Friday, November 29

Top 20 Indie Story-Driven Games on Nintendo Switch


While gameplay should always reign supreme in great games there’s certainly a valid place for a compelling narrative to back it up. These games are the ones that I’ve been the most interested in or even moved by over the course of playing through my catalog on Switch. Not all will be tear-jerkers (some definitely are), but all of them have some element in their narrative that’s unique, interesting, and worth checking out if you’re up for something deeper than the surface level. As always the goal is to get broad representation of taste and style here so the list has been curated with diversity in mind.

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.


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.


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.


Figment - While a pretty solid action puzzler with strange characters and some great original music it’s the game’s somewhat sad family-oriented story and small moments that touched me as a parent. Trapped in the subconscious and trying to repair the damage done by a horrible accident, Figment will make you think more than fight and is full of wonder and terrific hand drawn art at every turn.


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.


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.


Katana Zero - Katana ZERO was absolutely one of the best games of 2019 and I’d be shocked it if didn’t end up in my Top 10 (and those of many others as well) for the year. While it is perhaps a bit too heavy to be a wide mainstream title, its constant focus on changing up the formula and never letting you get very comfortable is quite an accomplishment. Throw on a narrative begging to be revisited in search of greater understanding of all of the story beats and it also has a surprising degree of replayability on that front as well. As a whole it is an experience without a peer on the system and serves up a handful of intense and creative insanity well worth experiencing.


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.


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.


Cinders - Pretty well instantly upon finishing my initial version of this story I was compelled to start up and try another path as there are quite a number of key decisions I can imagine would greatly affect the outcome. While my choices lead to Cinders becoming Queen, and very much the equal of her husband, they also made her a bit cold and loveless, which given some choices I’d made ended up being a realistic end. That ended up being the kicker for my enjoyment I think, the element of finding success but at what cost that permeated parts of the game. Overall, if you’re a fan of interactive fiction, strong characters, and choices that carry consequence I’d say this one is well worth checking out.


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.


Old Man’s Journey - I’d say the moral of Old Man’s Journey relates well in a somewhat tangential way to my thoughts on reviewing games. Your time is precious, so be sure to make the most of it and try not to give yourself things to regret. The further along in your own life and experiences you are the easier it is to recommend it wholeheartedly as its story will likely hit you quite a few ways right in the feels. The younger you are it is probably harder to justify since that shifts more responsibility to the adequate-but-not-incredble puzzle aspects of it. Old Man’s Journey fits well into the Switch library with its own distinct story to tell complemented by outstanding art and satisfying puzzles.


The Vanishing of Ethan Carter - When a game starts up showing a warning that establishes it isn’t meant to hold your hand I’ll admit my “Ruh Roh Raggy” meter tends to go off the charts. There’s something to be said for discovering a game in your own way and time and if you don’t mind the frustrations that can come with that Vanishing is an unusual, unnerving, and unconventional adventure. Be ready to explore, adapt, and challenge yourself with the reward being what feels like random breadcrumbs that help to slowly begin to paint a picture of what has happened and who is involved. If you give it some patience and your full attention it can be rewarding, just be warned you may be tempted to hit some guides to figure out what you’re doing wrong as you can be prone to getting stuck.


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.


My Memory of Us - Overall, this is yet another great visually-impressive puzzle adventure to add to the Switch library. The art and the narration of Patrick Stewart peppered throughout are absolutely the highlight, but there’s also an abundance of small and quirky details in the kids interactions with others that amused me as well. Despite the dire circumstances they found themselves in, their teamwork and determination saved the day and created a meaningful bond between them. If you’re looking for a new adventure that will challenge your mind and leave a lasting impression with its story, this will be a terrific fit.


Late Shift - I must say that on pretty well all levels Late Shift is an amazing exercise in interactive storytelling. While I’d imagined it would be a lot like The Bunker, sharing quite a bit in common with the likes of laser disc games ala Dragon’s Lair and its ilk, it instead has made an appropriate generational leap ahead. Nothing will change the fact that your ability to interact with and control the events taking place in the game is limited, but it is all handled so deftly, and without hesitation, that you get much more immersed in the story. The fact that the production values and acting are easily on par with even middle of the road TV and movies then pulls you in even further. I think that Late Shift really represents the future vision people dreamed about when they were making those original FMV games, and that if more titles at this level of quality continue to be made it is a genre set for a comeback.


Moon Hunters - All said, Moon Hunters is an ambitious and well-executed exercise in storytelling as much as it is in implementing the game’s action. I found the change of pace to be refreshing, and the presentation and imagery helped establish lore without it just being a bunch of gibberish written to the screen as some games have done. There’s a care and attention to detail to it all that I hope people will give a chance and discover, but I can see where people may give it a rough playthrough or two and decide to move on as well. If you’ve been looking for something that sets itself apart from most of the games of its kind out there, even if it may not meet all of its goals, Moon Hunters is a worthy attempt worth giving a try.


Neo Cab - When it comes to cyberpunk stories/adventures who knew that the Switch would slowly end up with a collection of them of sorts? I suppose the neon-tinged visuals and semi-futuristic settings that are then possible allow for exploring slightly different narrative territory, and that’s something that Neo Cab does well. Moving to a big city with some emotional baggage, but hoping to rekindle love, you character Lina is a cab driver just trying to make a living. Throw in the complications of your love life, an overarching theme of trying to fight back against the tidal wave of automation replacing human workers, and an eclectic mix of characters you’ll encounter as your fares and Neo Cab creates an interesting world to inhabit for a little while. The degree of agency you have in making choices also sets the stage for replayability, letting people who are curious explore a variety of outcomes and get the most out of the title.


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.


Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - Whether played solo or with a friend Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons makes for a thoughtful and generally satisfying puzzle adventure. The world and its characters are generally endearing, the puzzles simply have a different and more organic feel than much of the competition, and though it may not be a long journey it also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Throw in a fair amount of heart all along the way and it’s well worth enjoying on Switch.


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!

Tuesday, November 26

Top 20 Indie Competitive Games on Nintendo Switch


While it can be a lot of fun to join up with friends, family, or even strangers in cooperative games locally or online sometimes there’s nothing you want more than to knock someone around and show them you’re the best. The goal with this list isn’t necessarily to provide the top scoring games in this category but to also try to emphasize the diversity of titles available on the system in order to try to satisfy tastes of all types. Keeping that in mind these are the best indie titles for getting some competition going with.

Killer Queen Black - After having heard so much about this killer multiplayer arcade title I was interested to see what the fuss was all about. While the core of the game is ultimately reliant on playing with as many as 7 other people (4 to a side) in this case the developers have gone the extra mile to ensure it can be played across platforms so availability shouldn’t be as much of an issue as we sometimes see with Switch-exclusive multiplayer titles. One note is that there’s definitely a learning curve, and thankfully there are a multitude of offline tutorials that try to break everything down from the multiple paths to victory, to what roles people can play, to simply learning how to follow what’s going on since things tend to get hectic. While it may feel a bit on the simpler side, depending on your taste, this is a game that just about anyone should be able to pick up and get in to and it absolutely offers up a both a co-op and competitive multiplayer experience that nothing out there can rival.


Skullgirls 2nd Encore - While I’ve consistently heard nothing but great things about Skullgirls from my friends who are massive fighting fans up until PAX this year I’d never gotten to check it out myself. Watching the game being played it’s hard not to be impressed by the diverse and beautifully-animated characters, some of which have some of the craziest moves and specials I think I’ve seen. It’s also very apparent that this is a pretty technical fighter, which was where my one real concern with the game cropped up. What’s a bit shocking though is that in general for someone like me who has played a fair number of fighters for the most part the moves that trigger the on-screen chaos feel natural and mostly intuitive. Simply experimenting on the fly moves and even combos seemed to come to me pretty easily. From there it’s all about the flow of gameplay and the best word to describe it is intense. Solo players should appreciate the story mode that provides some background for the very odd menagerie of fighters, but everyone should appreciate the choice to go 1-on-1 or up to 3-on-3, providing for plenty of opportunities for changing tactics and generally catering the matches to your liking. Available online play is definitely appreciated, though it’s important to note that even great indie titles on Switch don’t tend to have online communities that survive for long. While there have been very good indie fighters on the Switch I actually think this one is the best.


Rocket League - As a game that I've already spent well over 800 hours playing on the PC I'm thrilled that Nintendo fans finally have their opportunity to play this excellent title. While the concept of rocket-powered cars roughly playing soccer may seem ridiculous, once you get your first taste of airtime and scoring crazy goals or making last-second saves you may well get hooked as so many others have already. While getting started isn't too hard even hundreds of hours in there will always be new skills and tricks for you to master. While compromises on the visuals had to be made to get it on the console the focus on the buttery frame rate was the proper choice in priorities. If you've never given it a try it is well worth checking out.


Duck Game - As long as you’re able to find people to play with whether locally or online Duck Game one of the best multiplayer experiences you’ll find on the system. It’s diverse, deep, has many times the volume of content you’ll find in any of its competitors, and it maintains a brisk pace whether in the match or loading the next stage. While some AI ducks to fill in gaps or quack against would help provide a little extra longevity or fun when you’re on the go, there’s still no denying that Duck Game is at the top of the Switch multiplayer food chain.


Worms W.M.D. - While some of the installments of the Worms franchise haven't always delivered fresh changes WMD both looks incredible and adds a number of elements that make it stand out. Crafting adds a strategic component to matches and generally allows the early phase to remain more traditional before the more lethal and ridiculous weapons begin to come into use. Vehicles like the tank, helicopter, and mech suit provide temptation as well as they can change the match quickly if used well. Finally, there are some bonus single-player campaigns that are legitimately difficult and worthwhile in their own right. Even if you've been away from the franchise for some time, or you've never given it a try, this is an installment worth giving a shot.


Crystal Crisis - All in all Crystal Crisis is a game laser-focused on a specific style of play that absolutely delivers a great value with various modes, characters, and quite a bit of personality as well. While it is always more fun to match up against human competitors the mode variants at least make playing solo feel a bit different as you work to unlock everything. Online play is exciting and works well enough, the question is always sustained support but the inclusion of it is welcome. If you’re looking to get your puzzle on in style Crystal Crisis serves up an eclectic group of characters to choose from, plenty of visual flair, and all for a reasonable price. Puzzle fans should definitely give it a look.


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.


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.


Tumblestone - All said Tumblestone is a very strong contender in the action puzzler space and sets itself apart by not trying to imitate what is successful and instead finds its own way, and it does so quite successfully. The emphasis moreso on puzzle solving is an engaging twist but that’s not to say that the game slows down or is meditative. In mutli-player mode I can assure you it is quite the opposite as the sounds of everyone in my family very rapidly pressing buttons to set up matches was very audible and other than that people generally made no sounds as they were that intensely concentrating on trying to win. As I said the need for precision and seeing patterns so that you don’t trap yourself are both absolutely vital and it makes for compelling gaming sessions. If you really love great puzzle titles Tumblestone is a title you won’t want to miss!


