Assassin’s Creed on Switch? Nintendo takes baby steps towards a cloud gaming service

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed running on the Nintendo Switch? One of the more surprising announcements from this week’s Nintendo Direct livestream was the incoming arrival of the next installment of Ubisoft’s AAA stealth-action series, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

You might be thinking, how did it manage that? The main criticism that still sticks to Nintendo’s hybrid console is the lack of graphical power, and the difficulty of porting the AAA games you find on the console's more powerful PS4 and Xbox rivals. 

Publishers like Bethesda have done a great job of scaling down demanding titles so they can run on the Switch’s lower specs, with successful ports of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Doom, and Doom: Eternal set to join the roster in 2019.

But Nintendo seems to be further circumventing those hurdles by looking to the cloud. 

Leap of faith

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Set in ancient Greece, Odyssey is the eleventh mainline entry in the Assassin’s Creed series, set to release globally on October 5 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. Players in Japan, however, will have the option of streaming the game to their Switch – strength of their internet connection permitting – overcoming the physical limitations of the console.

The Switch can only run in 720p in handheld, and at a max 1080p resolution when docked and playing through a TV or monitor. So even if Nintendo’s servers are taking the brunt of the effort, this is very much a scaled-down version however you look at it.

There won’t be any Assassin’s Creed cartridges or download files floating around, but it does open up possibilities for wider access to AAA titles through the Nintendo console. 

We saw a similar release back in May for Resident Evil: Biohazard, which became available to stream online for Switch-owners – again, only in Japan. But the addition of Assassin’s Creed points to some kind of long-term strategy – and it makes sense to trial cloud capabilities for the console on Nintendo’s home turf, given the nation’s higher-on-average internet speeds. 

With the competition increasingly looking to cloud gaming to bring down manufacturing costs, and entice players with a Netflix-style game streaming service, Nintendo seems to be moving in the same direction.

Head in the cloud

Cloud gaming has been floating around for a few years now, with some attempts proving more successful than others. But both Nvidia GeForce Now and Playstation Now offer a way to stream AAA games, with clear intentions to focus more on this style of play in the future.

Xbox is rumored to be planning a cloud-only gaming machine, Xbox Scarlett Cloud, for release in 2020, which could feasibly ditch the disc drive and high-end processor to focus on cloud-based play – and make for a cheaper console alternative to the mainline Xbox Scarlett / Xbox Two.

Despite the Switch’s runaway success, Nintendo has been sluggishly cautious on the matter of online functionality. The paid Nintendo Switch Online service is finally launching this month, a total of 18 months after the console first came to market – and we’re still not entirely sure what the end product will look like.

But there’s a strategy that recognises the growing shift to online play. Nintendo’s long-running Virtual Console has been scrapped in favour of a monthly subscription service that nets you access to retro games, and it’s not hard to imagine this expanding to include a Games Pass-style download service for more modern Nintendo titles, or ports from third-party publishers.

When you consider the smaller scale and less-demanding specs of most Nintendo titles, and the scaled-down versions of third-party games – they’re made to be played on a handheld, after all – Nintendo could be well placed to launch their own streaming service, one that doesn’t need to match a 4K display or require nearly as much data to play over the cloud.

So it seems like early days for the House of Mario, but if the company can already pull off limited AAA cloud gaming at home, it’s only a matter of time before it expands further afield.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.