So on Wednesday I had watched the Nintendo Direct. Of course, since I’m a Nintendo fan, I wanted to see what the company had planned for its upcoming games. But what took me by surprise — and the reason why I’m talking about it here on Boiling Steam — was the trailer for the Portal series. Those games are coming to the Nintendo Switch this year, titled Portal: Companion Collection. I was pretty sure this is the first time Valve has ever worked with Nintendo to put their games onto their platform, and sure enough, I found out later that it indeed is.
Now, just to be clear, Valve has prior experience in developing for the console market. They’ve brought Portal 2 to the PS3, The Orange Box to Xbox 360/PS3, Left 4 Dead series to Xbox 360, and CS:GO to Xbox 360/PS3 (although, a lot of these ports were outsourced to other companies). However, it’s an experience that Gabe Newell didn’t like, as he called developing for consoles “walled gardens” and noted that the graphics for consoles “are essentially derivative of the PC.”
The difference here with Portal: Companion Collection is that the majority of the work was already taken care of eight years ago with Portal being brought to the NVIDIA Shield product family with NVIDIA’s help. The 2019 model of the Nintendo Switch, as well as the Switch Lite and the OLED Switch, are using the same chipset as the NVIDIA Shield TV: the Tegra X1+. The launch edition Switch uses Tegra X1. While I’m no developer, I would imagine that it took very little effort to bring the Portal series to the Switch, since both platforms are basically using the same architecture. Sure, NVIDIA Lightspeed Studios may have had to adjust the framerate, resolution, and graphics quality a bit, but they already had 50% of the work done with the original Portal being available on Tegra X1+. Now it was a matter of bring its sequel to this chipset and making the necessary adjustments so that it could work on the Switch.
With Valve being the incredibly interesting corporation that it is, I had been brewing different theories as to why Valve was doing this. It’s interesting enough that they’re putting a game onto a platform they have never reached out to before, but the fact that the Steam Deck will be out in a couple of weeks/months made my head scratch. Why would Valve do this? If Portal 2 is Steam Deck Verified, why bother putting that and the original Portal to another handheld? So here were some of my (and my fellow editor’s) hypotheses:
- They put it on the Switch for the Nintendo fanboys who refuse to pick up the Deck so that they can play it
- Switch gamers may have been asking for it for a while and Valve just decided to act on it — it may have been in the works way before the Steam Deck was announced
- It might have been a way for Valve to “shake hands” with Nintendo — because after all, the Steam Deck has frequently been compared to the Switch for its portable form factor, and Valve was kind of saying, “Sorry we took quite a few notes from you guys”
- Just a way to tide gamers over while they wait patiently for the Deck to get into their hands
- Portal 3 could be in the works and will be first on the Deck, giving a point for Switch users to transition to the Deck at some point
I have even conspired that it was a clever marketing attempt to make people buy the Steam Deck because the Switch version may have a throttled resolution/framerate, or because of a lack of features that make it a barebones experience. To be sure, the Switch does not boast as many features as the Steam Deck does. While the Switch may have a built-in gyroscope, haptic feedback, and a handheld mode, notice what the Switch doesn’t have:
- analog triggers
- decent ergonomics (unless you’re using third-party joycons that have them)
- capacitive thumbsticks
- back paddles
- free cloud saves
- free online multiplayer
So let’s say your playing Portal on both your Switch and the Steam Deck. You’re comparing which version is better. You would likely conclude that the Steam Deck version plays better, since the Steam Deck has the features mentioned above, while the Switch doesn’t. You can aim your portals a little more precisely with the trackpads, you can hold the device more comfortably thanks to the ergonomics, and you’ve got more actions at your quick disposal with the back buttons. And while you can sync your cloud saves and play online multiplayer with Portal 2 on the Switch version, that requires having an active Nintendo Switch Online subscription, which at the time of writing this is $20/year. On Steam? Cloud saves and online multiplayer are absolutely free.
So I think the real reason Valve is bringing the Portal series to the Nintendo Switch is so people can compare. Give them an idea of what the next generation of the Switch could be, and provide a game that allows them to truly differentiate the two devices. I may actually make a comparison myself once the game becomes available on the Switch and I have my Deck. But as much hate as I’m going to get from the Switch fanboys, it’s clear that the Deck will offer a far more superior experience while playing the Portal series, or any other game for that matter.