Monday, December 9

Top 20 Indie Roguelike Games on Nintendo Switch


Last Updated: 05/14/20 While not everyone may love the roguelike format for me the challenge and “yes sir, may I have another” nature of them scratches an old school arcade itch many times. One terrific thing about them is that since they aren’t a proper genre, more of what I’d consider a catalyst that enhances them, there’s an amazing variety of titles you can enjoy this way. These are the absolute best roguelikes (and roguelites if we’re getting technical) that the Switch has to offer. As always keep in mind this list is attempting to represent variety, not necessarily the strict highest-scoring games out there.

Dead Cells - This was probably my favorite game of 2018, though since it's also a very challenging title it won't be for everyone. I played a ton of it on PC in Early Access but in its final form on the Switch everything I liked about it solidified completely with rock-solid and satisfying gameplay. The fact that you can be effective with a variety of builds, its multiple paths you can follow, and satisfying progression as you make repeated attempts make this the gold standard in roguelikes for me, and it proves out what they're capable of.


Children of Morta - While I have played (and generally enjoyed) a ton of roguelikes of all flavors on the Switch I can’t say any of them has been quite like Children of Morta. Played from a top-down perspective and with a serious dungeon crawling style it’s challenging, has an absolutely fantastic art style, and features multiple character classes to play that are each viable and have distinctive feels. The run-to-run progression, opportunities that represent risk and/or reward, and unpredictability of precisely what you may face are all on point as well but what pushes the game the extra mile for me are the quick but poignant story threads you’ll slowly encounter as you get further in. At its core this is a game with family themes and beats and for me it really amplified the connection I have to both the game and its characters. That extra degree of care is uncommon in the genre and it really elevates it to the top tier of roguelikes. If you’re down to grit your teeth a bit and eat it on one run and then find success by the skin of your teeth the next Children of Morta is a terrific example of what roguelikes are capable of in talented hands.


Slay the Spire - While deck building games would usually fall into the category of titles I’d file under “an acquired taste” the Switch now has 2 rock solid titles with that style of play that have proven mainstream friendly this year. While SteamWorld Quest went more story-driven and static though, Slay the Spire very much embraces a roguelike approach instead that keeps it challenging and surprising across many attempts you’ll make with its heroes that each have a very different style. There’s definitely a learning curve here, as you’ll need to experiment with different combinations of cards to work out which synergize the most effectively together and which you’re better off without. For true roguelike or strategy fans this is absolutely a title you won’t want to miss out on, it easily lives up to the positive buzz it has been receiving.


Nuclear Throne - Though it’s pretty clear in places that Nuclear Throne has aged a bit since its original release, its unapologetic degree of challenge and a wide variety of builds still make it one of the best twin-stick shooters on the Switch. This isn’t a game you’ll really ever master per se, you’ll just have deep runs where things click and you’ll find success. With some great unlockable characters, each with their own style of play, Throne has no shortage of personality and continues to push you with a “just one more run” mentality to work to get further. If you’re ready for a challenge, and can deal with its visuals having aged a bit, Nuclear Throne absolutely delivers one of the best roguelike shooting experiences on the system without question.


Sparklite - Since I’m a huge fan of roguelikes and their ability to revitalize and alter how you play more classic genres I’ve always wondered how it would pair with the Legend of Zelda. Sparklite takes quite a traditional track, working with weapons and mechanics reminiscent of the Zelda series but keeping the world a bit more compact, generally making for quicker runs if nothing else. Once you get your bearings and understand how elements like badges work you’ll be off to face a pretty stiff challenge, especially in the early going. Just be ready, until you’re sufficiently geared up to take on the bosses (especially early on), you’re likely to get a bit frustrated. Some quibbles over the somewhat clunky menu, no provision for a more easily available mini map, and other nuisances can creep in at times but there’s no doubt that this is a high-quality adventure that’s challenging, inventive, and rewarding.


Neon Chrome - I'd originally fallen in love with Neon Chrome on PC where I beat the game 4 times and it kept getting more intense and fun each time. Having to start out from nothing on the Switch I came to appreciate how much I had learned to lean on some of the game's most potent enhancements but I was more than happy to make it work with whatever I had and make my way to the Overseer all over again. It's challenging, exciting, and you'll need to work with what you're given but if you love twin-stick shooting it is among the most satisfying of the games of this type I've played.


