Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Top 100 Indie Games of 2018 on Nintendo Switch


It’s that time of year again, and with a release schedule as insane as it was in the last year trying to summarize the best games of the year is more challenging than ever. While the normal way to approach this would be to condense the best games into a narrow and smaller number like 10 or even 20, anyone who follows this site knows that isn’t how I roll. The following list breaks games down into sub-categories, often below even the genre level, in the attempt to point out great titles that will appeal to as broad a spectrum of gamers as possible. The goal isn’t just to list off the best games by pure score, but instead to come up with a list that’s as diverse and representative of the multitude of great titles on the Switch eShop.

Please bear in mind, this list only includes games I’ve been lucky enough to review over the past year so there will be omissions both large and small. Some major titles like Celeste, Hollow Knight, and a variety of others just didn’t line up so I didn’t get a chance to check them out. Still, having reviewed just shy of 500 titles this year I had plenty of great titles to choose from. I hope gamers of all ages and interests can find a great match for their tastes somewhere in here.


This is probably where most lists would stop, listing their top 10 titles of the year. To be clear though, by score these may not all be the highest I've reviewed all year but they're also my personal favorites. As with the rest of my list I tried to pick a pretty diverse group, hardly focusing in just one style or genre. You may notice that my tendency is to favor games that are a little less traditional and unexpected but that's also one of my favorite aspects of indie games in general.

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

The Messenger - Possibly one of the best retro console titles I've ever played, The Messenger actually feels like a collection of multiple terrific and challenging titles. Starting out as a more straight-up action platformer after many levels and challenging bosses you'll feel like you're done but then, BAM, the game expands into an epic and even more challenging Metroidvania. It blends classic sensibilities with outstanding level designs, a Shopkeeper who absolutely cracks me up throughout the game, and some of the most satisfying action I enjoyed all year.

The Gardens Between - When we first saw footage of this title in one of the Nindie Directs it was already clear that the game was brilliant visually. What's great is that those amazing visuals then paired with a touching story about friendship told without words and some of the most unusual and fascinating puzzle designs I've seen in quite some time. The time shifting mechanic is put to great use throughout, and by the end you'll really need to pay close attention to every detail to figure out how to make it work to proceed. Among many great stories told this year it's one of the most relatable of the bunch.
GRIS - A tricky thing with story-driven and emotional games is that typically the more powerful they are the more their gameplay mechanics tend to suffer. That's very much not the case for GRIS, another terrific story told without words, outstanding visual design, and surprisingly satisfying puzzle platforming as well. I always enjoy puzzles that push you but don't break you and make you feel smart when you figure them out and this is something it manages effortlessly for the most part. It's a feast for the senses that is highly recommended.
Flipping Death - Whenever you talk about classic adventure titles there's roughly a standing assumption that they'll bog down at some point with obtuse item puzzles or funkiness, it's pretty well a genre staple. To combat that Flipping Death doesn't have you managing items in your inventory but instead inhabiting the bodies of the living to perform character-specific tasks to solve problems. The fact that most of these characters are extremely weird and quirky and it all adds up to a great time full of silliness and laughs but consistently challenging throughout as well.
Pool Panic - This was hands down my favorite title I'd never really heard about that I got to check out at PAX East last year. Thoroughly weird, consistently creative, and with terrific small but charming details and touches everywhere Pool Panic is a game that actively defies easy description. It's a mix of action, adventure, puzzles, and geometry I can easily say I've never experienced before and to top it all off that sets the stage for some unique and fun competitive local multiplayer to boot. I simply love this game and it was one I absolutely had to finish.
Tesla Vs. Lovecraft - As a massive fan of shooters you knew there would have to be some love thrown in that direction. While there were many outstanding titles in that genre on the Switch this year none of them was as exciting, challenging, and satisfying for me as this twin-stick shooter from the folks at 10 Tons. While it may get off to a bit of a slow start, allowing you to get acclimated and accumulate some perks, once this game turns up the intensity it gets to be an adrenaline-fueled rush where you'll be looking for power-ups and then laughing maniacally when you get to power up your steampunk mech suit and rip through hordes of enemies. Consistently producing great titles I can't wait to see what's coming from one of my favorite indie developers on Switch next year.
Guacamelee 2 - While I really enjoyed the original Guacamelee I actually thought it got a bit more hype than it deserved overall. Whatever qualms I had with it got absolutely body slammed into oblivion in its outstanding sequel though. I initially got the bug playing it with 3 strangers at PAX East and having an absolute blast. Whether going it solo or with some friends it's just an outstanding Metroidvania brawler full of challenging fights, great upgrades, tons of silliness (I love beating people up as a chicken), and some of the most brutal puzzle platforming level design as I've seen if you want to grab every power-up and secret. Just an all around top tier title.
Horizon Chase Turbo - Oh, to go back to the arcades, hearing the sound of quarters being dispensed from the bill changer, and diving into some classic gaming fun. Horizon Chase Turbo is a love letter to arcade racing greats like OutRun (a personal favorite) but it delivers so much more than that. With its smart pick-ups on the tracks, some great hidden unlocked cars, and more content than I ever would have imagined it's not a nostalgia cash-in, it's a celebration of classic arcade racing that will have you entertained and challenged for many hours if you want to find it all.
Yoku's Island Express - All I had to do was heard the words "pinball adventure" and my ears instantly perked up. What, again, could have been a pretty easy and by-the-numbers title thrown out to grab the attention of classic pinball fans like myself turned out to be so much more though. Yoku's Island Express is creative, quirky, challenging, and consistently surprising throughout its runtime, and put a smile on my face pretty much the entire time I played it. Throw in the fact that though it may not be terribly easy it's also extremely family-friendly and it's a title that absolutely feels at home on the Switch.