BlazBlue: Central Fiction - If you’re looking for a rock solid fighting game experience that’s quite approachable and has a large roster of characters that isn’t Smash, BlazBlue is very much worth checking out. The more you’d appreciate the various storylines and narrative silliness the more the package has to offer, but the best case scenario would obviously be having someone local to play with to get the most out of it. If you have last year’s Cross Tag Battle it’s a tougher call. There are some nice new characters and nuances to the fighting but I’d say unless you’re interested in the narrative content it may be a stretch. Regardless, it’s a high quality and approachable fighting game that’s a great alternative to the more well-known series out there.


Rocket Fist - Delivering fast and pretty hectic action Rocket Fist reminds me most of playing Super Bomberman on the SNES and having a great time with my friends. Playing out like a fast-paced arena-based game of dodgeball you'll try to control fists and ricochet them off the walls to hit your opponents while you try to keep out of trouble yourself. Add on a pretty terrific single-player campaign, complete with the incredibly cool and fun Uncle Knuckle, and Rocket Fist has a lot to offer for an affordable price.


Meow Motors - Though there’s no question that this is a “budget racer” that can’t compete with a premium genre-defining title, Meow Motors holds its own very respectably. In pretty well every area it addresses the failings of its competition, providing racing that’s varied, nuanced, and satisfying. It looks very respectable, runs smoothly, and sucked me in pretty easily with engaging play I’ve been missing in this space for quite some time. If you’ve been itching for a viable alternative to Mario Kart for a price that won’t hurt your wallet, Meow Motors is absolutely the indie racer to go with.


Crawl - Probably one of the most balanced and creative local multiplayer competitive games I've played Crawl does a whole lot right, setting the stage for frantic fun with you and up to 3 friends. Each of you is trying to play as the hero, set on reaching Level 10, facing the final boss, and escaping the dungeons. The trick is that everyone else will play as spirits, capable of triggering traps or summoning monsters to try to bring the hero down. As the hero levels up to maintain balance the spirits are given wrath points that they can use to upgrade their monsters to make them decidedly more lethal. What's fun is how the dynamic among the spirit players quickly shifts from being cooperative at first to a free-for-all as the heroes health wanes, with each wanting to strike the killing blow to take over and have their shot at glory. Inventive and intense fun for a group of competitive friends!


Party Golf - In truth the name Party Golf is deceiving, while there are modes that play a lot like a simple golf game the true fun in this title is switching up the rules to play a number of pretty unusual variants. Control generally couldn't be easier, you pick your angle and power with the analog stick and then fire. Rules will generally dictate that the first person to get to the hole gets the most points but if you keep exploring the game options you'll find all sorts of ways to have fun with some friends.


Roof Rage - OK, Smash fans, hear me out. When it comes to fast-paced and somewhat crazy fighting Smash tends to be in a class all its own. That said, I’m here to tell you that someone has managed to capture a fair amount of that energy and surprising depth and put it into a budget pixel fighter. Roof Rage may just have a stable of pretty familiar and generic fighters overall by appearance but its fighting action is a pleasant surprise, especially when combining the pretty diverse combatants with the numerous stage layouts you’ll contend with. In general fighters feel responsive, their individual attacks have enough variety to encourage experimentation, and for the most part the game exceeds what I would have expected from a title at this pretty humble price point. If you’ve been looking for something with the spirit of Smash to enjoy with some friends and can live without the wild and wacky power-ups Roof Rage may be a great choice for your next throwdown.


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.


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.


Pocket Rumble - As a whole Pocket Rumble stands up very well as an extremely budget-friendly fighter that has few frills but delivers what is most crucial. Looking and playing great whether in docked or handheld mode it’s light, easy to get into, and has a surprisingly-diverse roster with some very unusual characters. Throw in Online support that even competitive games with higher prices have been known to lack or implement with higher instability and it very much delivers a fair value for its humble price tag.


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.


Super Tennis Blast - All in all for a budget-friendly price Super Tennis Blast delivers a very solid traditional tennis experience with a bit of extra flavor thrown in to boot. While it obviously lacks the depth and complexity of the likes of Mario and his friends it implements the fundamentals very well and is obviously just a fraction of the price. If you and your family or friends have been looking for a multiplayer sports game to play against each other it’s definitely worth considering.


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!

Monday, November 25

Mini Reviews: November 25th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Black Future ‘88 - Roguelike shooters have been a staple for me on the Switch, generally providing a great outlet for intense play for some period of time that will feel familiar to a degree but ever-changing. Typically these games tend to be top-down affairs but in the case of Black Future ‘88 you’ll be taking on a cyberpunk and pretty bleak world full of robots and inevitable death. There are undoubtedly elements that work very well here, the visual style and weapon variety are both exceptional, multiple base classes offer up pretty different feels to keep your runs fresh, and the fact that biologically you’re literally racing against the clock representing your demise will keep you moving. Where it falls down a bit is most often visual clarity. Between occasional elements moving in the foreground and just a lack of clarity in the action when a lot is going on at once it can be pretty easy to lose a truckload of health or even die without really knowing what the cause was. That’s not to say it isn’t hella fun,it just adds to a general frustration factor due to death often being quick and perhaps the reason behind it being a bit too ambiguous.


