Thursday, February 17

Top 90 / Best Indie Story-Driven Games on Nintendo Switch

Last Updated: 2/17/22!

Spiritfarer [Thunder Lotus Games] - While many gamers enjoy blowing away enemies, racing through hairpin turns, or guiding their team to victory there’s a growing contingent of gamers who either prefer or enjoy more soothing experiences. While there are a few notable titles in this space already on Switch none are quite like Spiritfarer, which combines exploration at sea with a variety of building and cultivation elements, a wide assortment of charming characters, and a generally gentle hand providing direction but placing no urgent demands on how you wish to play. You’ve been tasked with taking the responsibility of ferrying the dead to the afterlife from Charon himself, and most of your adventure will involve you putting together a ship worthy of the important task of making the final journey of the souls you help as pleasant as possible. Doing that will require quite an investment in crafting, cultivation, trading, and building relationships with the people you meet. It’s interesting how many of your activities are turned into sort of mini games, helping to at least give some of your repetitive tasks a little flavor and keeping you engaged throughout. While over the course of the pretty long journey there’s a tendency to fall into quite a bit of repetition if you’ve been looking for a meaningful journey without the pressures of your typical title this is likely an ideal fit.

GRIS [Nomada Studio] - 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.

The Gardens Between [The Voxel Agents] - 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.

Doki Doki Literature Club Plus [Team Salvato] - First developing quite a notorious reputation as a free title, DDLC has finally made its disturbing way to Switch… and with a few extra bits of content to boot, though they’re just niceties and don’t really move the needle much. To be clear, the warnings shown before you play aren’t to be taken lightly, and this game should be avoided by people who aren’t quite mature or those with depression or mental health problems as this is a title that will very likely trigger you in a serious way. All of that said, while in terms of pacing it isn’t a perfect game it’s also quite unsettling and will leave you with quite a bit to reflect on. That would include personal relationships, the mental health issues that can be around you beneath the surface, and certainly traditional romance games that DDLC starts out in the vein of but then takes an extremely hard and disturbing turn… or two, or three from. As someone who is steadily critical of semi-interactive visual novels you’d have to take this statement with a grain of salt, but by a fair margin this is the most compelling game associated with this genre I’ve ever seen, and its themes, imagery, and characters have a tendency to stick with you, pretty well no matter what specific paths you may choose. You’ll need to be sure to be patient, as signs of trouble don’t appear until maybe an hour in and it’ll take being over 90 minutes in before the rails fall off… but there’ll be no mistaking the point of no return and when it all goes to hell. It is absolutely not an experience appropriate for everyone but, for anyone who shouldn’t be avoiding it for various reasons stated above, I absolutely recommend it if you want a shock to your system and likely something to think about.

Katana Zero [Askiisoft] - 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.

Signs of the Sojourner [Echodog Games] - There’s just something about this game that feels so brilliant and yet there’s also something unassuming about its nature that makes me worry people will skip over it without a thought… and that would be a shame. Mixing diverse and pretty interesting characters, a story that slowly plays itself out and likely would take multiple playthroughs to completely appreciate, and a brilliant take on deck building strategy used as a representation of human interaction it’s absolutely unique. Starting out from your hometown, choosing to either follow a trade caravan or venture out on your own in search of goods for a store you’ve inherited, you’ll encounter all manner of people in different areas who, at first, you may struggle to be on the same page with. Your conversation is either successful or a failure based on the strength of your limited deck, but even if you struggle early on with each conversation you’re able to inherit one card played by your partner but you’ll have to sacrifice one of your own in the process. As you progress it really all gets to be about the added attributes some cards can carry that are critical, sometimes allowing you to survive a tough conversation with someone you aren’t necessarily vibing with… but there’s just something about the entire construction of the game, its mechanics, and its story that are fascinating and kept me wanting to visit “just one more town” and make it easy to recommend.

Horace [Paul Helman] - Horace is an odd title in that much like the title character robot of the same name it is quite unassuming and humble but there’s so much more to it. In terms of the gameplay it’s mostly a smart puzzle platformer that puts up some challenge but is never too over-the-top taxing either. What makes it special though is the story of Horace and his “family”, which evolves from him being a curious sort of family “pet” to a meaningful and important member of it. There are so many magical moments of joy and sadness that feel unusual paired with the gameplay and yet given the quality of both there’s no room for complaint. Top that all off with mini games and a wide variety of surprises and though there’s not much outwardly sexy about the game’s name or main character to pull you in, rest assured it’s a real gem of an experience if you give it a shot.

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

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

Transistor [Supergiant Games] - 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.

Black Book [Morteshka] - Whenever you see new titles show up in a genre that seems to be currently having its moment you end up taking a moment to see what it has done to differentiate itself from the pack. In the case of Black Book it doesn’t take too much effort to see how it is determined not to be considered an also-ran in the deckbuilding pack as it taps pretty heavily into Slavic lore while telling its story of your character as a young witch, finding her way as she learns to tap into the dark powers at her command in order to be reunited with her lost husband-to-be. There’s a bit of a learning curve simply getting into some of the language of it, and understanding how best to use the cards you accumulate in battle, but for me the combat was what you’d somewhat come to expect but I found the story and characters themselves to be pretty fascinating. It may be a little over-encumbered with things to concern yourself with, managing various demons and who they terrorize rather than turning their ire towards you may have been a game system that wasn’t needed, but I’ll credit it with adding flavor to the whole endeavor. If you’re seeking something different with much darker twinges in its storytelling than you’d normally find, this will deliver.

