Resident Evil 4, Remake and Zero on Nintendo Switch are competent ports of brilliant games

And handheld play makes all the difference.

There's been some degree of controversy surrounding the Switch ports of Resident Evil Remake, Resident Evil Zero and Resident Evil 4 - principally in terms of their price-points compared to other platforms and the lack of extra features designed to make the most of the Switch hardware. There's no denying that these are all valid criticisms, but personally, I have few problems recommending two of the three releases, with the third just a patch away from greatness. The fact is that these are still classic survival horror games that are still great to play today and on top of that, being able to revisit these titles in a portable form factor is an advantage that can't be overlooked.

Let's begin with a look at the Switch conversion of Resident Evil 4 - one of my personal favourite games of all-time. The evidence suggests that we're looking at a conversion of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions, with the exact same assets and that crucial 60 frames per second performance target. Side by side with the existing current-gen ports, there's very little to distinguish this new Switch release with its siblings.

The only compromise comes in terms of resolution. Pixel-counts suggest that the 1080p imagery of the PS4 version is reduced to 900p when playing docked on Switch. When running in portable mode, resolution resolves closer to 600p - a curious state of affairs for a game that originally released on Nintendo GameCube, but understandable when considering that the developers wanted to retain the silky-smooth 60fps update of the latest remaster.

The extent to which the port succeeds in capturing that experience really depends on whether you're playing RE4 docked or on the go. From my perspective, I feel that the docked mode doesn't work as I would have liked. The more intense scenes can't sustain 60fps and performance varies between the mid-40s to the top-end 60fps. With that in mind, there's a lack of consistency here which doesn't feel quite right, to the point where I do feel that there is an argument for an optional capped, locked 1080p30 mode.

All three of the new Resident Evil Switch ports analysed in depth.

Interestingly, the situation changes up when undocking RE4 and gaming in portable mode. We're still not locked to 60fps, but there's no doubt that the frame-rate is smoother, and the biggest drops are less pronounced. Combined with the fact you're playing on a six-inch mobile screen, where frame-rate drops are more difficult to discern and you're left with an experience that feels much closer to a locked level of performance. In fact, the more you play, the more you realise that whether by design or not, this RE4 port is just a better fit for mobile gaming.

A big contributory factor to this concerns the quality of the assets - which have only received small tweaks since their original debut on GameCube. Writ large on a living room display, textures do look blocky and ill-defined - perhaps not surprising bearing in mind that they were originally mastered for a 480p game running on a CRT display. However, the smaller screen is a better fit for those older assets. Visual differences with the other current-gen versions are almost non-existent, but the Switch port does use mip-maps, smoothing off speckly texture work, most noticeable on the ground. It's a nice touch, though the level of texture filtering is a little disappointing.

Resident Evil 4 on Switch holds up really well especially as a mobile experience, and the key takeaway is that a genuine console classic still feels great today - and I can only imagine how good an RE2 Remake-level revamp could be. That's not to say that there aren't missed opportunities, however. Aiming with the Joycons isn't quite so easy and the lack of gyros controls is a disappointment. Similarly the IR pointer tech could perhaps have similarly improved the game when docked. Overall though, Resident Evil 4 on Switch gets a thumbs up from me.

Remasters and HD ports are all well and good, but RE2 Remake demonstrates how the original game concepts translate beautifully to the modern age when paired with cutting-edge tech.

Resident Evils Remake and Zero are available to buy separately or as a single purchase in the form of Resident Evil Origins, and from a technological perspective, they are rather similar in that full 3D models running at 30 frames per second battle it out over beautifully pre-rendered backgrounds. Once again, the sense is that the current-gen console conversions were used as the basis for these Switch releases, which means that aside from some slight frame-persistence issues in RE Remake, they work well enough. The 3D assets render at native resolution, while the pre-rendered backgrounds look great - though again, I do feel that mobile play is a better fit for the fidelity they were mastered at.

However, I do feel that a greater effort needs to be made in optimising loading times in both titles, particularly with the more advanced Resident Evil Zero. There's a genuine problem in that the institial door opening/stair climbing etc animations that cover up loading no longer seem to be long enough, resulting in the visuals freezing while the game continues to spool in new data. Resident Evil Zero has a lot of loading, resulting in a disruption to the flow of the game, while the temporarily frozen animations persist for so long, you might actually feel that the Switch has crashed. It's so frequent through the experience that I do feel that it's something of a deal-breaker.

Resident Evil Remake has the same issues, but they are nowhere near as pronounced. First of all, the interstitial animation sequences seem to be long enough to cover the majority of the loading - unlike RE0. Secondly, when you do encounter extended loading, the screen is black. This isn't exactly ideal, but it is better than the stalled animations seen in RE0. The difference is that the Remake does have some frustrating moments, but less loading and fewer extended loading periods makes it bearable. There's just the sense of too much friction when working your way through the environments at speed in RE0, while the Remake just about passes muster.

Ultimately, I do feel that the quality of the conversion work here is unremarkable, and at the very least I'd hope for a performance optimisation push on RE4 along with gyro and IR controls. The Origins titles are fine, but really need their loading time issues addressed. However, certainly in the case of RE4 and RE Remake, the ports are competent enough that the quality of those genuinely brilliant games still shines through, while the opportunity to play in handheld mode is not only unique to Switch, but also serves to disguise the age of the art to a certain extent. Hopefully we'll see improvements over time, but for now, I still enjoyed revisiting these truly excellent games.

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About the author

John Linneman

John Linneman

Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

An American living in Germany, John has been gaming and collecting games since the late 80s. His keen eye for and obsession with high frame-rates have earned him the nickname "The Human FRAPS" in some circles. He’s also responsible for the creation of DF Retro.

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