To keep this from simply being a sort of catch-all category I've actually broken down titles into small subdivisions, but in general these are titles focused on the core play experience above all. While platforming is certainly well-represented each of these titles have very distinctive feel to them so they're hardly redundant.

Flat Heroes - While it may look visually pretty simple, featuring geometric shapes for the most part and a very clean design, the gameplay is surprisingly versatile and challenging. You'll quickly find your little cube has a nimbleness and flow akin to Super Meat Boy and all of those moves will get put to the test over the lengthy campaign. You can then take those skills to Survival mode to put them to the ultimate test or take on your friends in some surprisingly varied local multiplayer modes as well.


Bombslinger - Asking the question perhaps nobody answered: How do you finally give the tight gameplay of the classic Bomberman series a single-player implementation that works, Bombslinger may not be terribly refined in places but it delivers the action where it counts. A roguelike structure, some power-ups that give you creative powers of destruction, and challenging boss battles really demonstrate what the classic Konami series has been missing the boat on all along. While local multiplayer is supported it doesn't hold up as well as single-player but it's worth noting it's available as well to add value.


Mark of the Ninja Remastered - While it may be a port of an older title I can't say that I've played any other game that has nailed making stealthy play as fun for me as this one. Smart, tense, and full of both opportunity and options for how to approach completing levels Mark of the Ninja is just one hell of an action experience not quite like anything else.


Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition - Oddly up until this year I'd only consistently heard good things about Shantae but I'd never had the chance to indulge for myself. Well, now I'm a bit disappointed that I've missed out on it up until this point. Some smart level design, a great bright and colorful art style, and varied action and options for play all make this a pretty deep well of gameplay choices for you to explore for quite some time.



Adventure is a close second cousin to Action in some cases, though with the resurgence of the classic PC-style point-and-click genre the definition has become a bit muddled. Here I'm using it to describe games with a focus on exploration and discovery, often complemented by some degree of story.

Hyper Light Drifter - The indie darling from the PC space has finally come to Switch full of its challenging dashing and slashing. You'll need to carefully choose where you decide to go, and if things don't seem to be panning out too well in one direction you should try another, as some paths are more challenging than others. Filled out with some difficult boss fights and ability upgrades that require making some tough choices of what you'll want to invest in it's an engaging experience all around.


Little Dragons Cafe - Consistent with the fact that last year's Stardew Valley isn't a game that everyone adored, Little Dragons Cafe seems to get pretty split opinions. Trying to find new recipes and ingredients will push you to explore the area around your cafe while trying to find and manage the help and making your dragon grow. Its pacing can be a bit slow and its action is more subdued but if you enjoy some relaxing gameplay it can be a very pleasant experience.


Minit - Perhaps one of the most oddball concepts that absolutely worked well came to the Switch this year in the form of Minit. With only a very limited amount of time every day to go out, explore, and try to figure out what you need to do to progress it plays out quite differently than anything else you've ever played. In some spots you'll simply need to map out and keep track of which areas are where and in others you'll need to apply that knowledge to rush around and try to complete a critical task before time runs out. With a quirky sense of humor and just a very different play style it's a refreshing experience.


The classic arcade beat-em-up is a staple for many older gamers, though through the years the genre hasn't tended to be as well represented as it used to be. Buoyed by the rise of indie developers looking to tap into the passion of genre fans it has really come back into its own on the Switch though.

Streets of Red: Devil's Dare Deluxe - With a distinctive art style, multiple characters that play quite differently, and a slew of pop culture nods Streets of Red is a very self-aware beat-em-up. While it isn't a terribly long game there's enough challenge and variety offered up by its numerous characters (some of which need to be unlocked) and crazy bosses that it can be fun to return to periodically, especially if you have some friends to enjoy it with.


Speed Brawl - Taking the genre to a slightly different destination with its focus on combos and keeping things moving Speed Brawl can be a lot of challenging fun. Upgrades, some tricky enemy designs, and the ability to tag out one of your fighters for another give it a controlled chaos kind of feel at times. The fact that each brawler you acquire plays differently makes determining which two you go with on any given level a serious choice to consider, and generally prevents the gameplay from getting stale.


Ninjin: Clash of Carrots - This is another title changing up the classic formula, combining elements of a runner with the mechanics of a brawler. Positioning on the screen, smart use of your attacks, and choosing the right weapon from an array of all sorts of silly choices are the keys to your success. Silly, light, and simply a lot of fun (though still certainly challenging), Ninjin is breath of fresh air for the genre.


Furi - This was a tough title to find a genre for since it isn't so much of a strict beat-em-up as a tough-as-nails boss rush title that will test your abilities and your patience. Just getting through the game's tutorial will take some work as you're walked through your myriad abilities which you'll then be expected to apply with great effectiveness against a string of increasingly-tough opponents which each will require a different combination of tactics to defeat. Though it won't be a game for everyone there's simply nothing else quite like it on the Switch.