Cozy Grove [Spry Fox] - While bludgeoning or blowing away bad guys can always be good fun, everyone should have some time in their lives to slow things down. With a laid back tone, cute and friendly characters, and a small variety of activities to complete Cozy Grove seems great for settling in with on a daily basis to help bring the positive feels. While not as full-featured as Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing the price tag here is also far more budget-friendly and the characters you’ll meet and stories they’ll share are also much more fulfilling for the most part. If you’ve been looking for an experience that will help wash your cares away as you tend to the needs of some souls in need of help, and who will be grateful for it, Cozy Grove is a warm fuzzy of an experience that will gladly help you in that goal.

Lamentum [Obscure Tales] - I’m sad to say that more often than not, on the Switch, games pushing “horror” in some way have struggled and failed in the department of delivering compelling play. Creepy? Yeah, to a degree in some cases. Able to deliver a few jump scares? Sure, though many times you can see them coming, which can make them less effective. The thing is, far too many lean too hard on those elements justifying you playing the game rather than having them accentuate what’s already an interesting or compelling experience to begin with. Lamentum, with its simple start of you getting involved with a mysterious man in the hopes of saving your wife from a terrible disease, does a good job of setting the initial hook and then slowly but surely revealing itself bit by bit as things continue to devolve and go wrong. With its pixel art presentation the tendency is more towards establishing an ambiance and a creeping sense of dread than visceral scares, but the somewhat adventure-esque nature of play serves as a great glue to keep you exploring and periodically getting a little jump here and there. While perhaps not enough to make you afraid to play it in the dark, the grim and gothic tone of Lamentum at least helps it stand out early as we approach the Halloween season.

Layers of Fear 2 [Bloober Team] - “Walking simulators” that play out as horror titles on the Switch, more often than not, have tended to be a bit of a bust for me. Whether reliant on cheap jump scares that quickly grow tired, an overabundance of objects you can examine pointlessly dragging things down, or simply by outright being dull they just have been lacking the right combination of elements to make them stand out. By contrast, Layers of Fear 2 more often than not gets the formula right, slowly teasing out details to clue you in to what is going on, relying more on a sense of building dread than cheap thrills, and integrating in puzzles in a variety of ways that are often novel. If you’re looking for action, blood, gore, or quick frights it won’t likely do it for you but if you’re willing to let its slow burn style get going you’ll find it’s a satisfyingly creepy and unnerving journey.

Life is Strange: True Colors [Deck Nine Games] - While there are many excellent story-driven titles in the Switch eShop, the tendency is more usually on grand tales or bold accomplishments than fleshed out characters that feel authentic. True Colors still has a compelling story to tell but what struck me most about it was a weird feeling of authenticity to the key characters. Just something in the way they interact feels far less stiff and simplistic than the norm, and often the choices I’d have for responses to situations would feel sensible within the context of the current circumstances and characters. Certainly the discovery and exploration around your character’s powers and then the process of trying to resolve the game’s central mystery in this humble Colorado town are compelling, but without the depth of the characters being there I don’t think the whole package would work as well. I’ve seen plenty of people bemoaning how the game’s gorgeous visuals have had to be compromised on the Switch, and I suppose since this is a full-priced game if you have the option of playing it on another platform (and you don’t mind the lack of the convenience of portability) that would be a reasonable choice. That said, it’s still visually striking and the character models generally look great, so take those complaints with a grain of salt.

Lost Words: Beyond the Page [Sketchbook Games] - I’ll admit that this is a title that got off to a bit of a rocky start for me, with me essentially wondering what to do at first. The distraction of the pointer that you do end up using for some tasks kept me from realizing I was also sometimes supposed to move my character independently as well. Once that was understood though what followed was unique and extremely worthwhile. Not quite a game in any normal sense, Lost Words is more of a creative interactive bit of storytelling with plenty of varied and beautiful forms. From page to page what you’ll need to do may vary, sometimes consisting of some simple platforming and other times feeling like a bit of a mild puzzle. The attraction though is a heartfelt and sometimes sad story that really manages to grab you, a bit moreso as you’re heavily involved in helping it unfold visually. It won’t be for anyone looking for a challenge or even puzzle fans, this is really for people looking for something unique and beautiful to touch their hearts, and the level of quality with which it is executed I can get behind.

Overboard! [inkle] - While I typically look to games to provide some action and excitement there are sometimes games that come from less hardcore roots that can still be very entertaining. I consider Overboard to be on that list, dropping you off into a story right after the point your character has decided to throw her husband to his death off the side of a cruise ship with your goal being to somehow get away with it. Working as a mystery somewhat in reverse you’ll definitely need to do some research by talking to a variety of characters to suss out opportunities to blur some lines and throw up some smoke but it’s tricky, and it’s going to take you a number of runs to try to work out a viable path for success. What really makes it work is whip smart writing, in particular for your witty main character who has some great observations and choices that certainly just get her into even more trouble with the hopes of somehow using those actions to your advantage in the end. This may be one of my favorite interactive narratives I’ve played on the system.

Sumire [GameTomo] - Though I love running and gunning and high-intensity games there’s no denying that games with a compelling and heart-felt story are capable of leaving a serious mark as well. Sumire, with you playing as a young girl who has recently lost her grandmother and is hoping to connect with her spirit, is one such compelling title. In her journey of only one day she’ll interact with a variety of characters and be given choices, most of which will carry a serious consequence in how things play out by day’s end so you’ll need to be mindful in how you choose. With terrific and colorful art, a great mix of the grounded real and the fantastic, and a meaningful story to tell, Sumire is a memorable experience story lovers should be sure to enjoy on Switch.

