NieR: Automata on Switch ought to have come earlier but it’s nearly perfect
September 30, 20224 min read
It's fun 2B fashionably late
NieR: Automata was first released in 2017, just close enough to the Switch launch date that it could have helped define the console's larger identity. It's definitely a "Style over Horsepower" game, and did little to tax the hardware of the now last-gen PS4. It's also developed by PlatinumGames, who've done a lot to build their audience on Nintendo consoles in recent years. Between The Wonderful 101, the full Bayonetta franchise, and Astral Chain, the Switch is where the bulk of their character action games live now. That's another reason why it's felt a little weird to see NieR: Automataon every major platform but Switch for all these years, but then again, weird has always been Nier's thing.
Now the game is finally headed to Switch on October 4, 2022, and I'm happy to report it's been made slightly more strange along the way.
Before we get into all that, let's do a quick recap of some of what makes NieR: Automata different. You might not already know, because people really don't like explaining this game. Even talking about how it plays may spoil some of it, because many of its mechanics are tied directly to its story. But it's safe to tell you upfront that Automata is more "arcade-y" than most character action games. It even starts off with a traditional shmup-style sequence, setting the stage for a massive amount of mechanical death to follow.
After that opener, the action largely sticks to the third-person melee-and-guns action that fans of the genre have come to expect. The only initial clue that there's more going on here comes from a short warning. Ironically enough, the game doesn't "automatically" save, so you can't turn it off anytime you want without killing your progress.
Again, there are story reasons for that. Like Undertale and Chrono Trigger, NieR: Automata is meant to be played through again and again for different endings, so when and where you save counts in a big way. After you see them all, these endings all work to sort of explain why 2B (the Hamlet-inspired star of the game) is fighting against an army of trash-can-looking robots named after guys like Karl Marx and Soren Kierkegaard.
The fact that so many of those last-gen, occasionally pitiably automatons look alike probably helps NieR: Automata to run so well on Switch. There just isn't a lot going on here to cause the current-gen hardware to chug. I didn't notice any new slowdown or frame rate drops when playing the game in handheld or docked mode. Load times were also a non-issue.
I was surprised to see that my only problem with the visuals of this Switch port came from how loyal it is to the source material. Like in the original version of the game, the camera sometimes zooms way out and 2B gets really small on-screen. That was fine on a big TV, but on the original Switch, it can be hard to keep track of her.
Having the camera switch to a side view, a landscape view, or a top-down angle is yet another way that the gameplay relates to the underlying narrative themes. Taking "multiple perspectives" is a big part of what series creator Yoko Taro wants players to do with all the Nier games. But for handheld players, that might mean getting your girl lost in a hail of purple bullets and rusty, rotted-out androids.
As for additional content, the game comes with the previously released Automata DLC, some exclusive skins, and also optional motion controls. I didn't see that last one coming. The character action community historically hates motion controls. Back in the Wii days, fans of the genre almost lobbied immediately to have traditional control options added to the No More Heroes and MadWorld franchises, and they succeeded on both fronts. Nintendo even made motion controls optional in its Switch re-release of Skyward Sword, a game designed from the ground up for them.
So it's fitting that NieR: Automata on Switch flies in the face of convention yet again by jamming motion controls into the game just for the heck of it.
At least, it might be just for the heck of it. After testing them out and seeing that they work fine (if you don't care about a touch of input lag), I went back to button presses right away, but I wouldn't at all be surprised if there is a new Switch-exclusive "waggle only" ending hiding away in there somewhere. Given Yoko Taro's interest in making an adult video someday, we can guess how that might turn out.
All in all, there aren't a lot of reasons to double-dip on NieR: Automata for Nintendo Switch, but the motion controls are a cute novelty, and having the option to get some of those extra endings while you're on the go (or in the bathroom) in handheld mode is always a good thing.
As a slightly obsessive Platinum fan, it will be fun for me to see Automata's icon lined up alongside the full Bayonetta trilogy on my Switch dashboard by the end of October.