DNF Duel looked incredible when it launched on PC, PS4, and PS5 back in June 2022. It had a solid roster of striking characters (even if their names were terrible), and everyone looked fantastic in action. They also looked totally ridiculous with their absurd movesets, too. While getting blasted with Troubleshooter’s Get On Fire didn’t feel good, it looked amazing. When it was announced that there was going to be a Switch release, I wondered how they would manage to get those gorgeous visuals to work on that console. The unfortunate answer? They didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. For still shots, character portraits, and anime cutscenes, things look great. You still get to enjoy all of the bright, fun characters and places. It’s when you see the actual 3D model of your fighter in a match or a story mode cutscene that you can see the sacrifices made to get this game running on Switch. The 3D models are all pretty blurry, seeming to float in a Summertime haze all the time. There’s this unpleasant fuzziness to their appearance that makes me feel like I’d forgotten my glasses. It’s not to the point where it’s headache-inducing, but it’s disappointing to look at.
That said, DNF Duel runs well in exchange for that visual cost. I flipped between PS5 and Switch matches on both systems, and while I have a feeling the Switch version is running slightly slower, it still felt like it was running at a good clip. Tossing out combos and filling the screen with fiery explosions doesn’t cause any slowdown and appears to run very close to the same speed as the PS5 version. I played the PS5 version fairly extensively at launch and have picked at it over the last few months, so I am decently familiar with how it feels. To that point, they feel close enough that the difference in speed is negligible.
The difficulties with the visuals melt away when the matches get going, too. This game’s roster of sixteen fighters all feel quite varied, offering wild takes on zoners, grapplers, rushdown, and other archetypes. What I mean by “wild” is that full-screen attacks and grabs feel like the norm in this fighter. Troubleshooter’s above-mentioned Get On Fire covers almost the entire screen with a cannon blast. Kunoichi can summon a flaming tornado that’s the full height of the screen and the fling it all the way across the arena at you. It feels like EVERYONE has massive, long-range moves like this.
The result is that every DNF Duel match feels chaotic and explosive. When you’re trying to rush in to smack Inquisitor, she suddenly drops a massive spinning saw wheel in the middle of the arena, cutting through your health. Take a step against Ranger and he’ll just shoot you from most of the way across the screen. Or throw the guns at you which then shoot you as well. It seems like everyone is a bit of a zoner because they all have these massive hitboxes or can hit you from half-screen or further. I feel like you always have to be playing very carefully or extremely aggressively with little in-between.
I enjoy the mayhem, to be honest. You even have to learn to be aggressive in your defense, dash blocking (or using the game’s defensive roll) to keep approaching to pull off your attacks, or doing so to bait out your enemy’s slow moves so you can punish their recovery. It feels like I’m always pushing forward when I play it, as sitting around playing defensively will just get you beat down from these huge moves. Plus, it’s not like you don’t have your own wacky moveset that can stomp opponents from afar. It also means you really need to know what your foes can do, though, lest you walk into something that chews you to pieces. Not that this isn’t true of most fighters, but it feels a bit more like a vital requirement here.
While just about everyone has a powerful moveset in DNF Duel (poor Grappler, being a grappler, feels short-changed in a game where he has to get close to all of these long-range fighters), there is a limit on what you can do. Each character has an MP gauge under their health bar that fuels many of your most damaging strikes. This starts at one hundred and drains fairly quickly as you use it, but will also refill back to one hundred over time. It charges pretty fast, and has a way to speed it up if you need access to your best abilities faster. You can’t just spam your strongest abilities, so this MP bar does put SOME limitation on how hard you can go after someone.
There are some quirks to the bar, though. The game ties special moves to the usual quarter circle + button inputs, but you can also just hold a direction and hit your MP Skill Button to pull off those same powerful moves. The catch is that your MP bar will start to recharge faster if you do the more complex input. This is wonderful for beginners as they can do cool attacks very easily, and offers a small reward for people who’d rather do the full input or who are more practiced at those full inputs. It also allows skilled players the option to choose which they wish to use in a pinch, opting for the simpler, faster moves at the cost of some MP recharge if they need something that second. It’s a sharp, flexible system that offers a lot regardless of skill level.
