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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Game Reviews

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

A miraculous port that manages to bring the entire experience of Wolfenstein II to the Switch – warts and all.

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I’m not sure the exact moment when it becomes clear Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus wasn’t the definitive statement on the current political climate we’d been led to believe it was. Maybe it was seeing our hero’s head lopped off – and reattached – to a new body with augmented abilities. Or when he travels to the planet Venus. Or rides a fire-belching robot dog. Or when the game takes the piss out of an enfeebled Adolf Hitler – literally.

It certainly wasn’t the much talked about scene showing robed Klansmen taking a casual stroll down a Nazi-occupied American city while stopping for a friendly chat with a Nazi about music. Less than a year after its original release the game had returned to, once again, share its Nazi killing message to the unlikeliest of platforms – the Nintendo Switch. What a world.

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When I reviewed the original version of Wolfenstein II last November I (mostly) liked what I saw and played, save for some glaring design flaws and a grossly misleading storyline that both the publisher and a lackluster gaming press misrepresented to the public. Whatever you’ve heard about what Wolfenstein II is, the reality is that Bethesda’s game isn’t nearly as controversial or worth the hysteria that marked its initial release. Characters are all blatant stereotypes, every scenario ludicrously overcooked, and almost nothing is grounded in reality. Strip away the nonsense, however, and you’ve got one of the slickest and most playable first-person shooters I’ve ever experienced.

It’s only when the nutty plot devolves into melodrama and starts to take itself too seriously where the credulity starts to wear thin. Wolfenstein II is at its best when offering some necessary escapism from our current overstimulated climate, not some hackneyed commentary on it.

Wolfenstein II on Switch comes our way thanks to Panic Button, those miracle workers who also made DOOM on the platform. Since they’re allowed to copy the original game’s assets for this version, I’m doing likewise and copy-pasting the synopsis of my original review – since it’s 100% identical. You should read both to get the full effect, but here’s your double-dipping into the Popzara vault:

[The game] proposes that, had the Nazis taken control we’d have flying battleships, laser weapons, cybernetic soldiers, computers (with mice!), and even a colonized Venus..all by 1961. Heck, they’ve even got a female General leading troops to victory, if you’re checking off the boxes of progress. So she’s a sociopathic killer with a gift for torture – at least the trains run on time.

If you missed The New Order, don’t fret, as The New Colossus recaps that one’s insane plotline before you even get started. In a nutshell: the Nazis won World War 2, took over the United States, and once again it’s up to bulked-out B.J. Blazkowicz, who looks like a disturbing hybrid of Duke Nukem and John Cena, to lead the resistance to victory. You’ll start off in a wheelchair, get your head chopped off (you’ll get better), ride a flame-spewing robot cat, meet a pot-pissing Hitler, and slaughter thousands of idiotic Nazi soldiers with your pregnant lady love by your site. All in a day’s work for our surprisingly sensitive hero.

The first thing you should know about Wolfenstein II on the Switch is that the entire game has been ported over – warts and all. Every level, cinematic, enemy, item and other miscellaneous detail of the original game has been faithfully ported over, only reduced to run on Nintendo’s hardware. Which is kind of incredible, given that the original version was a technological miracle even on the much more powerful Xbox One and PlayStation 4 platforms. This also means the game’s most glaring design flaws, like unhelpful hint systems and terrible respawn spots, are also present. How’s that for dedication?

Whereas DOOM essentially provided anxious gamers with virtual playgrounds to transform demons into chunky bits of gore and happiness, Wolfenstein offered a more precise experience, with narrow corridors and tight spots that required a little more strategy than simply running ‘n gunning your way out of an impossible situation. The game occasionally broke up the claustrophobic hallways with more opened arenas with intense battles against fire-breathing metallic beasts and giant Nazi robots. There’s no chainsaws here, but as our bulked-out her B.J. Blazkowicz says, there’s a lot you can do with an axe – and a Nazi.

