NS Review – FIFA 18 (Switch)

Realistic sports games are hardly a niche genre. The FIFA and Madden NFL series share at least 200 million sales between them. However, when it comes to Nintendo consoles, the idea of ‘niche’ makes more sense. For one reason or another – and particularly in more recent years – the genre hasn’t made an impact on Nintendo systems. This could be down to Nintendo’s fanbase being less interested in these types of games than the likes of Mario Kart or Splatoon, but the development and publishing departments take responsibility as well. Nintendo’s past consoles had a reputation of being difficult for developers, and EA Sports has had a rocky relationship with not only Nintendo, but a significant portion of their fans.

Nevertheless, EA Sports has entered the Switch scene early on with FIFA 18, released alongside all other versions of the game. Of all their franchises, FIFA is the best one to enter with given its popularity. The appeal of having a fully-realised portable FIFA game is definitely a strong one, but just how fully-realised is the Switch version of FIFA 18? The Nintendo variant of this season’s premier football game was subject to much discussion and speculation prior to launch, and for good reason; just much of the PlayStation 4 & Xbox One versions would Switch owners be missing out on?

Nice kit, mate

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a lot; FIFA 18 for the Switch is still loaded with content and game modes. The biggest absence is a story mode called ‘The Journey’, which debuted in last year’s edition. According to EA Sports, this is due to the Switch version using a custom-built engine rather than their Frostbite engine, which the other versions use.

The most important mode that is in the Switch version is FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT), an online mode where you create an ever-changing “dream team” of players from different clubs. When it comes to online longevity, this mode is crucial for FIFA. It can be daunting to step into at first, but once you get the gist of how things work, it’s easy to get hooked. A few features of FUT are again missing from the Switch version, such as daily challenges, but these are all extras you would only notice by playing the PS4/Xbox One version. FUT is also where the game’s microtransactions live. There are two currencies: one is earned by playing matches, and the other is exchanged for real money. They can both be used to buy in-game items, with no items being exclusive to one currency over the other.

The Switch version strips down FIFA’s standard presentation quality. For example, there are no league-specific styles of scoreboard for that extra authenticity

Besides FUT and the absent story mode, all the core modes are present and correct. Career Mode again omits the decorative features included in the next-gen versions, such as cutscenes for player transfers and contract discussions, but it’s otherwise fully functional. The Switch version bears an exclusive mode with Local Seasons – a short 5-game series that friends can play through local wireless. Local multiplayer (named “Switch Kick Off”) is your only option for playing with friends, as there is no way to invite them to play an online game. It’s very strange that the game is lacking that option, and anyone hoping to play matches against a friend online is set to be disappointed.

On the pitch, the game plays exactly how a FIFA game does. You won’t see the same graphical quality as the PS4/Xbox One variants but it’s not far behind. Particularly in handheld mode, it’s not very noticeable. It’s very smooth as well at 60fps, whether in handheld or docked mode, with only the more ‘cinematic’ scenes and animations lowering that frame rate. All control options are available too: the Pro Controller, Joy-Con grip, or a single Joy-Con can all be used. Unsurprisingly, using a single Joy-Con can be painful for anyone with large hands, and the controls are simplified due to the loss of two shoulder buttons.

Character models are accurate, and still fairly detailed

Besides that, it plays exactly like FIFA, and I experienced the same occasional frustrations that I feel when I play other console versions: inconsistent passing, poor referee decisions, and slight input lag during online play that sometimes leads to vital mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, these aren’t deal breakers, and as it stands FIFA 18 is the only choice of football game for Switch players, as Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series won’t be venturing onto the hybrid system.

It’s a satisfactory effort by EA Sports, and FIFA 18 is certainly one of the best portable football games. Recommending it is quite complex, though.

If you primarily play games at home and own another next-gen console, there’s nothing to recommend the Switch version over the others. Not only is it more expensive, but it trims down on several features and lacks one of the major modes. It also doesn’t look as pretty on the big screen. Besides Local Seasons, the only exclusive Switch content is a dashing football kit you can earn early on in FUT mode. It would be amusing to see a whole team of Nintendo characters with realistic character models, but sadly we’ll have to create them ourselves.

This is the closest I could get with the player creator. Don’t look at me like that: you know he hides an afro under that cap

However, if the Switch is your only console, or you regularly play away from a TV monitor, FIFA 18 is a solid choice. FIFA Ultimate Team is an addictive online mode, and there’s plenty of other modes to sink your teeth into. Just don’t expect to be able to play against friends online, and be prepared for your wallet to suffer, especially if you want to buy FIFA Points for Ultimate Team. It should also be noted that the downloaded version takes up a whopping 13+GB of space. However, the purchase will get you a great football game that you can take with you anywhere, and that’s exactly what EA Sports set out to with their first Switch game. Only time will tell if it’s their only one.

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