Your MP bar has a few more elements to it in DNF Duel. If you drain yourself of more MP than you have available, the game will typically still let you do the move as long as you have a few MP left to start it. However, you’ll go into a temporary Exhaustion state where it takes a while before your MP recharges. This can put you in huge trouble, but you can also decide if it’s worth the risk to go for that final haymaker if your opponent is low on health. Also, you can charge up to two hundred MP by taking damage in the fight, which can cause some unexpected upsets if you’re getting paddled by your opponent and then just unload on them.
As you get roughed up, you’ll note that some of the damage you take is represented by a white bar that doesn’t immediately drain. This is White Health, and if you avoid getting hit for a bit, it will start to regenerate. Get smacked from an MP-based attack and you’ll lose it all, though. Just the same, this encourages players to stay mentally invested in the fight, even if their health is getting low because a portion of it can be recovered if you make a few smart plays. And since you’ll likely have extra MP since you’ve been getting hit, you can cause a big turnaround and gain most of your health back at surprising moments.
A further mechanic, Awakening, can also make the match swing back in your direction when you’re losing. When players get to thirty percent health or below in DNF Duel, they enter Awakening state, which activates some skills unique to that character. Berserker starts absorbing life from the damage he deals (twenty percent). Striker does increased damage to the opponent’s health and guard. You also gain access to a single powerful Awakening Skill that you can use once a round. They aren’t invincible and they cancel out your Awakening state bonuses, so you want to be VERY sure you’re going to hit with them. If you do, though, they tend to just maul your opponent’s health, cutting through any lead they might have.
These mechanics really increase the mayhem as you play this fighter. You have moves that cover huge portions of the screen, players can easily get the drop on one another from across big distances. Even if someone does that to you, though, you might just take the damage as White Health and be able to recover it if you’re careful. Your opponent can do the same, though, so you might drop them into Awakening state when you have a huge health lead and then get slammed with their most powerful move, bringing you right down to their level. It always feels like you’re one mistake away from disaster and one smart move away from getting the upper hand. It keeps you fully engaged throughout each match.
That said, that chaos also seems to undo some of my interest in taking DNF Duel seriously. Since all of the fighters have long-range movesets and huge abilities that come out often, they don’t feel quite as special. I know technique is still important to playing the game well at high levels, but at my skill level, it mainly feels like a race to do the biggest move, or that it can be a little too easy to juggle someone to death despite the systems. It feels a little too loose and wild for my tastes, which makes it great for something to play recreationally. It’s just not something I feel I want to commit to and learn to play very well.
It’s still very solid for that, though. As I said, the characters all feel pretty wild, so there’s lots of fun to be had in just playing around with them and seeing who you like. You can take that knowledge to battle local opponents, or try out the single player Arcade, Story, and Survival Modes. Story mode is extremely dull, as the plot is utterly uninteresting fantasy drivel. It takes place over the same number of matches as Arcade Mode, but that story drags it down, so you’re better off just playing Arcade Mode. Story Mode is also painfully easy, so if you want any kind of challenge, you’ll want to do Arcade. Survival pits you against endless foes until you fall, so it’s a good way to see if your skills are growing. They’re serviceable modes that will do you well if you just want to goof off with the game alone.
As for the online matches, they unfortunately could not be tested at the time of this review. They run well on the PS5 from my personal experience, but that doesn’t tell us much about how well they run on the Switch. However, it’s been confirmed that the Switch version will not have rollback netcode, so you won’t be seeing as smooth a performance on Switch Online as you do with other platforms. If online is a major concern for you, you’ll want to look at playing on other consoles.
You do gain some currency and unlockables from playing through the various modes of DNF Duel. You can unlock artwork, avatars for online, and some videos, but it’s not a whole lot that’s very interesting. I earned enough for nearly half of the unlockable artwork after one run at story mode and one run at arcade mode, so it won’t give you much to unlock. It’s a little something, but don’t expect to have much to work towards.
DNF Duel excels at being over-the-top. With its huge moves and various turnabout mechanics, it makes each match feel like a wild spectacle where anyone can take the win in the end. It keeps you invested in each match, but at the same time, that chaos in each character starts to make things feel a little too chaotic for you to want to get a firm grip on it and do well at it. It’s just a bit too wacky, which results in a fantastic game for some pick-up play, but not something I, personally, want to play long-term.
Specific to the Switch version, it plays at a fine pace, but its blurry characters can be hard on the eyes. That, and the lack of rollback netcode, make it the clearly inferior release out of all the platforms it’s on. It’s a solid release if you have no other choice, but if you DO have a choice, get it on anything but the Switch.
DNF Duel is available now on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC.