Thursday, May 28

Mini Reviews: May 28th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Atomicrops [Nindie Choice!] - For me Atomicrops is a story of early frustration, followed by a slow warming up, which eventually became a pretty deep and addictive love. Among the many roguelike shooters on Switch it absolutely stands apart, and getting the hang of how everything works is thus an unfamiliar challenge. Are you supposed to tend your crops? Go running out into the areas to the north, south, east, and west to find seeds and supplies? Focus on making money? Make sure to plant and cultivate roses as quickly as possible since they’re an alternative and powerful currency as well? The answer to all of it pretty much turns out to be “Yes”. I don’t think there’s only one strategy or set of tactics that will make you successful but since the game provides you with very little overall guidance and there are simply a staggering number of power-ups and pieces of equipment you may encounter you’re going to need to try and fail quite a bit before you’ll have some “Aha!” moments and feel like you’ve got your feet under you. The thing is, once I turned that corner and finally began to know just enough to pick the power-ups that best suited the situation in my current run, wisely choosing how and when to invest and in what, I got hooked and had to keep playing until I finally completed Year 1. Outside of a lack of much helpful guidance, which really can make the early game a bit of a bummer, my only other major complaint is that as the screen gets full of stuff happening at night and there’s chaos everywhere, at times you’ll swear you’re taking damage but can’t tell from what. It happening only once in a while you can write it off as you just missing something but the more it happened (once every few runs) the harder I would look and there were times I legitimately had no idea what killed me, never a good thing, but obviously not something so common I couldn’t be successful. If you’ve been feeling like roguelike shooters have been feeling too much alike and in need of an evolution be sure to give Atomicrops a shot, I think it’ll “grow” on you.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens [Nindie Choice!] - While I’m a relatively recent fan of the Shantae series, having just been introduced to it in the collection release on Switch a while ago, I’m definitely getting into the groove and enjoying what feels like its consistency. Some great characters, perhaps a bit on the silly and dramatic side, backed up by rock-solid action platforming and more often than not varied and exciting boss fights. Clocking in completing my first full runthrough of this edition in a bit under 8 hours for the most part I’d consider it satisfying, though I will offer some nitpicks. While I won’t fault the game for generally being highly accessible with plentiful healing and opportunities to collect coins to be used for upgrades, that does diminish the excitement of big battles that don’t revolve around some puzzling and pattern solving. Especially in the fights against Risky Boots I sort of gave up on trying to be subtle and would just full-on blitz her with attacks until she was done, usually only needing to heal twice at most before it was done. Certainly that was my choice but at the same time her battles tended to be highly repetitive and only iteratively harder each time so my indifference felt earned. While some trappings like the enemy card system that would give you up to 3 incremental improvements to a particular skill or attack were nice they, along with the majority of the magic system attacks, felt a little under-utilized. Nice to have, but mostly non-essential so a bit wasted. Bear in mind, I’m being a bit picky only because I think the game was terrific and I just want to see it refined further and get better. While I wouldn’t call it perfect I think it’s a terrific title that gamers of just about any age or skill level could likely enjoy. There may be a few sections that will push you, and there are spots where figuring out where to go next can be a challenge, but its upbeat tone, polished presentation, and accessible fun are hard not to enjoy.

Ailment - There’s nothing wrong with a straightforward budget title that sets its sights on a goal and gets there, even if it may not feel terribly flashy or ambitious. For me that’s Ailment in a nutshell, with you playing as a crewmember who wakes up on his ship and discovers that something has gone very wrong… with an abundant use of weaponry being the best solution to that problem. You’ll do some exploring, accumulate an impressive arsenal, work only moderately hard to conserve your “big guns” for the threats that require them, and methodically work your way through the equally well-armed people you’ll run into. It lacks the edge and flair that the stronger shooters in this space have but for the very reasonable price of admission it’s also a good time for genre fans.

Despotism 3k - In terms of overall look, bleak theme, and the humor in its many odd random events complete with pop culture references and other unexpected surprises Despotism 3k comes out of the gate feeling like it has promise. Some repeated playthroughs where it all boils down to time and resource management with a lot of repetition and making small tweaks to be more efficient for better success start to chip away at that element of fun unfortunately. This is all about experimenting to figure out what combination of upgrades, managing your people to focus on which resources and when, and generally just how best to respond to events you can’t control are needed to survive. If you’re interested in that sort of challenge you may find it appealing, but the lack of real variety outside of that diminishes what initially feels fresh.

Fly Punch Boom! - I don’t doubt that coming up with new ways to make competitive fighters/brawlers have a personality all their own and not be accused of being an also-ran clone of an existing property can be difficult, especially if you’re aiming for a more mainstream appeal. To its credit, Fly Punch Boom carves out a niche for itself that feels unique, blending some mechanics of rock paper scissors with specific or timed button presses you can use to either get an edge when things get tight or to help you recover with a tough save. The problem, though, is that in practice it feels like a bit of a mess, sometimes feeling pretty random, and other times leaving you not 100% sure when you should be pressing what so prompts can be missed just over confusion over when they may appear. Weirdly it feels like it is supposed to be a quick-to-pick-up-and-play game but at the same time there’s an edge to it that cuts against that grain. If you’re looking for something different, this will deliver, but that doesn’t mean it all gels together either.

Wednesday, May 27

Mini Reviews: May 27th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Indivisible [Nindie Choice!] - Probably one of the things I appreciate most in an indie game is for it to surprise me, and with its unwillingness to be constrained by a clear single genre Indivisible absolutely does that. Blending elements of a platforming adventure, an RPG, and even some Metroidvania exploration, it’s not quite like anything else I’ve played and that’s usually a good thing. Strict traditional turn-based combat tends to be dull to me so in particular it’s the pretty active combat in the game that I came to appreciate the more I played. You’ll certainly get into a consistent rhythm, working attack patterns you find most successful. But, there’s just enough strategy to what could just be a button-mashing mess to make it interesting in terms of who you attack with how, when, and then chaining into someone else. To sweeten the deal further I have to say that I really enjoyed the game’s characters, with the quality of the writing and voice acting their interactions just rang a bit more true than I typically see in an RPG. They’re still pretty traditional in their roles at the core but they have some genuine personality and that was a real driver for me to return and see where the story took things next. While genre purists may look at this as a hodge podge mutt of an experience I appreciate the mix and am hoping to see more in this vein in the future.

Monster Prom XXL [Nindie Choice!] - In the event your days as a teenager in high school weren’t traumatic enough, and you’re looking to recapture some of the unpredictability and excitement of that time (albeit in a monster-fied form) you may find Monster Prom to your liking. Taking control of one of the pretty archetypical leads your goal is to use what time you have wisely to boost your stats, try to make the most of every social situation, and woo one of your classmates to join you for the big event. The road to doing so will likely be far more daunting than you’d expect as, much like in life, figuring out the “best move” in a wide variety of circumstances can be quite tricky, especially since what may work to advance your agenda will often be relative. For your best odds of a positive outcome you’ll likely want to be laser-focused on the monster you’re most interested in hooking up with, not passing up any opportunity to put the pieces in place for success, especially since some missteps are quite likely along the way. I will warn that while I found the game to be quite entertainingly funny it has a willingness to “go there” with some of its humor in ways I didn’t expect at all. I’d consider that to be a pleasant surprise, but if you’re more easily offended you may want to keep looking.

