Nintendo Switch’s cloud-based games have deep problems –

How good is cloud gaming on Nintendo Switch? Upcoming Kingdom Hearts games on Switch – including 1.5, 2.5, and the latest Kingdom Hearts 3 – are expected to be purely cloud-based, with Square-Enix charging $90 for the entire collection or $50 for each individual game. Is the visual quality and input lag sufficient for this to work? Does the concept even work for a system designed around take-anywhere portability? Demos are available on the eShop for Kingdom Hearts titles, as well as other releases including Control, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Hitman 3. We’ve tested them all and the results are mixed to say the least.

Firstly, the fact that demos are available on the eShop is to be commended – it means you get to experience games running on your own Switch paired with your own internet connection, and it’s those demos that we used in assembling this piece. Of course, the demos are also available for any Switch user, meaning you can also test the games for yourself, with the only limitation being a hard limit of 15 minutes per user per game.

A company called Ubitus provides the cloud-based infrastructure – so essentially what appear to be modded PC versions of the game are hosted on remote servers. Control inputs are sent from your Switch to the cloud, where they are processed, and in-game footage is compressed and returned to your screen. In an ideal world, all of these games would receive bespoke Switch ports, but more advanced titles might not be possible on Nintendo’s handheld at all. In practice, for high-end games like Guardians of the Galaxy, streaming may be the only viable solution to achieving a playable result. This is also highlighted in particular with Control, which even adds ray-traced reflections to the mix – a setting we’ve never seen work on Switch before.

DF’s Tom Morgan and John Linneman share their experiences with Switch’s growing cloud gaming library.

Myself and John Linneman tested these titles individually. I used a 65 Mbps BT fiber connection with the mega bandwidth leased line at Eurogamer HQ. For his part, John used his existing 100 Mbps home connection. Based on what we’ve seen from captures taken from the system in docked mode, Switch cloud titles deliver a 720p video stream, with the games themselves apparently set to output a corresponding 720p resolution (except from Hitman 3 – this seems capable of outputting a native rendered image at 1080p, scaled down to 720p before streaming to the internet). Bandwidth appears to be limited as macroblocking is clearly visible on high-color, fast-moving content, looking less impressive when blown across a living room flat screen. Kingdom Hearts 3 particularly suffers from this.

Input lag? It seems to vary from game to game, but on a practical level, he does pretty well. Running Control on PC at 60fps, input lag averaged 93.2ms (surprisingly high, to tell the truth) while the cloud-run Switch version hit 149.7ms in its performance unlocked. It’s with a wired ethernet connection – so a best-case scenario. Unfortunately – and especially for a cloud system – the Switch’s WiFi receiver isn’t great. Gaming over WiFi adds an additional 30-50ms of lag, depending on range. At this point we are reaching an end-to-end lag of around 200ms – Kinect territory. Therein lies one of the main limitations of the whole concept: Switch is a mobile gaming marvel, but leveraging its portability with cloud gaming has a huge impact on the quality of experience.

In the video embedded on this page, you’ll see John and I share our experiences with each title, but here are the titles:

  • Kingdom Hearts 3 runs at 720p with an unlocked 60fps. Its intricate art style and lavish use of color just can’t be captured well with the video encoding here – it looks very poor and compressed
  • With Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 Remix, the games are so old and technically so basic that there is no need to use the cloud. Switch should handle them natively and at 60fps. Remarkably, the cloud versions run at 720p30
  • Guardians of the Galaxy is a really demanding game that could only run through the cloud. However, the visuals are out of place and run at 720p30
  • Hitman 3 has two modes, but it’s not entirely clear what the enhanced graphics mode does. Both seem to work at varying resolutions and target 30 fps
  • Every 30fps cap on every title tested exhibits uneven frame rate

The outlook isn’t good overall and based on the demo code, the Kingdom Hearts Collection is going to be a very tough sell. However, the port of Control is not bad. There are quality and performance modes, just like consoles, and while the 720p30 quality mode has the same uneven frame rate issues as other capped titles, it’s good to see that the ray tracing features are retained. With a 720p60 target, the performance mode is also great, but frame rates seem to fall short of expectations.

There’s a lot to cover here, but what’s clear is that while the latency is comparable to other cloud-based systems based on the control result, the image quality isn’t where she should be. The quality of video encoding needs to be significantly improved, while the frame rate at 30fps and overall performance when shooting at 60fps should also be improved. If publishers want to make these cloud releases desirable, offering 1080p games via a 1080p video stream with the game running at 60 frames per second seems like a good idea – the cloud may never match local conditions but can provide advantages in terms of visual features and performance.

On the face of it, taking advantage of this technology allows the Switch to play games it wouldn’t otherwise – but even beyond image quality and latency issues, there are deep problems with the concept. First, there’s the idea that compromised experiences are being sold for such a high price. Second, the execution feels foreign to the Switch concept itself. This brilliant mobile system is no longer particularly mobile when such proximity to a router is required. I tried these titles using a 4G connection, by the way, but the experience didn’t work particularly well.

Ultimately, the market will decide if these cloud titles for Switch are viable, but our recommendation on what we’ve seen so far isn’t particularly positive. The good thing about the demos available on the eShop is that there’s nothing stopping you from checking out these titles for yourself, and I highly recommend that you do.

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