While there are obviously sales on the eShop that will bring pricier titles down into impulse buy territory just because games are priced inexpensively doesn't mean they can't be worthwhile. These are all titles that tend to be more bite-sized in their content or ambition but since they're all $10 or less they all offer up a fair trade of fun for their humble cost of admission.

MagiCat - It's a tough business releasing a platforming title on a system that Mario helped build, Nintendo gamers generally have a pretty high expectation for quality within that space. Finding success in this space where numerous pricier games have failed MagiCat offers surprisingly satisfying and smart gameplay. While its hardly pushing the hardware this is a great example where quality wins, even at the low end of the pricing spectrum.


Spy Chameleon - This is an action puzzle game that may not appeal to everyone, whether too frustrating or too simple, but that continues to add new elements to its challenge throughout its fair runtime. You'll be trying to carefully stealth your way through rooms full of various traps, relying on your many skills and a fair dose of patience to succeed. Throw in the temptation of added challenge elements for competitionists and you've got a budget formula for some fun.


Reigns: Kings and Queens - Borrowing its left/right swiping interface from the likes of apps like Tinder, Reigns is all about making choices and then living (though more accurately in this case, dying) with the consequences. While it's been said "It's good to be the King" you'll also find that trying to keep everyone happy amidst the everyday chaos of royal life is enormously difficult. As you get further and further in you'll gain new cards to help manage the madness (and sometimes add to it as well), providing this game with a fair amount of longevity and variety as well.


The Adventures of Elena Temple - Retro games can be really challenging to get "just right", somehow toeing the line between being true to vintage gameplay and being trapped by it. With platforming action that took me back to my Atari 5200 and Commodore 64 days Elena Temple managed to be a nostalgic rush but also, aside from its pixel graphics looks, managed to feel at home as a modern game as well. With a bite-sized length to match its budget price this is a game any retro fan should thoroughly enjoy.


Debris Infinity - I absolutely love me some classic arcade shooting action and Debris Infinity was one of my go-to titles for providing that fix this year on Switch. While, at a glance, people may be tempted to write it off as a clone of Geometry Wars based on its visual presentation, in terms of gameplay it absolutely has a style all its own. Throw in a few different modes that each feel distinctive and challenging and shooting fans have a gem of a budget arcade title with this one.


I Am The Hero - This surprisingly-good side-scrolling brawler has more than a cool look going for it. The core moveset you begin with is already pretty deep but the fact that you're then able to unlock former enemies to take control of as well, each with their own unique styles themselves, keeps things pretty diverse and interesting. While many of this kind descend into button mashing the various ways you need to deal with enemies and a push to keep your combo meter up help elevate this budget title to being worth of your time.


Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers - Anyone who had a NES back in the day should probably remember RC Pro-Am and the great racing it offered up. While not completely the same by any means Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers is probably the only game I've played since those days to give me that vibe. While it likely won't take you long to get through all of its circuits and the Party modes are cute but not terribly deep the somewhat unusual control style it uses works like a charm and it can be fun to unlock new vehicles while it lasts.



While with the Wii I would argue that, as a whole, the emphasis went a little too firmly over to the casual crowd the great thing about the Switch is that it seems to be focused on providing a platform for everyone without that being at the expense of some other segment. While there are plenty of challenging hardcore experiences to be had there's also room for more subdued play, typically enjoyed in handheld mode and with the use of the Switch's touchscreen.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Moving right in the opposite direction from the previous category the following is a set of titles that will test your skills and patience in a variety of ways. Not intended for the casual set in order to make progress in these games you'll need to invest some blood, sweat, and probably some tears as well.

Super Meat Boy - One of the original poster children of brutally challenging platforming is now on the Switch and he's as tough as ever. While simply surviving and getting through the levels can be tricky, overachievers will no doubt want to find and unlock all of the game's secret characters which often even require you to play with distinct mechanics to find success with. While it's super-challenging it's also typically not cruel, and its controls are super-tight, putting the pressure on you to execute with precision.

Clustertruck - While endless runners have become a pretty popular genre you'll find that they're almost always in 2 dimensions. This is very much for a reason it seems as typically attempts at 3D runners have been a bit of a disaster. The challenge is typically tied to the fact that you can't see your feet so "feeling" where you are can be tricky. Clustertruck is an unusual title that works hard to nail getting a 3D runner right and while it's not without its quirks for the most part it gets it right. Throw in the increasingly bonkers scenarios you'll be trying to run through, jumping on the tops of moving semi trucks as they crash into all manner of things (including each other), and it's a silly challenge worthy of your best efforts.

Darkest Dungeon - Fans of tough games have no doubt already heard plenty about this dark and difficult RPG experience with a roguelike unpredictable twist. In Darkest Dungeon the act of completing the dungeon doesn't simply return everyone in your party to normal, the toll of the adventure can have serious and debilitating effects on the people you're trying to work with. Try not to get too attached to anyone, while you can invest in keeping them sane you won't be able to save them all. Managing your party's sanity here can be just as challenging as the monsters in the dungeons themselves.

Ikaruga - Though it's a carry-over from the previous generation there's still no other space shooter quite like Ikaruga. Not only is there the bullet hell component to contend with, but you'll also be trying to manage your ship's color polarity as taking down enemy ships as well as what can damage you is dependent on which color you've switched to. This creates an almost puzzle-like component that sits on top of some very intense shooting, making Ikaruga a standout shooter for people who like a challenge.


