If FIFA 19 on PS4 and Xbox One is a 40-piece orchestra with all the bells and whistles you can think of, then FIFA 19 on Nintendo Switch is the tribute band. The Switch version of EA’s footballing behemoth purports to have all the same qualities–the Champions League! Ultimate Team! Career Mode!–but under the surface, each of its many facets lacks the depth and longevity from other versions. On the pitch the Switch port feels relatively smooth, if a little dated, but it’s hard to shake off the feeling you’re playing an inferior and incomplete version of this year’s biggest soccer sim.
Some improvements from the PS4 and Xbox One editions carry over to the Switch port, such as timed finishing and the new Kick Off house rules options like No Rules and Survival Mode. Others, such as game plans–or any kind of tactical tweaks or player instructions–do not make the cut.
Once you get on the pitch, things feel satisfying–sometimes. Passing still feels imprecise, even with the world’s best players, but shooting and dribbling feel almost as good as what’s available on other platforms. But this port also seems to pull from older versions of FIFA–many cutscenes and environmental cues like those read out by stadium announcers are from as far back as FIFA 10.
Additional problems crop up when you want to play a friend with one Joy-Con each. It works, but not particularly well. As with FIFA 18 on Switch, fewer buttons and sticks means there’s no way to use finesse shots, threaded through balls, knuckle shots, manual defending, skill moves, or driven passes. Double-tapping the right bumper allows you to knock the ball ahead of you in a similar fashion to the right stick when playing with traditional controls, but similar workarounds don’t exist for the other missing functions. Playing with one Joy-Con is possible but often ends up feeling like more hassle than it’s worth. You are, at least, able to matchmake with friends when playing online, which was missing from last year’s Switch port.
The Champions League license and standalone mode do form a part of the Switch version, complete with Derek Rae’s Aberdeen-Atlantic commentary and UEFA’s operatic anthem. Night games look impressive on Switch, even if the atmospheres don’t quite live up to the sights and sounds of the PS4 and Xbox One editions, in part due to lower resolution. The standalone mode is essentially a stripped-down version of Career Mode, which itself is even more bare-bones on Switch than it is on home consoles this year. On Switch, neither mode contains the dynamic cutscenes or interactive transfer negotiations found on other platforms. Here, FIFA 19 really does feel very similar to 18, just with updated licenses.
Ultimate Team has a similar story in this version. FUT is easily FIFA’s biggest and most popular mode, thanks in large part to EA’s Squad Building Challenges, in-form cards, and more live services that keep things fresh. All those are present and correct on Switch, but the mode is lacking in ways to actually use your squad. Division Rivals, FUT’s new sub-mode for this year on PS4 and Xbox One, is nowhere to be found, meaning you have to make do with standard old Online Seasons matches. Squad Battles, the primary method of play for offline players in FUT, is also absent–the more miserly Single Player Seasons are your best bet here. To make matters worse, you still need a constant internet connection to access even Ultimate Team’s single-player sections, so playing FUT on the go isn’t an option unless you tether your Switch to your phone signal. Oh, and the FIFA 19 companion app is not compatible with Switch versions of the game, so you’re out of luck there, too.
All that’s left is to lament the ongoing absence of The Journey, which of all FIFA’s modes appears the best fit for Switch–a deep, offline story playable in small chunks–and yet it’s omitted entirely from the port. And that sums up the Switch version of FIFA 19: a playable, competent game of football encased in a package of outdated modes and lacking the controls and features you really want.