Wytchwood [Alientrap] - When I think of games that heavily involve crafting my mind usually goes to survival titles, a genre I’ve struggled with though there have been some exceptions to the rule. I can appreciate where the appeal is, but there’s typically some onerous element, typically either in inventory management, too many dull or menial recipes, or there simply being too many means to meet your demise. Wytchwood, to me, is a bit of an anomaly, blending together satisfying crafting, plenty of exploration and discovery, a satisfyingly coherent set of management screens, and what turns out to be a pretty compelling story as well. I suppose best categorized as an adventure, you’ll find there are plenty of unusual people to meet, problems to solve, and mysteries involving yourself to unravel. What I really appreciate is that it does all of this in a way that feels highly accessible, focused, and light. Without any real peers that I can think of on the system this is an excellent mix of flavors that I hope a broad audience is able to enjoy.

198X [Hi-Bit Studios] - As a child of the 70s and 80s who spent an enormous amount of time in the arcades there’s no doubt 198X was made for me. I’m just getting my bias out of the way so you can take into account how it may color my generally positive perception of the game. In essence the game is a blend of the beginnings of the story (it is meant to be the first chapter in a bigger narrative) of Kid, a teenager approaching life’s crossroads and feeling the limits of the town they’re living in. With the discovery of a local arcade, and through the exploration of 5 different retro-styled games, that perspective begins to shift, providing confidence and vision of new possibilities. While perhaps it’s a bit frustrating how briefly you’ll be able to enjoy the title’s loving recreation of multiple classics and genres there are moments I had playing through them that helped me reconnect with the wonder of the experience of the arcade, not just as a collection of games to play but as a physical place that was somehow special. I’m absolutely looking forward to what is yet to come in future chapters and I would imagine anyone with a long-standing connection and affection for games will enjoy this celebration of arcade culture.

Afterparty [Night School Studio] - The indie scene, in general, has seemed to fully embrace the concept of a “story-driven adventure”, less focused on action and more interested in interaction. Whether this takes the form of a visual novel or something that’s at least a little more game-like in presentation varies but for people on the outside looking in the genre may have a lack of appeal. Moreso than many of its contemporaries Afterparty attempts to use an unusual plot involving two friends who’ve crossed into Hell, copious amounts of hilarious dialogue choices, and what ends up being a surprising number of potential paths to go down narratively to suck you in and even encourage further playthroughs. While those looking for a bit more action in their gaming may find the sparse mini games and focus on conversation a deterrent if you’re down for being entertained by being able to indulge your worst impulses to see where things go Afterparty can be a ton of surprising fun.

Along the Edge [Nova-box] - On a general level interactive fiction titles haven’t been my cup of tea. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate that such an experience could be game-like, having grown up reading Choose Your Own Adventure titles I appreciate a smart branching narrative, I’ve just not found that the level of quality in the writing and total package has been enough to get me fully engaged. With its story involving the mysterious legacy of your family that you’ve never really known, inheriting a small estate in a small town in the country, Along the Edge very much breaks that mold for me and did a phenomenal job of sucking me in. With high quality writing, characters that read as being complex and nuanced in their motivations and interactions, and terrific artwork that changes almost constantly it’s very visibly a project built with love and care. Sure, perhaps the generalized storyline isn’t so unique, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective and with many decisions that feel like they carry consequences there’s plenty of motivation to go back and try things out differently once you’re done. While it won’t deliver a shot of excitement you’d find with an action-oriented game if you’re a fan of smart fiction this should be well worth spending some time with.

Chicken Police: Paint It Red [HandyGames] - While it has been a pretty long time since the genre was even remotely in style I’ve always been a fan of the hard-boiled noir detective story. The visual style, the mandatory tone of the narrator, dated terms like “dames”, and a certain verbosity to the lush description of every element of the story. Well, Chicken Police delivers precisely that world… but with all of the characters being anthropomorphized animals from all over the spectrum. Yeah, there’s something a bit silly about that, and there’s plenty of punnery in the game that is happy to help play with that fact, but the thing is the core noir experience is still there, feels authentic, and is quite entertaining for its novelty. The challenge here is often trying to figure out what to focus on in order to reveal your next lead and advance the story, you’ll need to be careful in your dialogue and pore over your notes looking for clues to help drive your line of questions in the right direction. While this won’t likely appeal to anyone looking for some action, this is still a classic adventure title at its heart, the abundance of style and personality of Chicken Police helps to distinguish it as not just another “poultry” (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) offering in the eShop.

Knights and Bikes [Foam Sword Games] - Memories from my childhood, while often involving playing games on a variety of systems or in arcades, involve a pretty heavy dose of riding my bike and trying to find ways to make exploring fun. Knights and Bikes absolutely taps into that idea, pairing the somewhat unlikely friends Demelza and Nessa on the somewhat secluded island of Penfurzy. Aside from being a bit of an odd bird you’ll find that Demelza is struggling with being raised by only her father after the death of her mother. To help cope with that the answer is a grand adventure in the spirit of the likes of The Goonies, searching for a fabled treasure while trying to thwart an ancient threat possessing the people of the island. What the game does well is blend together some novel and fun combat with a hefty dose of exploration, as well as move effectively between lighthearted silliness and more reflective emotional moments. The result is an experience that sticks with you, which with so many titles out there vying for your attention can be tough to accomplish. While it’s playable as a solo experience it really does shine in co-op, though I’ll admit a few of the puzzles can require tricky leaps of faith that can be a challenge either way. That minor gripe aside this is a game with a load of laughs, childlike wonder, and heartfelt moments that’s absolutely worth your time.

Roki [Polygon Treehouse] - When you’re young your imagination can truly be a powerful (and sometimes scary) thing. Being fed by your parents, the media, or your friends it can be unusual what you can not only believe but also conceive around you. In the case of Röki it just so happens that the legendary stories and creatures young Tove’s mother had told her happen to be real. After an initial encounter with a huge troll she’s forced to abandon her father in order to make an escape with her younger brother. What follows is an adventure that explores the gorgeous and distinctly-drawn Nodic landscape as well as quite a number of its mythical creatures, both good and not so much. In general the puzzles here feel sensible, requiring some experimentation at times, but never really moving into the trap of being obtuse like many adventure titles struggle with. What really drives the game though is the emotional experience, seeing it all through Tove’s eyes as she struggles with the challenges around her. It’s well worth taking the time to enjoy for anyone looking for a genuine and unique story.