With the Switch the return of local co-op play is well under way. This smattering of titles represents a pretty wide variety in play, pulling from a number of different genres to demonstrate the breadth of gameplay options you have when looking to play with a friend or three.

Aegis Defenders - Mixing together action platforming with tower defense, Aegis Defenders has a style all its own. While the game works well as a single-player experience sharing the responsibilities with a friend ends up making things much more manageable and fun. Work together to set up a sturdy defense and conquer the game's challenges together.

Overcooked 2 - The sequel to this frantic cooking hit managed to amp up the insanity a bit while toning down a few of the rougher edges from the original. If you don't have people to play with locally online is now an option, though that can make effective coordination quite a bit trickier. While the game is playable solo, taking on a more puzzle-like feel at times, it shines the brightest and most fun when played locally with some friends, just be ready to coordinate, communicate, and keep your cool as the game throws your well-made plans into the crapper as stages play out in unexpected ways.

Broforce - While playing with friends adds a layer of frustration, and potential for brutal trolling, to the mix, Broforce gets absolutely crazy when you play with friends (or online). You'll play as super-charged versions of a load of classic heroes from the 80s and 90s, each using their unique flavors of firepower and violence to cut through a variety of environments. While the on-screen action can get intense and even confusing there's plenty of opportunity to laugh and have fun with this crazy shooter.

Gelly Break - If I were to tell you that there was a game this year that managed to blend together elements of smart 3D platforming with twin-stick shooting I probably would have laughed. If you then told me that two people working as a team, each controlling one aspect of that pairing of genre feels, could have a great time doing it I would have been amazed. Gelly Break is an odd bird and mixes a colorful and light feel with some clever and challenging play, the fact that it can appeal to 2 gamers that have different preferences in play makes it a treat.


While some people enjoy the chance to team up with friends, others like the excitement of taking them on and trying to show who reigns supreme. This year offered a fair variety of options for titles with that focus and these are among the most likely to deliver the fun.

Runbow - While this is a hold-over from the previous generation this multiplayer runner is a lot of fun. Though in principle it's a pretty simple affair the color-changing platforms and power-ups more often than not result in the winner simply being the lone, or at least the longest-lasting, survivor of the race. Its single-player mode is also challenging fun but whether locally or online this is a terrific party game pretty much anyone can understand pretty quickly.

Tricky Towers - Offering up a mix of iconic tetronimoes with a tower-building mechanic and some real concerns with gravity and your creation topping over this title can make for a lot of fun with friends. You'll get to choose between helping yourself or hurting your opponents when you get power-ups and certainly sending a massive version of one of the pieces to an opponent's screen can make for a bit of evil fun if it catches them by surprise. A very different kind of fun with a more cerebral edge to it.

Varion - While there are quite a lot of multiplayer arena shooters to choose from they're often hard to tell apart from one another. Varion smartly adds a wrinkle to the formula that changes things up significantly, you'll only be able to destroy your opponents with shots that have ricocheted off a wall first. Match this up with some minorly maze-like arenas and you have the makings of a multiplayer game that requires a bit more skill, or at least a healthy dose of luck, and that easily stands out from the more run-of-the-mill competition on the eShop.


While there are other games on this list that could certainly count as being family-friendly I wanted to call out some titles that should be fun for all ages. These all generally aren't as aggressive or outright challenging as some others that are out there on the eShop and have something special that sets them apart in my mind for people who may not normally play games.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles - On a general level if you were to make a game with a spirit similar to that of the Zelda series and then remove the combat you'd have Yonder. Where some may find the lack of conflict a bit bland the emphasis on exploration, some creativity, and questing in Yonder made it refreshing to relax and simply enjoy.

Figment - This is probably the most action-oriented and challenging game in this small list but it also has a somewhat sad family-oriented story that and small moments that touched me as a parent. Trapped in the subconscious and trying to repair the damage done by a horrible accident this action puzzler will make you think more than fight and is full of original creative songs and hand drawn art at every turn.

Wandersong - Another adventure game that takes its own path when it comes to resolving conflicts in this title you'll play as a bard who ends up using his vocal talents to try to help save the day. Colorful, creative, and full of positivity for the most part Wandersong keeps the difficulty manageable and emphasizes the joy of exploring and using music to solve a variety of puzzles.

Marble It Up! - I'm a massive fan of the arcade classic Marble Madness as well as a fan of Sega's Monkey Ball games so Marble It Up! was a lot of fun to check out this year. While it may not have loads of content the degree of challenge will probably keep less hardcore gamers from conquering it all too quickly. Throw in some diabolical hidden secrets that take some serious work to obtain and it's a very unusual type of game that controls well and is a lot of fun to play.

The Adventure Pals - With a look and quirky sense of humor that feels like it came from a Cartoon Network show, The Adventure Pals is a silly platforming adventure full of surprises and some smart gameplay. The fact that the challenge generally remains pretty modest and the abundance of weird characters and situations consistently brought a smile to my face made it an easy game to consider for this category.

