No Man's Sky For Nintendo Switch Review: Portable Infinity

  • Looks and plays very nicely on the Switch
  • Looks even better in handheld mode
  • Portable “No Man’s Sky” lives up to the hype
  • Missing a couple of features
  • Doesn’t look as good as on other platforms
  • Several minor bugs (may not be Switch-specific)

When I first got my Switch in 2017, my reaction to it was about what I'd expected. Which is to say within the first week all I could think about was how much I wanted all of the games I enjoy to eventually find their way onto Nintendo's (at the time) new hybrid handheld-slash-console. And I do mean all of them.

Back then "No Man's Sky" had only been out for about a year, so I wasn't expecting spontaneous miracles, but I was definitely thinking about how much I desperately wanted to be able to explore those functionally infinite galaxies on it. I could bring it into the bedroom with me if I wasn't ready to stop playing and could make peace with not sleeping that night. I'd be able to explore alien worlds when taking the train to visit my parents. It would have been amazing.

Now here we are, roughly five years later and I don't have to imagine what it would be like anymore. And let me tell you, "No Man's Sky on the Switch" sure is "No Man's Sky" on the Switch. Impressions in this review are based on playing with a standard Nintendo Switch (i.e. not an OLED model). Story spoilers (yes, there is a story) will be kept to a minimum, but several later-game gameplay elements will be mentioned.

In case you're new

For anyone who may not have played "No Man's Sky" up to this point (whether due to conscious choice or being limited to a Switch release), there are a few things worth knowing before reading any further. "No Man's Sky" is, essentially, a galaxy-exploring adventure that uses procedural generation to create a whole lot of solar systems, planets, flora, fauna, spaceships, and so on. It's also nothing like the game it was when it was first released in 2016.

Originally it was a fairly somber and lonely affair, with little direction (though there was some) and a lot of "make your own fun." Not inherently a bad thing, but it wasn't what a lot of people were expecting. But after years of major content updates, it's now full of all sorts of things to do and see.

The biggest strength "No Man's Sky" has, at least for me, is in sheer variety. Yes, it can absolutely start to get boring when you've scanned yet another randomly-generated alien animal that's very similar to the one you saw a couple of dozen planets ago, but if you start to get bored you can do something else entirely. Find a planet with resources you need (or are valuable) and construct a mining base. Scour another solar system for a potential new starship to salvage and upgrade. Follow the main story path. Search for drop pods so you can max out your inventory space. And so on.

The basics

Whether you're starting with this version or have played "No Man's Sky" before, playing on the Switch gives you access to all of the previous and current content updates. From the original Foundation update that added base building, to the ability to command freighters in Next, all the way up to the myriad quality of life improvements from the most recent (as of writing) Waypoint. If it's available on other platforms, chances are good it's also on or coming to the Switch — though its patches do seem to be coming out separately from the PC, PlayStation, and Xbox updates for some reason.

Depending on how you decide to handle your exploration and what ways you allow yourself to get sidetracked, you can do all sorts of things. Explore a derelict freighter, braving the dark corridors as you try to find valuable salvage. Create a small farm of sorts, using machinery to feed the local fauna and collect what amounts to milk and eggs from them. Dig up ancient alien ruins to find valuable artifacts. Earn credits taking on bounties for wanted pirates.

Point is, there's very little you can do in "No Man's Sky" on one platform that you can't also do on the Switch, including the various game modes (Normal, Relaxed, Survival, Creative, Custom, Expedition, etc). Which is very cool! But also, if you're already familiar with the game, don't come into this version expecting anything fundamentally new. Barring one major, and obvious, exception.

A few familiar glitches

For as much as I enjoy and will continue to extol the virtues of "No Man's Sky," the game does have its problems and they're not limited to the Switch version.The frame rate does dip from time to time depending on how graphically intense things are getting on the screen. Textures don't always load in right away (or properly), so you may find yourself staring at blurry objects, buildings, or even creatures for a few minutes here and there.

Sometimes larger objects on a planet's surface will "reposition" themselves as you get closer. Task reminders may not go away after you've completed a task. A planet's surface may not load properly, causing your character to fall through the world once the proper terrain loads in (though a jump or exosuit boost typically brings you back to ground level again. For a time my game would freeze and crash on me when I attempted to change tabs in the pause menu, but I think that one's been fixed.

As irritating as these glitches can be, they haven't ruined my fun — and I can't say I'm certain that they're exclusive to the Switch version. I've definitely encountered blurry textures often on the PS4, and one time I sat in a chair and fell off the map. My point is, the game's still got its share of odd bugs regardless of what you play it on.

