Okay, enough’s enough. Ever since EA first brought the FIFA series to the Switch with FIFA 18, Nintendo fans have been given a lesser version of the game seen on other systems. At first, we gave EA the benefit of the doubt and put it down to the challenges of porting a game to a less powerful system with a user base who hadn’t seen a new FIFA game for half a decade.
We even smiled when the game’s producer explained in interviews that the reason the Switch version had fewer modes than the Xbox One and PS4 versions was because “The Journey” story mode was only possible with the power of the Frostbite engine (despite only being a bunch of cutscenes) and Ultimate Team would overwhelm Nintendo gamers if they were exposed to everything it had to offer right away. It was complete nonsense and ever so slightly patronising, but hey, it was their first year, so we held our tongue and decided we’d give EA time to establish the series on Switch and see where it would go from there.
In the years that have followed, however, EA has continued to shortchange the Switch and by this point, with the second Legacy Edition in a row, it’s clear as day now that it has no interest whatsoever in providing a game that offers anything remotely new or improved for Switch owners. So with that in mind, we have no interest whatsoever in recommending that anyone purchases FIFA 21, either.
If you’re familiar with the Legacy Edition branding, you already know what to expect here: not much. There are no new game modes, no new features, nothing to separate this game from last year’s game other than the obligatory squad and kit updates. If you own FIFA 20 on the Switch, FIFA 21 is practically the same game.
Of course, if you own FIFA 20 on the Switch, you’ve probably already been through this, because that game was also a Legacy Edition based on FIFA 19. And, in fact – as we previously revealed in our FIFA 18 review – the whole FIFA series on Switch has always been based on the Legacy Edition of FIFA 18 for the Xbox 360 and PS3; what this means is that for the past four years now, Switch owners have been playing practically the same Xbox 360 version of FIFA 17 with EA showing no real interest in changing things much.
What this obviously means is that all the major features added to the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game over the past few years once again haven’t been carried across to the Switch. Volta street football? Forget it. The enhanced Career mode with its new training options? No chance: you’re still stuck with the Xbox 360 and PS3 FIFA 17 career mode here, which itself had been lying unchanged since FIFA 15. That means the Switch’s main single-player mode hasn’t been changed since Steven Gerrard was still a player, rather than the manager of a team who are winning nothing (disclosure: this reviewer is a Celtic supporter – here we go, 10 in a row).
Perhaps most galling of all is that Ultimate Team, traditionally the most popular mode in FIFA, is included here, but is a complete waste of time. It’s almost as if EA has just kept it in to remind Switch players what they could be enjoying if they’d bothered to buy the game on another system: you know, the systems where people actually spend money on microtransactions and are therefore worth allocating development time to.
For starters, it’s half-baked. Well, a quarter baked. It’s based on the Ultimate Team mode from a few years ago, and has no new features like Squad Battles, FUT Champions, stadium customisation or Seasons (where you perform tasks within a certain timeframe to earn XP and unlock special players). On top of that, the fact that nobody’s playing it means the transfer market is a ghost town; at the time of writing, there are 19,000 players listed for transfer, compared to over a million on the Xbox One version. It’s all well and good trumpeting that you’ve got Ultimate Team on the Switch when it doesn’t share the Xbox or PlayStation ecosystems and you’re left competing with three guys and a dog.
The frustrating thing is that it’s a Catch-22 situation. If questioned about this, EA would undoubtedly claim that nobody is playing the thing on Switch so there’s no point in putting extra resources into improving it. But the point is, nobody’s going to play something that’s clearly undercooked and frankly inferior to what’s being offered on other systems. We aren’t talking about the gameplay on the pitch: of course, the Switch is a less powerful system, so that’s understandable. But in terms of features, there’s no technical reason why Ultimate Team can’t have every option the other formats do.
Instead of separating the Switch version of Ultimate Team from that on other systems, EA should have looked into making the Switch version a companion piece. FIFA’s mobile and web apps get you to sign into your EA Account and then you can mess around with your Xbox and PlayStation FIFA squads, take part in Squad Building Challenges, sell players and the like. Had the Switch version offered this instead of insisting you have your own standalone Switch team, EA would suddenly have an enticing offer: play your Xbox or PlayStation Ultimate Team at home, then take your team on the move and continue to improve it on the Switch. If Fortnite lets you merge your account between systems, we’re sure EA could have figured it out.
