About a week ago during the Nintendo Direct Mini, Nintendo announced Portal: Companion Collection for the Nintendo Switch, and it came to the eShop the same day. Curious George (that is, me) wanted to do a comparison between running the games on the Steam Deck and on Nintendo’s current-gen console, and see how each platform fares. I couldn’t help but find it ironic that Valve would partner with Nintendo right around the time the Steam Deck embargoes were lifted earlier this year, and I had concocted some theories as to why they were doing this. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion, thanks to Gardiner Bryant’s video, that it was to give customers an apples-to-apples comparison between the two devices. To help customers discern the value between the Deck and the Switch; to give them an idea of what the next-generation Switch could be like, with added features like analog triggers, back buttons, trackpads, the whole nine yards.
If you wanted a straight, to-the-point answer, the TL;DR of this comparison is that the Deck exceeds the Switch, at least in the case with the Portal series, in almost every category: battery life, ergonomics, controls, screen size, audio quality, etc. That being said, however, maybe you’re still curious as to how well the series runs on the Switch. Maybe you’re still waiting on your Deck to show up and you have renewed interest in playing Portal, thanks to it now being available on Nintendo’s handheld. Well, you’ve come to the right spot.
Image credit: nintendoeverything.com
I’d like to add the following disclaimer: this is by no means an exhaustive or professional comparison. Most tests conducted were based on the naked eye. I don’t have the tools necessary to record exact loading times, for example, other than rounding up to the closest second on my smartwatch. I have not tested multiplayer at all either (though I will say right away, the Deck will have the advantage there as online multiplayer is free).
I’m also going to say this: the Deck was using SteamOS 3.3, which is in beta right now, and so isn’t the Steam Deck client that I was using. Not that I think it will necessarily affect the performance of the game in any shape, but I just thought I’d add that. Lastly, I’m using the launch edition Switch. For all I know battery life could be better on the newer X1+ SKUs and could potentially match up with the Deck, and the OLED Switch could have better picture quality.
So with all of this being said, these results could very well be different from one person to the next. These results that I’m reporting here are purely based on my own experiments and shouldn’t be taken as the final verdict. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive in and compare!
What You Get⌗
Since Portal and Portal 2 are packaged as Portal: Companion Collection on the Switch, I figured that it would be just one game that gets installed on your system, and once you launch it you could select which game you want to play. Turns out that’s not the case. Once you buy Portal: Companion Collection, two separate titles get installed: Portal and Portal 2. I guess that’s a good thing as nobody wants to deal with launchers, plus if you were looking to save space on your system you could install just one version at a time. Portal takes up 2.6 GB on Switch. Portal 2 uses 7.3 GB. On Deck, Portal takes 3.89 GB, Portal 2 takes 11.9 GB.
Something that came as a pleasant surprise with the original Portal on Switch is that it comes bundled with the “Still Alive” campaign. This was originally an exclusive for the Xbox 360 port, and comes with 14 new levels. These are available to you right at the start on the Switch version. I’m kind of surprised Valve never really advertised this in their teaser trailer. To date, the Steam version of Portal does not come with this campaign, and you have to add it as a mod.
Other than that, pretty much everything in terms of content is similar between the two platforms. The Switch can’t reap the same benefits as the Steam version in terms of modding support. Although, dataminers have discovered unreleased Portal 2 content that was cut from the final release, thanks to the Switch port.
Of course, the options department is going to be a bit more barebones on the Switch version, as obviously there’s no video options to speak of, no way to change resolution, framerate, or graphics quality. Just a brightness slider, sound slider, music slider, and portal funnels and captions on or off. Controls are re-mappable, but in comparison to the Steam version it feels like there’s so much less options overall.
I’m glad Valve finally decided to update the GUI in the original Portal. It was a bit of a pain to navigate across the options with a gamepad; it was a lot more optimized for mouse and keyboard. But now the options are large enough and they can more easily be navigated with a gamepad, on both the Switch and the Deck. Interestingly the GUI on the original Portal uses orange accents, while the Steam version uses blue. The font is also slightly larger on the Deck.
The first thing you will probably notice right off the bat is the difference in screen size. The Deck boasts a slightly larger screen size at 7", as opposed to the Switch’s 6.2", while also having an extra 80 pixels across the top and bottom (needless to say, both Portal and Portal 2 support the Deck’s 16:10 aspect ratio). If you have an OLED Switch though, there won’t be any size difference at all.
Ergonomics and Controls⌗
I really don’t think it’s necessary for me to declare who’s the winner here in terms of overall comfort. That being said, on the Switch, you don’t have to use the official joycons. If you have third-party joycons that are more ergonomic, well, there you go. Otherwise, however, the stock joycons are flat, and so are the buttons. There’s no pressure sensitivity on the triggers. There’s no back buttons. There’s no trackpads. As far as the triggers go, though, it’s really not going to matter in a game like Portal. You shoot portals. You’re not going to be able to shoot them any faster by pressing the analog trigger on the Deck all the way down. Plus, if you’re sensitive to the Deck’s greater weight, the lighter Switch will be of benefit.
As far as controls go, they’re kind of…reversed. The A button, for example, jumps by default. The B button crouches. But since the face buttons are swapped, you end up pressing your finger in a different position. I’ve also noticed an unusual case where in the original Portal the right shoulder button on the Deck causes Chell to do a 180. On the Switch, she’ll grab a cube with the same button. So, the controls certainly aren’t going to mirror each other, and it’s probably going to be confusing if you’re constantly switching between the Deck and the Switch. The controls are customizable on each platform though.