The Complex [Wales Interactive] - Having played “interactive movie” style games since way back when CD-ROMs first allowed them to exist with the likes of classics like The 7th Guest and Phantasmagoria (among others) it has been interesting to see the genre progress. While it feels like it nearly died a few years ago, with modern systems and hardware it has become quite astonishing how seamlessly they’re now able to string everything together. Having effectively removed any pauses or distortions as your choices alter the flow of the story it feels like the promise of the genre has finally been realized. That’s even more the case with a title like The Complex, effectively putting you into the middle of a sci-fi thriller, forced to make tough decisions with some significant consequences that will likely prompt you to play through again to improve the ultimate outcome you reach. Keeping in mind this is essentially a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience the level of interactivity is limited but the quality of the production, acting, and writing in general make this about as compelling an example of the genre as you could hope for.

Through the Darkest of Times [Paintbucket Games] - While games are a great vehicle for departing from reality and enjoying an escape they’ve increasingly been used as a means to put players in sometimes uncomfortable situations in order to convey ideas and foster greater understanding. Through the Darkest of Times does just that, putting you in the position of leading a group of rebels during the rise of Nazi Germany, challenging you to handle both the minutia of everyday tasks but then also often making the tougher calls involving who you choose to trust and what courses you may choose to pursue, and they often can have grave consequences. The difficulty is that as you play you’ll learn that simply trying to avoid risk won’t tend to be sustainable as you’ll lose the morale of your team and the safety net of your supporters, this means that caution always needs to be balanced by a degree of aggression, though choosing your battles and areas of focus is always worthwhile. In particular each member of your team has their own background, strengths, and weaknesses, and as you get into tougher situations you’ll need to be mindful of who you’re sending where in order to maximize your results. Of course all of the missions are interspersed with personal stories from your team members as well as encounters you’ll have yourself that will challenge your morality and whether you may need to endure one bad outcome in the name of preserving your overall mission. It’s a very unique experience and one that will leave you to ponder life in that place in that time… and hopefully provide perspective on how things have changed as well as how some remain disturbingly the same.

80 Days [inkle] - 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 [Starbreeze] - 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.

Cinders [Crunching Koalas] - 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.

Reigns: Game of Thrones [Nerial] - To the game’s credit there’s a ton of content to explore and digest and the fan service paid as a whole is commendable, the game likely could have found great success even without so much obvious effort at play. No doubt, if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones and aren’t steeped in its various characters and turbulent history the majority of the content would be wasted on you, this is absolutely a game for fans looking for a way to become a part of this fictional world. Given the budget-friendly price of admission this really is a must-have title for Thrones fans and a brilliant pairing of an already smart game series with a very appropriate license.

The World Next Door [Rose City Games] - 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.

Figment [Bedtime Digital Games] - 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.

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

Night in the Woods [Infinite Fall] - 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.

112 Operator [Jutsu Games] - Simulations can be a tricky business on consoles since they typically feature more complex controls better suited to the PC, but the ones that get it right are sometimes a real treat. While it won’t be a flavor everyone will love, 112 Operator fits this mold well, though part of its success has to do with the relatively simple controls you’ll quickly become accustomed to. With the means of control out of the way you’ll be able to enjoy a surprisingly intense game that, perhaps at a distance, seems simplistic or dull, but when you’re immersed in the moment can be heartwarming or tragic at times. Your work as an emergency switchboard operator will put you right in the thick of things, monitoring incident reports and dispatching the proper personnel to handle a variety of scenarios. Where the game truly shines is in the calls you take, which will put you right on the spot to make sometimes very difficult decisions on the fly… which can lead to happy successes or absolute tragedy. It’s the unexpected that can really make 112 Operator compelling, and I understand that as you play it more and more the novelty of certain calls may diminish, but I’ll absolutely admit that having someone on the other end of the line relying on me to help them through a very tough situation is unique and quite compelling indeed.

A Juggler’s Tale [Kaleidoscube] - With its marionette characters and associated string-based challenges, rhyming narration, and a healthy dose of charm A Juggler’s Tale is certainly unique. Playing out as a sort of puzzle adventure you’ll continue to be presented with scenarios where you’ll need to work out how to survive or escape from what’s usually some calamitous set of circumstances. As you could expect from moment to moment the results can thus vary, and at times if you’ve missed some visual cue you may find yourself feeling a bit stuck, though thankfully the answer is always somewhere nearby at least. There are times where the controls can feel a bit on the dodge side, sometimes resulting in failure even when you know what you want to do, but for the most part you do get accustomed to some of the quirks and learn to work with them. While the adventure only lasts a few hours it is at least memorable, in particular because of the narrator who makes everything you’ve done feel just a bit more grand.

Aspire: Ina’s Tale [Wondernaut Studio] - From an “elevator pitch” angle there’s something great about being able to cite popular and successful titles as a shorthand to describe other ones succinctly. In the case of Aspire, whether it was intentional or not, the easy choice is the gorgeous and smart adventure GRIS. Right off the bat the game’s great aesthetic style is on display, and the action has an old-school cinematic feel in line with classics like Prince of Persia. All of this works pretty well, and it makes an impression, but there are also some cracks in the facade that hold it back from the next level in spots. The first is that I think the game takes it a little too much for granted early on that people will experiment to understand both the nuances of the controls and how best to contend with your enemies. The second is that exacerbating that issue are hiccups with the at-times finicky controls when trying to interact with objects under duress. Granted, with a little repetition you’ll work things out and progress, but they are rough edges in an otherwise compelling adventure that could discourage gamers in the early going.