Cake Laboratory - Though by score this may be the lowest on this list, it's absolutely the best game on the system for younger children to enjoy. With a single-button mechanic used to drop cakes on top of one another its controls are easy to understand. The goal is simply to stack a set number on top of each other without allowing them to topple. Periodic opportunities to design your own cake add a nice creative flourish and small details like the slight sway the stack shows as it gets taller add a touch of suspense for extra fun. Great for budding gamers-to-be to dig into.


This is a category that I almost looked at combining with beat-em-ups since the overall representation in the genre from true indies was pretty thin this year, though generally pretty solid. While fighting games are normally the space for more well-established franchises in their latest iterations indie devs have proven that accessible fighting can be an important target as well and all of the indie fighters I played this year did well in that department.

Blade Strangers - Without a doubt the biggest surprise for me was this title from the folks at Nicalis, starting out with a new fighter combining characters from a number of properties. The inclusion of as unlikely of fighting characters as Shovel Knight and even more oddly Isaac could have been a throw-away move but they all played surprisingly well in their own ways. Throw in a definite sense of style with powerful metered combos and it was a lot of fun.

BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle - The other stand-out indie fighting game that came to Switch has a bit more of a lineage and not only looks incredibly good but plays smoothly as well. Gameplay reminded me quite a bit of Marvel Vs. Capcom in terms of overall feel and flow and there's a nice diversity in the roster with fighters that suit just about every style. Polished, fast-paced, and gorgeous, Cross Tag Battle is stunning on the Switch.


Ahh, the Metroidvania, a distinction given to a whole lot of games these days, though sometimes it is more appropriately applied than others. In general these feature some great combat, exploration, and multiple power-ups you'll gain over time that will give you access to new areas you hadn't been able to get to before. There are some others peppered into other categories as well so don't take the limited number as implying the Switch is lacking in the genre.

Sundered: Eldritch Edition - Coming from the same team that worked on the boss fight-centric Jotun, Sundered has the same signature gorgeous hand-drawn art and impressively-scaled bosses to fight but this time went with a Metroidvania feel and it works. Even on easy this game can be challenging at times as you'll get rushed by enemies periodically but the action feels great, power-ups come with some regularity, and some of the level design is quite clever. The procedural map in places and degree of challenge may frustrate some but the overall experience is well worth checking out.

Dandara - This is another title that immediately caught everyone's attention when it was shown in a Nindie Direct. While the unusual fact that you don't run around so much as wall jump everywhere may not work for everyone there's no doubt that element added a degree of challenge and differentiation from just about anything else you may have ever played in the genre. Throw in a very unique overall aesthetic and unusual enemies and it's a memorable experience.


As someone who has been a music lover my entire life I've always had a soft spot for games that either centrally emphasize or at least make excellent use of music. Thankfully this year hasn't only brought quite a number of great titles to the platform, there have been a number of unique styles to their gameplay as well.

Just Shapes and Beats - Possibly one of the more bizarre titles I've played this year, Just Shapes and Beats pretty well gives away its secret in the title. While that may sound very simple and it's gameplay mostly emphasizes merely trying to avoid getting hit, there's no denying that doing it all with so much style makes for a lot of fun. Playable with friends locally or others online there's also an element of teamwork you'll find as players are able to save each other when someone gets knocked out. Full of some great tracks, colorful designs, and a ton of personality this is an outstanding title deserving of attention.

Lanota - While at first I wasn't sure what to make of this game in terms of its visual style and its unusual attempt to somehow tell a story along the way the more I played it I couldn't deny it managed to get me hooked. Played exclusively in touchscreen mode, the way you interact with the music just feels great and is just thoroughly different. The fact that over its 70+ tracks it continues to throw surprises at you and you can then fine tune the difficulty up or down quite a bit depending on your ability all helps it shine.

Runner3 - While on its initial release I'd argue they shot for too high a degree of difficulty with increasingly spaced out checkpoints now with some refinement Runner3 is able to shine and be more mainstream friendly. That's great news because it's not just a brilliant runner but the way that its action corresponds to its great music makes it unique and interesting. Full of weird charm and secrets the music is a pretty well constant essential element to making this game exciting and fun.


There are competitive local multiplayer games but then beyond that there are also party games. Intended to satisfy much larger crowds the trick here is finding ways to help even people without a controller enjoy the action. These are the Nindies that did the best job of that this year.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes - Who knew that disarming a bomb could be so difficult and tense? With only one person actively trying to work on the bomb while pretty well everyone else around is trying to help by reading through a manual full of instructions chaos can easily reign if you don't set some ground rules for success. Clear and careful communication are essential to getting through this one alive and as you'd expect time is always working against you as you try not to make any fatal mistakes.

Jackbox Party Pack 5 - The Jackbox crew have returned with another diverse batch of games meant to be played with a bunch of friends. This time they've returned with a new edition of the trivia game that started it all, You Don't Know Jack, a creative title where you'll be trying to concoct inventions to solve odd problems, of all things a robotic rap battle, a game where you goal is to avoid consensus, and even their very first attempt at an action game as well. Pretty well guaranteed to have at least one game that will connect with about any crowd these titles are a consistent source of party fun.


While typically puzzle games would be assumed to be casual titles that hasn't always been the case on the Switch. More action-oriented titles that centrally feature puzzle solving can also qualify and let's face it, a plain straight-up Match 3 or something along those lines won't quite cut it on the Switch. These titles have all gone for something more distinctive and memorable.