Journey to the Savage Planet - One quality I admire most of this title is that right from the start it leads with a pretty messed up sense of humor. You’ve been sent out to a remote and unexplored planet in search of resources… but since you’re pretty expendable, rather than have the proper gear along for the ride you’ve been given a 3D printer and some canned video to help motivate you. Good luck! As you progress and return to your ship you’ll often find new videos, including some commercials that absolutely cracked me up, these were always a welcome surprise and helped break things up nicely. In terms of exploring the planet, collecting resources, and simply trying not to die? Eh, there’s good and bad. The environment is quite colorful and given the alien surroundings visually there are consistent surprises in store for you. Waypoints and tips for your next objective are often helpful but there can be spots where you’ll feel a bit lost not just in terms of your location but also your current purpose, which can be frustrating since the game is generally very linear in what you’ll need to collect to craft your means to progressing to further areas. What may really ruin the experience for some will be the game’s performance though, as there’s a cost to it generally looking very impressive. Even as a person who will outright ignore minor framerate hitches or visual glitches at times it was hard not to notice frame skips and stutters at times either in expansive areas or when the action got tense. These don’t often interfere with your chances of success but it can happen, and that’s always unfortunate. If you play mostly in handheld mode this is, as is almost always the case, definitely a problem exacerbated in that mode of play versus docked. If you’re a fan of survival titles the first-person perspective, feeling of adventure at times, and peppering in of shooting may make it worthwhile and a lot of fun since the genre typically hasn’t been handled this way on Switch. If you’re not a fan of performance issues or were looking for something favoring shooting and action over exploration and crafting you’ll likely want to look elsewhere though.

Turmoil - Games that were made for the mobile/tablet space coming over to Switch can often be a dicey proposition. Gameplay that works for touchscreens and often more casual players doesn’t always translate as well on dedicated gaming hardware. In the case of Turmoil, though, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, with it delivering a pretty smart strategy and resource management experience in a relatively humble package. You’ll take control of a tycoon-to-be, invest in a plot of land, and then work with the resources available to you to try to strike it rich. Finding the oil can be a challenge in itself sometimes, especially trying to do it efficiently and with an eye on cost effectiveness since drilling costs time and money… something you may overlook though if your initial wells have run dry. Not only do you need to focus on trying to keep your wells pumping, you’ll also want and need to keep an eye on the prices refineries are willing to pay, considering whether to store your oil and wait out better prices or deciding to take what you can in the event prices will continue to go down. There’s certainly some luck at play in your success in terms of how much oil is in any given plot but the real trick is in making the most of what you’re given. Overall, a smart and unique experience on the system.

Missile Command: Recharged - As someone who played a ton of the original Missile Command in the arcades and at home (originally on the Atari 5200 and more recently on my MAME cabinet with a trackball controller) I was actually quite excited to see this classic get an upgrade of sorts. Unfortunately, while I suppose Recharged visually does look more modern, but still with a decidedly minimalist aesthetic, I think in the competition between the old and new school the modern version falls decidedly flat by comparison. I’m not sure I ever feel like games turning into mobile-esque grinds where you’re constantly trying to gain currency to upgrade your stats to play longer is a good move, but knowing the vintage experience so well in this case it’s a particularly painful change. You’ll still ultimately want to put your primary effort into protecting your missile bases but the lack of complete control over which you’re firing any given missile from is a terrible concession to touchscreen play when you’ve got someone playing with a controller. The addition of power-ups in theory could spice things up but for me instead they just add a random element to your success rather than it being more a measure of your skills like it was in the arcade original. I’m ecstatic that Atari has been revisiting the archives to make modern takes on some of its vintage library but to this point the results have been disappointing at best. They really need to get people who are in tune with what made the originals iconic rather than seemingly believing they’re just ideas in need of modern trappings.

Tuesday, May 26

Mini Reviews: May 26th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Piczle Cross Adventure - Having been a huge fan of the Picross series as well as a number of its competitors I’ve come to be pretty excited by titles in the space offering up a new take of some kind. In concept Adventure is a solid idea, take the now-familiar puzzling gameplay and mix it up with a wacky-ish story complete with some RPG progression. In practice, while I appreciate the effort to go the extra mile to do something different (complete with a fine sense of humor, mind you) for me the puzzles themselves when paired with the quality of life around the interface are what holds it back. Having played several takes on how to mechanically make the interface more helpful and intuitive I’ve just gotten accustomed to a few different way things are done to make the experience more efficient while also making it more challenging. Working in only one color (in this case that is part of the hook of the villain, which is silly and I appreciate it, but it does make things more dull) and just the overall flow of things works fine but if you’re been shopping around it unfortunately just feels dated overall. Still, if you’ve been feeling like you want some connective tissue to bring the experience together rather than just solve random puzzles this is a nice change of pace.

Golf With Your Friends - Over the years there have been a variety of takes on the game of mini golf, ranging from pretty great to lacking. Throwing a load of creativity and unexpected surprise elements into the mix, helping to move the game beyond just the normal confines you’d find on a physical course, this title does manage to differentiate itself on the core level. In addition, if you’re able to find people to play with online (note, it supports up to a crazy 12), things kick in pretty nicely (if a bit chaotically) as everyone is free to swing at will. With the Switch being so local co-op focused and in general the prospects for long-term availability of competition online being so poor what, for me, drags the experience down is the lacking degree of effort put into playing in-person with your friends or family. Hotseat play is a terrific option if you’re playing clustered together and can easily pass the controller around, and is appreciated for potentially being a cost-conscious choice as well, but to not have support for multiple controllers? In addition, just simple touches like changing the order of who shoots first at each hole or having who shoots next be based on distance from the hold and not merely round robin… getting these simple things wrong really took the wind out of my family’s sails. The good news is that these could, in theory, be addressed, but as it is I think whether you’re interested in the game should vary with how you intend to play it and with whom.

Aqua Lungers - When it comes to local multiplayer games I absolutely respect an approach that shoots for simplicity. When you have people over to play they don’t want to get oriented for a long time while you’re whooping up on them having already mastered the mechanics. With its scheme really only revolving around a few actions, a limited number of effective power-ups you can grab, and easy-to-explain gameplay Aqua Lungers does well in this area. The problem, and the real challenge for games of these kinds that Lungers comes up short on is in keeping things simple but also having nuance and depth that will keep pulling you back in. It’s here that the game doesn’t fare as well, just unable to bring enough longevity and variety to the picture with its “grab the gold and stay alive” mentality that works for a bit but wears out pretty quickly even as the game continues to throw new traps and monsters at you… just after a while none of it feels very fresh and the game loses its hook.

Crypto by POWGI - With certain types of word-based puzzles presentation isn’t particularly a major concern, it’s really just about an accessible and unencumbered experience. Consistent with its brethren from Lightwood Games there’s absolutely a no-frills quality to Crypto, but as is usually the case I can’t say there’s anything missing either. You’re given a quote by someone famous and your job is to work out which letters substitute for which in order to decipher it, and that’s pretty much all there is to know. Your only interface is a collection of the letters in the puzzle and once you select your target letter all of the positions that letter’s in within the quote become highlighted and you can choose the replacement letter. If you enjoy this sort of puzzle in the newspaper or in puzzle books it does a fine job of implementing it easily to enjoy in a digital form for a budget-friendly price.