Astrologaster [Nyamyam] - Inspired by the spirit of Shakespeare’s Renaissance England, Astrologaster features a unique pop-up book art style, choral verse that tells the story of your character “Doctor” Forman and his patients, and use of the stars to try to help guide your patients through problems both medical and interpersonal. It’s a bit of an oddity, to say the least, but that’s also what I really enjoyed about it. Once you get used to the constraints of what you’ll be able to diagnose and how you’ll have the option to try to take things seriously, generally tapping into your common sense and intuition, or having some fun potentially at the expense of your clients. Regardless there are some laughs and surprises along the way to be had and as unusual as it all is I must admit that I was intrigued to play through a few more appointments in order to see a follow-up with one of my repeat customers to get a handle on what happened after I imparted my advice the last time. It’s not a game to be taken seriously but its unique presentation and style make it well worth a look if you’re in the mood for something thoroughly different.

Inked: A Tale of Love [Somnium Games] - The thing that will obviously grab you with this title is its unique (and quite lovely) art style. From there, though, it’s the thoughtful story and simple but pleasing puzzles that will (hopefully) keep you. With a runtime of only a few hours, the experience doesn’t last long, but I enjoyed the game’s consistent small surprises, quirky moments, and loving story beats that were all handled with a fair amount of care. In some cases there could be a small frustration with a puzzle where you know what needs to be done in principle but then working out precisely how to align things to get it to happen is another matter but for the most part the design is sound. Perhaps the tendency for these story-driven titles to end in more sad ways is a bit of a bummer, but the joy you feel along the way tends to carry the experience and help them still end up being quite satisfying. It’s a relatively short, but creative and well-crafted, treat of puzzle and story mixed together.

Mutazione [Die Gute Fabrik] - With an unusual art style and even more unusual characters you’ll encounter on a remote island Mutazione just feels different than most any game I’ve played. You’ll venture there in order to meet with your dying grandfather, but there are stories involving different inhabitants of the island all around you for you to discover. While I’ll admit that navigating through the island is a bit more sloppy than I would have liked, with not all paths being visually too clear and leading to some confusion, the richness of the writing will pretty easily make you forget about the bumps in the road. With plenty of heart, a creative spirit, and simply offering something different on the Switch, Mutazione stands out in the eShop for fans of interesting characters and their stories.

Necrobarista: Final Pour [Coconut Island Games] - I realize that more often than not I’m a sort of wet blanket in the area of visual novels, especially those that allow little to no room for player agency. I may just be stubborn but I do struggle with “games” that feel like you’re merely being pulled along for the ride rather than having a part to play with some participation. All that said, there’s something about the tone, characters, and general vibe of Necrobarista that at least sets it pretty far apart from the likes of its general competition… and I respect that. Don’t walk into it expecting to be able to change the course of events it sets into motion, but if you’re willing to sit back and enjoy the ride it at least has an interesting point of view to express in the area of life and death.

Night Book [Wales Interactive] - I’ve continued to be impressed with the strides the FMV game genre has made since its more humble CD-based beginnings. In the last generation, in particular, the ability to create what often appears to be seamless video through a mix of the underlying technology and smart editing has resulted in experiences that approach interactive movies. More often than not what has ended up defining the quality of the experience has then been the story itself, and how well-acted it all is, rather than whether it stumbles on the technical side. In the case of Night Book I was impressed by how it manages to pull you into the situation and build a sense for suspense, then progressively letting things unravel from the point your character utters some translated words in an Evil Dead-esque nod, and seeing where it all ends. You do have some decision points and they can have enough consequence to make going back to see how things can turn out differently worthwhile but as a whole the story and how well everything is acted make this a solid bit of semi-interactive horror if you don’t mind the general format it is presented through.

Regency Solitaire [Grey Alien Games] - You’ve got to respect a development team that takes on a well-known casual card game and decides to swing for the fences to make as feature-rich a version of it as possible. That’s very much the case for Regency Solitaire, which likely won’t be able to suddenly win over hardcore types with its Jane Austen trappings and story of a young woman getting pressured by her family to go for money rather than love, but absolutely sets itself apart from most anything else in the same space. While all of the special cards, rules, and how best to utilize things like your wild cards or perks to maximize your points may take some time and trial and error, the almost roguelike progression where you’ll be able to unlock improvements or rechargeable abilities (which you’ll need to strategically manage) absolutely adds flavor and some appreciated personalization to the mix. All then set against the literary backdrop, this is a casual game that screams maximum effort and is worthy of a look if you’re hoping to unwind a bit with something more relaxing but still well-made.

Suzerain [Torpor Games] - If you’ve ever pondered what it would be like to take control of the reigns of government, or perhaps that being in charge is all upside and basking in the adoration of your country, Suzerain is here to give you an education. After a pretty lengthy opening set of questions that help you establish your perspectives and the events that will help shape the leader you’ll be at the point your take control, you’ll be in charge and the challenges of being the one calling the shots is pretty immediately apparent. With limited resources and what could be fleeting support of your staff or people if you make unpopular decisions, the game does an effective job of keeping you feeling like you’re constantly being pulled in both directions. Will you favor the good of the people or the elite? Focus on short-term investments that can be measured as progress and provide more immediate dividends or in longer-term projects that could be more transformative? Armchair quarterbacking governmental leadership is much easier when you don’t need to concern yourself with both the intended and likely unintended consequences of your combined decisions but here you’ll get a taste of how difficult threading that needle effectively can be. Consistently well-written and quite replayable as you try to correct for mistakes you made in previous runs, Suzerain is an engaging and thought-provoking experience that illustrates the diverse challenges of being the person in charge.

