Friday, January 29

Top 20 / Best Indie Budget Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 1/29/21] This collection represents a diverse set of titles that all have a normal price of $10 or less and are worth your time. It's actually surprising how many solid titles I’ve featured that fit this criteria so with this list I’ve tried to focus on making sure as many genres and feels as possible are represented, and it’s going to be a tough one to curate as time goes on.

FRAMED Collection [Surprise Attack] - 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.


Travel Mosaics: A Paris Tour [JetDogs] - 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.


One Finger Death Punch 2 [Silver Dollar Games] - Ever since the early days of the genre I’ve been a big fan of a good beat-em-up. While most people immediately think of the likes of Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or any number of other classics from the late 80s into the early 90s, I look back farther with a fondness to the likes of Kung-Fu Master. Rolling with that inspiration in mind, I first got the chance to play One Finger Death Punch 2 at PAX last year and to look at it, yes, at its core it is just a two-button stick figure fighting game. However, give it a few minutes and get into the rhythm and you’ll find that it’s so much more. Yes, you have only two buttons to concern yourself with, your left and right attacks, but what’s amazing is how much the developers have managed to eke out of that system. A wide variety of enemy types (including those who’ll take multiple hits in different directions) will challenge you to be precise, essentially planning out each attack so you don’t miss and leave yourself open to taking a hit. Some will throw or shoot weapons at you that you’ll be able to avoid, block, or even grab, and keeping track of which it will be will then influence your planning for attacks since a projectile can knock out multi-hit enemies with one shot. All of this makes the game one that demands your full attention, to some degree constantly doing the math to keep track of your hits to either side. The reward for your diligence is then one of the most silly, insane, and consistently visually surprising brawls you could imagine, with crazy weapons and over-the-top special attacks of all kinds that generally left a smile on my face. If there’s a criticism it’s with the somewhat clunky overworld map that’s a pain to navigate at times, but outside of that if you love a good brawl with a surprising level of variety this is absolutely a game you should be checking out!


Quiplash [Jackbox Games] - I’m so pleased that Jackbox Games has decided to release my absolute favorite game of theirs as a stand-alone title now on Switch. I’ve been a huge fan of this series (it has already gotten one sequel, and a third will be a part of their next Party Pack as well) since the get-go, mainly because it’s a game ripe with opportunity for hilarity. Players will be paired with one another randomly and given 2 prompts in each round, with the goal being to come up with the best answer that will make people laugh and vote for you. The more votes you get, the higher you’ll score, with a bonus if you’re able to snag all votes for yourself in a given round. On the adult end of the scale I’ve played this with groups back to back with Cards Against Humanity and even as notorious as that game is for laughs (only in card form, there’s currently no digital version on Switch) everyone agreed that Quiplash did a more consistent job of delivering the goods, and that’s likely because there are no limits on what your answer can be, aside from the level of taste the people you’re playing with may have. Current hot topics, known group history, even details from the current party or game may all come into play, it’s all a matter of how quickly you can pull together a clever answer that’s better than your opponent’s. With a very fair price, I’d consider the absolute best value of a party game on the eShop by far.


Dodo Peak [Moving Pieces Interactive] - 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.


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

Spellbreak [Proletariat] - Have you been feeling like Fortnite has become a bit played out? I have… though I think I felt that way pretty early since I always considered the quick-build types complete BS but I digress. Spellbreak is hoping that whatever your grievances may be with that mega-successful free-to-play juggernaut that you’ll give it a look, and considering the price of admission being nothing I think they’ve put together a total package that justifies taking the time. There are absolutely elements in the match structure and gameplay that are the same, dropped onto a large island, there’s a storm that will continue to encroach in order to force players to fight each other within a reasonable time frame, and options to run solo or with others. Where the game veers off into its own territory is where I really appreciate the differences though. In place of weapons everyone is desperate to grab to have any shot of survival Spellbreak instead goes with a magical base, with you choosing which element you want as your core and then allowing you to pick up a secondary gauntlet for another elemental power to compliment. Where the creativity comes in is how you can make combined use of these powers in some situations, opening the door to some more interesting tactical choices when you’re attacking or even evading enemies. Fortnite veterans who aren’t put off by the differences should quickly feel right at home, but even people new to these sorts of games should find the learning curve reasonably accessible. Since it’s cross-platform in theory there shouldn’t be an issue in finding opponents, so get out there and get some spellcasting on! 
 