Squidgies Takeover - Billed as a mix between Lemmings and some physics Squidgies Takeover is a smart and pretty entertaining puzzler that’s also a nice change of pace from the norm for the genre on the system. While you can play it in docked mode with the pointer controls I’d very much recommend against it as the persistent hardware issues causing the need to recalibrate often are present as always and since this title is concerned with precision it isn’t a good match. The great news is that in handheld mode using the touchscreen is a breeze and allows you to enjoy the game as it is meant to be. Initially levels are focused on walking you through the concepts of how you’re able to utilize each power and when, helping you hone your timing and understanding of what will need to be done later. From there it’s all about timing, some planning, and then plain old execution to make effective use of the commands you have to work with to get you on the path to sustained success.


Biolab Wars - When considering ultra-low budget titles it’s hard not to grade a bit on a sliding scale as impulse buys are often what they are to people, there’s a hope it works out but if not there wasn’t much lost to get it. With a look and feel reminiscent of the old NES days, Biolab Wars is an old school side-scrolling shooter with sensibilities that often feel more representative of that era than the current one. You’ll run, gun, collect power-ups, try to avoid enemy fire, and can expect to die relatively often. Not much here is what I’d consider inspired or even polished but that isn’t to say if you’re in the right mindset you can’t have a pretty good time with it. If you’ve been itching for a variation on classic shooting themes and are willing to part with a few paltry bucks this may be enough to entertain you for a little while.


Contraptions - With a hook that appears to have been inspired by a combination of Rube Goldberg machines and the classic Incredible Machine franchise we now have Contraptions for puzzle fans to enjoy. Using a slowly growing collection of gadgets in conjunction with the level environment your goal will be to string together a series of events that will trigger the completion of the level, which can take a few different forms. Placement, direction, and proper timing will all play a crucial role in your ability to size up the challenge in front of you, conceive what solutions there may be, and then work it out through trial and error. The lack of general visual polish and the sometimes wonky behaviors of element in the game can be a frustration, but in general it gets the creative juices flowing and will let you practice building hypothesis and then testing them out until you find the solution.


Mars Power Industries - Given the sheer number of great puzzle titles of all shapes and sizes as well as asking prices in order to make a real impression in genre on Switch you have to be swinging for the fences and either doing something new or doing it in a way that stands out. Unfortunately in the case of the pretty humble and even basic Mars Power Industries they’re not doing much of either. Tasked with powering up stations on the planet’s surface using the surrounding resources you’ll have only so many turns to deploy equipment shaped in specific configurations. Your job is to figure out what to put when so you can rest assured that the colonists will be safe and happy, then move on to the next puzzle. On a general level it’s not bad, it’s just hard not to note how generally simplistic it all is, making it likely a poor choice for genre die hards on the Switch.

Friday, November 22

Top 20 Indie Cooperative Games on Nintendo Switch


While there are plenty of games of all stripes that are best suited to playing solo it's important to take a moment to acknowledge those titles that are best enjoyed with some friends, family, or maybe in some cases strangers online. These are the best titles on Switch to play with others, typically locally.

Heave Ho - While having played so many indie games on the Switch is interesting and exposes you to all sorts of takes on multiple genres one admitted downside is that it can also make you a bit jaded. When it comes to my family, who are often asked to partake in helping me evaluate multiplayer games, I’d say the rate of that happening is far more accelerated. Conceptually Heave Ho may be simple, working solo or with up to 3 friends to simply grab and swing your way from the start to the finish line without falling, hitting spikes, or meeting your splattery demise in some other way. However, there’s a certain charm to it that pretty well immediately made everyone laugh and have a good time. Even after repeatedly getting frustrated in certain spots, especially when trying to keep from dropping costume-unlocking coins that can up the challenge significantly at times, the fun cut through the difficulties for everyone. Solo does work, and is great for honing your skills, but the game is absolutely meant to be played with friends, the more the better. Overall, this may be the best and most accessible multiplayer co-op game on the system.


Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime - While it is certainly playable, enjoyable, and challenging as a single-player game where Lovers really shines is in playing with friends and family. You'll each need to move around your ship to control the various stations whether the engines, shields, guns, or bigger cannon to defeat bad guys and save cute bunnies from their cages. Extra exploration and time taken increases your risk of failure but will also have you on the path to upgrading faster and as you progress you may find every extra bit of help you can have necessary. Colorful, fun, and sure to encourage a lot of yelling (hopefully mostly positive), it's a good time.


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.


Assault Android Cactus+ - Absolutely one of the games I had wished for the most to come to Switch since the system launched, Assault Android Cactus is a next to perfect arcade-style twin-stick shooter. Complete with intense action, big and challenging boss fights, and 9 distinct characters who each have their own primary and secondary weapons the game is full of opportunities to go back and have some more fun. The Switch version even added an additional Campaign+ mode that further ups the ante for challenge, also making it the best edition of the game out there!


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.


Just Shapes and Beats - Possibly one of the more bizarre titles I played in 2018, 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.


Cuphead - With a mix of brutal boss battles and challenging run and gun sections Cuphead is notorious for being a tough game. While the degree of difficulty is well-known for a reason, that isn’t to say that the majority of the game is impossible by any means. Much like certain classic games like Punch-Out in particular, the key to success is careful observation, learning the enemy patterns and then getting a comfort level for executing what needs to get done. The fact that it will additionally be remembered as one of the most visually fascinating games of the generation is just icing on the cake, no matter how incredible it looks it wouldn’t be well-regarded if the gameplay wasn’t there to match.


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.