A Fold Apart [Lightning Rod Games] - When looking at an eShop full of puzzlers and story-based experiences it can be difficult to separate the merely average from the exceptional. Smart puzzles are great, if they can have unique mechanics that’s always a plus, and in terms of story there’s the question of whether it is relatable and told with care. What’s great about A Fold Apart is that it not only checks all of those boxes but it does so in a way that seems pretty effortless. The base mechanics revolve around the environments your characters are in being able to be manipulated like paper, with the puzzle being how to fold, bend, flip, or mutilate the environment to allow you to either proceed or grab a star. This, in itself, is a great base as it feels original and well-implemented (though at times there can be a hitch in performance… but really, this is a puzzle game, is that a major concern?). What seals the deal, at least for me, is that on top of that is the story of a couple (in a nod to people of all persuasions you get to choose their respective genders, a nice touch) trying to manage the emotional strain of a long-distance relationship, making it all come together symbolically with a great emotional core. While it’s not a long experience I still found it to be an impactful one and it should be perfect for people looking for a touching story mixed with clever puzzling.

Embracelet [machineboy] - This, for me, is one of those titles where it’s hard to articulate why I’m so taken in by it. With its low-poly look, its somewhat sparse landscapes (though perhaps such an island would be roughly that way, granted), and its riff on traditional point-and-click adventuring on paper it could just seem nice, but perhaps not great either. However, throw in a story that I found unusual and engaging, and it works better than the sum of those parts may imply. Early on you inherit a relic from your grandfather with the power to control objects, and learn that there was an accident at his hands when he was younger using it, causing him a degree of pain and regret. Your journey ends up being to go back to the island he grew up on, learn more about him and his past, and perhaps to understand where the relic came from and what should be done with it. There are quite a number of deeply emotional adventures on the Switch already, many of which are excellent in their own right, but there’s a different tugging I found this journey to have on me with different themes and a different approach. Mix in the fact that many of the puzzles felt pretty natural and yet unusual in some cases and I enjoyed this unassuming adventure title thoroughly.

Journey of the Broken Circle [Lovable Hat Cult] - Who knew that an incomplete circle (who looks suspiciously like a certain gaming icon) and an oddball mix of plants and normally inanimate objects would have so much to offer in the way of philosophy? Circle, who feels incomplete, is in search of feeling whole and wants to explore the world. Along the way you’ll encounter others who may have different goals but who may be willing to join you, at least for a time, which will conveniently give you that varied abilities you’ll need to progress through what are generally pretty lenient platforming challenges. Though there are times where it gets a little more difficult I’d consider the challenge mild enough on the whole to be accessible to anyone and if you’re able to find enough hidden mushrooms along the way you’ll open further hidden levels to enjoy as well. On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed the game’s sense of humor, heart, and just enough philosophy to allow for some reflection without it feeling lecturing. It’s an unusual title, and probably too mild for the hard core crowd, but the game has a spirit that makes it notable and I appreciate its presence in the eShop.

Liberated [Atomic Wolf] - This is a title that easily caught my eye the first time I saw footage of it, the black-and-white comic book style and cinematic qualities of its action are absolutely eye-catching. Getting time to check out only some of the gameplay at PAX East I was a bit concerned that in terms of play it could be a mixed bag. The result is somewhat consistent with that worry, the puzzling and shooting over the four issues and approximately as many hours of play are decent but wouldn’t justify a purchase on their own. Put plainly at times there are just some really funky and awkward animations as well as what feels like initial ideas like quicktime-esque early on that get abandoned as the game progresses, making the action get quite repetitive unfortunately. In theory you have the option to try to go with being stealthy but honestly it’s simply not very effective, once you’re able to aim your gun consistently at head level you’ll find that works far too well to abandon. What redeems those shortcomings and brings the experience together though is the story, which features a dystopian society in the midst of an upheaval, with you spending time in each Issue seeing things through a different set of eyes. If you’re seeking great action you’ll likely be disappointed, but if you’re willing to let a great story with some twists pull you through a reasonably good experience you should find it quite satisfying.

Monster Prom XXL [Beautiful Glitch] - In the event your days as a teenager in high school weren’t traumatic enough, and you’re looking to recapture some of the unpredictability and excitement of that time (albeit in a monster-fied form) you may find Monster Prom to your liking. Taking control of one of the pretty archetypical leads your goal is to use what time you have wisely to boost your stats, try to make the most of every social situation, and woo one of your classmates to join you for the big event. The road to doing so will likely be far more daunting than you’d expect as, much like in life, figuring out the “best move” in a wide variety of circumstances can be quite tricky, especially since what may work to advance your agenda will often be relative. For your best odds of a positive outcome you’ll likely want to be laser-focused on the monster you’re most interested in hooking up with, not passing up any opportunity to put the pieces in place for success, especially since some missteps are quite likely along the way. I will warn that while I found the game to be quite entertainingly funny it has a willingness to “go there” with some of its humor in ways I didn’t expect at all. I’d consider that to be a pleasant surprise, but if you’re more easily offended you may want to keep looking.

My Memory Of Us [Juggler Games] - 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.

The Talos Principle [Croteam] - Among the indie titles that I’ve played and loved on the PC there aren’t too many that still haven’t made their way to Switch. With the release of The Talos Principle the list continues to get smaller. This is a first-person puzzler that features a variety of smart brain teasers that will challenge you to take some relatively simple mechanics and run with them in order to progress. Throw in a fair amount of philosophy, reflections on humanity, and well-hidden secrets and it’s a very approachable game just about anyone should be able to enjoy. Just be prepared for some bouts of frustration along the way as the expectation is you’ll ponder and work through new situations by working things out, there doesn’t tend to be much hand holding to get you up to speed.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter [The Astronauts] - 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 [Giant Squid] - 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.

