Thursday, December 31

Top 30 / Best Indie Puzzle Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 12/31/20] With its casual-friendly touchscreen and play-on-the-go mentality the Switch is pretty well an ideal platform for puzzle games. Whether working well with converts from the mobile and tablet space or taking on more console-quality titles the Switch can do both with ease and flair. This is a list of 30 of the best examples the genre has to offer on the platform. Bear in mind this list is built with an eye on trying to cater to all tastes so some styles that have a lot of titles, even if very good, can’t necessarily all be represented.

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 and is paired with a creative puzzle style.


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.


Grindstone - There’s nothing I like more than a surprise game that shows up, slaps you around a bit, and leaves you thirsting for more. With its pretty wacky (and seriously violent) cartoon-like style, smart mix of puzzling and strategy, and a terrific surprise specifically in the form of Daily Challenges that will ensure I keep coming back for more, Grindstone absolutely delivers the goods. If you’ve played a variety of puzzle titles before the base mechanic will be familiar, your typical goal is to try to chain as many enemies of the same color as possible. Past that though I can’t say I’ve played anything like this since Grindstones that are dropped for high enough combos then allow you to change to a new color in the same chain, leading to even bigger combos. Now add in a touch of temptation with chests that will coax you into lingering on a board longer to unlock a new blueprint for usable gear, special monsters that will demand you consider how to take them off the board, and even some wild boss battles and the 200+ levels will give you plenty to think about. The cherry on top is the Daily Greed Challenge though, which will challenge you to a sequence of tough levels, providing you with options for perks at each step and truly pushing your strategy and sense of daring to the max if you want to be competitive on the leaderboards. It’s rare that puzzle games are a treat from top to bottom, and add in that it is drenched in great cartoon carnage and Grindstone is a game you’ve got to at least give a moment to check out. 


Shady Part of Me - There’s something pretty delightful when you encounter games that you’ve never previously heard of that, once you begin playing them, grab you and demand your attention until they’re completed. Shady Part of Me is a smart puzzle adventure of sorts with a story to tell and a fantastic hand-drawn art style that absolutely fits that bill, and what’s fascinating is that rather than having only one or two elements that stand out and are compelling it delivers a high degree of quality on all fronts. The story revolves around a young girl who appears to be institutionalized and troubled, with a slow trickle of hints to her overall condition doled out the further along you get. She’s not quite alone though as you’ll also alternatively take control of a shadow version of herself who is generally projected on the wall but sometimes the floor as well. Puzzles alternate between the 2D shadow space which plays as more of a puzzle platformer, and the 3D main space where you must often manipulate objects to change the placement and scale of the shadows on the wall that are either blocking your doppelganger or helping her to either proceed or nab origami birds as bonuses along the way. All of this happens in some of the most elaborate and often surreal hand drawn art environments I’ve seen in a game, and certainly never as well integrated into the puzzles. This all comes together to create an experience that’s utterly unique on the console and one I would highly recommend. 
 

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.


FRAMED Collection - While its comic book-style presentation is clean and outstanding it’s 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.


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.


Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince - A quick admission, while I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the Trine series overall I was just never much of a fan of the overall experience. Through some alchemy, or maybe my tastes as a gamer have evolved, that makes my experience with Trine 4 a wonderful surprise. Smart, absolutely stacked with puzzles, and though somewhat repetitive continually changing things up in small ways I appreciate it is an action puzzling dream, and all the better if you can enjoy it with a friend. As always, each of your 3 core characters have specific abilities that you’ll need to use in concert with one another to chip away at obstacles and discover hidden goodies that seem to be present every few steps. Though I’ll admit the combat, when it happens, is clunky, this is a game first and foremost about challenging your mind and it absolutely manages to do that on a pretty well continuous basis throughout. Far more than just resting on being a pretty game (my typical feeling about the rest of the series), this is one of the most satisfying titles I’ve played this year.


