FIFA 19 marks EA’s second yearly iteration of its football franchise on the Nintendo Switch. Despite the early excitement of seeing FIFA back on a Nintendo platform last year, FIFA 18 felt like a shadow of the game available on Xbox One, PS4 or even PC. FIFA 19, however, promised to be a significant move in the right direction, providing an experience much closer to that enjoyed by players on other platforms while also highlighting the unique capabilities of the hybrid console. So does it live up to these lofty goals? Well, despite a few persistent shortcomings, FIFA 19 on the Switch is a marked improvement from last year’s edition and barring one or two very significant omissions, like The Journey, it does provide something closer to the complete, polished, footballing package we have come to expect from its more experienced platform counterparts. However, this is still not a team ready for the Premier League just yet.
What’s Nou, Camp?
Right from the early kick-off the first thing that has seen an upgrade are the visuals. Now, these are still not at the level available to players on the Microsoft and Sony platforms and the Switch still does not make use of the Frostbite engine. However, when comparing FIFA 18 on the Switch to FIFA 19, we can see EA has made an effort not only to improve player likenesses (particularly for the bigger stars) but in-game animations, the look of stadiums and even pitch details like grass definition seem a little brighter and clearer. According to EA, this is due to ‘updated HDR lighting and improved shadowing, as well as dynamic pitch degradation’.
The new Timed Finishing is also included in the Switch version. By throwing in a second tap as the ball is touching the foot of the striker, the strike will be ‘well-timed’ – in turn increasing its power and accuracy. Although I must admit at first I didn’t even realise this feature was present in the Switch version. That being said, once I found out by accident, I did think it was reasonably easy to accomplish, but not really worth it. Shooting as I have always done seemed to work well enough, and mistiming a shot by double-tapping at just the wrong split-second sends the ball flying into the stands. The AI also seemed to have improved this year, with certain teams behaving tactically like their real-world counterparts – Man City were often happy to pass back to their keeper for example, and Liverpool employed a distinctive ‘gegenpress’. Goalkeepers seemed to have more of a brain too especially from close range, and despite shots from outside still being favoured by FIFA, I actually like this feature because more spectacular goals happened more regularly.
However, the most hyped-about addition for FIFA 19 across the board is the inclusion of the now fully licensed UEFA Champions League (as well its little brother the Europa League). And EA have done their best to remind you of this option wherever they can. Happily, however, they have also done a great job of simulating the competition. Not only will you have the Champions League anthem stuck in your head, but the addition of a new Champions League specific commentary team (Derek Rae and Lee Dixon) and all the team sheets, on-screen graphics and general CL atmosphere has been replicated really well and will feel very different from the other League and Cup competitions you are involved in. This was one of the first modes I tried, and you can easily jump into playing a Champions League Final in Kick-Off mode, or just run through the competition from start to finish in the new Champions League Option on the main Play screen – I tried the latter, got all the way to the final and promptly lost to FC Barcelona. Very realistic, I thought. It is great to have this tournament finally licensed in FIFA (RIP PES) and now completing a full season with any of the top teams feels just that little bit more realistic.
It is great to have the Champions League finally licensed in FIFA (RIP PES) and EA has done a great job of replicating the competition. Now, completing a full season with any of the top teams feels just that little bit more realistic.
Despite the Champions League inclusion, the most significant new addition to FIFA 19 (particularly for the Switch addition) is the House Rules option in Kick-Off mode. Even back in the less-than-perfect FIFA 18 Switch game, the stand out feature that the Nintendo console version provided was portability. FIFA not only runs smoothly and looks good (and maybe even better) on the smaller Switch screen, but the option of taking it with you wherever you go and easily jumping into a quick game is great. When you throw in the fact that the Joy-Cons can each be used as an individual controller, being able to start 2-player games anywhere and at any time is a truly unique selling point. The new House Rules options for FIFA 19 add some fun, competitive features to spice up Kick-Off games. The portability of the Switch and how easy it is to start 2-player matches highlight these new features in a way the other platforms just cannot.
The new House Rules options add some fun, competitive features to spice up regular Kick-Off games and the portability of the Switch and how easy it is to start 2-player matches highlights these in a way the other platforms just cannot.
The House Rules include Survival mode (scoring a goal leads to one of your players being removed), Long Range (goals outside the area count double), First to 2 (matches can last up to 40 real-world minutes or until a team scores 2 goals, No Rules (yup just like it says on the label) and Headers and Volleys (shots taken from the ground don’t count even if they go into the net). Survival mode is my pick of the bunch, however, Long Range is rather fun too, and provides an interesting mechanic if you are losing by a single goal and time is running out. A single, last minute, well-placed blast from outside the area can actually win you the game. The Switch version also has two more Kick-Off modes that are unique to the Nintendo version: King of the Hill – where a winner keeps playing but is unable to change sides or teams, and Random Teams where instead of picking any team – you select only from a small randomised pool. The latter again, highlighting the perfect-fit that these Kick-Off modes found in the hybrid console.