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf [Forge Reply] - 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.

Late Shift [Wales Interactive] - 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 [Kitfox Games] - 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.

A Year of Springs [Ratalaika Games] - While I’m not typically a huge fan of visual novels there are times where one does something that helps is stand out from the crowd and do something that’s worthy of some praise. Over the course of its few chapters, this game puts you in the shoes of each of its three main characters, all young women with very different backgrounds and challenges. In particular it’s Haru, the young trans woman, who sparks the most interest with her own internal struggles as well as the tension her lifestyle can create when interacting with other people in a variety of contexts, to open at a spa with hot springs for pretty obvious reasons. While obviously I’m not able to personally relate to the challenges she faces it would be difficult not to feel for her situation, trying to find the balance between advocating for herself and demuring, and then how her friends can also get pulled in different directions depending on the situation. It may not be for everyone, but I always appreciate an opportunity to see life and situations through a different lens.

Aerial_Knight's Never Yield [Aerial_Knight] - This is one of those titles where I'm a bit torn in terms of how I feel about it. Starting with the positive Never Yield absolutely has style to spare from its terrific soundtrack to its colorful visuals to its somewhat weird-but-cinematic story. Putting all of those elements together you're absolutely sucked in for a bit as you drink it all in, steadily applying your somewhat limited repertoire of moves to new situations to deal with a variety of threats. However, I also think there's a point where you'll realize that for all of the production value it brings to the table, underneath it all the actual gameplay itself is quite simple. With that in mind, whether you'll enjoy the game will revolve around what you're looking for. If you want to feel a bit like you're playing through a movie of sorts (with the total length being roughly the same) you'll likely dig it a ton, if you're looking for rewarding gameplay you'll likely find it unsatisfying. Credit to the lone wolf developer for making something so polished, but I'd very much recommend getting a taste of what it has to offer from the available demo before making your decision.

Bloodshore [Wales Interactive] - It has been fascinating in the last generation or so to watch the FMV genre not only return to the fold, but really make a stab at legitimacy as well. The trick with them tends to be whether or not you’re down with the story, and given the recent success of Squid Game the reality show Battle Royale format feels at least somewhat timely. One thing I do appreciate is the satirical lens the game views society and the entertainment industry through, actually reminding me a little of RoboCop’s tone at times. The acting, for the most part, is reasonably good throughout. If anything, the somewhat extreme cliches people have been asked to represent are more the source of some cringe, and I can respect most of the people simply going for it. Among the other recent titles in this vein I’ve played I’d say the transitions in video at decision points aren’t as seamlessly smooth, breaking the illusion a little more than usual, but I’m not sure that’s a technology problem as much as perhaps the editing. If you’re down for a lightly interactive deathmatch game show experience this will manage to entertain, and there are enough decisions you’ll need to make that replaying should at least provide some variety. It’s not best in class, but it’s at least a reasonably good time.

Button City [Subliminal] - With its somewhat simple polygonal art, abundance of color, and undeniable cute factor, Button City is a moderately laid back adventure focused on you playing as a new kid in town who quickly befriends a small group of video game warriors at the local arcade. What it lacks in dramatic depth and narrative complexity it makes up for with quirk, charm, somewhat innocent fun, and a certain positivity that I really enjoyed in a landscape dominated more by post-Apocalyptic hellscapes and conflict. In order to break things up a bit you'll be tackling a number of arcade mini games that may not all be winners but at least help to add some needed variety to things, and give the overall experience some added flavor. I'd consider it ideal for families with younger gamers or simply people who are looking for an fun adventure with colorful characters and a generally more mild than average challenge. It won't be a perfect fit for just anyone but it's a welcome ray of positivity on the eShop that I appreciate.

Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders [Nupixo Games] - While there have been quite a variety of point-and-click adventures on the Switch to date, they’ve mostly been of a more humorous nature. Detective Di changes that up pretty significantly, with more of a murder mystery tone that’s also steeped in Far East culture and set in the distant past… all making for a distinctive experience. Depending on your tastes in puzzles in terms of complexity and inventory management there could be good or bad news. It certainly doesn’t tend to waste your time (though you will need to do a bit of backtracking between areas) with loads of convoluted or even useless items laying about, but that also can make it feel a bit more linear in nature which can rob you of the satisfaction of seeing the big picture and working out some tougher challenges. Still, if you’re looking for some solid story-telling and a change of pace in your adventure gaming this is a solid option.

Foreclosed [Antab] - While perhaps the results aren’t always as great as developers may hope for, I do have a great appreciation for games that take some risks in their design. With its somewhat kitchen sink-ish melange of gameplay styles including stealth, outright shooting, puzzle solving, and various action-y sequences stuffed into a very cyberpunk comic book look, Foreclosed has no lack of ambition. In execution? OK, so perhaps it can be a bit uneven in both the general quality and certainly the balance in the difficulty as you proceed. That said, I like the setting the look, and on the whole the pretty unique mix of gameplay this title has to offer. If you’re looking for more of an eclectic game that will throw some surprises and challenges at you, Foreclosed may be a bit unrefined but it can also be a pretty good time.

Hitchhiker: A Mystery Game [Mad About Pandas] - As the definition of what’s a game has continued to evolve and diversify over the years we’ve seen increasingly creative titles enter the space. In the case of Hitchhiker: A Mystery Game you have more of a semi-interactive experience than game, with you hopping a ride with a few very different people with whom you’ll have some very different conversations and experiences with… and with some point-and-click adventure-esque elements strewn about in between to keep you a little more engaged than simply clicking to advance the dialogue. The result is odd, at times unnerving, and certainly a bit unexpected. As would be the case in real life this won’t be a ride for everyone, for sure, but if you’re game for something different it will get you to that destination.

