Thursday, November 14

Top 20 Indie Family Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 4/19/20] 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.


Two Point Hospital - Sharing a thought, in many ways I still have a real beef with EA and the fact that they absorbed and pretty well ruined at least two classic studios that were dear to me. One was Origin, and the other was Bullfrog. One of my favorite titles Bullfrog made, that I’ve found myself returning to repeatedly over the years, was their sim classic Theme Hospital. If you’re familiar with the game all I should have to say is that Two Point Hospital is pretty well an enhanced remake of that classic to make the sale, it even has the same PA announcer voice (creepy fact but it provides glorious flashbacks). For people unfamiliar with that title it’s essentially a very goofy hospital simulator where you can explore your OCD tendencies, setting up rooms and providing proper benches, bins, and snack machines to keep people happy. Oh, and you’ll also want adequate treatment rooms, doctors, and nurses as well. The further into the game you get, the more it slowly diverges from its inspirations though many of the basic details remain the same. If you’re a sim fan the Switch has had a tough run to date, with too many games that have failed to be interesting, were hampered by terrible interfaces, or some combination of both. Thankfully, Two Point Hospital addresses all of those normal issues with smart and silly play, a highly usable (and generally unencumbered) interface, and plenty of details you’ll want to focus on to have the best hospitals in the business.


Wunderling - Who ever said that puzzle games had to be for casual gamers? Oh sure, Wunderling could likely be enjoyed by just about anyone with its relatively simple one-button mechanic where you’re only able to control your character jumping… but to simply complete each level would be setting aside my favorite aspect of the game. The secrets, oh the secrets that this game has. Whether we’re talking about chests which will give you all sorts of silly gear to customize your character’s look, cassettes that will let you play music from the game’s soundtrack, or even an occasional hidden warp pipe that will take you to truly diabolical levels it’s the “hidden” challenges that accompany the standard game that have me hooked. Oh, and did I mention that the game’s premise and winks in the direction of Nintendo’s premiere franchise made me giggle and reconsider (only for a moment, mind you) my cruelty to the lowly Goombas out there? I love a game that works for everyone but then has an aspect daring the hard core folks out there to step up to the plate!


Skellboy - When it comes to action adventure titles it is no doubt a challenge to do something that somehow feels fresh and new. With an ability to switch out your body parts to take on new abilities, sometimes paired with some humorous circumstances, Skellboy at a minimum manages to have elements that are all its own. Granted, the exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat tend more towards the traditional, but since these areas are all handled well that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the pre-release version of the game has some stutters and pauses on area transitions a forthcoming patch has that issue in its sights so hopefully they’ll soon be a non-issue, though thankfully even when I ran into the issue it never managed to interfere with the action. Overall, while Skellboy may skew more towards a family-friendly degree of challenge than some may be looking for it’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. I wish the body part changing dynamics had been explored a bit more thoroughly, making for some tougher or more creative choices of combinations to shake things up a bit further, but regardless this is an easy title to recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure just about anyone can enjoy.


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.


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!