Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot on Switch goes even further beyond... expectations

I’ll be honest, I did not expect this piece to have the tone it ended up with. Last week I wrote about the switch port Ni no Kuni II, discussing how impressive of a conversion it was despite some unfortunate setbacks needed to get it to run on the portable platform. I had considered it pretty high up on quality Nintendo Switch ports of 8th generation games, but only a week later (and from the exact same publisher, no less) the bar has been raised even higher. 

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot might be the best Switch port I’ve ever played. I say this as both an extremely casual DBZ fan and someone whose Switch library consists mostly of ports.

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When our own George Foster reviewed Dragon Ball Z Kakarot on PS4 for us last year, I wasn’t sold. I enjoyed Dragon Ball FighterZ, but I tend to not play many licensed anime games otherwise. I thought an adaptation of Goku’s story as an RPG was certainly interesting, but even CyberConnect 2’s involvement wasn’t enough to win me over. I wish I had given it a shot now, but I’m glad I decided to try out the Switch port on a whim.

I genuinely don’t know how they did it. Maybe it’s the versatility of Unreal Engine. Maybe it’s the fact that CyberConnect handled the port in-house. But it’s certainly not because of any simplicity on the game’s part. Everything from Kakarot has been brought over in its entirety, including the three story expansions. The brilliant cell-shaded aesthetic has been retained, with a resolution downgrade so minor it’s barely worth mentioning. The framerate performance on Switch is near perfect.

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Call me a cynic, but I didn’t think they’d be able to pull it off when this port was announced. I’ve seen slower -paced, less graphically intensive games with much smaller scales struggle to work on Sswitch. From the second I got control to explore, two thoughts immediately came to mind. 1) “Huh, these areas are massive”, and 2) “Wait, I’m flying through these areas and the framerate isn’t really dropping at all”. I hadn’t played this on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but I was surprised to learn both versions targeted 30 FPS. 

I tested Kakarot's undocked performance on my Switch Lite and docked with my second revision (Animal Crossing) Switch. During my time with the port, I played up until the end of the first major story arc. Kakarot is quite fun; probably the most fun I've ever had with a Dragon Ball game. I initially didn't bat an eye towards it during the initial release, because console games simply struggle to get my attention. Dragon Ball is well known for its constant raising of the stakes, but many of the game adaptations skim by the smaller moments that made the fanbase fall in love with the characters. Goku needing to tell King Kai a joke to begin training? There. Gohan hunting dinosaurs? There. Goku being a good dad and husband? Okay… that might have been added in an elaborate effort to make Goku out to be a better father than he actually is. We’ll take it though, because it’s cute. Kakarot takes a magnifying glass to these moments, so much that it often has a laid-back vibe. For this reason alone, the Switch version being so well put together makes this console a natural fit for the exact experience Kakarot is trying to offer.

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It's impossible for me to test the exact resolution, I just don't have the eyes or patience for it, but rest assured that it looks great. Everything is crisp, albeit with some minor pixelation on the edge of models, and the resolution is pretty solid. One of the first things developers often sacrifice is shadow quality, usually reducing them to hilarious blobs, but Kakarot's look pretty good. It should be obvious that, of course, it won't look as nice as its console counterparts, but worse concessions are usually made for these and I can't stress enough just how great it looks on both the Switch screen and on a TV.

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Cutscenes play out in-engine or pre-rendered, just like with the original version. The pre-rendered cutscenes for the moments where they need to recreate the most iconic scenes in the series were a good choice in retrospect. Besides some compression artifacts that you would only really notice if you were trying to nitpick, they look great. A lot of the appeal of the game is to experience all those story beats recreated with the magnificent visual flair only CyberConnect can bring. It's only icing on the cake to be able to bear witness to Yamcha's iconic crater scene in all its 3D glory.

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Battles in Kakarot happen seamlessly, yet no matter how hectic things got, the framerate would rarely ever drop under 30 fps. Even then, the dips would be barely noticeable. If you're aware of CyberConnect, you know how fancy they make their visuals. Detailed in-engine cutaways happen during boss battles with no effect on fidelity, with an equally over-the-top amount of particle effects perfectly fitting for this IP. Not to mention, you can totally knock bosses into the environment and the fight will happily move along like nothing happened. There's always the possibility that the arcs in Namek and beyond will have some heavy moments that will affect the framerate, but everything I've played so far is wonderfully impressive. The speed is maintained even with very infrequent framerate dips in what has to be the high 20s, and it honestly made my dedicated "Switch Port Critic Brain" turn off. I think this is about the time someone would say a fancy phrase like "frame pacing" to explain why it feels so smooth to play. I've heard that enough to pretend to know what it means. Kakarot on Switch has some good frame pacing.

In between combat missions you're given several open hub areas to explore. This is where you would imagine the hardware would have issues keeping up. I was ready for these issues, but they never showed up. These maps are quite large, and you're often flying through them at rather ridiculous speeds. Add in destructible environments, and it's a recipe for disaster for most games. Those just don't have Goku in them to carry the experiences, I guess. The draw distance is quite large, and pop-in is handled incredibly well. In the intermission between the first two arcs, I flew Gohan from his house to the nearby city. Such a rapid change of location simply had to strain it, right? Nope. Handled it with no problem. I'm sure some of you reading this who don't bother with Switch ports might find my feelings to be overexaggerated for effect, but it's really rare for open-world games to function properly on this system. Us Switch fans are desperate for new hardware revisions, you have no idea.

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I guess if I had to offer some complaints, the only one that really comes to mind is file size. The amount of content, voice acting, and pre-rendered videos make the download size end up being a whopping 16.5 GBs. I have no idea how the physical release will handle this, but make sure to have a micro SD card prepared. 

I'll admit, that's a lot of gushing. So much so that you probably would assume me to be a biased DBZ super fan. Again, I'm not, but Kakarot left me with such an amazing first impression that I couldn't help myself. I was looking for things to criticize, but the port is so great that I was left with almost nothing. Yeah it doesn't look as good as the console version, and yeah it runs slightly worse. However, the fact that this underdog version stacks up at all to its bigger brothers is impressive… and thematically fitting. Most good ports on this system tend to be turn-based RPGs (and even then, not always), like the exceptional Dragon Quest XI S. Conveniently, that also features art by Akira Toriyama and a "Dragon" motif. Coincidence? I think not. An action game with such an emphasis on style and speed, running this good? On the Switch? Almost unheard of. 

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Kakarot is definitely a flawed game, and George's criticisms in his reviews certainly hold up. It's not too mechanically dense and the gameplay loop can often be rather repetitive. There are plenty of blemishes, and there's a lot that could be seen as unpolished. But all that aside, this is still a wonderful time. It's just a fun, comfortable time with tons of fanservice and more depth than almost any other licensed anime game on the market. There's this infectious energy that makes it hard not to find things to love despite the gripes, and if that's not the spirit of Dragon Ball then I don't know what is. I was not expecting to love Kakarot, or find my experience on the Switch version so remarkable. CyberConnect accomplished nothing short of a miracle here, this port is Krillin it. My expectations were admittedly low, and that was unfair of me. The breakneck pace and the great presentation make this port a bar that will be hard to meet. Goku always wins, but he's always looking for competition.

 

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