The amazing Red Dead Redemption shows there’s still life left in the Nintendo Switch

Red Dead Redemption Nintendo Switch
(Image credit: Future / Rockstar Games)

Now this is how you port a game to Nintendo Switch. 2021's GTA Trilogy – The Definitive Edition may have been a criminal car crash on Nintendo’s handheld hybrid (and every other console), but that’s not the case with John Marston’s cowboy classic.

What. A. Port. Developer Double Eleven's conversion of Rockstar Games' open-world all-timer may have released with little fanfare and enough salty skepticism to fill the Grand Canyon, but hoo-boy is Red Dead Redemption on Nintendo Switch something else. The studio deserves huge credit. 

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Yes, Nintendo needs to release a Switch 2 soon to remain competitive. But after playing through the first few hours of this old school open-world epic, I can confidently say this is the best looking game I’ve played on the aging handheld. 

Playing in portable mode on my Nintendo Switch OLED, there’s only one other game I can think of that has so consistently knocked my spurs off in the graphics department. Said game would be the Switch’s forgotten yet utterly brilliant version of Alien: Isolation

Red Dead is the best looking game I've played on Nintendo Switch"

I say "playing." What I actually mean is "replaying." I’d say I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve completed Red Dead Redemption before this new Switch port came out, but that would be a filthy fib. I know exactly how many playthroughs of Rockstar’s majestic, melancholic Western I have under my belt.

At last count, I’ve finished Redemption four times. I went through it twice on Xbox 360 when the sandbox masterpiece first launched back in 2010. A year or so later, I was shooting and lassoing my way through the Game of the Year edition on PS3 to satiate my ongoing obsession for PlayStation trophies. Fast forward to 2018, and I was replaying Marston’s old-timey adventure in glorious 4K on Xbox One X after Microsoft generously released a free backwards compatible, Ultra HD patch.

West is best

Red Dead Redemption Nintendo Switch

(Image credit: Future / Rockstar Games)

After spending a few hours with the Switch version, I fully intend to rack up my fifth completed playthrough of RDR. That’s how good this conversion is.

I may not be able to rattle off the exact technical specs of this port, but I can tell you Red Dead on my Switch OLED passes the eyeball test with flying colors. 

To my peepers, it looks like the game is running close to the handheld’s native 720p resolution, although like many Switch titles — the incredible The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom included — some form of dynamic resolution might be in play in portable mode. 

Are there visual issues? Obviously. We’re still dealing with a 7-year-old console built on ancient Nvidia Tegra integrated graphics, after all. Anti-aliasing is often non-existent in even the best Switch games, and there’s visible (but not all that distracting) pixel shimmering in this rejigged version of Red Dead. 

In portable mode, image quality is as solid as The Man with No Name's cigar-smoking jawline

Overall though, image quality in portable mode is as solid as The Man with No Name’s cigar-smoking jawline. Place the Red Dead Redemption Switch port next to the deeply hobbled GTA Trilogy remaster, and there’s absolutely no contest. Marston leaves GTA 3's Claude Speed and chums in the delinquent dust.

Is that controversial $50 / £40 price tag on the steep side for what’s essentially an unchanged, decade-old video game? Almost certainly. Yet that doesn’t mean hardcore Red Dead fans won’t notice some subtle but welcome revisions.

For one thing, camera controls now feel snappier. There’s also a noticeable added zip in Marston’s step compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. The outlaw’s turning circle feels more responsive, and getting the conflicted cowpoke to pivot on the spot no longer feels like trying to parallel park in an 18-wheeler.

Dead on

Red Dead Redemption Nintendo Switch

(Image credit: Future / Rockstar Games)

On a purely surface level, there’s also the simple thrill of playing one of the all-time best open-world games on a handheld console.

Seeing those vast prairies squeezed onto my Switch OLED’s pin-sharp screen feels like some sort of bewitching voodoo trickery, even if the underlying tech is now old enough to have acne.

Performance appears to be rock-solid, too. Though I’m still in the early Armadillo-centric areas of the game, I’ve seen enough frantic horse chases and Once Upon a Time in the West-aping shootouts to get a good feel of how the game performs. In my time with Red Dead, I’ve yet to feel any significant framerate dips.

We could quibble about the price of this port until the cows come home — appropriate, seeing as a major early mission revolves around rustling cattle. Yet that’s ignoring an important point. There will be a lot of Switch owners who pick up Red Dead who will have never experienced Rockstar’s frontier adventure before. Viewed from that lens, getting a 50-hour epic and one of Switch’s best looking games no longer looks like a rip-off.

Mainly, I’m just glad I get to re-experience one of my favorite games of all time in a newly shrunken down format that feels both novel and refreshing. I love my Switch OLED’s amazing screen, and few other titles get quite the tune out of it as John Marston’s redemptive tale.

Seeing those vast prairies squeezed onto my Switch OLED’s pin-sharp screen feels like some sort of bewitching voodoo trickery, even if the underlying tech is now old enough to have acne.

And what a game it remains. The journey into Mexico as you’re serenaded by José González now iconic "Far Away." Those incredible three hours back on Marston’s ranch near the end of the adventure. And for my money, arguably the most emotionally affecting epilogue I’ve ever played in three decades of gaming.

It made a 25-year-old me cry in 2010, and I’m betting Clint Eastwood’s last Fistful of Dollars a 38-year-old me is going to sob uncontrollably when I get to the end of the Switch version.

The PS4 port of Red Dead that's also just come out may be a pretty barebones retread of the 4K version that's been available to play on Xbox Series X for a few years now, but even though it’s running at a much lower resolution, the experience on the Switch’s screen feels truly special.

The rumored Nintendo Switch 2 could well be galloping over the horizon next year, and that’s undoubtedly an exciting prospect. For the time being though, Red Dead Redemption on Nintendo’s current handheld shows the OG Switch still has enough gas in the tank to bow out on a high note.

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Dave Meikleham
UK Computing Editor

Dave is a computing editor at Tom’s Guide and covers everything from cutting edge laptops to ultrawide monitors. When he’s not worrying about dead pixels, Dave enjoys regularly rebuilding his PC for absolutely no reason at all. In a previous life, he worked as a video game journalist for 15 years, with bylines across GamesRadar+, PC Gamer and TechRadar. Despite owning a graphics card that costs roughly the same as your average used car, he still enjoys gaming on the go and is regularly glued to his Switch. Away from tech, most of Dave’s time is taken up by walking his husky, buying new TVs at an embarrassing rate and obsessing over his beloved Arsenal.