With the Nintendo Switch’s newness starting to fade, interest in the new console has begun to shift toward its upcoming wave of “bigger” games. These include , the brand-new fighting series Arms, and a new Splatoon game that is finally looking more like a sequel than a last-gen port. But something interesting is quietly bubbling within the world of Switch games—though, sadly, I don’t mean Nintendo’s catalog of classic Virtual Console games.
What’s bubbling up is just about as good, however: frequently updated games. And in one case, those updates have transformed at least one major Switch game from “maybe try” to “must buy.”
Nintendo spoke at length at a late-February event about how its Nintendo Switch platform will make certain development tasks easier for game makers. The participating “Nindies” game makers on hand echoed that statement. At the time, they mostly spoke about the ease of translating games from other platforms, whether through a major engine like Unity and Unreal or through their own custom-built engines.
But what the speakers didn’t explore much at the time—because, you know, the system wasn’t out—was how easy it was to patch their games.
Nintendo has been notorious among game makers for getting in the way of updates to released games that other game consoles have already addressed (and thus opened the door for more great indies and experimental games on consoles). Nicalis, the publishers behind indie favorites Cave Story and Binding of Isaac, publicly bemoaned the certification process that held back updates to the company’s Wii games. And other attempts at developer outreach, like interview requests sent to Nintendo’s “indie” publishing manager, were frequently stonewalled as recently as 2014.
Something has clearly changed in terms of how developers can push updates on a Nintendo platform to make their games better. Now, not even two months into the Switch’s life, almost all of its games have received at least one patch in their first two weeks of existence, and quite a few have gotten multiple patches over the past two months. Not just first-party games, either (though performance-boosting patches have certainly been welcome for ).
The following third-party games have received timely patches to improve performance or playability: Fast RMX (which got a performance bump in an early patch and more modes in a follow-up); Has-Been Heroes (which received a substantive difficulty patch and an improved tutorial); Snake Pass (which got a performance boost and visual upgrade); and every classic game on the Neo-Geo emulator base. Those are the most notable games, but not the only ones.
Perhaps overshadowing them all, however, is an entirely unexpected developer leading the charge on patches to save a game: Konami.
As it turns out, Konami, who owns the rights to the ’90s multiplayer franchise Bomberman, has been responsible for three major patches to Switch launch title Super Bomberman R. Weeks after launch, Konami pushed a critical patch to fix the game’s woeful multiplayer modes, while the most recent, which went live late Thursday, was transformative: It bumped all multiplayer modes to a 60-frames-per-second visual refresh, and it added four free multiplayer arenas and other welcome tweaks, to boot.
This locked 60-FPS patch (improved from the original 30 FPS refresh) is remarkable for many reasons, most notably because it makes a major sacrifice to pull the performance-boost off: It slashes the game’s rendering resolution. Ars doesn’t have pixel-counting gear handy, but rough estimates see the multiplayer mode’s pixel count dropping from 1080p to 720p in the Switch’s docked TV mode and from 720p to 540p in portable mode. That’s a severe cut—and one that, in the past, could have been held up by a Nintendo “quality” certification roadblock, considering how much blur it adds to the game’s appearance.
In the case of Super Bomberman R, the resolution slash totally works. Bomberman is not a visually messy game, other than its bursts of flame. Technically, it’s just a matter of rendering primary colors, low-poly models, and simple textures. Crisper Bombermen would be lovely, sure, but players lose nothing from some slight blur… and gain so much from the performance boost.
Let me go so far as to say: This patch redeems Super Bomberman R as a must-own Switch multiplayer title. A more fluid framerate is nigh essential for the peculiar top-down, bombs-everywhere mayhem that in an average Bomberman battle. Considering that your own misplaced bombs can do more damage in versus modes than your opponents’, you need as few outside, annoying issues to blame as possible for mishaps.
More importantly for Switch gamers, multiply that complaint by a 6.2 if you and your friends crowd around the Switch’s built-in 6.2″ screen. The smoother framerate finally makes Super Bomberman R playable on a smaller screen. That means you can place faith in the concept of “Bar”-merman, with you, some buddies, some Joy-Cons, and some brewskies.
Not letting them off the hook, but…
Konami apparently isn’t done, either. The company has promised at least one more patch to add other Konami characters as Bomberpeople, like Simon Belmont from Castlevania and the Pyramid Head from Silent Hill. Hopefully, the next patch also fixes the remaining obnoxious issue with Super Bomberman R: its in-game currency, which can only be earned by playing the game but takes foreeeeever to earn.
Not every game will have such proactive patching, but let’s be clear: we’d written off Konami as a pack of pachinko-slinging gamer-haters. And Nintendo loosened and streamlined its patch and certification process enough to get them on board with frequent, useful game updates! What bigger selling point do you need than that?
Exactly what Nintendo has changed in its process is a little harder to pin down, as Nintendo hasn’t spelled that out exactly to developers. “My understanding is that Nintendo has been working behind the scenes to make the certification process robust in terms of testing, while also being quick and painless for us developers,” says Mobeen Fikree, head developer of the stunning Switch indie game . “So far, it seems to be working!”
When pressed about turn-around times for GEM‘s “day-one” patch, between when he submitted and when Nintendo approved, Fikree said he wasn’t allowed to say exactly, but that “it was pretty quick, considering all the testing Nintendo does.” He also confirmed another patch is forthcoming based on “early feedback” from players of his game (which, for the uninitiated, is a beautiful, weapon-swapping twist on the arcade classic Defender).
In a dream world, every game would ship on a disc or cartridge with every important feature and optimization in place. Relying on patches is bad news for certain players for a lot of reasons, but in the case of the Switch’s library so far, that reliance is paying off. Because the platform favors simpler designs and smaller development teams, patching and quick-hit updates are crucial to keep the content flowing—especially for studios that simply cannot afford major QA support for their small games’ launches.
Nintendo has still yet to take serious action on quite a few Switch items, including its Virtual Console library, its multiplayer smartphone app, its paid online service, and whether it will ever support one-token, every-console purchases for classic games. (Not buying Super Mario Bros. 3 a fifth time, guys.) I’m not letting Nintendo off the hook for those antiquated practices. But at the very least, the slow-as-molasses Japanese gaming giant is finally getting the hell out of the way for nimbler developers who are making the Switch kick ass right now. And they deserve praise for that.