FRAMED Collection - While its comic book-style presentation is clean and outstanding its the unusual gameplay in both Framed and its sequel that helped it stand out on Switch. Through a mix of experimentation and ingenuity you'll need to figure out how to rearrange the panels to help your agent avoid capture and perils. While neither game is terribly long the experience is a memorable and creative one.

Bridge Constructor Portal - While there have been a few different bridge construction games on the Switch I'd say this one, by far, stands out from the rest. Not only does it feature unusual humor inspired by the presence of Portal's GLaDOS, but just in general even things like the little people trying to use your structures dying or getting flung about made me laugh. Back that up with some smart and challenging scenarios that will make you think hard about how to get through and it's a tricky but fun overall experience.

Slayaway Camp - If you're a fan of classic 80s horror you can stop reading now, just buy this game and enjoy its obvious love and reverence for so many horror icons and tropes of that decade. More than just a homage to 80s slasher films, this is a title packed with smart and challenging puzzles that will make you work for the reward of seeing which outrageous ways the likes of Jason, Candyman, and many other dispatch their victims in its gloriously chunky Minecraft-esque visual style.

Semblance - This is a title I got to check out at PAX East that definitely left me wanting more and the final product was no disappointment. Its core mechanic is that you have the ability to distort the landscape and a consistent stream of new tricks and techniques get introduced to you over the course of the game adding further layers of challenge. Smart, creative, and challenging, Semblance offers a unique style of play over its runtime unlike anything else on the system.


Rather than have two pretty thinly represented genres in the list, for the sake of filling things out I've combined these two styles of games into one category. Both fundamentally require some type of steering and control so they seem to fit well together and though neither has had a ton of games released for them this year they're at least getting to be better represented overall.

Everspace: Stellar Edition - As a massive fan of the classic Wing Commander series this is a title that easily caught my eye while it was on PC. There's absolutely no doubt that it nails the space combat aspect very well, offering up variability with its roguelike structure, multiple ships you can experiment with and a variety of weapons as well. While it doesn't quite have something akin to the space opera I always enjoyed it absolutely delivers with its solid and challenging gameplay.

Pilot Sports - Fans of the classic PilotWings have no doubt been upset that Nintendo really hasn't returned to the series now in quite some time. While Pilot Sports doesn't quite have the polish of those titles it does do an excellent job of delivering many of the same sorts of core gameplay experiences it's famous for. Flying a plane, working with a tricky jetpack, and a few other experiences are represented here in a way that's fun but can also get to be quite challenging as you progress.

Skies of Fury DX - While we'll overlook the fact that for the most part it utterly ignores gravity as you loop through the air, Skies of Fury DX is an excellent and often exciting dogfighting game. Playable in pretty quick bursts, with each mission only taking a few minutes in general, it is well suited to picking up for a few minutes and then putting back down. New planes and loads of different cosmetic unlocks continue to keep things fresh and fun throughout.

GRIP - Combat racing has always been something I've enjoyed and it's also a style of play that's challenging to get right. While its not without its flaws GRIP absolutely puts in the work to make for a thrilling and crazy bit of racing carnage. Its gravity-defying tracks set the base stage well but its definitely the fun weapons and intense moments you get while under fire that make it fun.


Pinball FX3 - While the base game hit the eShop last year, the periodic release of new table packs has kept this retro gaming engine very relevant over the past year. In particular the acquisition of the rights to produce tables based on the classic pinballs from Williams should make every retro gaming fan very happy. Already having released 2 packs from that agreement, as well as a few notable original packs of their own, Pinball FX3 will likely handily stay on yearly lists for quite some time.

Miles & Kilo - While sharing quite a bit of DNA with last year's cute retro runner Kid Tripp, Miles & Kilo really refined and nailed things down to produce a satisfying experience worthy of inclusion on this list. Cute, challenging, and well-paced the alternating between the more traditional platforming when playing as Miles and the then it becoming a runner when Kilo is pulling him along keeps things fresh and fun throughout its relatively modest runtime.

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection - If you're a big fan of classic arcade games you've probably heard of or even get nostalgic for a fair number of games featured in this collection. From the iconic shooters in the Ikari Warriors series to unique titles like Athena and Vanguard vintage arcade gaming is well-represented. On the classic console side the inclusion of Crystalis should excite as well. Wrap that all up with a chronology of press materials and facts about the company and its games over the years and it's a package retro lovers should appreciate.

Hyper Sentinel - With the heart of a game pulled from the 80s but production values and visual enhancements that help give it modern flair Hyper Sentinel is a load of fun. Inspired quite a bit by the classic shooter Uridium you'll be attacking a large ship and trying to take it down while fighting off it's defenses, working to rack up combos and maximize your score.

Raging Justice - If you're a massive fan of the classic beat-em-ups of the 80s there may not be a game that's more of a love letter to those titles than Raging Justice. Full of winks and nods to titles like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Pit Fighter, and more this combo-focused brawler will have you trying to reclaim the streets using one of 3 characters that each have their own unique strengths and play styles.


While I still don't consider it a proper genre as much as a genre-modifying catalyst roguelike is becoming such a common game description that it really deserves a list of its own. With a diverse set of titles represented in this list that fact that there's no clear guide for what gameplay will be like should be clear, what they have in common is instead procedurally-generated content and typically a fair degree of challenge to keep you coming back for more.

