The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom's portable performance tested
Plus: a look at the gold master code and Switch overclocking.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has become a massive hit, with social media timelines galore filled with clever Hyrulean innoventions and Korok-based violence in equal measure. We've already covered the game with our Tears of the Kingdom tech review just before launch, but we did leave some unfinished business.
Now, it's time to complete our analysis with a look at performance - including pre-patch frame-rates, how different Switch revisions play the game, what Switch overclocking can bring to the mix, portable play versus docked and how the very latest patch 1.1.1. changes things.
First up, let's look at the game without the day one patch installed. I picked up a physical copy of the game on release for this very purpose, and as early preview footage showed, performance can drop from 30fps to 20fps in an early town centre when using the ultrahand feature.
There are also subtle performance differences depending on which Switch model you're using. The original 2017 Switch, for instance, sometimes drops frames momentarily where the newer Switch OLED with its upgraded Mariko processor does not. Given that clock speeds are the same, this seems to be a function of memory latency being improved on the newer revision.
If you have access to Switch overclocking via a modded model, memory bandwidth can also have performance implications. According to testing performed by MVG on a 2017 Switch based on the Logan processor, CPU and GPU overclocks have relatively minor performance impacts - perhaps preventing the occasional frame-rate dip but not eliminating sustained drops to 20fps with ultrahand active.
Instead, it's memory overclocking that has the biggest performance implications. Moving from 1.6GHz to ~1.85GHz smooths out performance considerably, minimising frame-rate drops, while a full CPU, GPU and memory OC results in a basically locked 30fps. The sweet spot MVG identified for his Switch was a 1224MHz CPU clock, 844MHz GPU clock and 1862MHz memory clock, so this might be a good starting point for other models too.
There are reports online of Mariko-based memory overclocks to around 2.8GHz that, when combined with an unlocked frame-rate patch, could allow for 60fps gameplay on Switch - incredible stuff, although we should take these claims with a gigantic sack of salt. Even so, the notion that more performance (much more!) could be extracted from the underutilised 16nm Switch SoC variant is something we might take a look at in future.
Another thing we weren't able to test for our launch coverage was portable performance. Now we're able to confirm the game runs with dynamic resolution scaling between 540p and 720p - most often 720p - while performance appears slightly better than the docked experience, which is nice. This makes sense if memory bandwidth is an issue, as catering to a much lower resolution frees up more bandwidth.
Finally, we had a brief window to test out the latest 1.1.1 patch to check for performance changes, but we didn't spot anything noticeable in our initial testing. If there are performance improvements here, they're subtle at best. Overall then, Tears of the Kingdom is in a great place in terms of performance given the hardware available on Switch, but there are some options available - such as opting for a newer Switch or even overclocking - for players to get a better 30fps lock.