Concept Destruction - While admittedly getting the experience right has always tended to be a challenge I’m actually a big fan of destruction derby-style racing. Trading paint, trying to line up a solid hit, and then trying to hobble around and stay alive can be quite a lot of fun if it is implemented well. Perhaps fittingly in relation to the cars and arenas in the game being made from cardboard I’d consider the gameplay here flimsy at best. Rather than one of the ways to disable an opponent being to take out the engine here the target is the battery, though its position towards the middle of the car can unfortunately make it a real challenge to get at very well. The physics and driving can feel a bit loose and funky, even before your tires get all wonked up, and in general you just don’t feel the impact of a hard hit, generally robbing you of one of the greatest thrills of the sport. Throw in that driving in reverse (a classic tactic to protect your engine) can be done but doesn’t feel purposely supported as a strategy and it just ends up being a somewhat limp experience unfortunately.

Thursday, May 21

Mini Reviews: May 21st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

What the Golf? [Nindie Choice!] - Bless the indie devs that are determined to just completely go off in left field and do something unique. What the Golf is not really a sports game, or necessarily a puzzle game as much as it is a constant string of new riffs on the theme of golf, horrendous puns, and a wide variety of pop culture homages. While not all gamers may get every reference, which range from certain infamous mobile games to a super hot indie shooter that had unique mechanics to even a few concerning a certain mustachioed plumber, since it doesn’t dwell on any theme for long it won’t slow you down or limit your enjoyment. For people who just want to blow on through it may not take terribly long to “beat” if you just go to each hole and then keep going, but the additional par and starred challenges sometimes significantly (perhaps a bit inconsistently) ramp up the difficulty by adding new rules or even veering off to an entirely different kind of challenge altogether. Much like one of my favorites from a previous year, Pool Panic, What the Golf? is a collection of discovery and fun that just about anyone should enjoy.

Red Wings: Aces of the Sky - If you’re looking for airborne thrills on the Switch the list is a pretty short one, so for fans of aerial domination should be excited for the arrival of Red Wings on the system. With a pretty lengthy set of missions and unlocks for playing as either the Germans or the French there’s a fair degree of content to keep you busy, and though for the most part it sticks with straight-up vanilla dogfighting some mission variants and complications will pop up to give you new strategy elements to consider and nuance to figure out in terms of your approach. Upgradeable skills allow for just enough tuning to feel like you’re able to customize your experience and should help you address any areas you think you’re struggling in while the special ability to just plain pull out a gun and shoot one of your enemies adds a little bit of unexpected fun, and with perk upgrades it can really help you out of a jam with added benefits. While I wouldn’t say it’s an outright winner in the contest to dominate in this subgenre, the Switch already has some other comparable games set both in space and in the skies, it’s at least a contender and should satisfy fans of this sort of experience.

Gravity Rider Zero - The Trials series has always stood out to me as a smart and creative alternate take on a racing game, moving the focus on turns and managing speed more to technique and managing your angles of attack. Taking a watered down element of that gameplay, throwing in some pretty wild stunt and trap sections, and settling in somewhere between an action game and a racer we have Gravity Rider Zero. It’s sort of an odd game to play in some regards, seeming like it should be more technical but more often taking on an almost casual feel. So much of what you see almost ends up being automatic as you twist through tight curves, things like that are all a matter of the camera moving to show the action, but really your gameplay remains in two dimensions throughout. There are times when this can make it hard to see what’s coming but more often than not the controls are forgiving enough that you can make things work out anyway. Even in stages where you have competitors on the track with you progress isn’t defined by your ability to defeat them, your objectives and success are based more on your time and performance metrics, they’re just sort of there to motivate you to do better, also an odd approach but one that makes the game extremely accessible. If you think you’d enjoy an experience that feels somewhere between racing and action, with some wild roller coaster-like track design, it isn’t a bad game to check out.

80s Overdrive - 80s arcade throwback racing is absolutely a genre I can get behind, as someone who was playing them before I could get behind a wheel for real I spend a lot of time with them. While the likes of Outrun and some of its contemporaries have a very specific look and feel to them there was also a pretty simple but effective design to their tracks and format as well. In the case of 80s Overdrive there’s no doubt the developers were inspired by these titles, and they absolutely nail some aspects of it, though they struggle in some others. When it comes to visuals there’s no doubt they took great care in getting it right, and through a variety of environments and conditions their effort shows. It has that classic look but enhances it quite a bit in a few areas and their diligence is admirable. Where things struggle a bit has more to do with the stages themselves, the flow of racing, and your rivals. The track layouts can just be odd, perhaps a bit over-long, and tend to have stretches that are just a bit dull. As you progress the move to tighter roads ups the ante a bit but there’s not that classic sort of flow with normal turns and then that one or two big turns you had to be ready for kicking into low gear for. Then there’s the cars on the road. The other cars often aren’t in lanes, inexplicably change multiple lanes at random, and just don’t make a ton of sense. Perhaps nothing makes this more clear than trying to get started where it isn’t unusual for your competitors to bump into each other and get stopped right in front of you when the race starts. Whether by accident or design things like this really detract from the fun and hold back the nostalgic experience from being complete.

Arrest of a Stone Buddha - Much like the previous title from this game’s developer, Friends of Ringo Ishikawa, Arrest of a Stone Buddha may be better defined as a gaming experiment than a traditional game. Slowly and somewhat sparsely leaving breadcrumbs of a story along the way you’ll tend to move between intense (but ultimately pretty repetitive) gunfighting and being left to somewhat aimlessly wander town in search of whatever it is the developer is trying to convey. The combat can be pretty tricky as attackers will come at you from both sides, with some coming in close (which you’ll want to disarm for their gun, then break their arm to be done with), and others stopping to take a shot at you. Your need to get people in close to be sure you don’t run dry on ammo makes this into a bit of a dance at times, carefully avoiding shooting a few people to allow them to get near you so you can disarm them, but with mobs of enemies coming at you they can get layered on top of each other at times, making it very difficult to avoid getting taken down. These sequences at first have a very old school arcade feel to them I appreciated but over time don’t really evolve at all so they then can get a bit aggravating to endure. The issue is that then there’s just not enough narrative payoff to persisting, making the experience more frustrating than engaging.

Tuesday, May 19

Top 20 Indie Strategy Games on Nintendo Switch

Last Updated: 8/19/20! While in the early days strategy titles had anemic support on the system in the past 2 years it has picked up quite a bit of steam. Now not only are there quite a number of top-shelf strategy titles available, they span an impressive number of subgenres and styles as well, making for exciting times for strategy lovers of all kinds.

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.

Kingdom: Two Crowns - Since I was already a pretty big fan of the first installment of the Kingdom series (New Lands) that arrived on the system I suppose it’s not a great surprise I’m an even bigger fan of its more refined and content-laden follow-up. I somehow missed it when it arrived on the eShop but now with the release of the free Dead Lands DLC I’ve finally gotten the chance to see how much the title has grown while retaining pretty well everything I appreciated about the original. This remains a very subdued, at times a bit slow, but also somewhat tranquil and often outright beautiful title filled with discovery, experimentation, and a fair amount of failure as you try to maintain a critical balance of your human and monetary resources, as always trying to expand, build, and survive in what can often be a hostile world. All of the different flavors you can choose from, each with not only their own art style but also variety in what you’ll encounter and need to work out how to utilize properly for success, really take the core gameplay that was already solid and satisfying to a new level. If you enjoy slow burn strategy where you’ll need to work out how best to proceed without much direction this should absolutely be your jam.

