Minecraft: Switch Edition Review: The Best Damn Portable Version Yet

Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition is a win for Minecraft and Nintendo Switch.

Review by Mike Williams, .

Damn, I'm playing a full-feature version of Minecraft on my couch. In my bed. And yes, even in the bathroom. I can play Minecraft wherever I go. You cannot judge me, because I am truly free.

The truth is, I've been a long-time fan of Minecraft, and the simple survival genre as a whole. I enjoy playing these procedurally-generated worlds that stretch out in front of you, offering you the chance to explore, build, fight, and frequently... die. I play Minecraft, Terraria, Starbound, and Astroneer. I even enjoy adjacent experiences like Rimworld. There's just something enjoyable about throwing a bunch of stuff in a sack, shaking it up, spilling it all out on the floor, and saying "Go have some fun." These games feel like playing with Legos when I was kid.

I think I get the point. [All screenshots native capture from Switch Portable mode, unless otherwise noted.]

Most people know what Minecraft is. You're thrust into a randomly-generated world, where you have to mine the landscape to build your shelter, craft weapons and other items, feed yourself, and ultimately tame the world. Many may have seen the massive structures and artistic works hardcore Minecraft fans have built in the game's Creative Mode: cities, working calculators, and homages to their favorite movies, TV shows, and more. Minecraft is a game that gives you back what you're willing to put into it.

So what differentiates the Switch Edition from what came before?

First, it's worth separating the desktop client, Pocket Edition, and Console Editions. The Desktop client for PC and Mac is by far the most fully-featured, with infinite worlds, great performance on even years-old PCs, and full support for add-ons and mods. The Pocket Edition is Mojang's second focus, with add-on support and infinite worlds since the hefty 0.9.0 release in 2014. My major problem with Pocket Edition is it uses on-screen controls, which are frankly not my jam, and performance is variable depending on which iOS or Android device you're using.

Then there's the Console Editions, which is where the Switch version has room to shine a bit. All of the console editions retain a world size limit. Any world you build will eventually have an invisible wall and endless sea you cannot cross. For the PlayStation 3 Edition, Xbox 360 Edition, PlayStation Vita Edition, and Wii U Edition, you're stuck with a maximum world size of 864x864 blocks, known in the game as the "Classic" size. On the Xbox One Edition and PlayStation 4 Edition, you have more options, including Small (1024x1024 blocks), Medium (3072x3072), and Large (5120x5120).

The Switch Edition tops out at the Medium size, with a maximum world size of 3072x3072 blocks. This is pretty big if you're not trying to build something massive within the game. Most players can rock a Medium size world without any trouble, and in fact, Infinite worlds can see players getting lost if they don't keep track of their surroundings. (Pocket Edition Infinite worlds tend to get a bit glitchy near and in the Farlands if you keep walking in the same direction.)

So the world size is big enough and like all the console editions, the Switch Edition benefits over of the Pocket Edition from having a standard spec: every Switch is the same, so the developers had something to target. Minecraft: Switch Edition runs at a solid 60 FPS as far as I can tell, in the native resolution of whichever mode you're playing in: 720p on Portable, and 1080p on Television. (Checking with the folks over at Digital Foundry if the game is upscaled 1080p in Docked mode.) It looks great and my only issue is the on-screen text is a bit tiny in Portable mode.

To retain that solid performance, the cutback in the Switch Edition is the draw-distance. In Creative Mode, you can fly, which gives you a birds-eye view of the world. In the screenshots I made for this review, what looks to be the edge of the world is simply where the game stops drawing the landscape. There's significant and noticeable pop-in when you're moving up that high. Of course, this is an issue of floating in Creative Mode; for most of your average play sessions, you don't notice it as much because you're on ground level.

So you have great performance in Portable and TV modes, with the potential issue of draw distance. This puts the Switch Edition ahead of the Vita Edition, which could be spotty in certain circumstances. The world size also places it ahead of the Wii U and Vita editions. So what else differentiates the Switch Edition?

Minecraft Switch Edition gains more ground over the Vita and Pocket Editions with local split-screen multiplayer. You can play in splitscreen from a single Nintendo Switch, with a maximum of four players. Performance doesn't seem to take a hit in two-player split-screen in Portable and Tabletop modes. (I wasn't able to try four-player to see if that's the same deal.) Unlike some Switch titles, you cannot play the game on a single Joy-Con though; you'll need another pair or a Pro Controller for each additional player. Most of the home-based Console Editions have split-screen play available, but this is the first time you can take it on the road.

Disconnecting just switches you to offline mode.

Online play is a bit odd on Minecraft Switch Edition. You can't invite others to join your game. Instead, if you start up a new world, you can tag it as "online". Anybody in your Friends List can see that world from their "Join" menu option if you're online and playing. It's pretty easy, but I do wish there were more choices for party online play. There's also no way to communicate online: there's no emote or simple chat system. You're just sort of online and doing your own thing in the same world.

As a final shot at sweetening the pot, Nintendo and Mojang kicked in the Super Mario Mash-Up Pack with every copy of Minecraft Switch Edition. This means players get a Super Mario texture pack alongside the already pre-loaded texture packs, a set of Super Mario skins for your characters, and an entire Super Mario-themed world for you to explore. The pre-loaded world also includes chiptune Mario music for you to rock out to while you explore Minecraft's Mushroom Kingdom. (Why the huge statues of Mario? Is he their emperor, a harsh dictator that rules over them with an iron fist?) It's a fun little addition to the game, but I doubt it'll push anyone over the top when it comes to choosing a version to play.