River City Girls - While the beat-em-up genre was absolutely a staple of both the arcades and the early console days more recently titles have been few and far between. The great news is that if you’ve been aching for a new excuse to dust off your brawler skills and smack some bad guys around River City Girls is easily among the best offerings available on the Switch. In general reminding me of the excellent Scott Pilgrim beat-em-up from a number of years ago there’s a quality to the presentation, action, and obvious love for the genre here that’s unmistakable and it’s a blast to play solo or with a friend. Of course if you’re someone who’ll simply settle into what combos work and fail to make full use of your attacks the that continue to unlock as you progress it will probably feel repetitive but that’s simply the nature of the beast and it won’t have been for the game’s lack of trying to give you new moves to work with as you level up.


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.


Earthfall: Alien Horde - When it comes to co-op PvE gameplay I don’t think any other title has managed to top the Left 4 Dead series, even though the last entry was released a solid decade ago. It’s plainly obvious that the makers of Earthfall are well aware who rules the genre roost as right out of the gate there are a staggering number of similarities in the structure and mechanics of this title. Once you get past the shock of what in many regards feels almost like a shameless rip-off of that title you’ll begin to notice some great additions though, particularly when it comes to strategic opportunities. Barricades and turrets are just two of the great additions Earthfall adds to the mix and they’re absolutely great ideas that are well-implemented and help it stand apart from its source of inspiration.  Considering Valve is unlikely to port Left 4 Dead to Switch (or do anything other than make money on Steam anymore it seems) and there’s nothing else like it on Switch, Earthfall: Alien Horde is a great choice if you’ve been itching for some squad-based co-op FPS action.


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.


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.


Victor Vran - While it’s inevitable for Victor Vran to be compared to the series that obviously inspired it presuming that it is merely a clone or some lesser attempt would be a mistake. It may borrow elements, but aside from having great core gameplay it also does some things very differently, and even as someone who had invested hundreds of hours into the Diablo series I appreciate there being a strong competitor out there that has dared to be different. If you’re seeking some challenging and satisfying action RPG gameplay on the Switch, Victor Vran absolutely delivers.



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.



Hammerwatch - While many games have tried to emulate the look and feel of Gauntlet over the years I don’t think any that I’ve played have nailed it quite as well, overall, as Hammerwatch. Through the game’s two beefy campaigns I was thoroughly sucked in by the action and the various puzzles and hidden rooms had me scouring every corner of the maps for secrets. If you’ve had an itch for a quality action-oriented dungeon crawler that is also very accessible it is easy to recommend.



Portal Knights - Much more than the mere Minecraft-alike that people may presume I found the refined action focus and zones, each with its own monsters and supplies, to be preferable. Throw in some multiple bosses you'll need to face, three distinct classes with their own feel, and the ability to play with friends locally and online and it can be a lot of fun to enjoy with others. An accessible and engaging game suitable for the whole family.


Pikuniku - Pikuniku is generally over too quickly, both solo and in co-op, and it may be too simplistic or silly for some folks but for me it was a joy pretty well the entire time. Focused on discovery, some creativity, and filled with strange surprises and quirks, it absolutely feels at home on the Switch and would probably work for people of any age or skill level if they simply have some patience. I’d love to see a sequel with even more funky fun, and am hoping to see more easygoing titles like it on Switch in the coming year.



Joggernauts - Joggernauts can be viewed a couple of different ways, with its best side being the party multiplayer. It’s deliriously silly in a way that matches Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime in tone and style. This is built for four friends messing around and trolling each other trying to progress through difficult platforming challenges together. It falters a little bit in longevity and as a solo experience, but those elements are more secondary to the raucous fun in multiplayer.



Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - Whether played solo or with a friend Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons makes for a thoughtful and generally satisfying puzzle adventure. The world and its characters are generally endearing, the puzzles simply have a different and more organic feel than much of the competition, and though it may not be a long journey it also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Throw in a fair amount of heart all along the way and it’s well worth enjoying on Switch.

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!

Tuesday, November 19

Top 20 Indie Challenging Games on Nintendo Switch


If you’re up for intensity and likely some frustration these are the indie games on Switch most likely to make you want to throw something, just don’t make it your controller. As always the goal here isn’t necessarily to feature only the very best, there’s a goal to focus on variety and represent as many genres as possible so this isn’t to say there aren’t plenty more to choose from as well. Cheating a little I’ll throw a shout out to both Celeste and Hollow Knight here, both are excellent and challenging indie titles I just didn’t happen to get them for review… so they are honorable mentions though technically I’m not listing them.

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


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.


Cuphead - With a mix of brutal boss battles and challenging run and gun sections Cuphead is notorious for being a tough game. While the degree of difficulty is well-known for a reason, that isn’t to say that the majority of the game is impossible by any means. Much like certain classic games like Punch-Out in particular, the key to success is careful observation, learning the enemy patterns and then getting a comfort level for executing what needs to get done. The fact that it will additionally be remembered as one of the most visually fascinating games of the generation is just icing on the cake, no matter how incredible it looks it wouldn’t be well-regarded if the gameplay wasn’t there to match.


Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron - The classic arcade shooter 1943 and its many variants are among my favorites of all time and Aces does an incredible job of capturing what works in those games and then modernizing it. Hardly just a stock bullet hell shooter the variety of side missions you'll look to complete along the campaign will require you to use some strategy as well as technique. A per-pilot upgrade system that will give you a variety of new buffs and power-ups will help you shore up your weak points or simply make you more lethal, and down the stretch the bosses will test your skills sorely so you'll want and need any help you can get. Probably the best overall modern arcade shooter I've played on any platform.


