The Switch port of Mortal Kombat 11 plays like a champ but looks like jaggy ass. It’s pleasingly portable but incredibly finicky about its internet connection. I want the Switch version to be my go-to, but it keeps pushing me away.
As noted in my Mortal Kombat 11 review, I spent most of my time with Netherrealm Studios’ latest on the PlayStation 4. It’s the code the studio offered for my review copy, it’s the easiest version for me to capture for footage and screenshots, and the PlayStation 4 is in the living room, so my young children can wander in while I am playing and be traumatized for life. The PlayStation 4 version, along with the Xbox One version, was developed by Netherrealm directly, so it’s a good baseline for the game.
While Netherrealm worked on the PS4 and Xbox One versions, Miami-based Shiver Entertainment was working on the Switch version. It’s a semi-realtime port that is almost but not quite up-to-speed with the regular console version of Mortal Kombat 11. This slightly staggered development process might explain why the Switch release was delayed until May 10 in Europe, and why the North American version, released on April 23, was not feature complete on launch. One of my favorite features of Mortal Kombat 11, the character-specific tutorial lessons, were missing from the Switch version on its release day and got quietly added in over the weekend as part of a massive patch.
Performance-wise, the Switch version of Mortal Kombat is pretty amazing. The transition from pre-rendered cutscenes to gameplay may stutter, but once a match gets going, it nails that 60 frames per second target. Sacrifices were made to achieve that feat, of course. The visuals are fuzzy and jaggy. Draw distance is drastically reduced. Lighting effects are dialed way back, giving everything a slightly more drab appearance. This is all noticeable when I watch my gameplay footage, but I rarely notice these things during the heat of battle.
It does look bad, though. It looks like a tablet trying to emulate a console game, which given the Nintendo Switch’s relatively modest specs, isn’t that far off the mark. Between the game’s extreme violence and its demand on hardware, it’s amazing there’s a Nintendo port at all. But there is, and it plays quite well. That’s what matters.
The only time the graphical downgrade took a real toll was during the game’s Krypt, which is the vast, free-roaming adventure mode that serves as Mortal Kombat 11’s means of rewarding players with new skins, concept art, equipment and the like. The third-person action in this mode runs ridiculously poorly. The frame rate chugs. The draw distances are laughable.
Here’s a screenshot from the PC version of the Krypt.
And here is a shot from the same location on the Switch version.
That is some Nintendo 64 era fog in play.
Again, graphical compromise is to be expected on the Switch, and honestly, it doesn’t bother me too much. What truly gets me riled up about the Switch version of Mortal Kombat 11 is how this wonderfully portable version of a great fighting game is so tightly tethered to online servers. Like its PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 counterparts, Switch MK11 saves players’ progress and rewards to online servers. Winning battles, completing single-player towers, completing the story mode and even progressing through the game’s tutorial each require an online connection to be validated.
If a player disconnects while playing Mortal Kombat 11, they are warned that they will not earn rewards for progress until they are reconnected.
It’s not a huge issue when playing with an always online console. But the need to stay connected becomes a problem when playing on the Switch in portable mode, which is where I do most of my Switch game playing. For one, I can’t put the system into sleep mode, because it disconnects. If I am in the middle of going through a solo tower and I pause and put the Switch to sleep, I come back to a network error and get kicked back to the main menu.
What’s worse is once I disconnect, there is no easy way to reconnect. I’ve just been exiting out of the game completely and restarting it. This morning I found a workaround—trying to launch a local wireless match and then canceling it seems to get the game to connect to the internet again.
It’s little more than a mild frustration, but it does also go against the whole idea of having a game ported to the Switch. Sure, third-party games on the Switch might not be as pretty as they are on the Xbox One or PS4, but I can take them with me wherever I go and play hassle-free. That’s the idea, at least. That’s a little lost on Mortal Kombat 11.