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

Steredenn: Binary Stars - Moving in a very different direction Steredenn is a bullet hell roguelike space shooter that has some truly bonkers weapons and challenges. While you'll have more traditional options in your arsenal the inclusion of some crazy melee-based weapons changes the formula around a bit and encourage experimentation to find the weapons that suit your play style and the variety of scenarios you'll need to be able to survive.

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

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

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.


While there are a few very high profile major RPG titles now on Switch there has been a steady flow of great indie titles in the space as well, though not all are cut from the same cloth by any means. From action to turn-based, traditional to more unique these indies have you covered for options.

Bastion - While people with access to other systems may well have played Bastion before since it's been around for a number of years, it still is absolutely a great title that doesn't feel at all dated on the Switch. Very much an action-oriented RPG similar to a classic like Secret of Mana, in Bastion you'll slowly accumulate a variety of weapons that you can then upgrade and customize your combat with as they each make the game play pretty differently. While the art is fantastic its the solid gameplay and the ever-present narrator, telling the game's story in real time, that make it a memorable title.

Transistor - As the follow-up to Bastion, Transistor has some of the same base elements as an action-oriented RPG but they're very different games with very different play styles. In Transistor you'll gain enhancements you can then manage and combine in a variety of ways to produce very different effects. The ability to stop time and plot out the attacks that you'll then execute also gives the game a far more tactical feel to help differentiate it. Also featuring terrific art, it is this time paired with some exceptional music to complement the on-screen action.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar - While this RPG is turn-based and has more of a classic JRPG feel to it there's no question that its comic book art inspired look and style are thoroughly Western. You'll need to choose which party members work best for you as you level them up and make them more powerful. The visuals easily help it to stand out as the game has a great sense of flair to keep the journey engaging and exciting.

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf - Very much the dark horse on this list Joe Dever's Lone Wolf is just a thoroughly different kind of experience. Playing out like a mix of a Choose Your Own Adventure story and mixing choices you make in the story with action sequences you'll then fight out connected to the story beats it's thoroughly unique. The combat itself also takes some getting used to but once it clicks I also found it to be pretty engaging. While it won't be for everyone I appreciate its attempt to strike out on a path of its own and would be thrilled to see a sequel with some refinements.


Oh how I love shooters and there's no doubt that the eShop is full of them, ranging from outstanding down to not so great. The great thing about the games in the list is that they're from all over the spectrum and each are exciting in their own right, showing the diversity of styles you can enjoy in the genre on the Switch.

Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax - To think that when this title snuck onto the eShop I almost missed it. Since I'd not heard of it in advance of its release I almost didn't reach out for it since it was a busy time of year. I'm very glad that I didn't miss it though as it's one of the best shooters I've played all year. Whether you're playing solo or co-op with some friends the number of different mechs and weapons you have to choose from to customize your builds open the door to repeat playthroughs and experimentation. With all sorts of ways to tune the degree of challenge as well it's a highly accessible shooter to people at all levels of experience with the genre.

Bleed 2 - While sharing a lot in common with the original title Bleed 2 made critical refinements to make this run and gun shooting experience far more exciting and accessible. Quick and challenging, complete with some insane boss fights, it stands out with a style all its own. Throw in the temptation for repeat runs using different characters, each with their own feel, and it can deliver a lot of unique fun.

Guns, Gore and Cannoli 2 - Another sequel that took what worked in the original and then made it better on all levels, this side-scrolling zombie-blaster is terrific fun whether you're solo or playing with friends. The 360 degree aiming feels great, the level design and progression are creative and often unpredictable, and the violence makes for a bloody good time.

I Hate Running Backwards - Though I initially struggled with it, wanting it to be a twin-stick shooter, once I got into the unique rhythm of I Hate Running Backwards I became a big fan. Here you'll need to stay focused on eliminating your lethal enemies while also spinning to destroy things in the environment to accumulate experience for upgrades. Roguelike in nature you won't be able to predict what choices you'll get in what order so each run can feel very different, though it's always challenging. Throw in multiple characters, including ones that can be unlocked, that can play very differently and it's a pretty deep game if you give it some time and attention.

Velocity 2X - Making games that feature multiple play styles is always a bit of a risk, as getting either of them wrong can really sour the experience. However, when a game like Velocity 2X comes along and does a great job in both areas, in this case space shooting and running and gunning platforming, it does make them far more memorable. You'll move between both styles pretty often, starting out in the more traditional space shooting mode but then needing to go on foot to unlock or disable defenses getting in your way. Full of upgrades and a steadily increasing degree of challenge this was a great addition to the Switch lineup this year.

The Bug Butcher - This is another title I hadn't heard too much about and almost missed that I'm very glad I go to check out this year. Essentially playing out like a faster and more intense version of the classic Pang (Buster Bros), The Bug Butcher is a load of arcade shooting fun and while it can get pretty tough I couldn't stop playing it until I beat the game. Great stuff and well worth checking out if you love classic arcade shooters.

Super Hydorah - Finishing out the shooter list is a game obviously inspired by the classics like R-Type and Gradius but that has a great feel and style all its own. You're able to choose your path at specific branches, though there's nothing stopping you from backtracking to grab more enhancements, and you'll need to carefully consider your loadout for each stage since each has their own challenges and there's no single solution that best addresses them all. A great mixture of retro play and modern sensibilities.