Wulverblade - Full of technique, nuance, and some very challenging boss fights Wulverblade has established a new gold standard in what beat-em-ups should aspire to both in terms of story and general gameplay. A patch to pull back the challenge and make it more accessible to less skilled players was welcome and there's one particular surprise as you near the game's conclusion that you absolutely won't want to miss! The end is only the beginning!


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.


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.


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.


Don't Starve - 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.


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.


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.


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.


Has-Been Heroes - It seems appropriate to start the list with the 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!


Mechstermination Force - Mechstermination Force is a pretty tight and enjoyable retro sci-fi robot stomping party… though it will typically take a few attempts to keep the robots from stomping you instead. While you’re always fighting some sort of robot and the general rules for all of them is roughly the same I’ll give credit to the developer for continuing to change things up and keep it fresh through to the end. A couple of them were super-aggravating to deal with but aside from my mobility complaints in general I can’t fault the design. If you’ve been looking for pretty intense action that’s super-light on filler Mechstermination Force will be one to consider picking up.


Hotline Miami Collection - Shadow dropped as a surprise this year, Hotline Miami was one of those indie darling titles that had shocked me continuing to be a hold out more than 2 years after the system’s launch. To help soften the blow, and in what I think is a nod to practicality, both the original and its sequel have been released together in this collection. This helps with the fact that neither game is terribly long and, in general, the sequel isn’t quite as beloved as its predecessor. These titles are all about execution, thinking and reacting quickly, and often a fair amount of luck. Both are brutal in their violence, but there’s something quite satisfying when you manage to string together a series of kills and leave a bloody mess in your wake. If you’re hoping for more, the story here is on the thin (and weird) side, but there’s no denying that when it comes to intensity and carnage there’s nothing quite like it.


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.


Creature in the Well - With Creature in the Well there’s just so much to like and appreciate. The art style is distinct and interesting, the mix of slashing and pinball elements are unique and make for fascinating puzzles and action, and there’s no doubt that I’ve never played any game like it. Once you get a fair distance into the game and begin facing more situations that center around timers though there’s no denying that it’s probably tuned a little too far towards being challenging for the average gamer. The frustration in some of these circumstances actually would often make me feel like there’s some technique or trick to things that I missed at some point, and that I’ve made it harder than it is meant to be. However, even with a fair amount of experimenting I’ve not found a way to do better than what feels like a mix of the planets aligning and outright luck to just barely satisfy a specific module with enough power before its timer goes to zero. This leaves me a bit torn on a recommendation as I absolutely think this is a game worth playing, but whether it would be toned down a bit in general or have a more lenient difficulty setting added I do think it’s in need of some tuning to be more accessible.


Blasphemous - From first glance during a Direct there was no question that Blasphemous, visually, was something pretty special. With a dark and gothic tone all its own, this is certainly a stand-out in the Switch library. What may be divisive for the average gamer will be the degree of difficulty that comes along for the ride. Owing much to the likes of Castlevania in its overall style and feel, with you slashing your way through enemies, finding power-ups and secrets all about in a non-linear way, the old school sensibilities of those original games is also in full effect here. This is an unforgivingly tough game, one that will prompt controllers leaving peoples’ hands, whether being put down or even thrown. If that sounds like your jam I’d say the experience is pretty easy to recommend, though perhaps it doesn’t do a great deal to stand out from its inspirations in terms of innovative gameplay. If you’re not a seasoned gamer and aren’t looking for a title to kick you down and coldly tell you to “git gud” repeatedly you’ll likely be better off taking on something a bit less ambitious though.


Light Fall - When Light Fall is firing on all cylinders it feels absolutely incredible, and it’s easy to see where it will be terrific for people looking to get their speedrunning put to the test. The ramping up of challenge from stage to stage feels just about right and the boss battles force you to put all you’ve learned to good use. I think it’s Act 4 and the pretty abrupt change in style that will divide people, with some people undoubtedly liking the sudden stepping up of challenge and others throwing up their hands at the rug being pulled out from under them. The shame is there are some great challenges to be had off the beaten path but the game seems intent on punishing you for checking them out without offering a sufficient reward in return. Light Fall has quite a lot working for it, it just feels like it gets in the way of its own success before the story is completed.


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: November 19th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


REKT! High Octane Stunts - When you’re dealing with budget titles the bar for evaluation is a tricky thing to evaluate. For me the focus ultimately revolves around identifying whether the game’s goal had some ambition and then how well the overall vision seems to have been executed. In the case of REKT its goal is pretty plainly in its name, to deliver a somewhat crazy stunt driving experience. While there’s not much more to it than that I’ll give it credit for putting together elements that work pretty well. The controls aren’t over-complicated, there are multiple arenas to explore and have fun with, there are plenty of cars to unlock, and for the price if you’re seeking something to kick around for some short play sessions to stunt and have some fun it delivers. It won’t take the eShop by storm but its asking price is reasonable for what it delivers.


Draw Chilly - OK, so I dig weird games, I’ve even made a list of my favorites on the system. I’m a fan. That said, from its title to its “plot” to its execution I think in the case of Draw Chilly I’ve met my match. If you go in with the goal of simply being entertained with bizarre arcade-like action and no other expectations this strange trip of a game may work. It’s sort of a mix of beat-em-up and strategy at its core, as you’ll need to collect baby chicks to build your meter, get odd power-ups from crates, and battle weird bosses… all set to a backdrop of Purgatory while working at the bidding of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Confused? Playing the game in search of making sense of it won’t likely help, but the experience of it has its moments as you chuckle at just how bonkers it all can be.


