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FIFA 18 on Nintendo Switch plays surprisingly well

It’s FIFA, but in your hands

FIFA 18 on Nintendo Switch - hands on undocked unit Electronic Arts
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Sports fans have been debating the merits of the Nintendo Switch version of FIFA 18 ever since publisher Electronic Arts announced it earlier this year. EA itself was cryptic about the nature of the game — whether it would be a quote-unquote proper FIFA title, or some kind of lesser experience — until EA Play just before E3 2017.

After playing through a friendly game between Real Madrid and Chelsea during a recent meeting with Nintendo, we came away impressed with FIFA 18 on Switch. It’s definitely not the same high-fidelity game that EA will release this September on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. But it’s no slouch, either — especially considering you can play it on the toilet.

EA has been marketing FIFA 18 as being “built from the ground up” for the Switch, and a representative for the company told Polygon that the Switch version uses a custom engine — not EA Sports Ignite, the engine that the PS4 and Xbox One versions used to run on. It doesn’t quite feel as up to date as FIFA 17, but the developers were able to include some of the latest gameplay features, like this year’s new crossing system.

Most importantly, the engine manages to deliver action at 60 frames per second, with resolutions of 1080p when the Switch is docked and 720p when undocked. We were also impressed by the visuals, whether playing on a TV or with the Switch in our hands. The game certainly looks better than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, with the players’ detailed uniforms being a particular highlight.

The biggest missing component of the modern FIFA experience is the game engine. For FIFA 17 last year, developer EA Vancouver transitioned the long-running series to EA DICE’s Frostbite engine. The change delivered a significant graphical upgrade and allowed EA Vancouver to introduce FIFA’s first story mode, The Journey. Both elements were well-received — a second “season” of the tale, The Journey: Hunter Returns, is featured in FIFA 18 — but without Frostbite, it’s impossible for the story mode to exist in the Switch version of the game.

FIFA 17 did offer the series’ traditional single-player career mode, Be a Pro, for people who weren’t interested in Hunter’s story. The Switch version of FIFA 18 will also include a career mode, although EA isn’t explicitly referring to it as “Be a Pro,” which gives us pause. The company’s description says players will be able to “take control of a club as a player or manager and steer your club to victory over multiple seasons.”

Otherwise, FIFA 18 on Switch will have the modes that FIFA fans are no doubt interested in, led by FIFA Ultimate Team. Yes, you’ll be able to buy and open card packs on a plane (assuming the Wi-Fi works). Solo and online versions of FUT Seasons, FUT Icons like Ronaldo Nazário — a new feature this year — as well as live updates and the full transfer market will all be available on the Switch.

In addition, Switch owners will have a few exclusive modes designed specifically for Nintendo’s unique platform. Two consoles can connect locally or online for Local Seasons, allowing up to four people to compete in a five-match sequence. Switch Kick-Off lets you instantly jump into a solo or local multiplayer match. Online play is, however, much more limited than in the PC/PS4/Xbox One versions, which support full 11-on-11 matches (i.e., 22 human players). The maximum on the Switch is only four players.

FIFA 18 on Switch - multiplayer with single Joy-Cons
You can play FIFA 18 on the Switch with a single Joy-Con held sideways.
Electronic Arts

FIFA 18 is at least generous with control options on the Switch. We first played in docked mode with a Switch Pro Controller, and then took the unit into our hands to play with the Joy-Con pads on either side of the screen. You’ll also be able to play with two Joy-Cons in your hands, or just one held sideways.

Only time — and sales — will tell whether FIFA 18 on the Switch is a one-off title or the first entry in an annual release schedule. But this appears to be a solid initial effort, rather than a quirky, half-baked port like sports fans are accustomed to seeing on Nintendo platforms.

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