Sunday, December 29

Top 20 Indie Strategy Games on Nintendo Switch


SteamWorld Heist - With multiple skill levels available SteamWorld Heist is a game that anyone, from a tactical strategy newbie to a grizzled veteran, should be able to enjoy. Well-designed, looking fabulous on Switch, and thoroughly engaging it offers a rewarding combination of careful planning and then execution in aiming that I can’t get enough of. Pulling off a tricky ricochet shot from across the room is such a rush, just remember that when you inadvertently end up blowing up a crewmate a little later because you didn’t plan it out well. While battles can be aggravating at times the great news is that every time you try placements and layouts will tend to vary either a little or a lot so you may have just had a bad break. If you haven’t yet checked out SteamWorld Heist you owe it to yourself to give it a shot, it is unquestionably one of the best games on the Switch.


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.


SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech - Despite my feeling that it lost some steam towards the conclusion, SteamWorld Quest is easy to count among the most polished and engaging games on the system. Similarly to Heist it has managed to take a style of play that may not be as familiar to people and that may seem intimidating at first and make it highly accessible. There’s just so much potential in the decks you can put together that with some determination not to repeat yourself you could easily replay the game and have it feel very different due to your change in tactics. Yet again Image and Form have managed to take their SteamWorld universe to another very different place and yet deliver the same sort of high quality experience people have come to expect from the series.


Into The Breach - Coming from the people behind the infamous FTL (which somehow still isn't on Switch), this bite-sized strategy title works in pretty quick and concise rounds that will demand your careful attention. Progress will come slowly at first and you'll likely need to make some sacrifices in order to ultimately succeed but this is a well-designed strategy title that will make you work for your success.


Has-Been Heroes - It seems appropriate include this first game I reviewed for the system and prepared a pretty extensive tips and tricks guide for. Dismissed by much of the games press for its substantial level of challenge before its Day 1 Patch looking through many of the complaints about it I think the biggest issue was too many people didn’t understand its mechanics and were trying to smash their way through. This is a deep strategy roguelike and once you understand its systems defeating its bosses is a supremely satisfying feeling. Pair that with post-launch patches that have refined the difficulty and added additional content there's a staggering amount of terrific content in this game!


Ironcast - Somewhat picking up the mantle from the popular Puzzle Quest series, Ironcast constructed a very compelling, though unlikely, combination of Victorian era England, steampunk mechs, roguelike elements, and strategic gem matching. Through the campaign you’ll be challenged to manage your various systems to keep your mech operational while you try to pinpoint the weaknesses of your opponents to take them down. A great mix of genres made this something worth checking out.


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.


When Ski Lifts Go Wrong - While the system has a number of bridge building physics games, this one takes that general premise and does some new things with it. The most obvious difference is in the structures you’ll build, replacing the roadway with chair lifts, gondolas, and ski jumps. To further add to the fun there are scenarios where you’ll get a small degree of control over your specific target skier, working to nail tough jumps and to grab bonus coins. While it’s not perfect it’s also a welcome aggressive attempt to get the genre moving in newer and more creative directions.


X-Morph: Defense - I’m really impressed by everything the folks behind this game have put together. The campaign is challenging and at a satisfying length, and if you really want more there’s already additional DLC content available as well. The mix of strategy and action it offers is pretty unique and in general the presentation of the destruction and carnage really helps make it all exciting. You’ll need to make some tough choices at times, and if you get too distracted by the action your defenses can really fall apart, but that all adds to the challenge and fun. If you’ve ever had any affection for tower defense games you owe it to yourself to see this example of the genre being taken to a new and more exciting level.


OTTTD - Tower defense titles are extremely common in the mobile space (for good reason, they’re well-suited to touchscreen controls), and have found success, but can sometimes be lacking on the more dedicated Switch. OTTTD, or Over-the-Top Tower Defense, is an aptly named title that tries to use a little personality, multiple controllable units, and more varied strategic choices than usual in order to get some attention. Where many more generic titles in the genre fall flat and feel predictable, OTTTD likes to throw periodic surprises at you and ends up being pretty entertaining in the process.


Little Town Hero - When you’re a game studio responsible for what may be arguably one of the biggest and most successful franchises in the world it must be challenging to break away and do something very different. They’ve proven themselves in the past by making some smaller titles like the excellent HarmoKnight in particular, and in the case of Little Town Hero they’ve again plotted out a pretty unique direction and made something worthwhile. The emphasis in the game is on strategic turn-based combat against some pretty intimidating monsters who mean to do your town and friends harm. The hook is that while elements of the battle system may feel familiar and similar to concepts in some tactical RPGs or even deck-building games there’s nothing I’ve ever played quite like this. Getting up to speed with this takes time, as do the battles themselves which tend to be a pretty drawn out affair, but the result tends to be quite rewarding if you have patience and the right mind for it. Layer in a pretty light-hearted story with fun characters, a great art style, and plenty of charming polish and this is absolutely a unique title that stands out on its own and should be rewarding for the right audience.