Enter the Gungeon - At the time of its announcement as one of the most anticipated roguelike shooters for the Switch among the people "in the know", Enter the Gungeon is as preposterous as it is bullet-laden. Full of personality, bizarre enemies, over-the-top bosses, and some truly ridiculous weapons you'll never quite be sure what to expect each time you go down into the Gungeon. If you're up for the challenge it delivers its own flavor of bullet hell with a distinct sense of flair.


Hell is Other Demons - All things considered, Hell is Other Demons is a very good platforming shooter that plays smart, is challenging, and ultimately will support a wide variety of styles through its varied weapons and upgrades. While in docked mode the characters may look a bit chunky that means in handheld mode everything is very easy to see and helps make play on the go all the more viable. Each increasingly-powerful weapon you get to work with tends to encourage different styles of play and that keeps things consistently interesting and exciting. This is yet another shooter deserving of your time and attention and it deserves a place among the top tier of titles in the genre on Switch.


A Robot Named Fight - If Nintendo were to decide to turn the Metroid series into a roguelike it would likely end up looking quite a bit like A Robot Named Fight, though probably a lot more polished. Your goal is to survive and that can be quite a challenge. On each run you'll encounter new ship layouts, make use of different weapons and power-ups, and likely have very different experiences, some good and some more brutal. It adds up to a compelling challenge that continues to stay fresh for quite some time as long as you don't decide to give up in frustration too quickly.


Tumbleseed - I consider Tumbleseed to be one of the best games on the system that very few people gave a chance. In part because it is something completely different and then due to its initial difficulty level it made itself a bit of a tough sell. With its Four Peaks patch it significantly improved on its accessibility and set things up in a way that would both be more friendly to more casual players and not punish people quite so much with unexpected issues like auras that would attack you the same as they would your enemies. Quirky, unique, and full of charm it is well worth taking the time to know and appreciate.


Void Bastards - While I’ve seen a few titles try to step up to the plate to establish a solid roguelike FPS to date nobody has really nailed the entire formula. Whether because the roguelike elements were out of balance or shooting itself just wasn’t well-implemented, that has left room for someone to come onto the scene and show how it can be done right. Finally, with the release of Void Bastards, it seems like someone is squarely on the right track, just be ready to struggle a bit as you get the hang of things. You control what are essentially disposable criminals, each with different quirks (ala Rogue Legacy), and through perseverance you’ll begin to make your way further and further along in your mission, shooting, crafting, and sometimes simply running away in order to survive a variety of enemy encounters in space. Initially it can be a bit overwhelming as you learn the ropes, knowing which ships to try to hit for what supplies, how to deal with different threats, which shipboard systems are best to try to utilize and how, and also just when to know you need to panic and get the hell off a ship before you die. Perhaps unsurprisingly this can lead to there being a bit of a hump to get over, equipped with just enough crafted gear and earned experience to help yourself get further along. If you’re a major fan of roguelikes or have been hoping to see a new formula in your FPS gameplay this is absolutely going to be worth checking out.


Moonlighter - One part Zelda-esque combat and dungeon exploration and another part shop simulator Moonlighter is a title that looks great and plays in a truly unique way. By night you'll go into dungeons in search of adventure and loot that you'll then need to carefully price to sell for the best price possible in your shop by day. You can then use your money to improve your shop, attract new vendors to town (including a blacksmith and armorer you'll very much need), and upgrade your gear to let you take on progressively tougher challenges.


Flinthook - The exciting and dangerous life of a swashbuckling bounty hunter is the focus in Flinthook, and the mix of shooting, swinging, and dodging enemies and traps gives it a distinctive feel. With a pretty wide variety of upgrade paths as you progress you'll need to learn from your mistakes and to a degree simply "git gud" to track down and then defeat the nefarious criminals you'll be presented with.


Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings - This is a game that splices together twin-stick shooting, careful exploration, and crafting, but then throwing in roguelike procedurally-generated levels as well. The result is unique and quite challenging, but also very smart when it comes to technique, making it a truly memorable journey. It’s gorgeous, at times serene, and then knows how to get down to business with plenty of shooting action and nuance if you’re willing to take the time to get skilled at using your harpoon. It’s very much the crazy mix of exploration, “fishing”, shooting, crafting, and a number of situations that will catch you by surprise and challenge you. While perhaps a little rough around some edges, I highly recommend giving it a try.