Baba Is You - Why settle for going the normal route and following the game’s rules to win when you can simply look for ways to change the rules instead? This simple but smart premise is central to Baba Is You and will have you playing with each stage’s rules that are represented as words on the screen that you can move around and reconfigure. Managing to keep finding new ways to challenge you throughout its runtime this is a challenging and unique puzzler absolutely worth checking out.


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.


Travel Mosaics: A Paris Tour - Even as consistently as indie titles have managed to surprise me, there are times when I’m almost taken aback by a title out of left field. If you’re a puzzle game fan you’re probably familiar with the Picross franchise, and the satisfying gameplay it offers. There have been some challengers in the same sort of space but to this point nobody has been able to break free of the pack in terms of innovation and polish. For me, Travel Mosaics is the total crasher of that party and not only packs in wonderfully polished presentation quality for a budget price, but knocks it out of the park with large and challenging puzzles, a smart power-up system, and a smooth overall control experience even as you toggle between colors. Puzzle fans, you won’t want to miss this one.


Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns - While fans of the old school original game likely won’t even need to read this review, it’s worth noting that though some elements of this classic from the DS may be a little behind the current curve you can still easily see how it blazed a trail for the concept of a Match-3 Battle RPG genre. While perhaps the story would best be considered serviceable by RPG standards it does manage to throw a pretty wide variety of enemies and challenges at you, requiring you not only to be smart with your puzzle matching but also show some strategy in how you use the class skills you’ll acquire over the course of the game and dictated by a variety of choices you’ll make. Once you’ve unlocked all of the buildings the game has to offer you’ll have the choice to grind and acquire new skills and perks, all while changing up the puzzle formula just enough to keep things from feeling too redundant. Throw in multiple base classes that give you an incentive to play through the game multiple times with different strategies and the game offers hours of smart and satisfying strategic play for puzzle fans.


Dodo Peak - There’s nothing I enjoy more with indies than games that defy expectation. At first glance Dodo Peak looks like a pretty straight-forward action puzzle game that’s just going to be cute and somewhat benign. Oh, but how deceptive it is. While not everyone may be as much of an arcade nerd as I am what I appreciate the most about the game is its mix of elements from a few different games. While everyone I’ve seen has been keen to mention Q*Bert, which you can absolutely see bits of, the deep cut here is a less-known game called Flicky. The fact that the eggs you collect trail you and you’ll need to be mindful of them (even as there get to be more and more of them) when they’re in danger really cranks up the challenge and planning that will be required. You can’t just squeak yourself through a tough spot, you’ll need every member of your brood in tow to make it as well so that’s where planning will need to come in as well. While in the early going your ideal route is relatively simple, and possibly even outright dictated, the further you go the more things open up and you’ll need to contemplate how best to proceed. While it is by no means a massive game the budget price, polished presentation, and mix of multiple arcade classics as well as modern sensibilities really make it stand out from the crowd in the eShop.  
 

Death Squared - If you've felt like puzzle games have become a bit stale and predictable over the years, with many of them using well-known mechanics to simply create variations on a known theme, you'll want to check out Death Squared. It's amazing how first adding a second person (or pitting you against yourself) to the mix and forcing careful coordination and teamwork can really liven things up. Add in some clever and sometimes diabolical leaps of faith that are necessary to discover the game's secrets and progress and it makes for one of the best puzzle games I've played in years. If you really want to push the limits of your sanity try the collection of 4 player puzzles as well, it makes for a lot of laughing, yelling, and fun.


Battle Chef Brigade - Brigade is a game that immediately sounded appealing when I heard the premise and then delivered something truly unique and engaging rather than succumbing to its own hype. One part action game for collecting your ingredients, and another Match 3 puzzler for concocting your cuisine to please the judges it makes for a strategic and often frantic affair. Throw in an RPG story with some surprising twists and Battle Chef Brigade is one of the best overall titles on the system.


