Wolfenstein Youngblood is a repetitive, unrefined shooter with lackluster progression and bullet-spongey enemies. On the Nintendo Switch, it’s ugly as hell, and the frame rate drops often. And yet, there’s still bits of fun to be had in Bethesda’s co-op Wolfenstein spin-off. Playing through the game with my brother, I’m reminded of grinding for loot in Destiny 2, coordinating stealth attacks in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and mowing down Flood attackers in Halo 3. Wolfenstein Youngblood isn’t nearly as good as any of those games, but it’s the only game like it on Nintendo’s hybrid console. Maybe my lack of funding for an Xbox One or PS4 has just deprived me of good, co-op shooters, but to me, despite all its flaws, the Wolfenstein Youngblood Switch version is both the worst and best way to play the game.
Blurred vision and bad decisions
There are a lot of things in Wolfenstein Youngblood that are decidedly not fun. While I almost always find myself enjoying it in the moment, it has an air of gnawing mediocrity to it that, once I put the Switch down, has me questioning why I picked it up in the first place. People playing on every platform will likely have that same feeling, but it is decidedly more prevalent on Nintendo’s platform.
The most obvious of Youngblood’s flaws is the awful ammo system. Enemies are susceptible to one of two kinds of ammunition, displayed by their health bars with a narrow, filled-in rectangle or a wide, empty rectangle. It’s theoretically easy to grasp, but it doesn’t make much sense in practice, as the game’s silenced pistol does more damage than a shotgun to a giant mech. The worst part about it, though, is the iconography, which can be especially hard to distinguish on the Switch’s small handheld screen. If you try attacking an enemy with the opposite ammo type, you’ll end up standing in front of them as they spray you with lasers and bullet, blasting shot after shot into their face to almost no effect. Players will run into this issue in every version, but the Switch makes it harder to make those snap weapon switches — ironic, given the console’s name.
Every iteration of the game also has respawning enemies, no full map screen, and superfluous RPG aspects, but unfortunately, the Switch version brings even more problems to the experience. The graphics are really bad, especially in handheld mode. At times, everything more than five or 10 feet from your character looks like it’s coated in Vaseline. The framerate drops significantly in high-demand areas, where entire chunks of the environment also sometimes load within sight. The entire screen can even blur out every few seconds in crowded areas as if you’re looking at it through frosted glass. It’s all too easy to wonder if the developers decided that players shouldn’t be able to capture video using the Switch’s screenshot button just so it would be harder to share videos of the game’s messy visuals. Combined with the usual hurdles the system has with voice chat, this makes the co-op Switch port a vastly more frustrating experience because of the hardware it is on.
But Wolfenstein’s saving grace on Switch is being one of the only (if not the only) AAA, co-op, first-person shooters on the console, and it’s one that happens to be a lot of fun in its moment-to-moment gameplay. Youngblood’s shooting just feels good at its foundation, at least when you’re not pumping unnecessary amounts of ammo into enemies that just won’t die. Looking through and away from guns’ sights is instant, aiming is responsive, and the firearms feel relatively powerful when you’re using them on the right enemies — especially the Laserkraftwerk rifle, which literally disintegrates enemies with ease. Playing on the Switch also allows the use of motion controls to fine-tune aiming, which can add an extra bit of precision to your shots.
In fact, outside of shooting, most of Youngblood’s controls feel very good. Movement is super fast and a ton of fun, allowing you to pull off impressive jumps-into-vaults-into-sprints-into-slides. The first time I sneaked through an area this way after unlocking the perk that lets you have full movement capabilities while invisible, I felt like an uncatchable cybernetic ninja. Sneaking around and doing stealth takedowns is also satisfying, as is tossing an axe at an enemy for a one-hit kill or charging up to a Nazi grunt and performing a close-quarters finisher. Even using special weapons and abilities to open certain doors and crates is satisfying, especially when melting an entire door with a single laser shot or smashing your body through a barrier. The sound design is great, too, full of intimidating robotic roars from Nazi robots and satisfyingly deep, booming gunshots.
Perhaps it’s a cop out because playing games with people you like spending time with is fun, but co-op smooths over its growing list of issues. The moments Youngblood’s systems create in collaboration with friendly banter can’t be overlooked as a part of the experience, and there have been some exciting moments in my time playing with my brother. A turning point for me came when he and I were both downed by a group of enemies with only one shared life left, so we thought we’d wipe and have to start the mission over. We hobbled over to each other, still being shot at by the crowd of Nazis around us, and lamented our deaths.
But then my brother bled out, we lost a life, and his character stood back up right in front of me. “Oh, wait!” he exclaimed, and he quickly revived me. We were then able to come back from our defeat and blast the crap out of the remaining enemies. It was a small moment, but it was one where the game surprised me with a nugget of the kind of goodness we’d experienced in other co-op shooters.
Getting by with a little help
These kinds of experiences are hard to come by on the Switch, so they’ll stick out when they appear, despite their quality. Searching for games in the shooter genre brings up a small handful of solid third-person shooters — Fortnite, Warframe, Paladins, and Splatoon 2, among others — but few first-person ones. Other than Youngblood, the only other modern, AAA, first-person shooters on the console are Bethesda’s other ports, Doom and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, both of which are mainly single-player. Shooters in general are more rare for the platform, as well. This makes Youngblood stand out even more in the Switch’s library full of charming Nintendo first-party titles and bright indie games. While this is starting to change, Nintendo platforms haven’t ever been the hotspots for darker, more hardcore experiences, much less cooperative ones in that nature.
Wolfenstein Youngblood is the closest thing the Switch has right now to a Destiny game, at least as far as moment-to-moment gameplay is concerned. Warframe is close, but that isn’t a first-person shooter. Even if Youngblood’s overall structure is nowhere near as good as Destiny’s, hanging out with my brother — taking down Nazis, fleeing a giant robot dog, or searching for the floppy disk with the Nazi crate code that the idiot Fritz was supposed to remember — reminded me of farming Spinmetal in Destiny and grinding for orbs during Destiny 2’s first Solstice of Heroes. Maybe I only like Youngblood because I no longer currently have a console capable of playing Destiny 2 to repeat those memories, but Wolfenstein on the Switch is a fun experience on that platform, if mostly for the novelty. Any co-op shooter fans who own a Switch should consider picking up Youngblood if they, too, want that novelty, even if they have to slog through more bullshit than the other three versions combined.