Dungeon of the Endless - I’ll admit that when I first started playing this title it was a struggle since there’s a distinct lack of explanation to much of what you need to do. That said, with experimentation (and quite a bit of failure) I slowly was able to understand what I was playing and it started to grow on me. Mixing together elements of dungeon crawling with tower defense, and topped off with what can sometimes be a crushing roguelike mentality, I can’t say I’ve played anything like it and that really makes it interesting. Your goal is to slowly proceed through each level of the random ship you’ve found yourself crashed into, carefully scoping out each individual room and clearing them out. Using what resources you find and power available to you you’ll be able to enhance rooms you clear, either setting them to help build resources or have various defensive properties to help for what comes next. The tricky part is that once you find the way to the next floor one of your party will need to move the core, leaving them vulnerable, while you hope your created defenses or other crewmembers help keep them alive. The indirect control you have over your crew takes some getting used to, especially when things get tense, but once you’ve got a handle on it all this can be a unique and challenging experience.

Kingdom Rush - While one of the sequels in the series has already been released on the system (Frontiers), the OG Kingdom Rush has now arrived on the Switch. For the uninitiated, this is really what I’d consider to be one of the best examples of great games to emerge from mobile platforms, pretty well defining how to make an engaging tower defense game that’s smart, challenging, and even throws in some humor. The stages are generally well-designed, the enemy units you’ll face are varied, and you’ll be pushed to develop strategies to address specific units and bosses that will show up on some levels, forcing you to often abandon your well-worn default plans or at least play enough to upgrade those tower types so they’ll be more effective. While I’d still consider touchscreen play to be your best bet, the console controls in docked mode are still generally effective, just when things get tense you may struggle to highlight the proper spot at times. For the budget price this game delivers a truckload of great content that’s battle-worn and has been refined over time, making it an easy choice for strategy fans if you’ve not already picked it up on other platforms already.

Faeria - Truth be told only recently have I been able to play deck-building games of any kind that I’ve found interesting. Usually the inclusion of roguelike elements is what hooks me but as some other strategy card games have come along they’ve begun deviating more and more from the traditional mold and that has made them more interesting. Faeria falls into that “more interesting” category for me by throwing an element of strategy into the mix with land management that adds a layer of complexity to the more traditional aspects of these card battlers. Now you can not only defeat your enemies through sheer force with a better deck (or perhaps some luck), you can outmaneuver them by controlling energy points and with some patience and planning even dodge or divide some of their defensive resources, leaving their hero vulnerable. My main complaint is that the console controls take some getting used to, and though they do ultimately make sense I do think they could have been handled more thoughtfully or at least initially explained better since the right trigger use in particular threw me off initially a few times. If you’re a deck building fan or just appreciate smartly-designed strategy games Faeria is absolutely worth a look and rises above the norm with some new ideas that really add depth to play.

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.

Nowhere Prophet - In the last generation I’ve been surprised to see the deck-building strategy genre not only move from the fringes into the mainstream on the back of titles like Slay the Spire or the more casual SteamWorld Quest, but also continue to find ways to crank up their associated degree of challenge. While the frustration that tends to come hand in hand with that is sure to turn a portion of the audience away, for everyone else it tends to lead to deeper and more satisfying play. That’s what has happened with Nowhere Prophet, a roguelike strategy deck-builder that stacks more potential for failure onto you than normal as an additional layer of risk and reward comes into play. Your units who fall will still be able to be used, as a bonus even at a lower action point cost, but if they fall a second time they’re gone for good. This absolutely throws a wrench into your plans at times, but when the planets align it also opens the door to decisive wins if you can capitalize on hurt units while minimizing your opponent’s ability to punish you for it. As always there will undoubtedly be quite a bit of initial grinding as you get accustomed to the nuances of the game’s strategy, and its sometimes devastating consequences, but since you’ll be earning new cards you’ll need as you go your progress tends to turn around pretty quickly once everything clicks. Sure, you’ll curse the RNG gods at times for their cruelty, but that makes the satisfaction of success all the more sweet.

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.

Curious Expedition - If you were to try to give The Curious Expedition an elevator pitch it would best be described as the love child of classic Civilization and The Oregon Trail in my mind. Your goal is to choose a figure from history, understanding their various perks and weaknesses, and set out on an adventure in search of fortune and glory, but understanding that inevitably bad things are likely to happen as well. In terms of presentation it definitely shows its age, and that may put some people off, but if you put that aside and come to understand things like the game’s unusual approach to combat (you’ll need to hit the tutorial or you may be very confused jumping right in) its charms can sneak up on you. Considering there’s nothing quite like it on the Switch, this budget-friendly exploration title offers plenty of surprises and occasional silliness, testing your strategic decision-making and, no doubt, your luck.

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.

Sentinels of Freedom - While the Switch has been enjoying a fair selection of quality turn-based strategy games more recently, there’s nothing out there quite like Sentinels of Freedom. Most obviously the fact that it involves you controlling a group of superheroes who are determined to defeat evildoers big and small is thematically different, but the fact that you’re able to construct your own custom hero in terms of aesthetics and powers really ups the ante and stands apart from most of the competition in the space. Now, I may have a weakness for the title since it makes me nostalgic for a very similar game from years ago on PC called Freedom Force, but I think the effort here is sufficient that this game can stand proudly on its own merits, something that doesn’t always happen. What makes it fun is the comic book style of art, some of the silliness that comes along with the heroes versus villains cheesy dialogue, and the variety offered by how you construct your hero. With experimentation comes an element of the unexpected, and I don’t doubt that some combinations will work better than others, but being able to put your own stamp on a hero for me is a great creative touch that easily got me invested. In terms of downsides I’d say the typical mission can be a bit overlong, with the game simply throwing waves of enemies at you at times, paired with the fact that sometimes the specifics of what you need to do aren’t maybe as clear as they should be. Still, even with its faults there’s an energy and spirit to the game I appreciate and if you’re patient with its shortcomings there’s a lot of fun to be had with it.

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.

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.

Broken Lines - Let’s face it, while there have been quite a few titles out there that have decided to try to take on the likes of X-Com and its well-regarded tactical strategy combat, none have really come close. Either wisely looking to sidestep the issues others have had, or simply wanting to innovate and come up with something similar but unique, the developers behind Broken Lines use tactics in a similar way but with the action playing out more dynamically once you’ve set it up. Now, this made the tutorial a little rough around the edges at first (at least for me) as understanding how movement and actions are managed, as well as mechanically how you need to specify them as you intend requires some orientation. Once it clicked though I was really impressed with the result. While it may not be perfect, your units each have different roles and appropriate skills to match. You’ll need to learn how to use them each effectively and appropriately, moving carefully to be sure the right people are in the right places once you’ve made visual contact with the enemy. The end product is refreshing and new, generally feels fair, and makes combat feel quite dynamic. If you’ve been disappointed by the lack of X-Com on Switch and that to date no indie titles have really come close to the mark it has set you should give Broken Lines a look. It goes in a new direction, but in general it feels like a good one, and I’d love to see it explored further in the future.

