Minecraft on Switch is one of the best uses to date of Nintendo's hybrid design, delivering a complete rendition of the classic game with full four-player functionality - even when undocked and gaming on the go. But its launch was marred by two factors: a lacklustre 720p resolution even when docked with your HDTV, along with noticeably jarring performance drops in split-screen mode. Developer 4J Studios promised that it would look into a full 1080p upgrade and it has duly delivered - and not only that, despite the 2.25x boost to resolution, performance in some split-screen scenarios is improved too.
The 1080p Switch upgrade is understated in 4J Studios' patch notes, hidden in a line of bug fixes. It's the only visual upgrade listed too. According to an interview with the Time website, CTO Richard Reavy says that "everything else is unchanged at present. We really just wanted to make sure jumping up the resolution wouldn't cause any problems." Indeed, at launch, Microsoft confirmed that switching resolutions on the fly between Switch's docked and undocked modes caused issues with the HUD. But on patch 1.06, clearly 4J Studios has overcome the problem, and it all just clicks together.
As you can see in the video and the comparison zoomers on this page, Minecraft's stark visual style benefits enormously from the resolution upgrade, bringing it right up to our level of expectations for the launch code - and despite compromises in other areas, it even compares fairly well with PS4's 1080p image too. Native full HD resolution pays huge dividends for anyone using a 1080p TV: we're no longer at the mercy of Switch's scaler, and users get a true 1:1 pixel match from the console. And as you'd expect, even the menu overlays run at 1080p.
For a game like Minecraft, a resolution boost is deceptively useful. Of course, this title takes pride in its simplicity, with low res textures used to build a world of blocks. But this jump to 1080p has a big benefit for greater, long-distance views of the land. Looking over your creations at range, the upgrade is impossible to ignore when directly compared to 720p imagery, taken from the launch version of the game. A surprise bonus here is that texture filtering also gets a boost on Switch, with the higher resolution increasing the pixel sample range: this means you get clearer, cleaner surfaces at a tight angle than you did before.
So it's all gain so far, but are there any sacrifices to get these results? Well, the good news is that the game's render distance is still set to the same level as before, at between 11 and 12 chunks while docked, while the world size stays at the medium 3072x3072 block setting. As a result, pop-in kicks in at the exact same points as you move through the world. And really, there's no other visual changes to speak on. The good news is that it was already an acceptable setup on Switch, and nothing is compromised to give the GPU more fill-rate to achieve the resolution bump.
Again, Richard Reavy is quoted on the Time website, explaining extra optimisation is to thank for this. The main point holding the team back from 1080p was the matter of transitioning to and from the dock, but with that fixed, Switch can unleash more of its potential here. It's understandable that keeping everything at 720p made life easier for the launch, but now we have the update, there are no obvious issues changing between the two. Barring a quick re-rendering of the world's block layout while docking, it's a seamless jump between each.
Ok, so what about frame-rate? Interestingly, our test route on the tutorial stage shows no major issues in holding 60fps. Bearing in mind Switch was running nicely at 60fps - even outperforming PS4 at 1080p - it suggests there must have been a lot of headroom to work at 720p originally. That untapped fill-rate is now finally being put to use effectively, and impressively you still get a mostly locked 60fps in solo play. There's a case where we see a lengthy drop to the mid-50fps region - around 2-3fps lower than the original patch. But even in a complex, built-up area like this, there's not much to suggest performance gets any kind of noticeable downgrade. This is exactly what we wanted, with stuttering also noticeably decreased next to our original tests.
From the solo standpoint, it's an excellent showing. Better still is the turnout for Switch in split-screen while docked; on the original patch this had a range between a hard lock at 40fps at times, right up to 60fps. The locking to 40 and 60 here may suggest a double-buffer form of v-sync, which in effect creates the erratic frame-rate reading on our graphs and noticeable frame-time stutter. But moving to patch 1.06 something has clearly changed; the average frame-rate is slightly higher, and while it stays between 40 and 60fps, performance is smoother overall and motion feels less disjointed as a result. In fact, this even benefits Switch in the portable mode, and the hard switches between 30fps and 60fps are gone in the areas we originally encountered them - and yes, split-screen mode is still rendering at full 1080p.
Improved image quality and better texture filtering are the crux of the story here then, but the good news is that it comes at little to no cost in terms of performance. In fact, for split-screen gamers, it's surprising this extends to an actual improvement in frame-rates in addition to the resolution boost. In the meantime, this Minecraft patch goes down as one of the more radical visual upgrades we've seen on Switch. 720p to 1080p without some form of compromise isn't trivial, but 4J Studios deserves kudos for making it happen.
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