Switching it up

An unexpected perk of playing on the Switch is that it makes limited use of the touchscreen controls when playing in handheld mode. Primarily it's an alternative way to navigate through the various menus that appear when interacting with the world, using your inventory, and so on. It's nothing groundbreaking (or even particularly useful), but having the option to tap to select a different mission in the log is nice.

But no, the real advantage (really the only advantage) the Switch version has is that it's convenient. You can explore your galaxy at your leisure while sitting on the couch, then pop the Switch off of its dock and start playing in handheld mode — possibly still on the couch, but you have the option to carry it pretty much anywhere. If you don't already have a Steam Deck, portability will likely be your one best reason for buying "No Man's Sky" on Switch.

I cannot overstate how much I've been enjoying being able to play this game whenever I want, no matter where I am. If the TV is needed for something else I can free it up and keep playing without missing a beat. Obviously, it can be played in the bathroom. And yes, on more than one occasion I've kept myself up late by bringing it to bed.

It also looks great on the smaller screen. Some sacrifices have absolutely been made to get all of this running on Switch, and it's easiest to see when playing docked, but all those graphical compromises melt away in handheld mode.

A few compromises

All that said, the compromises that had to be made to get "No Man's Sky" running on the Switch are mostly pretty obvious. Granted, up to now I was only playing on a PlayStation 4 so it's not as much of a graphical change-up as, say, being used to playing on a PC or PS5, but the Switch version is objectively the least impressive to look at.

The various graphical effects and lighting aren't quite as sharp and impressive. Character and animal animations are very noticeably choppy at a distance — even from only a few in-game feet away — likely as a means of keeping the frame rate more consistent. Planetary objects (grass, plants, animals, buildings, etc) also have a tendency to pop in as you land your starship, or if you run through an area faster than the Switch can keep up.

I've also noticed a couple of bizarre recurring issues that I hadn't previously encountered on the PS4. Sounds will sometimes not play or will play a few seconds after an animation has finished (mostly this happens when using star charts or engaging my Pulse Drive). Using the terrain manipulator to dig up buried objects or mine for metals also often has this weird delay, where it will stop affecting the ground I'm using it on but I won't get any new materials from it and the area that should have been removed remains — only to spontaneously disappear after a few (or a dozen, it varies) seconds pass.

Missing pieces

I knew going in that some technical elements would have to be cut or scaled back in order for "No Man's Sky" to bring all of its practically-infinite elements to a (let's be honest here) weaker console. What I wasn't prepared for was finding out that a couple of gameplay elements I enjoyed were also removed — again, likely for the sake of keeping the Switch from bursting into flames while you play.

Multiplayer has been axed, which, I get, but the omission also resulted in Nexus missions getting dropped. And that's really disappointing because I enjoyed doing Nexus missions solo. It's also a problem because you can still, in theory, spend the quicksilver you're supposed to earn from these cooperative-focused missions on special items. But without being able to take on these missions I can't earn any quicksilver, so I can't actually buy any of the special gear I want, even though the vendor is still there and I can still look in the shop.

It was also a bummer to discover that Settlements aren't in the Switch version, either. I know they weren't to everyone's taste but I liked having a tiny town I could expand and semi-customize, which would slowly earn me some extra goodies over real-world time. Their absence doesn't keep me from enjoying myself, but it's one of the game's many distractions that I had fun with and now it's gone.

No Man's Sky Switch verdict

Being able to enjoy "No Man's Sky" on the Switch depends entirely on whether or not you enjoy the game in the first place — or if it sounds like a game you want to play if you haven't already. As much as I adore being able to play on the go (or at least in another room if the TV is in use), that aspect alone isn't going to be enough to change your mind if you've played it and don't like it.

You also need to keep in mind that playing things won't look quite as good or run quite as smoothly on the Switch, necessary though those sacrifices might be. And of course, there's the lack of multiplayer — and by extension Nexus missions — as well as the omission of Settlements. Not something you're likely going to regret missing out on if you're new to all this, but regardless, you will be missing out.

But if you enjoy flitting around the galaxy having various adventures, no matter how similar they may feel to each other sometimes, and have been wanting to be able to take your galactic shenanigans with you when you travel (or leave the room), I strongly suggest at least considering the Switch release. It's by no means perfect (not that it ever was), but even several years on the magic of being able to explore near-limitless alien worlds doesn't really get old. Especially when it's portable.

You can purchase "No Man's Sky" in The Nintendo Store for Nintendo Switch for approximately $60.