Ever since the Switch launched 2017, Overwatch fans have been asking “Switch when?” Granted, everyone asks that about every game these days. Now the wait is finally over. Overwatch has finally come to the pint-sized platform, but at a cost. I’m not entirely convinced that price was too high though!
Overwatch: What Is It?
If you haven’t played it, Overwatch is an objective-based team shooter with character classes. You play with five other humans after the same goal — be it pushing a cart from points A to B, while under attack from an enemy team, or playing king of the hill, holding an area for an allotted time against others with the same objective.
These days, players may choose from tank heroes (that try to block damage and open more avenues for attacks), support heroes (who heal their allies), and damage heroes (who do the brunt of the killing for a team).
The graphics are bright, the violence is cartoonish, and at its release in 2016, Overwatch took the world by storm with its large cast of characters that each had their own looks, abilities, and back story. There are seasonal events themed after popular holidays like Halloween, the Olympics, and Chinese New Year. Each provides opportunities for new themed skins for characters, and new heroes and maps release every few months.
Overwatch has even spawned a global esports league, aptly named the Overwatch League, with teams representing cities around the world, from London to Dallas, and Vancouver to Shanghai.
Differences Between the Switch and Other Versions
With the Switch being a weaker system than either the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and most gaming PCs, cuts had to be made in order to get Overwatch running on the hardware. The game is locked at 30 frames per second. That’s maximum. Textures don’t have as much pizzazz, and menus to switch heroes can sometimes take extra seconds loading or closing. The game essentially runs at “low” graphics on what amounts to a slower PC.
All that said, even on its lowered settings, Overwatch is still beautiful. It may not be as sharp as the higher resolution platforms, but the simple and recognizable character designs translate well — even to a less powerful machine.
Another sacrifice that had to be made is that players are unable to share gameplay highlights. This popular feature for other platforms allows clips to be either saved or shared on social media. And it’s… gone. There is no option to export highlights made in-game, and the Switch’s built-in video capture is disabled. All this means that clips of your awesome Sleep Darts, huge slams, or funny moments are locked to your Switch, never to see the outside world without third-party help.
“You gotta work on that aim.”
With all the cuts that developer Blizzard had to make to get Overwatch playable on they Switch, they also added something that no other version of the game has: motion controls.
Using the built-in gyroscope, you can move a character’s sights with more precise aiming than is available on any other console. The gyro controls may be used with any controller setup, be it using the Switch in handheld mode, or docking it and using the Joy Cons or Pro Controller. As with the other consoles, you still handle wider movements with the analog sticks, but making micro changes with slight adjustments of the controller makes headshots easier and combat more interesting. It’s a bit like the motion controls in Splatoon — which many players still swear by — except in a game that really does reward precision.
It’s possible to turn the gyro feature off, but doing so feels like activating hard mode. This version of Overwatch feels like it was developed with motion control aiming in mind. I encountered quite a few people who had figured out the strengths of this feature already and, given the opportunity, would dominate maps as damage heroes against those who hadn’t yet mastered the movement.
My Experiences with Overwatch on Switch
I play Overwatch on PC and haven’t touched any console version. Ever. But I was intrigued by the announcement that the Switch version would have motion controls. Other than Goldeneye 64 and Perfect Dark back in the 90s, I’ve barely played any first-person game using a controller, so learning both that and the motion controls together was going to be interesting to say the least.
Testing a range of heroes in the training area (a space that consists only of A.I. bots), I familiarized myself with movement. However, the key area I focused on was getting the hang of the gryo controls, first with the Switch in handheld mode. Starting with my favorite character, Ana, I was able to fairly consistently make shots — both with and without her scope. She’s a sniping support class, you see, and takes a fair amount of precision. And I got there! Although it took a small amount of practice.
The real test, however, would be how well I could use her with “live” fire, requiring unpredictable reactions against real players. That’s something a firing range where bots don’t attack you, and move around on predetermined routes, doesn’t allow.
But even after jumping into a Quick Play match with real, live players, things went surprisingly okay! Getting the hang of stick movement was far more of an issue for me than moving my Switch to aim my healing hits at allies. I was quite proud of myself. By the end of that first map, not only did we win, but I was able to pull off some scoped shots that felt quite natural with the gyro aiming, and even got a Sleep Dart on an enemy Reinhardt using his Charge ability against a teammate. That’s about as clear a “reaction shot” as you can get.
Sadly, despite my recording clips of the moments, I can’t share them for you all to see thanks to the Switch limitations…
For my next game, I switched to Tracer: another character I enjoy but whose movements and abilities are much faster than Ana’s. The ease and quickness at which the gyro controls started to feel natural struck me with Tracer, as I found it fairly effortless to track enemies and kill them during firefights. I was having even more success with her than my slower (but more practiced) Ana.
I made similar tests with the Pro Controller. While it works just fine, and I usually prefer playing games on a larger screen, it made me hyper aware of just how much I move the controller during normal play. My camera would move while I wasn’t actively aiming at anything. I’m sure one can adjust to this, too, and there are options in the Settings menu to tweak the gyro sensitivity for any style of controller, but Overwatch on Switch feels like it was made for handheld mode.
Some Final Thoughts…
If you’ve played Overwatch on other platforms, making the jump to the Switch version is going to feel “weird.” The lower framerate can be jarring at first, and the not-so-crisp graphics will seem muted. With even a small amount of time, though, you might find yourself not caring. Although it might depend on your background. If you’re coming from a sticks-and-buttons console, this might be a better experience in some ways. If you’re used to a hyper-sensitive PC… Well…
I’ve gone back and forth between the Switch and PC since those first few days. Jumping to the PC feels like I’m hopping into a turbo mode while readjusting to having more than 30 FPS again. And a mouse is just as precise as any motion control anyway.
Overwatch on Switch is still playable — still fun — and the gyro controls make for a great addition to combat. That’s especially true if you’re coming from another console. There was a cost to porting the game to the Switch, but maybe it wasn’t all that much after all.