As of the time of this writing, the built-in Minecraft store for buying new skins points to the Nintendo eShop, but those items aren't live yet. Hopefully, some of the more interesting Console Edition skins make the transition over to the Switch Edition, like the Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Simpsons Packs.

It's worth noting that the Switch Edition shares the same $29.99 price as its Wii U counterpart, as opposed to the $19.99 price tag the other Console Editions carry. Like the Wii U version, Nintendo and Mojang are justifying the price bump with the inclusion of the Mario Mash-Up Packs and six other DLC packs. Basically, the Switch Edition is the Fan-Favorites Pack you can buy on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but you lack the ability to get the game by itself.

It's always Waluigi Time.

There are some questions I have that currently haven't been answered about the Switch Edition. Will it receive the Marketplace currently in the PC and Pocket Editions? (Doubtful.) How long will it take for the Switch Edition to be updated to the current Console Edition? (It currently uses a slightly older build from January?)

Despite those lingering questions, you get what stands as the best portable edition of Minecraft yet. Sure, you lose out on Large and Infinite world sizes, but you have the great performance and splitscreen play of the home console versions with the portability of Pocket and Vita Editions. That's enough to pull the Switch Edition ahead for me. If I'm playing at home, it'll be on PC, but anywhere else, Minecraft Switch Edition is where it's at.

Minecraft Switch Edition isn't quite the best at any one thing, but it fills its niche with style. It stands below its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts in the size of the world it can build, but makes up for that by being a pitch-perfect portable experience. The physical controls and four-player splitscreen put it ahead of the full-featured Pocket Edition. It's everything the Vita version wanted to be, becoming the best portable version of Minecraft yet.

4.5 /5

Minecraft: Switch Edition Review: The Best Damn Portable Version Yet Mike Williams Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition is a win for Minecraft and Nintendo Switch. 2017-05-11T13:00:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 14

  • Avatar for boatie #1 boatie A year ago
    Minecraft: C'mon buy it again edition
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  • Avatar for matthewcooley77 #2 matthewcooley77 A year ago
    Apparently I am one of the few people left on Earth that have never played Minecraft. I might, finally, give it a try.
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  • Avatar for Outrider #3 Outrider A year ago
    I've already got Minecraft on PC and mobile, but I'm a little tempted to pick it up on Switch. I'll say this: if they put out additional Nintendo-themed worlds (like the obvious Zelda or maybe a cave-centric Metroid world?) I'd pick it up in a heartbeat.

    One thing I'm surprised by is that they didn't figure out a way to make single Joy-Con play an option. I mean, I get the difficulties here - Minecraft really relies on a mouse or second stick to adjust the view - but I can't stop thinking about how perfect it would be to have two players on a single Switch without needing extra controllers. I get that the ROI probably isn't there (I don't think any other console got additional controller options) but I still think there is an opportunity for a simple, "not perfect but good enough" single Joy-Con controller setting.
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  • Avatar for MojoBox #4 MojoBox A year ago
    I've put hundreds of hours in to Minecraft on PC on a shared online world and it was magnificent. That said, I eventually burned out and moved on. It's been long enough for me to be ready to jump back in, and a very good portable version is exactly the thing I need to get back to it.

    As for the Switch version I'm very happy they chose to target 60fps over a larger draw distance. The thing about draw distance in Minecraft is that even if you have a very powerful PC and push the draw distance way far out it's impossible to ever make it not an abrupt transition from something to nothing. It's not like a lot of modern games that use a variety of techniques to mask the transition from high LOD to low LOD to not rendering, Minecraft either renders something or it doesn't.
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #5 himuradrew A year ago

    You're not the only one. Honestly, I really can't see the deal with what makes Minecraft tick, but hey, this version just might be the ticket.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #6 Roto13 A year ago
    I wonder if this will ultimately be another third party game on a Nintendo system that lags behind with updates before eventually being abandoned.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #7 LBD_Nytetrayn A year ago
    I'm guessing you can't import your world from the Wii U or any other version somehow? I don't want to give up on what I made there, so if I end up with this one, I may just stick to Mario mode.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #8 MHWilliams A year ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn The seed feature is still available, but no, I don't think you can pull from a previous world, including everything you already did.
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  • Avatar for Donderpants #9 Donderpants A year ago
    What are the 6 included DLC packs? I heard about the Super Mario one- is it just the Fan Favourites pack but with Mario instead of Halo?
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  • Avatar for SkywardShadow #10 SkywardShadow A year ago
    I'll be selecting this version due to the Mario world, for my son.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #11 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @Roto13 I don't know, aside from crap like CoD, the third party games have gotten the updates and still do. Minecraft for Wii U which I play with my daughter still gets updates.

    But great drive by snark post for the sake of it!
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #12 MHWilliams A year ago
  • Avatar for Amireza- #13 Amireza- A year ago
  • Avatar for Vezwyx #14 Vezwyx 11 months ago
    I'm not surprised at all that they've required a complete Joy-Con set to play the game. Playing Minecraft with a single analog stick, two triggers, four normal buttons, a start button, and two extra buttons on the side of the controller sounds like a nightmare. Movement and camera control easily take up the stick and four buttons. Use start to bring up crafting and triggers to switch items. Now you have a couple of buttons on the side of the controller to left- or right-click, and you can't jump
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