What the duck am I looking at?
Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden was one of last year’s surprise delights. Now it’s out on Switch, which should be a great thing. There’s just one problem: It looks really bad.
[Update - 10:23, July 31]: The Switch version of Mutant Year Zero got a patch yesterday afternoon that definitely improves performance and the visuals while in docked mode. However, in handheld it still leaves much to be desired. You can see some of the before and after differences in this video.
Original story follows.
A brooding, grid-based strategy game inspired by a Swedish tabletop series, Mutant Year Zero accomplished a lot with very little when it came out last December. It squeezes post-apocalyptic world building and anthropomorphized-animal wit into a series of levels fraught with violent ghouls, human survivors driven mad by the fall of civilization. The visuals never struck me as especially noteworthy on PC, but they got the job done. Playing the game now on Switch, I realize just how helpful that extra bit of polish was for making the environments and stealth gameplay click into place.
I’m only a few hours into the Switch version, and already I’ve seen more than my fair share of textures that look straight out of the PS2 era. Flat rocks, shallow puddles, and jagged fauna abound in the opening levels. A thick haze permeates everything, making almost anything that’s not in the foreground slightly blurry. These phenomena are especially noticeable in portable mode, where objects and menus all have a slight halo of rough, white pixels, as if coated in a thin layer of digital chalk dust.
These visual downgrades aren’t the end of the world. Despite a few frame-rate hiccups and one instance of my game freezing, which may or may not have been caused by my Switch being docked and on for most of the day, the overall experience of the game remains intact. I did find it harder to lose myself in the world, though, which is one of the bigger successes of Mutant Year Zero’s hybrid real-time system: It’s possible to explore areas freely before switching to combat mode to ambush enemies in traditional, XCOM-style encounters. The nuts and bolts of scavenging for scrap, chipping away at enemy mobs, and finding map exits as fast as possible feel much more exposed while the small details of environmental degradation and rebirth get lost in the hazy mess that appears on screen.
It’s a shame because the game is an otherwise perfect late-summer addition to the Switch. The console has Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and now Fire Emblem: Three Houses but is otherwise not swimming in great tactical strategy games. In lieu of an actual XCOM game on Switch (even the Vita has one), Mutant Year Zero is a good substitute. I actually prefer how it controls on Switch compared to PC, and being able to think through its combat puzzles from anywhere I please is great. The Switch version also comes with the new DLC expansion Seed of Evil, which I haven’t had time to try yet but expands the end of the game, adding new areas and an additional party member.
If only it didn’t look so terrible.