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.

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.

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!

Mini Reviews: May 19th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Huntdown [Nindie Choice!] - As a fan of old school shooters and beat-em-ups of all persuasions perhaps it was inevitable I’d be a Huntdown fan. Thrown into an effort to bring down various gang factions in your futuristic city you’ll take control of one of three different officers in an attempt to bring down the bad guys. Hoo boy, and as it goes on will you need to work for it. I think it got off to a rocky start for me, not quite feeling as fluid in the controls and versatility for aiming as I’d like but growing on me with its tone and general style. Things are going to get tough, gritty, and downright bloody as you try to shoot and beat your way through enemies. Capped off with a battle against one of the sector bosses, the general length of stages hits a nice sweet spot, giving you time to get your groove on without generally overstaying its welcome. Bosses are quite varied, and at times this can mean they don’t get tougher on a consistent curve so much as be unpredictably easy or tough, but at least they pose a challenge. Borrowing both visual and gameplay elements and beats from diverse arcade titles of the past, Huntdown feels both familiar and fresh, I just would wish for the initial curve to be a bit less steep to allow a wider audience to not hit a likely wall quite so early.

Travel Mosaics 3: Tokyo Animated [Nindie Choice!] - OK, so perhaps I’m a bit of a broken record, but if you’re a fan of Picross but wish it would throw a greater degree of challenge at you this is really the series you should be checking out. Now, right off the bat, this is the same structure and setup as both of the previous outings, just with a boatload of new puzzles, but I can respect that since the gameplay is so rock-solid. If you’re not sure which one to buy you can cover your eyes and pick one at random, aside from the accompanying art style there’s no real difference, just multicolor puzzles with massive grids, a great power-up system (which you often need at some point), and a very intuitive and easy-to-use interface whether you’re playing with the touchscreen or a controller. It may have an aesthetic people would consider mobile-y or disappointing in some way but you can’t argue with the gameplay.

Star Horizon - Ever since the days of the classic Wing Commander series I’ve been a huge fan of space dogfighting mixed with a bit of operatic drama. While the story in Star Horizon can’t compare to the epic sort you’d find in those classics what started out feeling a bit more generic at least quickly gets your attention as things go pretty wrong, leaving you not quite sure what’s going on. Similarly, the lack of full free movement and having someone on your wing to coordinate make the combat less rich, but despite being on rails for the most part you can make the most of the combat and have a bit of fun once you begin making weapon upgrades and tuning things to your own style. For a reasonable price Star Horizon ends up being satisfactory, just against some of the competition on the system it’s not quite as ambitious or fun.

TT Isle of Man 2 - Given the general lack of racers on the Switch with every release of a title in the genre there are sure to be people who are curious about it. In the case of this title what you have is a pretty heavily “simmy” motorcycle racing game that, likely appropriately, seemed to choose to emphasize performance as much as possible. At times this can lead to things not looking so hot, and there are still times when the framerate runs into the ground (particularly in handheld mode), but for the most part it stays fluid and looks good enough. For me the make or break proposition here is really how the bikes handle, which is decidedly in the punishingly picky camp, with it feeling like just about anything can throw you off your bike. In particular, that will mean memorizing the tracks and their turns can be essential, though it is entirely possible that’s as intended. All in all if  you’re more inclined to realism you may find it is one of your better bets, though keeping in mind there’s simply not much competition on the system.

Reed 2 - New iterations of existing games, especially when they come out with shorter proximity to one another, can be weird sometimes. I swear when I started playing Reed 2 I had to literally go back and check out Reed Remastered once more just to be positive I wasn’t playing an encore release of the same game or something. No, this is definitely its own version of the budget platforming action game, just this time I think they moved the “picky” slider all the way to 11. I don’t mind games that are challenging, but there can be a point where either because of level design, some weakness in the control execution, or some combination of both it feels excessive. While perhaps I was somehow more easily frustrated with this title than others may be, some of the sequences of jumps and moves you’re trying to make seem designed to be aggravating in their ability to get you killed by minutia and being just a hair off. I have no doubt the game will have its fans but this is one of those games where there’s just something about it where the degree of challenge feels a bit unearned because of a cheap factor to the overall design.

Monday, May 18

Mini Reviews: May 18th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Dungeon of the Endless [Nindie Choice!] - I’ll admit that when I first started playing this title it was a struggle since there’s a distinct lack of explanation to much of what you need to do. That said, with experimentation (and quite a bit of failure) I slowly was able to understand what I was playing and it started to grow on me. Mixing together elements of dungeon crawling with tower defense, and topped off with what can sometimes be a crushing roguelike mentality, I can’t say I’ve played anything like it and that really makes it interesting. Your goal is to slowly proceed through each level of the random ship you’ve found yourself crashed into, carefully scoping out each individual room and clearing them out. Using what resources you find and power available to you you’ll be able to enhance rooms you clear, either setting them to help build resources or have various defensive properties to help for what comes next. The tricky part is that once you find the way to the next floor one of your party will need to move the core, leaving them vulnerable, while you hope your created defenses or other crewmembers help keep them alive. The indirect control you have over your crew takes some getting used to, especially when things get tense, but once you’ve got a handle on it all this can be a unique and challenging experience.

A Fold Apart [Nindie Choice!] - When looking at an eShop full of puzzlers and story-based experiences it can be difficult to separate the merely average from the exceptional. Smart puzzles are great, if they can have unique mechanics that’s always a plus, and in terms of story there’s the question of whether it is relatable and told with care. What’s great about A Fold Apart is that it not only checks all of those boxes but it does so in a way that seems pretty effortless. The base mechanics revolve around the environments your characters are in being able to be manipulated like paper, with the puzzle being how to fold, bend, flip, or mutilate the environment to allow you to either proceed or grab a star. This, in itself, is a great base as it feels original and well-implemented (though at times there can be a hitch in performance… but really, this is a puzzle game, is that a major concern?). What seals the deal, at least for me, is that on top of that is the story of a couple (in a nod to people of all persuasions you get to choose their respective genders, a nice touch) trying to manage the emotional strain of a long-distance relationship, making it all come together symbolically with a great emotional core. While it’s not a long experience I still found it to be an impactful one and it should be perfect for people looking for a touching story mixed with clever puzzling.

Thy Sword - Throwback-style games are always a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I appreciate their relative simplicity and the way they remind me of titles I played in the past. On the other, there’s a risk that same simplicity now can leave the experience feeling a bit shallow and/or incomplete without at least some small sense of modern flair. That’s about where I landed with Thy Sword, which very much reminds me of some games I played back in the day where you’d need to jump to different platforms and slash your way through enemies until you’ve cleared them all, then being free to move to the next stage. In terms of enemy variety, though there aren’t too many overall there are more than you usually would see when considering the relatively short runtime, so that’s a plus. Similarly the bosses put up a challenge and feel pretty good. I guess my main disappointment is just the lack of meaningful differentiation in the hero classes. I’d almost have rather just seen one character with a little more versatility or more varied options, the ones you have to choose from are too similar and vanilla and that keeps the experience from being terribly memorable unfortunately.

Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee - Remasters of games that are getting pretty old, especially when they’re from the earlier days of 3D adventures, are tough to evaluate. One the one hand there are no doubt people who grew up with them and have fond memories of enjoying them, on the other the style of play and expectations for these sorts of games have evolved so much since the dawn of the age that it can be a bit painful to look back. To the credit of the people and effort involved when you’re in-game everything probably looks about as good as you could hope in terms of the visuals for a game of this age, though as always new textures and smoothing can’t cover up how barren environments always end up being. The real dividing line though, where I think either you remember and love the game or you’re just checking it out now, is the pretty repetitive and generally weak gameplay which mostly just involves roaming around from A to B collecting orbs, enlisting help, or occasional bright spots with something unexpected. The limitations here are just a function of the time the game came from, and aren’t unique to it, just if you’re looking to invest in it you should probably take a long look and think it over first whether the nostalgia can likely carry the price of admission for you.

Cooking Simulator - While I’ve played quite a number of cooking games over the years ranging from the likes of Cooking Mama to mobile games to Overcooked I can’t say I’ve played anything quite like Cooking Simulator. Normally working on dishes is the focus, with you needing to perform specific motions, button combinations, or executing timing tasks in order to succeed. Instead taking a pretty literal approach, and thus heavily focusing on the minutia in between, in this game you’ll find yourself moving around in a full environment of a kitchen, having to go pick up every utensil, pot, and ingredient one by one to get them together on a work table and prepare them. The degree to which you’re in the “real world” as you move around to complete your tasks is illustrated well by the fact that if you run into the edge of an object while carrying something you’ll drop it, perhaps breaking it. If you come at the game from the angle that doing things this way is different and can be kind of wacky you may find it amusing, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it deep. However, if you’re looking for a more familiar and fast-paced experience the drawn out process of simply assembling your ingredients, let alone preparing them while you may manage to drop your knife somewhere because the controls can be a bit wonky and cumbersome when you’re in a hurry, may not make it terribly appetizing.

Friday, May 15

Mini Reviews: May 15th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Super Mega Baseball 3 [Nindie Choice!] - Getting right down to it there’s just something about the Super Mega Baseball series that taps into what love and nostalgia I have for baseball as a sport, particularly in video game form. While I could see where some sports fans could be irritated by the lack of MLB teams and players for me it takes me back to the days of playing games on the NES or in the arcade against friends, though obviously the degree of complexity on all levels has appropriately increased. What then seals the deal, and what impressed me so much about this title, is how scalable the experience is in terms of depth and difficulty. If you just want to just kick around in some exhibition games, great. A whole season? Sure. Manage a franchise including all of the trades, potentials for injury hardships, and customizing just about anything you can think of? Without the worries of a license it’s all available to you. Throw in the ego system which will allow you to tune the difficulty up or down incrementally as your skills grow and it can remain as easy or tough as you choose. The statement that this is the best baseball title without question on Switch may be easy for lack of any legitimate competition whatsoever but more than that it is one of the best baseball games I’ve ever played, period.

Jet Lancer [Nindie Choice!]With so many high-quality shooters of all types and styles it takes some effort to put something new on the table, particularly something that stands apart from the rest with its own style. Jet Lancer manages to do just that with an intense and very inertia-based flying style, that takes some getting used to, and blends it with arcade-like swarms of enemies and even some terrific boss fights that will put your skills to the test. That isn’t to say it’s perfect. I’ve hit some rough patches when things have gotten intense a few times, hit a crash or two, and there’s no doubt some people won’t either “get” or enjoy the flight style in the game that reminds me most of the well-regarded Luftrausers (still somehow not on Switch!). However, if you’re ready and willing to bring the fight to your foes, keep your combo meter up, and knock enemy ships out of the sky with a mix of guns, barrages of missiles, and some great unlocks that will let you tune your ship to better suit your style Jet Lancer can be a ton of fun.

Ion Fury - Titles that don’t just tap heavily into nostalgia but fully embrace it are always a risky proposition. There’s something magic in playing a game that takes you back to an earlier time through look, feel, and general design… but the question is then whether that same experience can keep you engaged for the long haul. Ion Fury, without a doubt, absolutely recaptures the essence of the original Duke Nukem 3D and its contemporaries with its look, sound, and general style. If you didn’t know any better you could feel like it was a long lost game made with that engine you somehow missed. The thing is that’s both a testament to the reverence the developers of Ion Fury have for that era and, depending on what you’re looking for, where the game’s greatest weakness lies. To have the experience be complete in general terms the level designs and layouts also feel authentic to that era, and in that area I could have used more modern sensibilities. Key cards and hidden areas randomly peppered about that have vital gear you may need are hallmarks of that era but they now feel very antiquated and are harder to embrace, even for the sake of nostalgia. If you’ve never played games from that era this may be the best way to enjoy them in spirit on a modern console, without a doubt. If those games were your jam and you’re willing to deal with elements that have aged poorly it also shouldn’t disappoint. Just be mindful that going back can be a lot of fun for a bit but consider how much fun you’ll think you’ll have once the novelty wears off.

Kholat - Among the genres that are the toughest to evaluate in gaming and may be the most divisive are those that are “walking simulators” at their core. These games are generally focused on deliberate (that’s polite, “slow” may be more accurate) exploration (you could argue meandering in many cases) of an environment as you stumble into areas and situations that advance the story. Now, under the hood Kholat has quite a bit on its side, mostly the legitimately creepy and mysterious story summarized in the game’s opening moments… and that seems to promise some tense frights and craziness, but for the most part you’d unfortunately be mistaken. There’s certainly plenty of atmosphere and tension in the air as you try to orient yourself on the map, between the sounds on the wind and sparse environments you feel very isolated and exposed. If you relish that essence, and are less concerned with the big payoffs you may actually get a kick out of the game, it drips atmosphere, but with everything being so drawn out the experience is also highly dependent on your patience and attention span. If you’re able to stick it out there are some thrills in store for you, but if you were hoping for anything remotely resembling a quick hit of adrenaline you won’t find it here.

Stone - When I run into games like Stone I’m never quite sure what to think. While I’d come into it thinking it would be a sort of point-and-click adventure perhaps pretty quickly it became clear it wasn’t quite that complex. I suppose the best I can figure is that it’s a sort of narrative walking simulator, with there being random things in the environment you can interact with at times just to put them there, a very A to B kind of linear design, and pretty set dialogue options that lack variety or room for much player agency. But hey, there’s a fair amount of profanity, some attempts at giving it a noir feel, and some bits of humor peppered here and there. I suppose there will be people who enjoy Stone’s style and (brief) story but the on-rails nature of the experience make it woefully lacking as a “game” for me.

Wednesday, May 13

Top 20 Indie Casual Games on Nintendo Switch

[Last Updated: 11/5/20] While most people buying a physical console like a Switch are looking for tougher and deeper experiences there’s a pretty wide audience for more casual fare as well. Whether these are worthy mobile conversions or simply games with basic mechanics that are highly approachable the casual category has a surprising degree of variety. Whether they’re puzzle games that are great to work on while relaxing or simpler action games that don’t require mastery of a controller these are the best titles in this category on the Switch.

