Following a paid “early access” launch, WB and NetherRealm Studios’ newest Mortal Kombat game, confusingly named Mortal Kombat 1, is out now on Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. And it’s that Switch version of the fighting game that is being heavily criticized online by players for its visual bugs and poor performance.
At this point in time, it’s not surprising that most multi-platform video games that end up on the Switch don’t look as good as their Xbox or PlayStation counterparts. Let’s remember that Nintendo’s portable home console hybrid is over six years old, and even back at launch Switch was “weaker” technologically compared to the already-released PS4 and Xbox One consoles. But even with that in mind, it’s still wild to see just how rough and ugly Mortal Kombat 1 is on Nintendo’s aging machine, with long loading times, visual jank, and super low-res textures. Even worse, this uglier, less stable version of the game still costs a full $70.
Look at screenshots or video of Mortal Kombat 1 on Switch and you can tell right away that this is a downgrade from the far nicer-looking versions on the more powerful machines. Textures are extremely low resolution, leading to genuinely ugly and hard-to-comprehend scenes. Is that texture meant to be a rock? Dirt? Mud? A stone wall? Sometimes it’s hard to say. Character models look a bit better, but feature their own quirks including bulging eyes, plastic-like hair, jagged edges on clothing, and skin that looks like Play-Doh.
The thing is, I’d be able to ignore a lot of these visual downgrades—this is the Switch after all—if the game’s performance was solid. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. While the game targets 60 frames per second during fights, it rarely hits that goal and often lingers in the high 40s and mid 50s, leading to a choppy, sloppy presentation.
Loading times are also a problem in MK1’s Switch port, with it taking up to a full minute to fire up matches. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, load up a one-minute timer on your phone and wait. Now imagine that between most matches and cutscenes.
Then there are the micro loads. On Xbox and PlayStation, fights and cutscenes seamlessly blend into each other. It’s a neat trick that the modern Mortal Kombat games have been doing for years now, but it still looks cool and helps keep the story moving. On Switch, cutscenes and fights are often split by short, but very obtrusive loading screens. Some of these splits even happen in the middle of dialogue, which is extremely distracting. Add in all sorts of random visual bugs during fights and this is just not a great way to play the new game.
To the Switch port’s credit, it tries to offer the full Mortal Kombat 1 experience. All the game modes, cutscenes, dialogue, characters, fatalities, and outfits are here. This is nice if not maybe a bit ambitious.
Still, I applaud developers Shiver Entertainment and Saber Interactive—the teams behind this port—for cramming all of Mortal Kombat 1 onto a Switch cart and getting it to run at all on the weak console. But I don’t think WB Games should have charged $70 for this version of the game, the same price point of its far better PlayStation and Xbox versions.
I also find it weird that the Switch got a version of this game, but not PS4 or Xbox One. Those consoles also come up short when compared to the next-gen machines, but I’d bet all my teeth (hell, and some ribs) that they could play a better-looking version of Mortal Kombat 1 than the Switch is here.
I know some Switch owners are happy that this is an actual native port of the game and not a streaming cloud version. And I do agree that cloud versions—which only last as long as the streaming servers remain up—aren’t the answer to getting AAA games like MK1 to run on Switch.
Instead, it seems we have reached the point where it’s time to admit the Switch can’t handle some of the bigger games coming out these days, and to probably stop porting them. And if you must port challenging games to Switch, at least charge less for these inferior, often uglier versions. Well, until the Switch 2 finally hits shelves. Hopefully, that long-awaited console can make major strides in technological parity and not just be the place cast-offs from the fancier consoles go to die.