While its challenging gameplay remains intact, the visual compromises of getting it to the Switch make Mutant Year Zero a frustrating port.
As much as I’ve been looking forward to the big marquee releases that are coming to the Switch this year like Luigi’s Mansion 3 and the upcoming Link’s Awakening remake, one of the titles that I personally have been most looking forward to playing on Switch has been Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. While the game has been out for some time on consoles and PC, Mutant Year Zero still might have flown relatively under the radar for a lot of players out there, and undeservedly so. From what I played of the game previously on PC (and from our original review), it’s the type of sleeper hit that players shouldn’t, well…sleep on.
For those unfamiliar with the original game, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a turn-based strategy game based on the tabletop RPG Mutant, where players take on the role of a pair of Scavengers (the mutants Dux and Bormin) on a post-apocalyptic journey through the wastelands of the world in search of a scientist named Hammon. Combined with the game’s bizarre premise and band of characters (which you gradually “mutate” to gain new abilities and strategies), Mutant Year Zero largely plays with XCOM-like strategy and tactics combined with stealth mechanics, as players can roam around the world to try and gain the upper hand on their enemies and find loot before battle. Much like its characters, Mutant Year Zero is an interesting hybrid concoction of genres, even with some brutal levels of difficulty in places.
Ever since it was announced for the Switch earlier this year, I couldn’t help but find myself excited at the prospects of taking this challenging strategy game with me to play while either commuting to work, or to spend some time exploring its charmingly weird world before bed. And alongside other titles like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Into the Breach, strategy games in particular just lend themselves so well to being picked up and played in short spurts, making them some of my favorite games to play on the Switch.
Between its challenging XCOM-style gameplay and intriguing world and characters, Mutant Year Zero seemed like it would be an ideal Switch game that could benefit immensely from being played portably. But unfortunately, as good as it sounded on paper, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is one of the more disappointing Switch releases that I have played recently, largely due to it being so severely hampered by the system’s technical limitations.
By far the biggest hurdle that players will have to face with the Switch version of Mutant Year Zero are the visuals, which regardless of being played either handheld or docked are incredibly rough, to say the least. It’s clear that a number of technical compromises had to be made to bring the title to Switch, but even with the game managing to hold a fairly steady framerate (other than in more action-packed segments with a lot of enemies), Mutant Year Zero suffers in nearly every other way visually in its transition to the Switch.
This comes across most blatantly through this version’s low-resolution textures and blurriness, which can make playing the majority of Mutant Year Zero on Switch an exercise in frustration. The environments especially suffer from a severe lack of detail and muddiness, making it more of a challenge than it should be to explore and work your way around enemies. With so much of the game taking place in heavily-wooded forests and other hostile enemy territories, it’s not too much of a surprise that Mutant Year Zero might have had issues in being brought over to the Switch (and faced with such imposing technical limitations), given the amount of objects and detail that would need to have been rendered at once.
However, as much as I’m willing to take a loss of visual quality for a smoother gameplay experience, the technical limitations for the Switch version of Mutant Year Zero have a far more apparent effect on enjoying its gameplay. The core experience of real-time stealth/exploration and turn-based combat in Mutant Year Zero is largely intact, but with the Switch version’s overall lack of fidelity, an already challenging game is made even more challenging by having to work around its unrefined visuals, and especially when trying to pick out enemies or navigate its menus, which can be a bit hard to read when playing in handheld mode.
This is especially highlighted by the fact that scavenging and gathering loot is a critical part of the experience in playing Mutant Year Zero. As players can roam around the environment with their party members like Dux and Bormin before engaging in a battle, Mutant Year Zero emphasizes careful planning and observation so that you can maximize your success in battle. However, the lack of detail and overall blurriness of the visuals makes it extremely difficult to distinguish what items you can scavenge from the rest of the map, even with a white glow highlighting their location.
Given that the Switch has already been a great place for excellent strategy games, I was hoping that Mutant Year Zero would get another chance to shine with its Switch release. Everything about Mutant Year Zero, from its ragtag band of characters, to its weirdly-compelling world, and its addictive gameplay all made me admire the game when it released last year, which makes it all the more disheartening that the Switch version is a heavily-compromised take on a true cult hit. Unfortunately, the Switch version seems like a bit of botched experiment, and players will find more successful results by playing it on consoles or PC instead.