As we all wait for Nintendo to finally just announce their next Direct already, the drumbeat for one rumor in particular continues to get louder: Dark Souls for the Nintendo Switch.
Rumors that Dark Souls will be making the journey to the Switch have been circulating since early December, when reports emerged that it would be announced during Bandai Namco's then-forthcoming event (it was actually Soul Calibur VI). Now there are whispers that it will be unveiled in a rumored Nintendo Direct.
On the face of it, that would be pretty cool. Dark Souls is one of the best games ever, and pretty much everything is better on the Switch. Except... Dark Souls might not actually be a good fit for the Switch.
Dark Souls' Online Functionality Doesn't Mesh Well With Portability
A simple test of whether a game works on the Switch is to ask yourself, "Would this be fun to play on a long flight?" That question becomes complicated if heavy online functionality is in play.
Online play is a heavy part of Dark Souls' overall appeal. The cryptic messages, blood trails, and sudden invasions from other players instantly set Demon's Souls apart in 2009, and large communities have grown up around these features since. It's hard to be a Sunbro—a colloquial term for players who assist other players with killing bosses—when you can't go online.
It's still quite possible to enjoy Dark Souls even without its online features, of course. But it doesn't feel quite the same without it. With Demon's Souls set to go offline for good next month, players are mourning the death of a very particular kind of experience. And unfortunately for Dark Souls on the Switch, true portability will likely mean sacrificing that same sort of experience, making it difficult to play it the way it's meant to be played when on the road.
Dark Souls' Foreboding Atmosphere Wouldn't Necessarily Translate in Handheld Mode
One of Dark Souls' great pleasures is the sense of tension and fear that it generates. With death lying around every corner, it's easy to feel tense—especially if you've never played before.
Playing in handheld mode wouldn't kill that sense of atmosphere, but it would diminish it somewhat. Even with the Switch's relatively large screen and a nice pair of headphones, it wouldn't be quite the same. It would feel smaller.
That would go for Dark Souls' famous boss battles as well. Every boss in Dark Souls is meant to make you feel tiny and feeble in some way. Ornstein and Smough are classic examples, but there's also Sif—the wolf that carries a giant sword in its mouth, the Capra Demon and his dogs, and many, many more. They all stand out in our memories because they are larger than life, even if Dark Souls players have now gotten so good that they can literally take them down with DK Bongo Drums.
Some games you just want to play on a big screen to fully appreciate their grandeur. Dark Souls is one of those games. It makes it easier to appreciate its intricate architecture, brilliant level design, and overall sense of scope.
Of course, the beauty of the Switch is that you can just plug your tablet into the dock and play on your TV. But portability is one of the Switch's main hooks; and in that regard, Dark Souls might not translate.
There's Still a Place for Dark Souls on the Switch
None of this is to say that Dark Souls will fail on the Switch. It isn't FIFA or anything.
If Dark Souls for the Switch turns out to be real, I would expect it to appeal to the handful of curious bystanders who have yet to take the plunge in the series. It would also likely benefit from a light graphical bump and other improvements, as was the case with LA Noire. It wouldn't be an ideal fit for handheld mode, but plenty of Switch owners would make do.
The real appeal of a Switch port, of course, is the opportunity to play Dark Souls on a modern console. Hard as it is to believe, the original Dark Souls has yet to be remastered for the PS4 or Xbox One. The best version you can find right now is on PC. Should Dark Souls make its way to the Switch, it would be a nice little console revival for a seven-year-old game, not to mention another feather in the cap of one of the fastest selling consoles in history.
Still, I'll admit that the prospect of portable Dark Souls doesn't quite fill me with excitment. The controls feel like they'd be just a smidge awkward on the tablet, the screen a bit too small, the online hooks a bit too limiting. It's the kind of game you want to give your full attention, not the one you want to play over a cup of coffee while listening to a podcast.
So while I have no doubt Dark Souls will be a success if it becomes a reality on the Switch, I also believe it will serve to highlight the friction between its main hook—portability—and the online and setpiece-heavy nature of modern triple-A. But hey, there's always docked mode, right?