Until I settled on making a category specifically focused on story I struggled with putting these titles into an appropriate place. While they may have very different play styles these are all games that absolutely lead with their stories and often deliver a powerful emotional impact.

Last Day of June - While it has play elements that make it feel like an adventure what makes Last Day of June most compelling is the roller coaster of emotions it takes you through as you play it. Given the opportunity to try to alter the events that lead to your wife's untimely death you'll work to save her, finding that fate can be extremely difficult to avoid. Ending with an emotional punch, this is a game well worth experiencing.

Night in the Woods - Returning from a failed attempt at going to college you'll play the part of Mae, a young woman with a checkered past who returns to her home town to live with her parents. Though in terms of pure gameplay it's all pretty basic, consisting of exploring and small mini games for the most part, what's compelling here are the characters. Exploring depression, the plight of small towns in decay, and a variety of other themes Night in the Woods is a pretty unique experience with interesting characters and stories to tell.

Abzu - Moving a bit further into the abstract you have Abzu, a game that relates the framework of a story with no words and that may be lacking in action but delivers a thoroughly unique experience nevertheless. You'll swim through environments, solving puzzles along the way, and exploring the areas you find yourself in. Calming in almost a meditative way, Abzu is just thoroughly different and worth a look if you're open to something that tilts more towards and experience than a game.


Strategy does get some representation on the Switch but there was far more of it last year than this one, at least games that are strategy first and foremost. Still, this year's entry is a strong one that should provide for plenty of reflection and challenge.

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.


While the genre hasn't been around all that one it has pretty quickly become a popular one. Mixing elements of crafting, exploration, and some serious frustration more often than not it's often associated with being challenging, though this year's entries at least to have pretty different feels to them.

This War of Mine - Probably the most bleak of the bunch, which makes sense given its more real world setting, This War of Mine explores the difficult life of civilians trying to survive in a war zone. Just getting through each day with concerns like food, keeping people from falling ill, and defending yourself against people who may come for you or your things can get tough. The fact that in order to survive you'll likely need to make some hard choices and do some things that will challenge your sense of morality makes it more powerful.

Don't Starve - Probably the toughest of the bunch, Don't Starve is a roguelike take on survival with a heap of unpredictable situations that will kill you. In order to help compensate you're actually able to tune your game world quite a bit, so at least you can tone things down while you get to understand what you need to do in which order and where in order best to survive. It has plenty of content for those daring enough to stick with it, just expect a challenge.

Smoke and Sacrifice - This survival title has a mix of a main storyline driving your progress and some challenging survival play as well. You'll need to collect and manage your resources, explore to discover new recipes that will be crucial to your success, and overcome some tough combat typically feeling vulnerable and under-equipped. Still, it's an interesting take and is less challenging and depressing than the previous two titles in this category.

Crashlands - By far the lightest survival title of this bunch, Crashlands is a great introductory journey into survival games. Sporting a colorful and generally cheerful look and tone you'll still need to explore, collect, craft, and be smart in combat to overcome hostile creatures you'll need to conquer in order to proceed.


Closing everything out we have the category that's most near and dear to my heart when it comes to indie titles. These all belong to some other genre but for me their defining characteristic is just being and doing things in a way that's unexpected, making it all a bit weird. To me that all amounts to flavor and can make what could otherwise be a more ordinary game into something unexpected and a bit more fun.

Ms. Splosion Man - I'd heard of this title before but nothing could prepare me for just how weirdly, brilliantly silly it all is. While in principle the controls are simple, limited to moving back and forth and blowing yourself up, its the interaction with other elements in the levels to solve action puzzles and proceed that make it a load of fun. While her almost non-stop chattering of weird (and often dated) pop culture references and commentary may not be for everyone to me they just added flavor to the game's core manic energy.

Super Daryl Deluxe - For me there's something really funny about such an unassuming (and honestly dumb-looking) burnout of a kid looking to save the day. Sort of working as a side-scrolling action RPG you'll need to carefully choose which of Daryl's many ridiculous powers to use for success. Facing off against a menagerie of enemies that are almost as unusual as Daryl himself this is an oddball title with a ton of content that doesn't skimp on the challenge.

Garage - This title which, at a glance, looks like a twin-stick zombie shooter meets Hotline Miami won't be for everyone but I really ended up enjoying the odd journey it took me on. You'll need to carefully manage your ammo, shoot wisely, and know when to break out your melee weapon while you go deeper and deeper into weirdness and often end up questioning what is even real.

Zarvot - While mechanically this is a sort of shooter adventure in terms of gameplay it's the presentation and story of Zarvot that makes it entertaining. You'll play as a cube named Charcoal who, together with his friend Mustard, set out to get a great gift to cheer up their friend Red. Somewhat randomly on the way you'll face enemies you'll need to shoot it out with, some crazy weird boss battles, and all sorts of odd story beats. It's odd, charming, and for the most part gorgeous as well.

Nefarious - Thoroughly turning your typical expectation for games of this type on its head, in Nefarious you'll find yourself playing the role of a villain rather than a hero. This switch allows for a somewhat behind the scenes look at heroes, the princesses they typically are trying to save, and how silly many classic video game tropes really can be. Backed up by pretty solid action platforming, terrific and varied boss fights, and a lot of great humor it's a very different kind of experience.