Golf Peaks - Borrowing aesthetics and hazards from the world of golf, Golf Peaks is a clean and smart puzzler that continues to layer in new complexity and challenges over its 100+ levels. Your potential moves are dictated by a set of cards on each stage, and you’ll need to choose their order and direction carefully as you try to make your way to the hole to complete each challenge. Smart, very on-the-go friendly, and challenging it’s a great match for just about any Switch puzzle fan.


Piczle Lines DX 500 More Puzzles - While it may be available on mobile I consider the Switch to be the best way to experience this great puzzle game that is both less and more challenging that it appears. You'll need to use your powers of deduction to work out how each of the lines can be completed in the specified number of spaces without conflicting with any others to complete these pixel art pictures. Smaller puzzles can go pretty quickly but as you get into the larger-scale puzzles this can get to be quite an undertaking. With an absolute avalanche of puzzle goodness packed into this title you’ll be working through it for quite some time.


Bomb Chicken - Taking the silly premise of a bomb-laying chicken and then milking it for all its worth Bomb Chicken is an unusual mix of platforming and puzzling. You’ll need to be careful and precise in how you lay your bombs, whether to destroy obstacles or to stack them on top of each other to reach other levels. Completely different, silly, and fun this is a great mix of gameplay styles that works very well on Switch.


Q.U.B.E. 2 - Obviously having drawn inspiration from the likes of Portal, blending a very clean aesthetic style with smart puzzles and a use of physics, Q.U.B.E. 2 is clever and does a great job of sucking you in. Able to manipulate specific squares that will bounce you you, allow you to pull them out to create a platform, or extrude a cube you’ll use different combinations of your abilities to make your way through a series of increasingly-complex puzzles. Blended with a storyline that gets you invested and it’s a solid overall experience.


Piczle Colors - Muscling in on the Picross-style puzzle space Piczle Colors may be the new kid on the block, and its degree of color can at time be a bit overwhelming, but in general it manages to do things right. The included touchscreen support is smart and works very well, providing it with versatility the Picross series itself lacks for now. Add in the tendency towards asymmetrical puzzles and if this kind of game is your jam then this new entry into the space is worth checking out.


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.


The Room - Brought over from the mobile and tablet space, which is normally a red flag for potentially mediocre titles, The Room is anything but. This well-regarded opening title in what’s now a series elsewhere is highly revered for good reason, the ornate and elaborate puzzles it throws at you tend to be as brilliant as they are beautiful. A game very much focused on manipulating and trying to make use of every possible element of an object, so much of the time the game’s surprises have to do with discovering what’s been hidden just a little beyond the surface. While this will likely get replaced by any of its sequels when they hopefully come to the Switch, the great potential of the series was visible right from the beginning.


Glass Masquerade - While puzzle games don’t need to be absolutely gorgeous in order to be great, incredible visuals paired with smart play are hard not to get excited about. In Glass Masquerade your goal is roughly to complete a jigsaw puzzle of sorts, just one that is made from pieces of stained glass. This leads to some very unusual shapes and quite a large number of pieces you’ll have to restore very carefully. While the idea is relatively simple the game’s artwork is wonderful and it leads to some great challenges.


Picross S5 - The contemplative puzzle series is back and more polished than ever with this new iteration of Picross. Whether you’re looking to work on the classic single-color pixel puzzles, the tougher version of those in Mega Picross that changes up the rules a bit, challenging color puzzles, or then multi-piece pictures made from a variety of individual pieces of all shapes and sizes this version will have you covered. It may be that I’ve been away for a version of two but what struck me most with this latest title is the quality of its tutorials for each of the modes. While I’ve played them all before between this and other franchises, the subtle hint system and explanations offered for how to play each mode effectively and in the smartest way possible was handled very well. I felt like this time around I’ve developed a much better understanding of the nuances of Mega Picross with the game’s guidance, though it could just be I’ve done it enough times now that I’ve come to understand it through brute force instead. With a pretty diverse set of challenges and plenty of puzzles across each mode Picross maintains its big picture lead on the competition with this outing, offering plenty of modes with nuanced but still significant differences which each help push your puzzle skills to new heights.  
 