Panic Button accomplished this feat with the use of dynamic scaling – which essentially varies the game’s resolution, texture-quality and framerate – to keep the action intense and playable. They employed the same technical wizardry with DOOM, but the results look even more impressive here. True, the game doesn’t quite match up to the original versions, and never outputs higher than 720p or runs at higher than 30 FPS, it’s pretty close. Hey, if you wanted the best and smoothest experience anyway, you wouldn’t be playing the Switch version at all. Just saying.

More impressively, the variable framerate almost never chugs gameplay into single digits the way DOOM sometimes would. Oddly, framerates also dip during the game’s cinematics, which are all pre-rendered CG, but since they don’t affect gameplay it never bothered me. Mercifully, most are skippable, so if the insane storyline becomes a little too insane you can bypass much of it.

As nice as Wolfenstein II performs on the Switch, there’s a huge caveat: depending on which mode you choose, the performance varies, sometimes wildly so. Being able to play the game in mobile mode is, understandably, the Switch’s killer feature, and while the game does run decently this way it’s not at all optimal. The reduced resolutions become even more reduced, textures muddier, and performance is often degraded further. Never mind the fact you’re probably stuck using Joy-Con controls (more on this below), attempting to play the game mobile just isn’t as much fun.

While nobody was expecting the Switch version to look as good as the other versions (hello, Captain Obvious), there are a few times when the graphical reduction actually hinders gameplay, like when the game gets dark – as is darkened hallways, labs, bases, what-have-you. Thanks to the varying textures and resolution dips enemies sometime become impossible to see as they’ll “blend” into the backgrounds and environments. Fidelity was never an issue with other versions, meaning the only way to know who’s shooting at you is to run into the open and draw their fire. This issue is tremendously more frustrating when playing in mobile mode.

While it’s pretty astounding to see the game running natively on mobile hardware, that doesn’t mean it’s something I necessary want to experience. Play Wolfenstein II docked and most of these issues (largely) disappear, though you’ll have to contend with magnified muddy textures and the inability to blast Nazis in the bathroom. But at least you’ll have a more stable framerate and be less likely to hurl the console when being killed for the ten-thousandth time.

If you’re planning on embarking on a 15-plus hour Nazi-killing adventure on the Switch there’s a few things you need to know about controlling this version. While there’s much to love about the Switch, its subpar little analog sticks aren’t among them. I’m talking about the stock Joy-Con analog sticks, which is how most of you will first experience the game. Sadly, the Switch’s analog nubs just aren’t up to the task in providing the minute precision necessary to peck off headshots like a champ or maneuver with the buttery-smooth accuracy of either the Xbox One or PlayStation controllers.

This isn’t surprising as Nintendo offers their own Pro Controller as an option to circumvent this. Which you should totally get and play with. But if prefer your Nintendo gaming with stock controllers, there’s a few additions that work in the game’s favor. First is the vastly improved feedback, courtesy of the HD rumble effects throughout, which not only feel disturbingly great but help ‘fix’ one of the original game’s most glaring flaws – the lack of any real feedback when being pummeled into pulp by enemies from all sides.

Also exclusive to the Switch version, naturally, are added gyro (i.e. motion) controls if you’re into them. I’m not, but they also appeared on the Switch version of DOOM and some people love them – using the stock Joy-Cons they certainly help mitigate the analog nubs inaccuracy – but only slightly. Honestly, if you want the best, most playable version of Wolfenstein II on Switch you really need to invest in a controller that can handle both the frantic weapon swapping and pinpoint Nazi-blasting action.

I’ll be honest; there were moments playing Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on Switch when I forgot I was playing the game on Switch, which is a testament to just how good this port is most of the time. But that’s also the real conundrum with this version; a graphically intensive game ported to hardware that, theoretically, shouldn’t handle it – yet handles it – albeit with technological shortcomings that should be canceled out by the ability to play in mobile mode…only it doesn’t really work in mobile mode. As with the excellent port of DOOM, these are the choices you’ll have to consider if opting to play the game on Nintendo’s hybrid hardware. Choose carefully.