When it was announced that Portal and Portal 2 would be making their way to the Nintendo Switch as part of the Portal: Companion Collection, fans collectively choked on their cakes. Two of the best puzzle games of all time on the go, you say? Yes, please! Naturally, when certain games get ported to Nintendo’s hybrid system, there’s an accompanying fear that they might not run quite so well on what is effectively a handheld device. Perhaps the frame rate takes a hit, or maybe the visuals aren’t up to scratch. Is this the case for the Portal pair? Thankfully, not at all. Let’s get into it.
The first Portal launched back in 2007 as part of a compilation known as The Orange Box. Despite some criticisms aimed at its short length and limited narrative, the general consensus was that it stood as one of the most original, unique games ever created, and that’s still the case to this very day. While the Switch has seen a number of games take inspiration from Valve’s classic, including Q.U.B.E 2, ChromaGun, and the criminally overlooked Superliminal, Portal is finally available to show the rest of the pack that it’s still the king of first-person puzzlers.
For the three of you who might not be in the know, Portal takes place within the Aperture Science test facility in which you need to progress through a series of chambers. These might simply require you to move from point A to point B, or you might need to trigger switches to open doorways, but the key factor is its use of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, or simply the "portal gun". By using the gun to shoot out two coloured portals — one mapped to each trigger --you’re able to effectively teleport yourself from one end of a room to another by walking through one or the other.
Not only that, but the game eventually makes use of movement and momentum to allow the player to accomplish absurd feats of traversal. Essentially, by jumping down towards a portal lying below you, the effect of gravity allows you to build momentum and fling yourself out of the other portal in whatever direction it's pointing, propelling yourself over gaps and reaching areas that would otherwise be impossible to get to.
It might sound complex, but Portal’s pacing is absolutely masterful; the way it teaches you how to accomplish certain tasks without actually telling you anything is remarkable, and it makes you feel like a bonafide genius when you eventually work it out for yourself.
Valve could have left it at that and been done with it; we’d still be left with one of the best puzzle games ever created. But what elevates Portal even further is the incredible writing. Right from the start of the game, your character is accompanied by the voice of GLaDOS, an AI personality core who oversees the testing procedures within Aperture Science. Expertly voiced by Ellen McLain, GLaDOS’s constant berating of the protagonist is a source of endless humour and it’s no surprise that the gaming community holds the character in such high regard to this day.
The sequel, Portal 2, is pretty much more of the same, but it bulks the experience up considerably with new mechanics like the paint-like propulsion gel and laser guiding. The narrative is also a lot more satisfying, introducing Stephen Merchant as the charming (and ever so slightly creepy) robot Wheatley, and J. K. Simmons as Aperture's founder Cave Johnson, alongside the returning McLain.
The game takes place hundreds of years after the first with the testing facility in total disrepair, making the task of traversing around the rooms much more complex but also introducing some truly beautiful visuals in the process. Overall, having released as a standalone experience back in 2011, Portal 2 feels like a more complete package with a lot more weight behind its presentation.
Not only that, but Portal 2 also offers up a co-op mode that’s compatible with split-screen, local, and online multiplayer. Valve went the extra mile here, too, introducing two unique characters specifically for co-op play with a completely fresh narrative to boot. It’s not as involved as the main campaign, by any stretch, but if you’ve got a friend that you’re able to link up with, it’s well worth playing. If you’re playing via split-screen, the game also lets you choose whether to orient the screen vertically or horizontally, which is a nice little touch.
With that all said, how does the game actually run on Switch? In terms of resolution, you’re looking at full 1080p during docked mode and 720p in handheld mode. The great thing here though is you’re going to experience buttery smooth 60fps gameplay with both options, with only minor dips in the frame rate during particularly intensive moments, like when you create somewhat of an endless loop with your portals. Given the vintage of these games, you may expect them to function well on Switch, but as we've seen with other ports, solid performance is by no means guaranteed with decade-old titles. Nvidia Lightspeed Studios has done a fine job here.
The only downside on Switch is that you’re going to experience loading screens when moving between every test chamber. These don’t last particularly long, but they’re frequent enough to be noticeable. Another minor nitpick is that the game loses its connection to the internet if you put the Switch in sleep mode, bringing up an annoying error message between each chamber when you boot it back up; hopefully this gets patched at a later date.
The biggest gameplay surprise, however, is that the Switch version offers full motion support for aiming. You can tinker with this to your heart’s content too, including the overall sensitivity, inverting the Y-axis, and even choosing which Joy-Con utilises the motion controls should you choose to play in docked mode. Other touches like button remapping and scaling text between screen modes make this version even more approachable.
It's hard to overstate our satisfaction with Portal: Companion Collection. Portal and Portal 2 felt incredibly fresh when they first released, and the years since have not diminished their immense impact. To now have two of the most unique and mind-bending puzzle games on a Nintendo console, and on-the-go if you choose, is a pure joy. If it weren't for the frequent load screens punctuating the experience, we'd have absolutely nothing to complain about here. The motion controls work like a dream, the games run at a near-rock-solid 60fps, and the writing remains as funny now as it did all those years ago. If you haven't played the Portal games before, this should be a no-brainer. If you have... well, just play them again.