the DC Universe Online team, getting Atlantis and the underwater physics running on the Switch served as a major benchmark. As Executive Producer Leah Bowers and Creative Director SJ Mueller showed off, the Switch is more than a formidable enough machine to meet the requirements to run a game like DC Universe Online.
That isn’t saying that DC Universe Online is some sort of graphical wonder in the first place, but metropolitan areas had a sense of scale that would impress those unfamiliar with games of its ilk. I spent most of my time playing the game in “Chaos Gotham,” an iteration of Gotham City struck by a demonic incursion. It’s here where I interacted with the members of Justice League Dark, specifically John Constantine, whom Mueller and I both have a liking towards.
I played DC Universe Online in handheld mode as Mueller and Bowers fielded questions while also demonstrating Metropolis on a TV screen. I took a mission from Constantine to figure out the rhythm of the gameplay, but mainly as an excuse to fly and run around Chaos Gotham. I got acquainted with the battle system, as I encountered a variety of monsters and demons.
This Switch port is touted as having full parity with the other console versions, and as such has the same user interface. Attacks and abilities were accessible through a line of icons on the bottom screen, using the D-pad to select different options and the shoulder buttons to look at another set of abilities. It was familiar to me as someone who had played a few JRPGs with similar heads-up displays and battle systems, though navigating through menus felt a bit clunky than I assume it would feel using a mouse cursor or hot keys.
That isn’t to blame the Switch in particular for any control and UI faults, but rather the previously-released console version. While I have friends and peers who play MMOs, I don’t know a soul who plays any of them primarily on console, so I have to assume that this sort of control method takes some time to eventually get used to. But even out of the console versions, I question if the Switch version will be the preferred method to play.
There’s a comfort to playing games on the Switch. I’m sure all owners of the console at some point enjoyed play sessions lying down in bed, with a home system-quality game right at their face. It’s a nice image and feeling, and that’s why I’m disappointed that this port doesn’t feel a little more specifically crafted for the Switch. I wouldn’t want motion controls or anything extraneous, but the lack of touch screen options is a bit glaring. The menus and battle UI certainly could have benefited from the option, and it would make controlling actions during those comfy lie-down play sessions feel as natural as browsing the web on your phone.
I also expressed my concern for text being too small to read during handheld play, with the developers expressing confidence that it was legible. I personally didn’t have any problems reading the UI, though it was small enough that I’m sure that others will have problems. While I admire the technical work done by Daybreak stuffing this massive game onto the Switch, Switch owners might be disappointed to find that the game hasn’t been adjusted in a way that makes the Switch a natural fit.
Ultimately, the main draw of the game will be its status as a free-to-play online game for Nintendo Switch that attempts to immerse the players in the wider DC universe. I asked Mueller about how the game has been updated since 2011 and how character designs and new storylines have adapted to new iterations of DC heroes in film and television. Daybreak approaches this playground with freedom, having fun with some of their favorite characters while still keeping the looks of the character models up to date.
New content does not come out of some corporate mandate; rather, it follows the public perceptions of these characters. The Wonder Woman live-action film released in 2017, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Daybreak has to make their model look exactly like Gal Gadot. Still the team took inspiration from the movie armor in a character model redesign to match with the now-familiar mainstream Wonder Woman design.
With movies like the aforementioned Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and most recently Shazam!, anyone who downloads free-to-play MMO DC Universe Online for the Switch will have plenty of faces to recognize. It might not be the best fit for the Switch, and definitely be sure to have a good data plan if you want to take it on the go and tether on your phone, but it does happen to run quite well on it.