Same Old, Trafford…
The Career modes you have learned to love over the years are available as always. You can choose between Player and Manager Careers. In Player Career you customise yourself as an upcoming young star, taking control of this single-player through a, hopefully, prestigious footballing career. I started as a young upstart as Borussia Dortmund. However, after a terrible pre-season, I just could not make the cut and was quickly loaned out to English Divison 2 outfit Grimsby Town. This is the rather creative way the game handles, your low-skilled player at the start – by moving to a lower division you are able to build up your stats and eventually move on to a big team in another league or back to your childhood club. Controlling a single-player during a match, however, has never been my favourite, and happily, you have the option of controlling the entire team instead.
Manager Career hasn’t changed much over the years, and I suspect that it’s still the most played version while offline. In this mode, you take control of a club, managing everything from training, scouting, transfers, tactics and even taking control of the games itself. Every year, this mode gets a small tweak here and there, however, barring a few issues with unlikely transfers, the mode is my personal favourite and again works well on FIFA 19 on the Switch.
The Career modes you have learned to love over the years are available as always… and again they work well on the Switch.
FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) has also seen some upgrades with virtually the same options available on the Switch version as on other platforms. Having been given a few UI improvements to ease working with what has become a very large and intricate system, FUT continues to provide that little bit extra for non-casual players. Here you’re able to earn points to buy player packs and build your own squad. Teams are built not only around their favoured positions and formations, but playing style, fitness, nationality and more must be taken into account. Good team chemistry is essential for a winning team. Once you are happy with your SA Gamer FC, you can take on other players around the world. The online features have seen much improvement this year and is happily one of the most obvious and nonsensical missing features last year (not being able to play online with friends) has now been fixed. Though when I tried to find anyone to play online (not friends) I, unfortunately, was greeted by the “No Opponents Found’ message on every attempt.
Tournaments (including the Women’s International Cup) are also available as standalone features, and if you’re new to FIFA the Skill Games section introduces you to the basic features of defending, passing, shooting and the like, and after completing these I found they actually taught me some advanced features that I hadn’t realised were available. These small touches really help introduce new players into the FIFA ecosystem.
No man, Neymar!
All that being said, and despite highlighting the various additions and inclusions that the Switch edition has, what still makes it feel like this version of FIFA is the unloved sibling more than any other is the omission of The Journey. This was a big complaint last year, and despite the upgrades this year, once again the Single-Player Story mode is nowhere to be found. Apparently, The Journey is powered by the Frostbite engine and because the Switch lacks the engine it cannot be included. Another issue is the apparent increase in size the inclusion of The Journey would incur. The lack of The Journey is the main stumbling block in considering the Switch FIFA editions in any way comparable to those on other platforms. I understand that many sports game players are not interested in the story mode, however, it provides something different to the genre as well as providing a way of non-sports fans into the game. Other than that, it provides a more interesting single-player experience within a strong multiplayer experience.
…what is clear to me is the lack of The Journey story mode is the main stumbling block in considering the Switch FIFA editions in any way comparable to those on other platforms.
Other notable missing features include the newly added Division Rivals from FUT. Despite this being a small disappointment, my feeling is that while FIFA on the Switch remains the clearly inferior version of the game most experienced players will always favour the other platforms. As such, for less experienced or more casual FIFA players (which I suspect make up more of the Switch FIFA audience) the FUT offering is big and complicated enough that these sort of missing features will go unnoticed.
A few other irritations included the constant check for squad updates and downloads when connected to start any game mode, and the presence once again of strange bugs – once after the ref blew the whistle all players froze and only started going again after several minutes and on a few occasions player celebrations (especially Ronaldo’s trademark jump) always seemed to take place off camera. Passing is also sometimes imprecise and there are still issues with difficulty settings and goalkeeper performance – anything lower than ‘Professional’ and Goalies are purely spectators that got an unexpectedly good seat (as you can tell by my rather one-sided first match with the difficulty setting set just one level lower in the below image).
Not Messi, but not a mess
FIFA 19 on the Switch shows a marked improvement from EA’s first attempt on the console last year, with graphics and gameplay seeing a reasonable upgrade. However, despite the welcome inclusion of the wonderfully crafted Champions League and a fuller Ultimate team package, like last year, the lack of the single-player Journey Mode still makes the Switch version feel like the unloved FIFA sibling. That being said the strength of this FIFA version lies in the console itself and in its portability in particular. With fun new multiplayer Kick Off modes available at any time, anywhere and with two controllers readily available this FIFA 19 edition may not be the premium version but it is definitely good enough if you do not have access to other platforms or do most of your gaming on the go. And the advancements made from FIFA 18 to FIFA 19 are enough to give us hope that next year’s edition may finally provide sterner competition for the other versions particularly due to the Switch additional portability feature.