Hello Games continues to go from strength to strength shoehorning their epic space game, No Man’s Sky, into the tiny Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo’s Switch continues to surprise me with the huge games that the tiny device can accommodate. First Bethesda stuffed the massive world of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim into the portable console, and then CD Projekt RED did the same with their open-world fantasy game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Now, with No Man’s Sky, Hello Games have gone and squeezed an entire universe into the Switch.
The ambitious and oft-delayed, No Man’s Sky originally launched on PlayStation 4 and PC in August 2016, full of broken promises. The combination of missing features and over-hype from Sony’s PR, for what was essentially a small independent game, made for a messy release. Fans went wild with disappointment.
But rather than just give up, Hello Games rose to the challenge. Since launch, there have been over thirty updates have been released for the game, fixing problems and adding features far in excess of those originally planned, but omitted, at release.
The game has gone on to be ported to Xbox One, macOS, and iPad. The PC and PlayStation 4 versions had a free patch adding virtual reality for PC and PSVR. Enhanced versions of the game are also available for Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5.
And now No Man’s Sky is available on Nintendo Switch.
I played No Man’s Sky on PC and PlayStation from launch. The Switch version gave me a good opportunity to experience the game again after all those patches, from the start.
Players control an unnamed explorer who awakens on an alien planet near a damaged starship in need of repairs and refuelling. Each playthrough places the player on a different planet, with a unique atmosphere and available resources. The various planets, flora, and fauna are all procedurally generated allowing for billions and billions of different unique locations across a huge galaxy.
Using a multitool the explorer must collect common resources such as ferrite and carbon with which to craft into the components required to get the ship back in the air. Whilst the game has a huge crafting tree, the game starts small without overwhelming the player. All the materials needed to get the ship airborne can be found close by.
Atmospheric conditions and terrain vary depending on the randomly generated planet that you start on. It could be a cold, hot, or corrosive planet. These all limit the about of time you can be exposed before getting hurt. The explorer’s suit has some environmental protection which can be recharged enroute using materials or by finding shelter, either in a cave, a structure, or your spaceship.
Once your ship is repaired and refuelled, you can take to the sky. It’s your choice as to whether to explore the starting planet’s surface or leave the atmosphere for some interplanetary travel.
Planets are dotted with abandoned containers, settlements, artifacts, alien structures, and even huge crashed spaceships. Each has a story, resources, or knowledge to offer. Learning about alien cultures from artifacts makes communicating and trading in the game later on a little easier.
Most of the time the game lets players just get on with it. Story triggers happen when certain milestones are reached. But it’s all pretty chilled. You can play the game at your own pace.
No Man’s Sky offers players a huge universe-sized sandbox to live an alternative life amongst the stars. As the game progresses more technology unlocks giving access to better equipment, bigger starships, and even huge freighters.
Aside from the main quest, the game has hundreds of hours of other activities that can be pursued. For instance, creatures can be tamed and ridden and there are also land vehicles that can be built. You can spend hours building complex bases across the universe, networking them all by teleport. If you just like exploring, well, the opportunities are limitless.
You are not alone in the game. Floating mechanical sentinels will attack you on planets if you alter the ecosystem, and sometimes attack on sight for no reason at all. Some planets have vast space battles raging overhead which players can join.
There’s also multiplayer with 2-4 players able to join together as a party via The Nexus, which becomes available a few hours into the game. You may also come across other players travelling in the same instance of the game universe as you. Multiplayer is cross-platform, so you can play with friends if they are on PC, Xbox, or PlayStation.
Playing the Switch version, with all the patches included, highlights how far the game has come since 2016. As well as new content, Hello Games have refined the game mechanics. There’s a better balance between the resource-gathering and crafting aspects of the game. The ability to carry more material means less of the inventory management that I remember being such a chore with the original release. The inclusion of a teleport network makes traversing the long distances between planets and space stations less time-consuming.
As a survival game, resource gathering is a big part of the game. This involves a lot of inventory management, especially as you get started. There are lots of menus, some of which still could do with some work. The game has a lot of controls for the Switch’s relatively small number of buttons, and they are not all immediately intuitive. After a while, though, you soon get to remember what to press. Thankfully the game does a good job of slowly revealing the various mechanics so as not to overwhelm new players.
On a big TV screen stacking resources and crafting components was no trouble. I thought that things would get a little fiddly on the Switch’s small screen, but no, the menus are still very clear. No Man’s Sky plays amazingly well as a portable game.
The Switch version retains the game's gorgeous art style, which is reminiscent of 1960s and 70s sci-fi novel book covers. The resolution may be a bit lower than that of its more powerful peers and the object edges a bit more jagged, but you’ll not notice any of that as the game sucks you in.
No Man’s Sky goes straight to the top of my list of essential Nintendo Switch games. This uncompromising version of the game leaves nothing out, pushing the console to the max and giving players the complete experience in what must be one of the greatest space games ever made.