No Man’s Sky has had a very strong redemption story. Originally released six years ago to widespread criticism for missing features, overblown promises, and sterile content, the game has greatly expanded since then, delivering a transformed experience. Today, it’s an acclaimed sandbox title, with tons of customization and base building possibilities… which brings us to the new Switch release.
Unlike the original PS4 version, expectations have to be calibrated correctly here, as developer Hello Games has admitted to cutting out two key features, multiplayer and deals, at least for this initial release. The first few images don’t look particularly impressive either, but the prospect of a virtually infinite universe in the palm of your hand might be enough to make up for that. So is this a worthy port? Or is No Man’s Sky simply ‘too big’ for Nintendo’s hybrid console?
No Man’s Sky is a fascinating and unique title. Fundamentally, most of what you see is based on procedural generation: world geometry, weather, flora and fauna, and textures are largely generated in real time according to a preset seed code. Some elements repeat, like texture patches, or certain objects or body parts, but there’s a surprising amount of variety here. That technology is used to create a very open sandbox. Curated content is fairly limited, but players can travel the stars, build massive bases, catalog new species and planets, or tear apart voxel-based deformable planetary terrain. No Man’s Sky isn’t an extreme space sim by any means, but it’s much more tactile, accessible, and immediately engaging than games like Elite and Eve Online.
But all of that technology, originally built to suit the capabilities of the PS4 and gaming PCs, doesn’t seem like it would hold up particularly well on a mobile chipset. And visually speaking, this release doesn’t impress much. Switch makes use of aggressive snapping for virtually every element on the screen. Major shards of level geometry snap into place at close range, and huge areas of shadow map coverage are roughly drawn in as the player gets closer. All of this becomes much more obvious when flying over the surface of a planet, where the geometry problems seem particularly egregious. Larger foliage items appear reasonably far away, although bushes and small plants only appear very close to the player.
Assets are often low quality, especially textures. Expect to see thick geometry and thick texture work for most objects. The stylized art style makes this sting a little less, but it’s still pretty obvious when you look at the details up close. There are a variety of weird-looking cutouts elsewhere: volumetric clouds look painfully simple and low-res, character animation operates at reduced speeds not far from the player, and some of the low-res shadows at medium distances flicker from a very distracting way. . Overall, the visual setup makes the game look quite cluttered and shaky at times, which isn’t helped by the rough image quality of the game.
No Man’s Sky uses TAA, but the coverage isn’t great. Many screen elements, particularly those that intersect with certain effects, exhibit sharp, jagged edges. To make matters worse, the image appears to flicker at all times, with distracting pixel movement at the geometric edges. The TAA also doesn’t seem to do much for the game’s textures, which are awash with aliases when viewed from an angle. At higher resolutions on other platforms, No Man’s Sky’s TAA works fine, but unsurprisingly, the rendering goals here are pretty limited. In the docked game, we’re looking at a resolution of 1152×648, while handheld mode drops to 896×504.
Unsurprisingly, the docked mode fares worse here, with an unstable underlying image exacerbated by low-res treatment with unexceptional TAA. On a big TV, the results don’t hold up quite well, and the game looks in line with some of the worst offenders on Switch. A tablet-sized 720p display minimizes these issues to some extent, but I didn’t find the handheld mode particularly visually appealing either. In certain scenes, the reduced resolution actually causes the flicker to speed up in mobile gameplay, producing a rough-looking result. Outside of image quality, the two modes appear to be identical.
Performance-wise, we’re looking at a 30fps target with a v-sync cap, as you’d expect. In general, while walking, you can expect a 30fps update most of the time. However, there are relatively frequent frame rate drops. These often occur without a clear cause: short spikes around 100ms or long dips into the upper 20s. Slightly more complex scenarios can push the frame rate into the mid-20s, even while walking. More complex actions, like shooting creatures or blowing up terrain, can cause similar problems. You’ll also see some pretty tough stutters at times when transitioning between planets and space. When No Man’s Sky drops frames here, the frame rate limit tends to break, making the stutter feel more pronounced.
For the most part, though, that’s as bad as it gets. It’s not so much that the framerate is generally low, just that the game feels shaky, with an FPS drop appearing about once a minute, even in quiet areas. I’m sure this is a difficult game to optimize, especially on a low power platform like the Switch, and it may be the case that the world generation is especially heavy at certain times, so it’s not a huge surprise. .
However, there is the worst case scenario that is worth covering. No Man’s Sky includes an extensive base creation interface, through which you can make anything with essentially zero size limits. I’ve found that smaller bases will probably work fine for the most part – I did experience some minor frame rate issues with a few dozen pieces placed, but nothing that stands out from normal gameplay.
However, increase the complexity and you will cause the game to crash completely. The indiscriminate placement of electromagnetic generators kept the frame rate between 20 and 20, and after a few minutes of continuing to build, it had completely sunk it. A couple of moments later, the screen was covered with graphical glitches, forcing a reboot. I replicated this issue several times, even with the “base complexity limit” enabled in the settings, which seems to limit the player to a few thousand building pieces. However, we ended up with game-breaking graphical issues long before that point, so the option is superfluous.
Handheld mode seemed to work the same overall, with similar drops in typical game execution and complex scenarios. All the quirks I measured in docked mode seem to apply here as well, including base building issues. In contrast, the PS4 version of the game is roughly 30fps locked. I did notice some very minor frame rate issues when entering a planet’s atmosphere, but other than that the game runs perfectly fine overall, maintaining 30fps no matter what I tried. The base build can also cause issues here, but I couldn’t get the game to crash, and frame rates stayed in the 20-25fps range even with an equally complex base build.
Ultimately, No Man’s Sky on Switch isn’t a bad port. This is a demanding game targeting 30fps on PS4 and Xbox One and as such I was expecting to see a wide range of cuts. However, the open nature of the game with long, unbroken views really highlights the visual trade-offs here. Pop-up windows and low resolutions leave many scenes looking sterile and cluttered. No Man’s Sky just doesn’t look very nice when you reduce the details substantially and run the game at less than 720p resolution. There are other issues too: content cuts hurt, especially the absence of multiplayer. Playing No Man’s Sky with friends can be great and I would love to see it added in the future if possible. The loss of settlements is also irritating and perhaps hints that the Switch may miss out on future content expansions if they prove technically demanding.
No Man’s Sky is also a full price title. Usually I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this, but the game is constantly on sale on other platforms and has been on Game Pass for the last two years. This will obviously be a matter of taste, but I think the asking price here is probably too high for gamers who only have a casual interest in this game. But what about players who are truly devoted to No Man’s Sky? For those folks, this is a reasonable buy for a portable No Man’s Sky solution, though one of the other features left on the cutting room floor was cross-progression. That means you’ll start your game over from scratch, even if you spent a lot of time saving it on PC or another console.
Ultimately, this is a useful but second-rate way to enjoy No Man’s Sky. The compromises are many: cropped images, poor performance, reduced features, and occasional graphical glitches. Perhaps this release, like the initial PS4 version, will morph into something better over time. But for now, this is best recommended for players who are already serious fans and can live with the compromises.
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