Massively on the Go: Palia’s Nintendo Switch version works on the go, but it’s still better at home


Let me start off by saying this isn’t going to be yet another impressions piece on Palia. We’ve already had three of those, and Tyler, Justin, and Ben all made good and fair points, and we’ll have more yet to come from other writers. Plus, our earlier pieces focused on the PC version of the open-beta multiplayer game. Not only are we talking about the Nintendo Switch port for today’s Massively on the Go, but specifically we’re looking at Palia as a game you might play, well, on the go.

Before we dig in, I must reiterate the reality that the game still very much feels like the beta it is: Controllers aren’t always responsive, wildlife warps around (as do corpses and loot), UI interaction may require closing and opening the panel for it to actually function as do trade windows, triggering miscrafting with incorrect items or ingredients… in short, I cannot easily recommend the game in its current state to players who are looking for a fully finished and polished launch product. You need to understand that this game is still deep in development in spite of its cute content drops and platform expansion. I say this having played in both the beta thanks to a press copy of the game and after launch, dealing with both the PC crowd thanks to crossplay and an influx of newcomers here on the Switch.

That being said, if you’re looking for something like Stardew Valley with better graphics and a 3-D approach, Palia may be where you should move to next. The comparisons to Landmark’s visuals feel fair, as do comparisons to crafting in Crowfall, which also had a similar feeling UI. Just don’t expect quite those levels of customization or combat!

See, the housing uses preassembled “pieces” and lets you move things around, but there are right and wrong placements, so you might be left pining for Star Wars Galaxies levels of free-form creativity. And the hunting system, which is purely PvE-centered and (at least in the early levels) one-sided combat against frightened would-be-food, is more about trying to aim and fire. There are no combat specs, no special abilities, nothing of the major combat sort, at least from what I saw during my time in the game.

All this may make it sound like the game is relatively mobile friendly, and in some ways, it could be, if given the right UI and boosted with some additional features, like auto-running to tapped locations or enhanced aiming. As it is – and this is what makes it perfect for the Switch – it works more as a hybrid game where you engage in fine-action gameplay in TV mode and more chore-like action in handheld mode.

That’s because Palia’s controls right now aren’t the greatest in handheld mode. I had several occasions when the game kept losing track of the joycons when attached to the system, and while that does happen occasionally with other games, it happened a lot during my time with Palia, especially when changing from TV mode to handheld mode.

The game runs fine either way, though I must admit that the Switch’s screen size actually made it easier to read the font. It’s not that I have a small TV; it’s more that I found the font doesn’t scale up well, at least for my vision. And there is a lot of text you’ll be reading. There are no major cutscenes here, which helps give that “mobile” vibe, just don’t be fooled: Palia is probably best fully enjoyed on PC or in the Switch’s TV mode.

While fishing, hunting, and bug catching do take some twitch skills (especially while deer are warping around), you can AFK at any time without fear of death (at least so far in my experience). That makes for a good mobile game: We all know some of us play games in the grocery store or while waiting for something, so being able to drop in and out is good! Of course, the Switch is kinda big for that type of play, and the game lacks the specific touch controls that would have made the system smaller and mobile play easier.

But Palia has a lot going on. I honestly felt kind of overwhelmed pretty quickly! There’s a holiday event underway right now, so thanks to the seasonal snowballs gifted even to starting players, I was very limited on bag space and storage from the get-go, to the point that I was unable to progress until Support stepped with mail, owing to the lack of space and the buggy UI I mentioned at the start of this article. Given all the other new items and my hoarding tendencies, I wasn’t sure what I needed to stockpile and what was just vendor trash. Admittedly, I’m still not entirely sure!

There are so many items, gathering skills, crafting skills, romanceables, and quests right from the start that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when certain things (like gift tips) don’t provide an option for you to hear them again. Unless you’re a real solo explorer type, you’ll probably want to have a few web pages open to see what to sell and what to hoard. It’s not that these features don’t interact with mobile games well; it’s just that so much of that is frontloaded for many hours after you start the game that even if the game could solely be played on my phone, I wouldn’t want to.

For Switch players in particular, another issue is that it’s extremely difficult to communicate with other players, particularly the PC crowd. Voice chat with friends would be one thing, but having to use your controller to type is a lesson in pain. Thankfully, when playing on the go, the touch screen does work for the keyboard, but only because that’s how the Switch innately handles it, not Palia.

We may be talking mobile gaming, but we’re still MassivelyOP, and as my colleagues have already covered, this game is multiplayer, but not massively so, which is something MMO players simply need to be prepared for to avoid disappointment from hype or expectations.

In fact, the game’s world size isn’t massive either. There’s a lot of instancing going on. Even on Switch launch day, perhaps because everyone’s home is instanced (and the open world is to a degree too), I barely saw or heard anyone. Aside from the pie baking or multiplayer required resources, I haven’t bumped into any good reasons to really play with other live gamers yet. Oh, players can request and donate items, but compared to something like Animal Crossing New Horizons, where players have a common fruit and have to fight tooth-and-nail to solo more fruits or simply get them from someone with a different default fruit, it could easy just feel like new players begging veterans for handouts, without some sort of Asheron’s Call-style allegiance system to make it worthwhile.

So that’s it in a nutshell: Palia in its current form doesn’t feel like it plays easily on the go, but it does work and provide options for players looking for a way to sneak in some chores while riding the bus or waiting for a flight, to say nothing of options for people who don’t own a PC at all. I personally don’t see myself sticking with the game in its current beta, but those who do find a home here, specifically on the Switch, could use the system’s portability mode for more simple tasks, like arranging furniture, gathering, farming, hunting down NPC friends/romanceables, and so forth, and then focus on fine-tune, big-screen action like hunting and climbing around narrow ruins when they’re at home. That newfound flexibility is a strength that Singularity 6 can build on as it advances the game through beta toward its official launch.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
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