While controls are re-mappable on the Switch, the Deck is going to offer far more sophistication, thanks to Steam Input. The gyro on Switch, for example, can be activated with a simple toggle in the options menu. But that’s it: the gyro is on all the time, there’s no sensitivity slider, and there’s no way you can customize how to activate it. On the Deck, you can have the gyro on only when your thumb is resting on the right thumbstick, or right trackpad (which it will, by default). If you want, you can have the gyro mapped to a different button, or if you want you can disable it entirely. You can also adjust how sensitive the gyro is. This, along with a dizzying array of options for controls, make the Deck the superior option.
I haven’t been able to find much documentation on this, but I assume on the Switch, both Portal games are running at 720p in handheld mode and 1080p while docked. I can certainly confirm that they both run at a solid 60 FPS, even while docked, just going by my eyesight. The quality is pretty decent as well; if I were to take a guess both games are running at High graphics settings. Probably not at the highest, but they’re still pretty good.
I docked both the Switch and the Deck to my external 1440p monitor. The Switch still ran at 60 FPS, albeit the image quality went down a bit, obviously because it’s only going to upscale to 1080p at the highest. With the Deck, though I can run the game at the monitor’s native resolution, it struggled to get anything better than 30 FPS. Even when lowering the resolution, and even when disabling vsync and the framerate cap, the game seemed locked to 30 FPS. I can’t tell if that’s because the Deck simply can’t handle anything better than that, or there’s something in Steam settings that I may have accidentally turned on that’s preventing it from going higher than 30 FPS. MangoHUD might at times says 60 FPS, but I’ve come to learn that sometimes, I can’t trust that number.
At any rate, this is one of the few cases where the Switch will have the upper hand. It’s going to handle the framerate a lot better when docked.
I’ve captured a couple of screencaps here in which you can compare the resolution quality. The top photo is the Switch version, the bottom is the Deck (although, I didn’t realize until writing this comparison that the Switch still takes screenshots at 720p while docked, so…).
The Deck is capable of playing the games at a much higher volume. I’ve heard some people compliment the Deck for it’s superior sound quality, but, just going by ear (literally), the sound quality itself is the same to me.
This is one of those cases where I genuinely thought the Switch would win. But it turns out the Deck can handle the original Portal at a little over four-and-a-half hours at the default graphics settings (but I used 16:9 aspect ratio so that it would have the same resolution as the Switch). On the Switch? Three hours and 20 minutes. Both devices had Wi-Fi on and were around 50% screen brightness. The Switch automatically dims the backlight after a few minutes of inactivity, and there’s no way of turning that off, but even then, the Deck lasted more than an hour longer, and the screen didn’t dim at all!
I ran these tests again with Portal 2. The results were similar. Five hours on Deck, four hours on Switch. And what makes this even more curious is the fact that Portal 2 is more graphically demanding than the original. Huh.
The Deck can run even longer if you wanted to. The tests I conducted were at 60 FPS at 720p resolution. You could lower the in-game resolution, use FSR to upscale the graphics, and reduce the max framerate to 30 FPS, or just set the refresh rate to 40 Hz. Now, I haven’t tested battery life this way, but I would imagine you could get another hour or so by doing this.
Well…an hour kind of seems like an exaggeration. Maybe half-an-hour more realistically. Either way, half-an-hour is still half-an-hour.
I’d be curious to see the results with a newer edition Switch than the one I have. Supposedly the newer Switches have increased battery life.
This is another one of those times where I have to throw in a caveat. The Portal series on my Deck is installed onto a 512 GB NVMe Gen 3 x4 SSD. On the Switch, they’re installed on a MicroSD card. So these results are obviously going to be a bit more biased towards the NVMe, and I think a more fair comparison would be to run the games on the same MicroSD card on both platforms. That being said, I’m still posting the results of my tests below.
- Portal on Deck: 6 seconds to Valve logo, 4 seconds to get to main menu, 4 seconds to load a new game
- Portal on Switch: 8 seconds to get to logo on boot, 11 seconds to get to main menu, 8 seconds to load new game
- Portal 2 on Deck: 7 seconds to logo, 4 seconds to main menu, 15 seconds to new game
- Portal 2 on Switch: 7 seconds to logo, 29 seconds to main menu, 8 seconds to new game
What I did find interesting though was the Switch outperformed the Deck when loading a new game on Portal 2. As I said though, take these results with a grain of salt, as there’s quite a few different variables at play here.
Do I Really Need to Declare the “Winner?”⌗
The Deck does a superior job in most departments: battery consumption, louder audio, much more customizable controls and video options, overall comfort and ergonomics. I’m not including load times in that list though, as the MicroSD card is obviously going to be slower than a gen 3 NVMe drive. And the Switch actually does have a few advantages over it’s larger cousin, namely: the “Still Alive” campaign included with Portal, a lighter weight, and still able to maintain 60 FPS while in docked mode.
In the end I’d definitely recommend getting the Steam version of the two games and playing them on Deck, based on the results I’ve posted in this comparison. Plus, you can get the games significantly cheaper on Steam: they’re both 80% off, $2 a piece if you haven’t bought them yet! That is, if you get them before the summer sale is over…which is tomorrow. On Switch, these games are sold together in one piece for $20. You can’t buy them separately. But, of course, they’re certainly an option if you’re still waiting on your Steam Deck or it’s not available in your country.
Based on a poll I conducted over on Mastodon, seems like the overwhelming majority of voters want a video to go along with this article. It makes sense; it’s one thing to say all of this through text, but I think there will be better appreciation to actually see the comparison yourself through video. So I hopefully I’ll have a video out within the next couple of weeks.