If you’ve been one of the many Nintendo fans playing through The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom this week, you no doubt have had a blast returning to Hyrule, exploring Sky Islands, and building crazy shit. You might notice, however, that the game takes some more frequent frame rate dips than its predecessor. While the game is more than playable with these slowdowns, you don’t need to live with them — if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, that is.
First, let me say this: It’s a miracle that a game like Tears of the Kingdom even exists on the Nintendo Switch. The six-year-old console powers a massive sandbox-physics adventure that allows you to build just about anything you can think of, with minimal to no bugs or glitches. It’s become an industry norm to expect games this big to ship with a fair share of funny to frustrating problems, but not Zelda.
That’s said, the game sports some performance quirks. Aside from running at a low resolution for a 2023 AAA game, the frame rate, which usually sticks to a solid 30 fps, tends to get a little wonky. You notice it most in times of intense gameplay, running through dense villages, or when using a scanning device like Ultrahand. During these periods, the game’s frame rate slows down quite a bit before returning to normal. It’s not enough to detract from the overall experience by any means, but for anyone used to buttery smooth gaming, it’s pretty evident.
Most of us, of course, assume this is just the way it is, and that we’re better off thanking god such a game can even run this well on 2017 hardware. It really is impressive, especially considering the gigantic scope of what the Zelda team accomplished here. But, if you want, you can improve the performance of the game. It just takes a little tinkering, a little time, and a willingness to go against Nintendo’s wishes.
You can overclock your Switch
As it turns out, you can overclock your Nintendo Switch to push the CPU and GPU above what Nintendo limits. For the uninitiated, overclocking is when you run components like the CPU or GPU faster than the manufacturer sets. It’s common with PCs, since you can pull more power out of your computer and improve its overall performance.
Now, it makes sense for Nintendo to limit the clock speed of its Switch hardware. The console is designed for both handheld and docked gameplay: It wouldn’t do portable players much good to have games taking full advantage of the hardware while running down the battery way too quickly. Still, the Switch can handle it, and it does help games like Tears of the Kingdom run just a bit more smoothly.
Modern Vintage Gamer took his modded Switch to the test, ramping the clock speeds to 1862 MHz (Memory), 1683 MHz (CPU), and 921 MHz (GPU). This combination proved successful: He could fire up Ultrahand in a busy spot like Kakariko Village, and the game wouldn’t budge from a solid 30 fps.
It might even be possible to boost the game to 60 fps by overclocking. Switch 60 FPS Handheld posted a video showing the intro of the game running at a very smooth 60 fps. It appears they have their Switch plugged into power, which makes sense. I don’t know what the battery life would be for a Switch that is overclocked, but it can’t be good.
“Hacking” your Switch
Before you can overclock your Switch, you need to “hack” it by installing custom firmware. Switches bought pre-2018 are the easiest to hack, because they feature a bug that Nintendo can’t fix to stop the hacking. Newer Switches are possible to hack, but you may run into some issues when trying. You’ll only know by giving it a shot.
Now, hacking a Switch does void the warranty. If your Switch is new and you’d rather not risk Nintendo dropping support, it’s best to stay away. In addition, while the overclocking process should be safe, there’s always the risk of data or hardware damage with something like this. Remember: Nintendo doesn’t want you doing this, so it’s entirely the hacking community making it possible. Hack and overclock at your own risk.
This guide walks you through the basics of turning your Switch into a homebrew machine, including installing the Atmosphere firmware you’ll need as part of your efforts to overclock. Just know you’ll either need a PC, an Android phone, or a jailbroken iPhone in order to proceed.