Portal Knights Nintendo Switch review: Portal portability

Credit: 505 Games
Credit: 505 Games /

Portal Knights isn’t for everyone, but it fills a particular vacuum left empty by many players’ first cracks at sandboxes like Minecraft.

Developer: Keen Games
Publisher: 505 Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: November 23, 2017

When I first played Minecraft on the Nintendo Switch, I enjoyed it to an extent, but something was missing. Without the enormous server communities available on PC (an issue rectified somewhat with Better Together), the single-player experience felt empty and bland. There was little direction, and hardly any motivation if I wasn’t into building intricate structures to share with others. Little did I know that another title from Keen Games was addressing that exact issue on its own by making Portal Knights. It’s a game for those intrigued by the blocky 3D sandbox concept, but who want more of the adventure and fewer enormous anime statues.

Portal Knights takes place in the same kind of destructable world as other, similar titles, but its colorful 3D models are far lovelier than what I’m used to. And even from character creation, Portal Knights is what I wanted out of single player Minecraft from the start. It allows for creativity in resource management and use while I play through a loose, RPG-like story. It offers far more direction, too, using an ubobstrusive quest system to guide and teach you while retaining a sense of openness for more intrepid explorers. Rather than serving as open-ended building blocks for artistic endeavors, the bricks you destroy are tools you’ll use to accomplish your goals…or goof off along the way.

portal knights
Credit: 505 Games /

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It’s not an especially deep adventure. The world has been shattered, with only portals to connect the various landmasses, and your job as a Portal Knight is to restore peace as you uncover the mysteries left behind in The Fracture. There are three playable classes, some visual character customization, and flexible skill trees that allow you to change how you play at any time. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity in this case. Portal Knights is about the marriage of the RPG systems and the sandbox play, rather than putting a focus on the extreme depth of one or the other.

And that might disappoint some people, especially if they picked up Portal Knights for the look and feel of Minecraft. In particular, the controls of the game drove me nuts, especially for the first several hours. I never fully got used to them. The menus are tabbed and use a mix of ZL/ZR and L/R to scrolls through their many options, but I was constantly mixing up which did what and what the tabs were for. Combat, though fairly straightforward and simple, was another sticking point. Though enemies are easy to defeat, they’re difficult to avoid and hit hard as a rule. The camera constantly locking itself in targeting mode when I wanted a free camera certainly didn’t help.

portal knights
Credit: 505 Games /

Portal Knights isn’t an innovative stand-out, but it accomplishes its goals and serves its particular audience well.

The clumsiness of combat and menuing was alleviated somewhat by the game’s easygoing pace. I never felt rushed to a goal, nor did I feel compelled to constantly improve simply to survive.  There are secrets worth digging up even in the tutorial area, and you can take your time collecting resources, crafting potions, or just busting up the ground to find ore. If I die, the areas are condensed enough it’s easy to just hop back over to where I was and try again with minimal loss. I felt at ease, and emboldened to explore nooks and crannies even if there was no treasure chest reward at again. Sometimes, all I found behind guards of magical skeletons were strange rooms I could take apart for fun building materials, or leave alone to use as a secret base. It was still a satisfying reward.

Though certainly distinct from Minecraft, Portal Knights enjoys the same benefits its inspiration did when it was ported to the Switch. It’s a great game to pick up and play anywhere with a friend using the 2-player split screen or if you can hang out somewhere with an Internet connection for online play–and yes, it’s even better with two people or four online. The game’s open-ended nature makes it perfect to throw in your bag for a 15-minute stint here or there and, to be honest, the menus are far more touchscreen-friendly than they are button-friendly.

portal knights
Credit: 505 Games /

Portal Knights isn’t an innovative stand-out, but it accomplishes its goals and serves its particular audience well. It’s for people who, like me, started up Minecraft on console at some point, and but didn’t quite feel things click for them. It offers more direction, actual characters and dialogue, quests, and a story structure even if it’s somewhat limited in its creative aspects. If the premise on its own sounds appealing to you, you’ll probably revel in the colorful, creative adventure of Portal Knights.

7. <em>Portal Knights</em> may not be a stand-out title, but it fills a desired niche of those looking for something <em>Minecraft</em> can’t quite deliver and fills it well. It dips just far enough into the wells of both creativity and RPG adventure to satisfy its intended audience, and the multiplayer portability the Switch offers gives this particular platform release an edge. If you like the idea, you’ll probably love the game.. Keen Games. . Portal Knights

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.