Robert Kirkman’s Thief of Thieves: Season One - When it comes to visual flair this title has things on lockdown. Unfortunately, when it comes to compelling gameplay and a bug-free experience it’s hardly the master thief and more often feels like a bumbling trainwreck of a sidekick. Based on the comic series, as it opens you can feel the swagger of the game’s potential, walking through the highly stylized credits. Hitting the tutorial you’ll begin to wonder if the gameplay is really as limited as it seems. Then as you get into the meat of the game unfortunately the various bugs and shortcomings tend to come into view. Wonky AI, your ability to outright get stuck in the environment at times, and a general lack of gameplay polish mean that no matter how great this title looks it may struggle to keep your interest over its modest play time.


Ships - There’s something to be said for truth in advertising and if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to control large commercial shipping vessels this may be the simulator for you. Simulations are always a slow burn experience and have a tendency to favor mundane reality over excitement but in the case of Ships right out of the gate it almost actively seems to be making you wonder if you’re going to stick with it. Loading multiple cargo containers onto a ship may have a certain claw game element of fun to it for a moment but the fact that you can’t settle for stopping with 1 bodes poorly for the pacing of the experience. If you’re willing to give the game time and have an honest interest in the sea and different challenges you may face there from construction to rescue to even dealing with pirates you may be in luck, but overall unfortunately for almost all scenarios it plays out like the most dull version of those events mechanically, making it hard to show any enthusiasm over.


The Mims Beginning - In terms of vintage PC genres that have been out of fashion and not made a real appearance on the Switch yet the strategic “god game” genre is one I appreciate and am glad to see finally making an appearance. That said, while the fundamentals of the genre are represented by The Mims Beginning I wouldn’t say there’s much inspiring meat on its bones that helps to capture the best elements of what it has to offer. You’ll need to help your odd alien minions by dictating placement of buildings and crops, fend off threats both natural and creature-based, and tend to the well-being of your people. The game’s clunky looks and pretty bare bones implementation will make it hard to really give it your all though as there’s no key hook that connects you to those you care for or to give them enough personality to be interesting.

Friday, November 15

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


Monkey Barrels - While run and gun shooters tend to be a side-scrolling affair Monkey Barrels proves it’s a formula that works well from a top-down perspective with twin-stick controls as well. Whereas most games with this scheme on Switch have been arcade or roguelike in nature in this case you’re on a mission to save your friend, making a bit more of an adventure. You’ll move along shooting up enemies, dealing with bosses, and powering up your armaments to ensure you’re able to keep pace with your enemies. Just to add to the fun you can take on the game solo or with some friends as well.


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.


Mad Games Tycoon - Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start a game company and work your way from your garage to the top of the industry? Mad Games Tycoon will provide a simplified and sometimes silly view of that process, with you working to manage your personnel, workspace, and critical decisions like research to ensure your company not only keeps up with the competition but is able to blaze a path to dominance. While it plays well enough I’ll note that aside from its sense of humor and general approach in minor areas there are other options out there, including on mobile, that are roughly similar. Just something to consider if you’re looking for your game company management fix.


Vektor Wars - Looking at times like a neon-lit fever dream after playing too many hours of the classic arcade title Battlezone, Vektor Wars delivers intensity. You’re sort of dropped into things without much direction but in general there’s not much to know. Movement is pretty straight-forward, you’ll want to shoot just about anything that’s coming at you, and you’ll need to learn what small objects and icons strewn around represent, whether power-ups or humans to save. While there’s some fun to be had here it somehow has too much going on to enjoy as a pure arcade game but lacks enough depth to be much more. Either way, I can’t say that I was hooked by anything enough to keep me wanting to return to it for long.


Blindy - This is the kind of game, characterizing itself as challenging or souls-like in some way, that gets a bit under my skin. Very simply the core of the game is a platformer where your goal is to survive an assortment of lethal traps on your way to the goal. The trick though, one I’ll note has been done before (and IMHO better), is that you can’t see very far around your character so you’ll be doing a lot of random trying and failing to figure out where the gaps and traps are. While your blood will temporarily give you an idea of where things are the fact that it goes away really leads to the experience being even less fun in the end. If you like the idea, more power to you, but it leaning hard on a gimmick to cover for just so-so level designs you’ve likely seen many times before makes it tough to recommend.

Thursday, November 14

Top 20 Indie Family Games on Nintendo Switch


With loads of content out there on Switch it can be difficult to find great games that are also family friendly. Here's my list of the 20 best titles that are ideal for playing with kids or should at least be fine to have them watch you play.

New Super Lucky’s Tale - For me New Super Lucky’s Tale marks a bit of an exciting time on the Switch, and as a fan of classic platforming. While there are many games that have aimed for hitting the mark of the likes of the classic Mario franchises like Super Mario 64 nothing has really proven up to the task. While some may consider it blasphemous I’m here to say this title has absolutely hit the mark, and done so with its own sense of humor and style rather than being derivative. Smart and varied level design, a mix of 2D and 3D platforming which are both very successful, and some nods that absolutely put a smile on my make for more than a handful of hours of family-friendly enjoyment.


Heave Ho - While having played so many indie games on the Switch is interesting and exposes you to all sorts of takes on multiple genres one admitted downside is that it can also make you a bit jaded. When it comes to my family, who are often asked to partake in helping me evaluate multiplayer games, I’d say the rate of that happening is far more accelerated. Conceptually Heave Ho may be simple, working solo or with up to 3 friends to simply grab and swing your way from the start to the finish line without falling, hitting spikes, or meeting your splattery demise in some other way. However, there’s a certain charm to it that pretty well immediately made everyone laugh and have a good time. Even after repeatedly getting frustrated in certain spots, especially when trying to keep from dropping costume-unlocking coins that can up the challenge significantly at times, the fun cut through the difficulties for everyone. Solo does work, and is great for honing your skills, but the game is absolutely meant to be played with friends, the more the better. Overall, this may be the best and most accessible multiplayer co-op game on the system.