Instead, we’re stuck with a lame duck; a mode nobody’s playing on a game nobody’s buying because it’s a version nobody’s bothered to improve. And we all know how this is going to eventually go because we’ve seen this game before on the Wii U; EA will eventually stop making FIFA on the Switch altogether and claim that poor sales made it a waste of time, essentially turning the blame to Switch owners for not gratefully handing over almost full price to play a severely undercooked, second class game that sees notable improvements every year on other systems.
The reality is that we aren’t idiots, and the Switch user base isn’t made up of second class citizens. It’s estimated now that total Switch sales have overtaken those of the Xbox One, and that’s with a four-year head start taken into account. It may be a less powerful system, but the user base is undoubtedly there, and Nintendo is once again in a position of power where its players don’t need to curtsy and gratefully kiss the feet of any third-party publisher who generously decides to grace the system with its presence.
Say what you like about 2K Sports’ microtransaction nonsense, but at least it manages to achieve full system parity every year with the NBA 2K games on the Switch; instead of fobbing us off with nonsense about how its story mode is “only possible with the power” of a certain engine or how Switch owners’ glass brains are too delicate to handle every mode without shattering into a million pieces, it just gets on with it and makes it work. 2K proves that if you actually put the work in, you can create a brilliant Switch port that doesn’t make apologies for the hardware it’s running on.
Meanwhile, companies like Konami (who admittedly didn’t even bother trying to bring Pro Evolution Soccer to the Switch) at least acknowledge when they’ve hit the end of the road and aren’t bothering to update their games any more. This year Konami decided to focus most of its attention on working on the upcoming next-gen versions of PES, so it released a ‘Season Update’ (i.e. a Legacy Edition) on Xbox One and PS4 and only charged £25 for it in the UK. Meanwhile, EA’s trying to get you to fork over £44.99 / $50 for what’s basically the fourth Legacy Edition of FIFA 17.
Let’s face it, we all know why FIFA was put on the Switch in the first place while fans of Madden, NHL and the like went without ever getting a Switch port. Ultimate Team’s microtransactions are a huge money-spinner for EA, and it clearly hoped that lightning would continue to strike on the Switch. What it didn’t count on, however, was that Switch owners weren’t willing to accept a version of FIFA that didn’t have the same modes other players enjoy, and so – when it was clear that Ultimate Team wasn’t the same magic money tree on Nintendo’s system – EA shut up shop and went down the Legacy Edition route.
If EA wants FIFA to sell in decent numbers on the Switch, it needs to stop pretending the Switch isn’t a viable platform and needs to stop insulting its owners by chucking Legacy Editions onto the thing as if it was a flatlining system nearing the end of its life rather than a thriving console that continues to break sales records. We’re frankly bored of saying “oh, but it’s still a good game, so here’s a half-decent score for it anyway.” Fool us once, and all that.
This is where we recommend that you buy a cheaper version of FIFA 20 or FIFA 19 instead, because it’s exactly the same game. But what’s this? Oh dear, it would appear that FIFA 20, FIFA 19 and FIFA 18 have magically disappeared from the eShop, meaning FIFA 21 is the only actual option for anyone looking to buy FIFA digitally on the Switch! We’re sure this is some sort of technical glitch and definitely isn’t EA trying to force players into buying the newest name of an old game. We’re also sure that our belly buttons are there because that’s where the price tag was attached to us when our parents bought us at the baby shop.
We’re done with FIFA on the Switch. Do not buy this game. If you do, you are actively informing EA that it’s perfectly fine to put in zero effort and get silly money in return. It was bad enough before, but to actually remove every other version of the game from the eShop is ridiculous. Either find a physical copy of FIFA 20 or FIFA 19 on sale cheap somewhere or try to come to terms with the fact that FIFA is dead on the Switch until EA decides to pull its finger out and offer something worth buying, instead of inevitably blaming us for not being stupid enough to accept an inferior product.