Juicy Realm - When it comes to roguelike shooters I’m both a tremendous fan and often a picky critic. We’ve been absolutely spoiled on this system with some incredibly varied top-tier titles that range from having a quick hit arcade feel to ones that are a slower burn and almost adventure-like. That makes it tough for new titles to break in, needing to throw down something pretty impressive to crack through and compete. Juicy Realm is absolutely a game that does just that, using its somewhat unusual art style and characters to suck you in, but then making you work hard to survive while working with some bizarre weapons and a fair amount of risk and reward as you try to go the distance. Varied initial characters are complemented by even more that can be unlocked, and while the random nature of the weapons you may encounter tends to make them a little more alike each person’s special skills can make a massive difference depending on how you prefer to play. Small complaints like the exits sometimes being far harder to spot than they should be are there but the core gameplay makes it easy to ignore completely so you can just keep playing. Throw in progressive powering up, new weapon unlocks, and ways to increase your burden for more rewards and this could easily become your go-to shooter on the system for quite some time.


Hand of Fate 2 - Part card-based game of chance, part classic D&D-esque dungeon exploration, and part action game Hand of Fate 2 has a style all its own. I thoroughly enjoyed the original and was pleased with the refinements they threw into the sequel, mainly in the form of making the action much more varied and challenging. There are runs where it will feel like the Dealer's cards are simply not on your side but when you can then get on a good tear with some luck and decent equipment it can be a thrill as well. Just a unique title worth checking out.


Downwell - If you’re looking for something that’s quick to pick up and put down (you know, a great mobile experience) Downwell is a great and challenging option. You’ll continue to push further and further in as you get more used to the nature of the challenges at each level but don’t be surprised if you still manage to bite it in the first zone, there are spots where things simply will snowball on you and you’ll end up dead in a hurry. Getting comfortable on which perks and weapons work best for you is key, and you’ll need to find the balance between taking it slow and knowing when to just try to fall to avoid a nasty situation. As an old-school arcade fan its classic sensibilities make me very happy.


Fury Unleashed - With a comic book-inspired look, a pretty wide array of over-the-top weapons, and challenges aplenty Fury Unleashed is a roguelike platform shooter with plenty of personality. You play the role of the somewhat stock 80s-style hero, buffed up and ready to kick ass, and over the course of the game’s major chapters (which each are made to look like their own comic book, each with their own theme and enemies) you’ll be sorely tested. This isn’t a game you’ll come out of the gates tearing through, you’ll need to grind and earn it, slowly customizing your perks, gaining access to better starter gear through challenges, and coming to understand how best to be effective in your runs. In the end it is really about moving quickly and decisively, keeping your combo meter up so that you can earn health “ink”. It may seem counter-intuitive, that in order to try to heal yourself you’ll need to be aggressive, putting yourself at risk to lose more health, but that’s how this experience rolls. The thing is, you’ll have plenty of wild weapons, ranging from simpler guns to grenade launchers, sawblade guns, and more as well as devastating melee weapons, grenades, and even a deadly stomp attack at your disposal. Once you get into a groove and understand how to approach specific enemies you’ll begin to have more success, just look out for some of the game’s tough-as-nails bosses as well. If it weren’t for the variety and personality in the game the level of difficulty could have been more of a bummer but there’s just something about the whole package that kept me wanting to come back for more.


Quest of Dungeons -  If you're familiar with the original Rogue that the roguelike game style derived from you'll never find quite as true a modern take on it as Quest of Dungeons. Much more bare bones in both complexity and presentation than flashier flare Quest makes up for that in satisfying challenge true to the original Rogue and well-suited to more casual play on the cough. That isn't to say it is easy, in particular defeating the last Dungeon is a supreme challenge to your skill and your patience.


Caveblazers - On the whole Caveblazers is a ton of challenging fun and currently has no direct competition on the Switch. If you can get over and live with the difficulty hump it gets marginally easier with experience and possibly as you get new perks but every run will throw new choices and challenges at you, never letting you get too comfortable and making subsequent runs swing between getting destroyed in the first minute or two to rolling through a few bosses before getting taken down. If you’ve been looking for a new kind of challenge, and can deal with its quirks, it’s a solid choice.


This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!