There are a lot of doubts surrounding the Switch version of FIFA 18. Is it the same as the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions, or will it be closer to what you'll find on PS3 and Xbox 360? Is it really FIFA 18, or is it actually an older version of FIFA but with updated rosters? EA has never been crystal clear regarding this hybrid version of the game, giving rise to these and other questions. Past examples of what EA has done with FIFA on Wii U and PS Vita haven't exactly inspired confidence either, with both falling short of their equivalent versions on the more established platforms. Now, though, we have finally had the opportunity to answer some of these questions, thanks to a hands-on session at Nintendo.
It only took a few moments for us to realise that this is not a mere re-skin of an older FIFA. How? Via a detail as small and as simple as the kick-off. In 2016 a new rule was implemented in world football, which allows the ball to be passed backwards during kick-off (until then, 99% of kick-offs were passed to a second player standing next to the centre spot). This new rule was quickly implemented on real-world pitches, but it was missing in FIFA 17. In FIFA 18 it will finally be possible to pass the ball backwards at kick-off, as was decreed by the sport's governing body, and the Switch version of FIFA 18 already includes this features.
There are other details that show that this is a recent version of FIFA, such as set-pieces. In FIFA 17 EA Canada completely changed how set-pieces work, that is to say corners, throw-ins, free kicks, and penalties. All these changes are in the Switch version of FIFA 18. Other recent new features, like 'body feints' and 'faster passes', are also present in the Switch version of the football simulator. In other words, the FIFA you will play in the Switch is pretty close to the gameplay experience you would have on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, at least for the most part (only after playing the final versions will we be sure of how close they really are).
Although the gameplay seems to be up-to-date, for the most part, the game's base is clearly the same as the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. The game engine is not, as EA already made clear, the Frostbite engine used on current gen platforms. This decision also rules out the inclusion of The Journey mode, since all the cutscenes starring Alex Hunter are rendered in-engine. Another sign that the game's foundations are the same as those of old-gen versions lies in the interface and menus, which are virtually identical to those of FIFA 17 on PS3 and Xbox 360. Having the previous game's menus is not uncommon in unfinished versions of FIFA, although the fact that it's the PS3's menus and not those from the PS4 version speaks volumes.
But how does it look?
The Nintendo Switch version of FIFA 18 doesn't quite measure up to the PC, PS4, and Xbox One versions in terms of graphics. The player models, stadium details, general lighting... everything is inferior on the Switch, but at least it seems to be superior to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, if only slightly. We have, however, noticed that FIFA 18, several months away from release, runs well on the Switch, and that's arguably more important. The game was almost always fluid, and the few "slowdowns" we did experience never affected gameplay.
EA Sports has promised an experience tailored to the capabilities of the Switch version, and has delivered on that promise. One of the most interesting features of this version is the option for two players to share the Joy-Cons. In this mode, where you play with a single Joy-Con and your friend with another, although you will, however, be sacrificing some degree of control. Skills moves using the right analog are not possible, for instance, and the control is less precise and not quite as comfortable. Despite this sacrifice, and without offering the same level of experience you will have playing with both Joy-Cons or the Pro Controller, this option will allow you to play games with friends without having to buy a second controller, and that's a valuable option for anyone walking around with a Switch.
And so we arrive at the Switch version's biggest strength - its portability. This will be by far the best portable experience of FIFA, and the possibility of playing a football game of this quality in portable mode is an added incentive that shouldn't be overlooked. With Ultimate Team Mode, online modes, career mode, and several other options (with the exception of The Journey), FIFA 18 on the Nintendo Switch seems to have the potential to be a great addition to the console. Will it be as modern and complete as the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions? No, but those can't go with you to school, work, on the train or the bus, so there's always that.
Note: All videos and screenshots on display are from the PC, PS4, and Xbox One versions.