When I first reviewed NieR Automata, I opened my review with surprise that the game even existed. Now that the series has a global audience, I get to be surprised about something else. Yes, six years on, I relive that feeling as the series finally makes its debut on the Nintendo Switch with NieR Automata. But while the surprise of this project existing is what you’d expect, what really has surprised me with NieR Automata is just how competent of a port it is. Sure, it has some caveats, the usual that come with any Switch port, but it’s almost just as good a way to experience Automata.
While Automata is the second NieR game, you don’t need to have played the previous game to understand what’s going on. Taking place years after the original, in a future where machines have forced humanity to flee to the moon, the world is in a dark place. Desperate to reclaim the planet, humankind devises a plan to send androids to do the task for them. It sounds batshit and even a bit simple, but the places it goes will successfully demonstrate why the games in the NieR series leave such a lasting impression.
As with the previous games, the story is told in a very non-traditional way. Fully taking advantage of its video game form, repeat playthroughs will result in different endings and give greater context to the world’s events. I like the NieR games because you can get just enough from the plot to be satiated from a single playthrough. But multiple playthroughs are rewarded in droves, adding many layers to a world as complex and deep as ever.
Like the original game, Automata takes place in a semi-open world, not unlike games such as Darksiders and Zelda. You start your journey as 2B, one of the androids who can be equipped with an arsenal of weapons to defend herself. Also, like the original game, Automata employs a range of gameplay styles to offer a unique experience. You’ll get the best bits of an action game primarily, but there are elements of sidescrolling platformers and shoot-em-ups peppered throughout. Throw in some side quest design that feels plucked straight from an open-world game like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, and you’ve got a rather eclectic mix of genres on display here.
While the original game was slightly dated to play, though later improved with a fantastic remake, Automata plays just as it did six years ago on the Switch. This is hardly a bad thing – PlatinumGames was tapped for this sequel for their action expertise, and they most certainly brought their A-game here. Your character fights with a main weapon and a projectile-based pod and can alternate between one another to create some killer combos. It’s just as smooth as before, with great variety to take down enemies.
New to the Nintendo Switch edition is motion controls. These map your two types of attacks to motion on the joy-con and……work just how you’d expect them to. In a game as fast-paced as Automata, they simply feel like an afterthought rather than a genuine implementation of a new way to play. I swiftly disabled them after trying it out for about an hour.
I’d previously thought that Automata was too easy of an action game, especially coming from a team like PlatinumGames, and that thought still stands. A much more lenient action game, on the whole, it’s an excellent game for people to jump into if they’ve previously been intimidated by the likes of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. It’s still a bit of a challenge, but the skill floor is much lower than its contemporaries without sacrificing the satisfaction you feel from clearing an intense battle.
Besides weapons and your pods, your android can be customised with chipsets. Each chip will take up a certain number of slots – so a HP Increase Chip might take up 2 slots while one that improves attack power might take up 5. Such a system allows you to build your android the way you want to – making them a powerhouse that prioritises attack power over health (perfect for those who rarely get hit). Others might build their android to have high defense and HP, dedicating slots that could otherwise be used to improve attack power.
It sounds cliché, but chips are a fantastic way to curb the difficulty for players who might struggle with NieR: Automata and feel like a great way to eschew the traditional level-up system. There is still a level-up system, but the chip system means you don’t necessarily have to grind to improve your stats. Weapons and pods can also be upgraded using salvage from enemies and funds – giving players a wealth of customisation options for their character.
The Nintendo Switch version, called the End of YoRHa Edition, combines everything from the original game and all released downloadable content. The main game will see most players taking around twenty or so hours to complete, but finishing off every ending plus the wave-based survival DLC will easily catapult that to sixty hours. I rarely talk about price in reviews, but given the precedence set for late ports coming to Nintendo Switch, NieR: Automata offers all of this content at a very modest price point, which is to be commended.
When it was announced earlier this year, I was sceptical about whether Automata, a PlayStation 4 game, could look good and play well enough on the Switch. It does, though it’s not without compromise. In my original review, I lamented that the open world was vast but bare, but this has played to great advantage for the Switch version. The port runs at thirty frames per second (half the original) and still slows down in some late-game areas, but overall looks and runs pretty well, even if artistically, it is a bit sparse. Still, it’s hard to notice or even care when everything is moving fast in the heat of battle.
The atmosphere is foreboding and melancholy, too, achieved through a potent mix of great art direction and a unique yet haunting score. Fans of the original will be surprised to find that, despite such a futuristic setting, the industrial vibe of the original game is still intact and more effective in Automata.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Auteur designer Yoko Taro successfully blends his oddball knack for storytelling, defying typical video game conventions in doing so. This leads to an unforgettable story, but how it's told and demands repeat playthroughs is bound to be lost on some part of NieR: Automata's audience. Regardless, NieR: Automata blends intense action and RPG components into an atmosphere and game that's well worth experiencing, even on the Nintendo Switch.
Fast Paced Action
Some Performance Issues
Motion Controls Are Beyond Gimmicky
Repeat Playthroughs For Full Story Might Put Off Some Players