Swords & Soldiers 2: Shawarmageddon - All in all Sword & Soldiers 2 is a clear step up from its predecessor in pretty well every way. Artistically it is far more elaborate and full of character, the campaign storyline is as odd and silly as ever, the units are far more diverse and interesting, and the inclusion of online multiplayer is a cherry on top. While it may err a bit on catering to the lighter side of strategy make no mistake, the game is capable of being as complex as you can handle if you’re playing against another human, even if the solo challenge may not be as impressive. It’s well worth adding to your library if you’re in search of something fun but still satisfying in between bigger titles.


Cardpocalypse - While deck building and battling games were never something I got into physically, I’ll admit that in the digital space they’ve managed to get me pretty hooked. While we’re still somehow waiting on the well-known Hearthstone to make its way to Switch (I hope), with smart titles like Cardpocalypse available it hasn’t been too painful to wait. What makes the title notable is the schoolyard RPG aspect of it, where you’ll play the new kid in town trying to make friends and build a solid deck along the way. If you’re just looking to get down to business you’ll have the option to do that as well to a degree, but the joy here is in navigating Jess through the travails of Elementary School clique politics with some smart deck building and opportunities for customization along the way.


Kingdom: New Lands - This is a game that’s very hard to categorize but Strategy seems to be the best banner to put Kingdom under. Starting out as a king (or queen) with no Kingdom to speak of you’ll need to explore your lands on horseback to find gold to help you enlist commoners to your cause. You’ll need to try to construct some basic defenses pretty quickly because when the night comes so do monsters that will relentlessly attack until daybreak. It is a challenge to manage growth, money, and your people to shore up a safe base but then to seek out the ship on each island that you can then repair and use to move on to the next island, for an even steeper challenge. Creative, very different than anything I’ve played, and it made a great impression!


Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game - While deck building and card battling games have made their appearance on the Switch in a few different forms, none of them has been quite like this. A common approach is for these titles to go the “freemium” route with things like loot boxes, random drops, and incentives to invest some money to improve your chances. Instead, LotRACG opts for an up-front price where you’ll have access to everything and will be able to build your deck strategically as you progress rather than having to figure out how best to work with that new hot drop you got that doesn’t fit well into any of your decks. Of course, the other massive leg up this title has is the benefit of grounding in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with characters, races, creatures, and stories both familiar and new. If the slow burn of deck building and strategy are in your wheelhouse you’ll want to give this title a look as it shows both polish and care, opening the door to plenty of challenging and rewarding play.


Hard West - All things considered, for the price Hard West is a surprisingly competent tactical turn-based shooter than gets more right than it gets wrong. It somehow manages to channel many elements of the X-Com formula for combat properly while also setting itself apart with new ideas of its own. While I wish its overall story were more cohesive and would allow for greater carried consequences for choices you make along the way, the degree to which you feel like your choices can matter is still appreciated. If you’ve been frustrated with the somewhat lacking quality of the other indie titles on Switch in this genre to date, rest assured that Hard West is currently the best of the bunch by a fair margin.


Monster Slayers - While not everyone enjoys the card battle system concept Monster Slayers does a pretty excellent job of making it interesting and rewarding if you take the time to get acquainted with it. As with all roguelikes not every run will be a winner, but by making smart decisions and carefully tending to your deck you can have a pretty good time with it as well. Its pacing and perhaps the learning curve for people unfamiliar with this style of play may not give it universal appeal but for people willing to invest some time into it there’s a deep and rewarding RPG experience to be had here offering quite a lot of variety.


Holy Potatoes! We're In Space?! - In the end, I was a bit slow to warm up to the game’s charms but once I hit my stride I began to really have some fun with it. As strategy games go it is pretty light, but that also makes it quite approachable. I believe that having a plan and investing your money and resources wisely makes a difference but on the whole I’m also not positive you couldn’t do pretty well simply stumbling through things at many points as well. If you’re down for some silliness mixed into your casual strategy it’s a pretty good fit and it seems very reasonable for the asking price as well.


Space War Arena - While overall Space War Arena is only a middle of the road strategic challenge, it fits into the Switch lineup pretty nicely without too many competitors in the same semi-casual space. Well-suited to playing on the go or in docked, and managing to do a fair job of balancing being accessible while still satisfying genre fans it sits in a nice sweet spot where either could likely get some enjoyment out of it. Managing to counter your enemy, turn the tide, and squeak out a tight win is always a thrill, and helps make the game suitable for just about anyone.


Tiny Metal - With the release of the multiplayer patch Tiny Metal finally met its potential, though to be clear the support isn’t terribly robust by any means. The core gameplay is certainly there, and should please strategy fans, but the Campaign’s story isn’t terribly interesting and the computer AI won’t likely impress strategy veterans. Assuming you’re able to coordinate with someone online to set up a lobby and match up the multiplayer patch should make for a great additional feature, but if you’re just looking for a random match-up keep in mind your enjoyment will be subject to some luck both in terms of finding a match and it being satisfying.