Picross S5 [Jupiter Corporation] - 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. 


Semblance [Nyamakop] - 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.


Iron Crypticle [Tikipod] - Who said you couldn’t have a great time with a budget retro arcade shooter? Iron Crypticle has a smart but classic arcade style of play that will challenge you solo, or you can join up with 3 friends as well. Working your way through a map in the main mode you’ll be able to work your way into special rooms that offer greater risks as well as rewards. The action is all about keeping your multiplier up, which means you’ll be rushing to pick up items that are dropped by enemies to maximize your score. Throw in online leaderboards and it offers up some great shooting action for its very reasonable price.


Ghost Grab 3000 [Matt Glanville] - While I have a great appreciation for epic games that feature massive worlds and complex storylines for me to discover over many hours since I grew up in the arcades I also appreciate a tight experience that challenges me and is fun in bursts. With its relatively-simple ghost chaining mechanics and simple-but-smart controls Ghost Grab 3000 does a great job of scratching that retro itch and making me say “Just one more round”. Your goal is to catch ghosts bouncing around the screen in your beam and then zap them. Sure, you could do this one at a time but first it wouldn’t be very fun and second you’d get a sad and paltry score for that effort. The way to rack up points is to chain as many together as possible before you collect but that ends up making for a very crowded and chaotic screen full of roving enemies and their many bullets. Thankfully you have a trusty dash that makes you temporarily invulnerable and a limited number of EMP blasts at your disposal which can be used to get yourself out of jams and rack up as high a score as possible. It’s all just about the leaderboards and scoring as high as you can in the end but if you’re looking for a quick and challenging fix it’s an excellent choice at a very low price.


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


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


Piczle Lines DX 500 More Puzzles [Score Studios] - 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.


Grand Brix Shooter [Intragames] - While I’m a big fan of arcade-style shooters of all types I’ll admit that generating excitement for them is getting tougher on Switch as there have gotten to be so many of them. Thankfully their styles tend to be a bit varied, and many have something smart and distinct to offer to help them stand apart. That’s very much the case for Grand Brix Shooter, a title that I initially just thought was good but then as I played it more began to truly appreciate. I love the very different classes of ships that you’ll unlock and that are made available unpredictably in missions, I’m consistently challenged by some of the tricky bosses, and I think the need to regularly switch to a new ship (losing your built up experience and added power) in order to get back to full health and improve your chances of surviving is brilliant. The weirdo story you get that generally feels completely disconnected? A mystery, but there’s no denying the shooting is great!


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


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


Downwell [Moppin] - If you’re looking for something that’s quick to pick up and put down (you know, a great mobile experience) Downwell is a great and challenging option. You’ll continue to push further and further in as you get more used to the nature of the challenges at each level but don’t be surprised if you still manage to bite it in the first zone, there are spots where things simply will snowball on you and you’ll end up dead in a hurry. Getting comfortable on which perks and weapons work best for you is key, and you’ll need to find the balance between taking it slow and knowing when to just try to fall to avoid a nasty situation. As an old-school arcade fan its classic sensibilities make me very happy.


The Bug Butcher [2Awesome Studio] - This is another title I hadn't heard too much about and almost missed that I'm very glad I go to check out this year. Essentially playing out like a faster and more intense version of the classic Pang (Buster Bros), The Bug Butcher is a load of arcade shooting fun and while it can get pretty tough I couldn't stop playing it until I beat the game. Great stuff and well worth checking out if you love classic arcade shooters.


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


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!