The first complete, portable football game that gives an almost perfect experience – just as long as you don’t want to play online with friends.
I spent most of my first game of FIFA on Switch just looking at the console itself, flipping it back and forth, checking for secret compartments. I imagine it’s a bit like skydiving, standing at the edge of a plane doorway trying to ignore the voice in your brain screaming this is not possible. Every handheld sports game up to this point was always a thin facsimile of the full-fat version, technological corners cut so harshly as to leave just the bare mechanics. The compromise has always been convenience; those long commutes could be made slightly less horrific with a rough version of the game you’ve played before.
Well, FIFA 18 came out on Switch yesterday, so there’s no need to compromise any more.
It’s true, compared to the console versions of FIFA 18, there’s some differences. Primarily, the Frostbite engine wouldn’t play nice on the Switch, so EA opted for a bespoke engine for this version. There’s no downgrade in gameplay though; save for a few Frostbite-dependent elements like quick substitutions and the continuation of 17’s story mode, it’s still the full FIFA experience. Both docked and undocked, the frame rate remains solid and the resolution is crisp. The graphics aren’t up to the home version of 18, but you’d have trouble picking it out against the home version of 17. Movement is responsive and snappy, with player models that actually look like real human beings. I’m still terrible at it, but the more I play the better I’m becoming at reading the play unfolding on the pitch.
Beyond this, there’s wealth of modes to explore: exhibition matches, cups, tournaments, a career mode, training scenarios, leagues, Be A Pro, even stat-based management options. It’s a generous package that is beyond what anyone could have expected for portable FIFA. Almost. There is a selection of online modes, from simple games to full leagues, but it seems that there is currently no way to actually organise games to play with friends. To be fair, this is absolutely Nintendo’s fault rather than EA’s; the Switch is the perfect example of Nintendo’s inability to design a modern online infrastructure. If you’ve intended on using FIFA 18 as a way to play with specific friends, it could even be a dealbreaker.
For me, though, this factor is completely irrelevant. As someone who’s never enjoyed playing online, the rest of the package is more than enough to make me gleefully happy that we live in a sci-fi future where I can play a full console football game on the bus. Also, there’s support for couch multiplayer using two JoyCons, which is just the delicious icing on a ridiculously impressive cake. If this is what we might expect from the Switch’s future, then portable gaming is suddenly looking very good indeed.