Miles & Kilo - While sharing quite a bit of DNA with the 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.


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.<


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.


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.


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.


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.


Forager - When footage of this game was originally shown as part of one of the Nindie Directs any fan of Stardew Valley would have been challenged not to be intrigued with what appeared to be a familiar look mixed with some silliness. To be clear, Forager has little in common with that beloved indie since it isn’t as deep or varied and lacks the entire social component. The thing is, if what you loved was collecting and cultivating resources and slowly building things up Forager can quickly make you forget about all of that. The initial hour or so while you get established are definitely a bit of a grind but once you begin leveling up, investing in new skills and technologies, and expanding your footprint of islands you own there are a ton of great surprises in store for you. New exciting buildings and equipment mean some vastly improved gear and then when you begin to encounter dungeons it’s surprising how this game just keeps going. One negative, though it will hopefully get a patch, is that in at least one of the dungeons (the Crystal Caves) performance took a substantial hit with everything slowing down (though it at least remained playable). Aside from that issue though it’s an addictive loop, unlocking new technologies, finding new surprises, and working on your plan as you expand your skill tree.


Yono and the Celestial Elephants - Nicknamed "cute elephant Zelda" by many fans on Twitter Yono doesn't exactly start out the game with a tunic that is oddly familiar but it is one of the many themed outfits he'll have an opportunity to buy and wear over the course of his adventure. For seasoned gamers the early going will probably be a bit on the easy side, and combat never gets too complex, but for younger or less experienced gamers I would highly recommend its gentle progression from easier to more complicated puzzles as you reach the game's conclusion.


de Blob - Playing through the game as, you guessed it, a blob who is able to take on colored paint, your task is to return vibrant color to your now mostly drab and monochromatic. Invaders have taken over, robbing the city of its personality and culture, and your job is to revitalize it all once more. This is best done by following the pretty simple mission structure which you can activate by going to well-marked checkpoints. Some involve coloring certain areas specific colors, others will feel like a checkpointed race of sorts, and some require you to use a specific color in quantity to restore major landmarks back to their former glory. You’ll need to be careful to be on the lookout for pools of ink or the few types of enemies that are lurking about but in general as long as you remain in tune with where a water source is (to cleanse yourself of the murky ink) you’ll be able to recover when you make a mistake once in a while. Light, fun, and generally quite accessible for all ages this is a terrific title for the whole family.


Poi - Somewhat of a love letter to Super Mario 64 and the era of 3D platforming it inspired Poi is a bit of a throwback. You'll open each level with an objective in mind and will need to work out the specifics in many cases of what you'll need to do as you go. The pleasant surprise is the general variety in tasks and challenges that will crop up in the form of secret levels and alternative tasks a little more off the beaten path. While it lacks the polish of AAA titles it has an earnest charm that I found endearing.


Portal Knights - Much more than the mere Minecraft-alike that people may presume I found the refined action focus and zones, each with its own monsters and supplies, to be preferable. Throw in some multiple bosses you'll need to face, three distinct classes with their own feel, and the ability to play with friends locally and online and it can be a lot of fun to enjoy with others. An accessible and engaging game suitable for the whole family.


Pikuniku - Pikuniku is generally over too quickly, both solo and in co-op, and it may be too simplistic or silly for some folks but for me it was a joy pretty well the entire time. Focused on discovery, some creativity, and filled with strange surprises and quirks, it absolutely feels at home on the Switch and would probably work for people of any age or skill level if they simply have some patience. I’d love to see a sequel with even more funky fun, and am hoping to see more easygoing titles like it on Switch in the coming year.


Putty Pals - I don't recall ever playing a game that was quite as family-friendly while also as cooperatively-focused and challenging as Putty Pals. You'll need to work together either controlling each pal independently yourself (this gets challenging as you get deeper into the game) or with the help of a friend. Making clever use of a relatively restricted set of moves you'll be jumping, swinging, and bouncing together through each level and if you're up for a challenge unlocked zones and speed run modes crank up the difficulty for more experienced pairs as well.


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.


Sleep Tight - The idea behind Sleep Tight is a relatively simple one that looks fantastic on paper. Combine childhood nostalgia for things like pillow forts and sleepovers with equal parts tower defense and twin-stick shooter, then mix with some strategy and Pixar-esque monsters. In execution the package is a pretty good one, providing for some great opportunities and outright encouragement to play in a variety of different ways. That said, a lack in the variety of environments and overall play experience between runs outside of your specific approach can make its longevity more of a question mark.


Anthill - If you’re a fan of strategy gaming that skews a little more to the casual side, cutting your teeth on things like tower defense titles, Anthill may be a perfect experience for you. Given the responsibility of managing your small colony of ants you’ll need to create paths for your various unit types to follow to maximize efficiency collecting resources, defending your hive, and ensuring that old supply lines are pruned to avoid waste. You’ll need to decide how many of each unit to work with to tackle the challenges you face, a draught of workers will slow your growth but what use are they if they’re being lost to enemies of various kinds? Played exclusively in handheld mode the controls are intuitive and the action is pretty bite-sized and fun if you’ve been looking for a new variation on somewhat casual strategy gaming.


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 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!