Carto - Having played so many of them, unfortunately the first thing I assume I’ll see when approaching any sort of puzzle game is that it will be something I’ve seen before. What’s so wonderful is when a title takes that assumption and utterly blows it out of the water, something Carto does with heart and just very smart design. Long story, but you play as Carto and you have the ability to manipulate the world to rearrange it. Cool, yes, but where things get clever is combining this with puzzles that vary in how they’re constructed as you advance the story. Talking to various villagers you encounter you’ll find that what you’ve laid down will need some rearranging, sometimes just to make sure the edges of the various tiles work together but often in order to ensure elements like roads or foliage are placed relative to each other as they’re meant to be. Throw in some great characters you’ll encounter along the way and it’s a cheery, creative, and unexpected treasure of a puzzle adventure well worth your time.  
 

Untitled Goose Game - Bless indie developers and their ability to come up with weird concepts for gameplay that you probably never considered but upon seeing them are easily attracted to. Untitled Goose Game is such a title, and I was drawn to it the moment I laid eyes on its gameplay in one of the Directs. Maybe I can’t speak for everyone but there’s something really fun about unleashing your inner asshole every once in a while and if that thought appeals to you this game should be high on your list. Given a checklist of objectives, you’ll need to use your pretty limited goosey skills and some smarts to figure out how to complete them to progress. One unfortunate thing is that the game isn’t terribly long, though I suppose it may be better not have it overstay its welcome and lose its creative spark. Still, it’s a unique and entertaining playthrough if you’re in the right mindset.


MO:Astray - You'd think at this point in the history of gaming, given the popularity and abundance of platformers of all types, the genre would be just about out of new tricks to keep things interesting. MO:Astray is here to prove you wrong. While just the mechanics with you sliding your little slimeball around, working on your jump angles and trajectories to get yourself around, would probably suffice for most titles it takes things even further. You see, you’re also capable of taking control of creatures of a variety of types by jumping on their faces, and this can be useful for a variety of reasons over the course of the game… in fact it’s a key mechanic usually involved in the game’s multiple boss battles. While it may not look terribly intimidating in the early going, give it some time and you’ll be sucked in with challenges where you understand what must be done but you’ll be challenged to put together the precision to do it successfully. Taking on a variety of new and pretty substantial upgrades in abilities as you go you’re also never quite able to get comfortable. Just when you feel like you’ve got it all down you’ll need to incorporate a new skill with new accompanying challenges to boot. While it may edge a little further into being tough than most the included provisions for softening the difficulty a bit are available as well, making this puzzle-platforming mind-controlling adventure worth putting near the top of your list.  
 

KLAUS - While puzzle platformers are represented in abundance in the indie space, there are definitely ones that put in some extra effort to stand out. While it may lack some of the bells and whistles the titles at the top tier possess, KLAUS has a lot more going on within it than its initially straightforward presentation suggests. Steadily alternating the focus from pretty smart puzzles, to challenging platforming, to stages with a blend of both the great thing about this title is that it doesn’t settle into a pattern of simply dishing out more of the same but tweaked to be slightly harder. Hidden secrets, some boss fights, and some stages that will simply have to be seen to be understood await, and at a very reasonable price as well. Throw in a story that reveals itself slowly as you play and it’s an overall package that should exceed just about any reasonable expectations you may have.


The World Next Door - As the final credits rolled The World Next Door felt like a satisfying experience on the whole but I was also left with questions. I suppose that could be the goal, to encourage people to play through again making different decisions and see what would happen, but given minimal feedback from the game on the effect of what you chose to do or say it’s hard to be confident enough would change to make it worthwhile. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure the game took me on, and the characters I got to interact with along the way, I just wish the story’s conclusion was more clearly a culmination of my choices, good and bad, somehow.


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.


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!