Spiritfarer - While many gamers enjoy blowing away enemies, racing through hairpin turns, or guiding their team to victory there’s a growing contingent of gamers who either prefer or enjoy more soothing experiences. While there are a few notable titles in this space already on Switch none are quite like Spiritfarer, which combines exploration at sea with a variety of building and cultivation elements, a wide assortment of charming characters, and a generally gentle hand providing direction but placing no urgent demands on how you wish to play. You’ve been tasked with taking the responsibility of ferrying the dead to the afterlife from Charon himself, and most of your adventure will involve you putting together a ship worthy of the important task of making the final journey of the souls you help as pleasant as possible. Doing that will require quite an investment in crafting, cultivation, trading, and building relationships with the people you meet. It’s interesting how many of your activities are turned into sort of mini games, helping to at least give some of your repetitive tasks a little flavor and keeping you engaged throughout. While over the course of the pretty long journey there’s a tendency to fall into quite a bit of repetition if you’ve been looking for a meaningful journey without the pressures of your typical title this is likely an ideal fit.

Kingdom Rush Origins - Finally the last unreleased version of the Kingdom Rush franchise is on the Switch, and Origins also happens to be my personal favorite of the bunch. While you could argue that there aren’t too many major differences in the core play between each entry there are enough elements that were introduced with the more fantasy-focused Origins that it stands apart from its peers with differences deeper than mere aesthetics. The big difference is the much more active environments you’ll find yourself in, featuring details that range from mere distractions in the background to flowers you’re able to activate to do a little extra damage to enemies, to your foes being able to surprise you by either creating or finding alternative paths mid-stage to throw off your plans a bit and perhaps require regrouping. As always once you get into the groove with a few heroes to choose from and the ability to max out your upgrades for each element of defense you construct you can really come up with an interesting variety of strategies for surviving the onslaught of your enemies. Since the game has such a wide menagerie of creatures to work with from stage to stage you’ll find the same strategy that got you through a few levels before won’t necessarily work once the enemy turns the screws on a later one. This mix of planning, careful use of your adhoc abilities, and figuring out when and how to adapt to the varied waves the game will throw at you is a consistent challenge and almost always satisfying when you’re able to pull it off. Highly approachable, best played with the touchscreen but workable with a controller, and full of small touches that show a genuine care in engaging your attention fully through some tough stages I’d say any of the games in this trilogy are worthwhile, which one you prefer will likely just be a matter of taste.

Embracelet - This, for me, is one of those titles where it’s hard to articulate why I’m so taken in by it. With its low-poly look, its somewhat sparse landscapes (though perhaps such an island would be roughly that way, granted), and its riff on traditional point-and-click adventuring on paper it could just seem nice, but perhaps not great either. However, throw in a story that I found unusual and engaging, and it works better than the sum of those parts may imply. Early on you inherit a relic from your grandfather with the power to control objects, and learn that there was an accident at his hands when he was younger using it, causing him a degree of pain and regret. Your journey ends up being to go back to the island he grew up on, learn more about him and his past, and perhaps to understand where the relic came from and what should be done with it. There are quite a number of deeply emotional adventures on the Switch already, many of which are excellent in their own right, but there’s a different tugging I found this journey to have on me with different themes and a different approach. Mix in the fact that many of the puzzles felt pretty natural and yet unusual in some cases and I enjoyed this unassuming adventure title thoroughly.

Along the Edge - On a general level interactive fiction titles haven’t been my cup of tea. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate that such an experience could be game-like, having grown up reading Choose Your Own Adventure titles I appreciate a smart branching narrative, I’ve just not found that the level of quality in the writing and total package has been enough to get me fully engaged. With its story involving the mysterious legacy of your family that you’ve never really known, inheriting a small estate in a small town in the country, Along the Edge very much breaks that mold for me and did a phenomenal job of sucking me in. With high quality writing, characters that read as being complex and nuanced in their motivations and interactions, and terrific artwork that changes almost constantly it’s very visibly a project built with love and care. Sure, perhaps the generalized storyline isn’t so unique, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective and with many decisions that feel like they carry consequences there’s plenty of motivation to go back and try things out differently once you’re done. While it won’t deliver a shot of excitement you’d find with an action-oriented game if you’re a fan of smart fiction this should be well worth spending some time with.

Enigmatis 2: The Mists of Ravenwood - The classic hidden item puzzle game genre has made some real strides over the past few years. Throwing in a story, some cinematics (though a bit dated), and a pretty wide variety of puzzles it's far more than just looking for small baubles hiding in what appears to be a hoarder's stash at every turn. Enigmatis 2 impressed me with its puzzles, its ease of play, and its smart help system that focuses on keeping you making progress over doing the work for you.

Fledgling Heroes - There’s no doubt a good reason for people to debate whether games like Fledgling Heroes “need” to be on Switch. With a one-button mechanic for play, controlling when your various bird characters flap their wings, yes this is a game that you could enjoy on a mobile device without the need for physical controls even. That said, the colorful and appealing art style, variety of ways the different birds you’ll unlock play through their levels, customization options (if you’re into them they’re a plus, if you’re not I’m not considering them essential to positive feelings though), and even reasonable challenges you’ll hit in order to get through the loads of stages impressed me. With different objectives and critical skills required in many cases I often found myself adjusting in my seat, digging in, and forcing myself to take it seriously to get to the next level. Even with quite a number of other titles to get to last week I also found it easy to return to this title because it was challenging but not necessarily taxing, and so easy to just pick up for a few minutes and put down. It may not be pushing the hardware to its limits by any means but if you enjoy playing something lighter and more relaxing that will still make you work this definitely fits the bill.

80 Days - Though the act of traversing the world is no longer such a grand feat in the time of Jules Verne, when he wrote Around the World in 80 Days, it was by no means a simple feat. 80 Days puts you in the driver’s seat (well, not literally, you’re generally a passenger) and tasks you with pulling off the title feat, using a mix of smarts, luck, and careful management of your time and money to pull it off yourself. If you’re not a fan of reading a lot of text this won’t be the game for you, but it is essential to fleshing out your adventure, winding in some intrigue and plenty of details to mine for hints on your best bets for getting around quickly and minding your budget. With so many potential routes to choose from there’s actually ample room for replay as well, by making a few different choices early on you can embark on very different journeys to not only try to do better but simply enjoy more of this richly written world.

True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 - Who knew that having played a number of horror-esque games on the Switch that the one that would be the most consistent and compelling to play would really be a casual title. Another elevated hidden object game, True Fear managed to be a bit creepy and weird throughout but never lost focus on providing great gameplay first and foremost. I'm hoping to see Part 2 come to Switch as well to see where things go as this puzzler didn't disappoint.

A Fold Apart - When looking at an eShop full of puzzlers and story-based experiences it can be difficult to separate the merely average from the exceptional. Smart puzzles are great, if they can have unique mechanics that’s always a plus, and in terms of story there’s the question of whether it is relatable and told with care. What’s great about A Fold Apart is that it not only checks all of those boxes but it does so in a way that seems pretty effortless. The base mechanics revolve around the environments your characters are in being able to be manipulated like paper, with the puzzle being how to fold, bend, flip, or mutilate the environment to allow you to either proceed or grab a star. This, in itself, is a great base as it feels original and well-implemented (though at times there can be a hitch in performance… but really, this is a puzzle game, is that a major concern?). What seals the deal, at least for me, is that on top of that is the story of a couple (in a nod to people of all persuasions you get to choose their respective genders, a nice touch) trying to manage the emotional strain of a long-distance relationship, making it all come together symbolically with a great emotional core. While it’s not a long experience I still found it to be an impactful one and it should be perfect for people looking for a touching story mixed with clever puzzling.

Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 - Following up the previous delectable outing on Switch, CSD3 is back with a new somewhat silly story with your empire having been reduced to rubble and starting over in a food truck. Aside from that, and how it has some influence on the presentation and how you’re able to customize it’s more of the same tense and quick action, new recipes, and more fun. As was the case before, this is a title I’d hesitate to say is great in docked mode because using a controller for the action is workable but can leave your fingers in knots whenever things get a bit crazy (which happens often). Playing using the touchscreen is far easier, though sometimes the on-screen buttons you’ll need to press can feel a bit small I’ll admit when you’re trying to be precise. Regardless, for fans of food prepping games I’d consider this series one of the best I’ve played, offering a fair challenge but also to a degree letting you pick your poison since you control your menu and the meals you’re looking to repeatedly prepare quickly. It’s a challenging food-frenzied blast if you can keep up.

Roundguard - When it comes to casual games from the previous generation or so that I remember with great fondness, the unique Peggle is one that easily stands out in my mind. Now imagine taking the base mechanics of carefully dropping your ball in the hopes that it will bounce in your favor and instead make that your character, adding a mix of roguelike and RPG elements on top of that for progression… and you’ll get Roundguard. While I wish there were more classes and spell diversity overall, what you’ll find here is a very clever title that packs a surprising degree of strategy and challenge. Randomly-dropped equipment in one run can match your preferred play style perfectly and give you the buffs you need to go deeper while on the next the RNG gods may forsake you, leaving you to bite it before you even get to the first boss. If you’re seeking something that’s sort of a casual plus experience, maintaining a base easygoing feel but with elements that spice things up quite a bit, you will definitely want to give Roundguard a hard look.

Build a Bridge! - While Build a Bridge doesn’t manage to match the more inventive and silly fun of something like Bridge Constructor Portal, among the more traditional bridge builders on the system I’d say it’s probably the one I’ve enjoyed the most. Granted, a lot of that boils down to having the controls working well and without kinks, something the other titles have hopefully patched by now, but first impressions can be vital. I wouldn’t say that Build a Bridge breaks any major ground in evolving the genre but if you’re a fan of physics-based titles and are trying to make a decision I can’t find any reason not to recommend it.

Clouds & Sheep 2 - While I never got to partake of the original Clouds & Sheep, thankfully the complexities of the storyline didn't hinder my enjoyment of the sequel. Just kidding, this is just a straight-up cute resource management-type game where you'll need to care for your sheep, provide them with water, food, and perhaps an opportunity to find love as well. While it looks simple you'll quickly find yourself sucked in to a greater challenge than you'd expect, combining clouds to cast lightning down to kill poisonous plants and trying to tend to the wishes to your flock to keep them happy and yourself flush with stars that you'll use as currency.

1001 Ultimate Mahjong - If you haven’t been eager to play Mahjong on the Switch, I doubt a review that has positive things to say about it will likely change your mind (though that would beg the question of why you’re reading it). However, if you enjoy well-made casual gaming 1001 Ultimate Mahjong is a surprisingly strong choice. With its variety of looks and thoughtful features it may be the best title of its kind I’ve played, and I do enjoy a good game of Mahjong once in a while.

Puzzle Puppers - With a pretty disgusting level of cuteness Puzzle Puppers manages to make solving some clever puzzles a bit of fun. With a scalable degree of difficulty depending on how efficient you're insisting on being to maximize your score it can also be pretty accessible. Throw in a pretty reasonable price and it's a great casual challenge for all ages.

Piffle - Who knew that even after all this time I could get sucked in by a cute game that has elements of Breakout and maybe some Bust a Move and their ilk. Sure, it’s super-casual, sure I didn’t have too tough a time getting all stars on every level for quite some time, but hey, it kept adding in some layers and to its credit I had to get out of a few tough spots (though I horded my power-ups like crazy and probably could have made my life simpler). There’s nothing terribly complicated about Piffle but what there is works like a charm and it offers just enough challenge to get you hooked and keep your interest without likely discouraging anyone too greatly. Will it be for everyone? Not in the least. But aside from it perhaps being a bit pricier than I’d expect for this sort of title (though, to its credit, it is very polished) it’s a really good time and should help you melt away some hours while generally having a relaxed and good time.

Townsmen - While its appearance is relatively humble the gameplay is surprisingly deep and surpassed my expectations. I’d approached it as if it would have simpler mobile-like mechanics and it does do a better job than that. About my only major complaint aside from the presentation would just be that there were sports where I’d set things in motion and then would have to wait to watch as everything got queued up. There is a fast forward button but even with that in effect there can be times when the game drags a bit. However, since even with the size of the Switch library this sort of game is an oddity it’ll likely be worth a look for people who enjoy their city building, just perhaps a little watered down overall, if nothing else by the lesser complexity of the time period.

Woven - Most modern games tend to feature protagonists who are ready for action and tough as nails. Moving in precisely the opposite direction we have Woven, and it’s plush main character Stuffy who ambles along with a consistently innocent and pleasant demeanor. Pairing up with a mechanical friend they set out to discover what has happened to their land and to turn things back around. The game is mostly about exploration, with some relatively simple puzzle solving and hidden textures all about to update Stuffy’s look with. While this won’t be a title that will appeal to hardcore gamers in the least with its cute characters, colorful scenery, and generally slow-paced adventure, Woven is a kid-friendly treat.

Marblelous Animals - Games making their way over from the mobile space can be a mixed bag on Switch both in terms of appropriateness and quality. What works well on a phone or tablet sometimes simply feels out of place on a dedicated console. In the case of Marbelous Animals what you get though is a reasonably challenging game along the lines of the old school Labyrinth where you’ll be using the gyro controls to roll a variety of animal-themes marbles through hazards and traps to collect coins and get to the hole at the end of the level. It isn’t a revolution by any means but whether using the system in handheld or perhaps a Pro Controller while docked it’s a nice change of pace and may seem to be a purely casual affair but can also be quite challenging at times. Throw a budget price into that mix and it’s not a bad deal.

Where The Water Tastes Like Wine - One of the things I love the most about indie games and devs are the risks you see being taken in the form of new experiences that challenge the status quo and expectations of what a game can be. Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is very much a game in that lane, with a deep focus on storytelling, and in a way that feels very bound to the classic oral traditions of the past. You’ll meander around the country and encounter events which you have a limited ability to affect and then periodically meet up with fellow travellers who are looking for a good yarn. As you progress and continue to encounter new people (or sometimes people you’ve met before) you’ll begin to appreciate how what starts as simple tales will often morph into new and often more interesting variations with time and more people embellishing them. That the majority of this is done with terrific voice work and complimentary music really makes the game stand out, but there’s also no getting around the needlessly slow pacing and sparse map as you continue to explore the country. For the right crowd it will no doubt be fascinating, but for anyone looking for even a hint of excitement you’ll probably want to give it a pass.

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!