Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition on Switch: a decent port of a truly classic game
An improvement over prior conversions, but not quite the definitive experience.
15 years after its initial release on PlayStation 2, Devil May Cry 3 is still among the best action games of its kind - but getting a decent remaster for modern systems has proven elusive, with the game receiving a procession of barebones conversions over the years. The good news is that with the game's recent arrival on Nintendo Switch, we do get an excellent rendition of this classic brawler, but the bad news is that it's still some way off delivering what you might call a perfect port.
There is a sticking point in terms of its value on the eShop. PS4, PC and Xbox One received an HD Collection back in 2018 that provided the trilogy in one purchase, while Switch users (outside of Japan at least) need to buy each conversion individually, amounting to a higher price tag overall. However, with DMC3 there is at least extra work put into the port, where you get Switch-exclusive features. There's limited two-player support via a co-op mode that has Dante and Vergil surviving waves of enemies in the Bloody Palace. Here, you can use the JoyCons held sideways if needs be, plus it even lets each player use weapon loadouts from the solo adventure. It's a neat arcade-style extra - one that but still, the main adventure is the big attraction.
Switch users also get a significant addition to the main single-player game. There's a new Freestyle mode, letting you change Dante's play style on the fly, available right from the start of the game - as opposed to choosing between Trickster, Royal Guard, Swordmaster and Gunslinger types between each level. With a burst of colour, the role of the B button changes, opening up options for even more lavish mid-air juggles.
Still, fundamentally Switch brings the same core game as the Special Edition on PS2, though clearly we've come a long way in image quality. While we're looking at original quality textures, we do get 1080p resolution when docked, dropping to native 720p in mobile mode. Bafflingly though, there is no effective anti-aliasing on the image most of the time - not even the basic pass you'll find in the PC version of the game. Performance-wise, DMC3 hits its targets exactly as it should - it's a locked 60 frames per second from start to finish, with only select cutscenes dropping to 30 (likely down to animation tick rate from the original game). In short, the basics are fully covered and it's particularly great to enjoy a classic once more, especially as a mobile experience.
There are only a couple of drawbacks to this port. First of all, original textures and effects are all you're getting - there's no sign of any revamp in the assets whatsoever. Resolution is obviously higher, but the core artwork is stripped from a vintage 2005 game - and it shows in often murky, low-res texture maps. In a world where modders are experimenting with AI upscaled art with some fascinating results, I do wonder whether this kind of process may eventually appear in more commercial games.
The reliance on old assets manifests elsewhere too. While many of the cutscenes are engine-driven and run at native resolution, some of them are pre-rendered, low resolution FMVs that don't hold up particularly well. It's the same problem as the HD Collection, even on PC where you'd hope to see sky-high resolutions. The one silver lining is that these original videos were all originally presented in a 16:9 letterbox aspect ratio - which translates well on Switch's widescreen display.
But even here there are issues - you're effectively getting a cropped 324p version of what was originally a 4:3 480p video. Couple this with the block compression artefacts, and it creates a jarring disconnect with the sharp 1080p image of gameplay. That's a shame because these scenes are often beautifully choreographed, with stylish action that rewards finishing a level. The impact of these low resolution scenes is mitigated to a certain extent by playing in portable mode, but it is still irksome, nonetheless.
There are a few other downsides too. The customisation menus are also built from old artwork too, meaning that they still present with a 4:3 aspect ratio - in line with the HD Collections elsewhere. More disappointing for Switch users specifically is the use of low resolution effects. It's likely a trade-off to keep everything flowing at 60fps, but downed enemies create a burst of quarter resolution pixelated dust in their wake.
Regardless of the issues, I do think that there is much to like about the Switch version of Devil May Cry 3. Effects work aside, docked mode is a match for the specs of the PS4, Xbox One and PC modes. Meanwhile, we have new modes for multiplayer and an extra Freestyle option in solo play. Most importantly of all though, the Switch platform itself provides the strongest benefit - DMC3 is now a brilliant mobile experience. Loading is near-instant between each area, often small by nature to factor in PS2's limited memory resources. Nevertheless, it all flows beautifully on Switch, which I think is the saving grace here. Animations are snappy and satisfying to this day, right down to the series' iconic enemy juggles with gunfire as you pace the ground below. Overlooking the basic texturing, if this game debuted today, the mechanics alone make this a brilliant ride.
I've loved returning to it - I just wish that some degree of modernisation could be available as an option. Yes, making some attempt to include new assets would be welcome, but other aspects could do with an upgrade too, such as the unwieldy third-person camera work. Fundamentally, the genius is in the gameplay, which still runs fluidly, where the thrill of combat holds up wonderfully. It's a perfect stand-by for Bayonetta fans, waiting on the edges of their seats for the next release. While I don't think the Switch additions necessarily justify the decision to split Devil May Cry 3 into its component games as individual releases, I'd still recommend it. While the conversion is still relatively basic compared to the quality of other remasters, at least the basics are in place here - and that's enough to deliver a decent experience from a game that's suffered from so many subpar conversions in the past.
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