Iris.Fall [NExT Studios] - If you’re a fan of puzzle adventures with a distinctive look and some unique and unusual puzzles to work out, Iris Fall may be an appealing package. A bit reminiscent of the excellent Shady Part of Me from last year, you’ll be working with shadows and light quite a bit as you contemplate the puzzles that will be put before you. Unfortunately, while there’s a story of sorts being related visually the lack of something more substantial feels like a bit of a weakness comparatively. In terms of the puzzles that are central to the experience they range a bit wildly from being clever and well-constructed at the high end but heavily trial and error-based on the low in places. The artwork remains impressive and imaginative throughout, I just wish all aspects of the experience were as consistently well-conceived and executed.

Last Stop [Variable State] - With visual novel-type titles that limit your interactivity and the ability to greatly alter the outcome of the story I think people are always going to have differences of opinion. On a general level I’ve tended to be pretty tough on these sorts of games, as player agency is quite important to me… but then there are sometimes games with characters that feel so rich that, for whatever reason, that concern sort of goes out the window. That’s what happened to me with Last Stop. With its mix of quite ordinary characters, in some cases leading pretty mundane lives, and the unexpected it managed to capture me on both ends of the spectrum. There’s just something genuine about these people and their interactions more often than not that entertained me, and the choices you are able to make, even if perhaps superficial, often felt authentic to me. That each of the game’s stories bends to match up in unexpected ways was a treat, and while not everyone may enjoy the ride this is a rare primarily story-driven game that managed to get me fully engaged in the characters and what is happening with them.

One-Eyed Lee and the Dinner Party [Ratalaika Games] - I’ve tended to be pretty clear in my distaste for pure visual novels and their lack of interactivity, and when I started this title I had some concerns it was headed in that direction with quite a bit of (often clever) dialogue to get it rolling. Thankfully, while it has a focus on story-telling and character interactions this plays out more like the love child of a visual novel and a classic adventure title, borrowing elements from both and trying to make the most of it. The adventure elements have been stripped down and streamlined, for sure, but that makes it a more frustration-free affair, leaving you unconcerned with obtuse puzzles or mucking around with 10 different combinations of items in your inventory in the hopes you’ll land where the developers wanted you to. On the story-telling side both the main characters and the interesting “people” they encounter and need to work with (and against) provide for a fair amount of humor which can also be at least partially directed by your choices along the way. While the whole affair only lasts a few hours there’s enough quirk and charm here to at least entertain with a taste of something just a bit different, which is always refreshing.

Unreal Life [Hako Seikatsu] - Starting out as a young woman woken up with the aid of an AI-driven talking traffic light, disoriented, and apparently without any recollection of who or where you are, Unreal Life certainly comes out of the gate a bit weird. With some help from the said traffic light you do begin to piece some fragments together, in part through the discovery that you’re able to see moments of the past by touching objects in the environment. There’s no doubt it’s odd, but then relatively quickly some shocks and glimpses of a terrible incident pop into view and it’s hard not to get a bit hooked. It’s the game’s mixing of oddities like you befriending a traffic light or conversing with a penguin with some regularity but then veering into some pretty dark territory as well that help it stand out, but for those same reasons it won’t be for everyone.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest [Different Tales] - Heavily text-based games are actually pretty well-represented on Switch, though in general I’ll say I’m not typically a fan. While Heart of the Forest keeps its presentation relatively simple, though undoubtedly artistic, it’s of the type of text-based adventure I at least greatly appreciate for investing effort in making the story engaging through providing plenty of options that help to alter the story (making more than one playthrough appealing). Throw in a more somber tone given the dark franchise it has been spawned from (though hardly being held back to merely horror-based fare), and it’s a standout interactive novel experience for fans of interesting characters finding themselves in more unusual circumstances on Switch.

Winds of Change [Klace] - While interactive fiction doesn’t tend to suit my tastes most of the time there are instances where I can at least step back and acknowledge when something a bir more special comes along in the space. I’d say that’s the case for Winds of Change, a fantasy story set in a world of anthropomorphized wolves and centered on a conflict at a grand scale that, of course, your unwitting character quickly gets drawn right into the center of. While the production value and polish from the generally solid voice acting cast to the distinctive characters help add value it’s really the quality and depth of the writing and dialogue that help it stand out. With numerous key decisions that can be impactful more than one run may be in order if you really want to explore what all can happen, and the quality of the characters is really what helps make that notion appealing.

Alt-Frequencies [Plug In Digital] - Games that do things differently are always a treat on the system, and in terms of its approach there’s no doubt that Alt-Frequencies delivers in that regard. Armed only with a radio, the ability to move up and down the dial, the desire to uncover an unfolding story, and the means to record and send pieces of transmissions it will take you through an interesting (if unfortunately short) journey. This won’t likely be for everyone, working through the various stations in search of clues for how to proceed and then finding snippets that will satisfy your ongoing challenges. It can be a bit tedious, and if you don’t latch on to precisely what you’re looking to record it may be frustrating, but when you successfully advance things it’s also rewarding to keep the story going. The shame is that it shows promise for a more expansive and ambitious story but with it being a new idea perhaps it’s appropriate in its scope. If you’re a fan of games that don’t fit into traditional molds this is well worth checking out.

Arcade Spirits [Fiction Factory Games] - I’ve always found that visual novels are tough to evaluate for general audiences as either their art style, themes, general background, or characters are typically geared in a niche direction of some sort… making them, by nature, hit or miss depending on your appreciation for that niche. While ultimately the depth of all of the characters involved and the story may not be quite where I was hoping the fact that the story revolves heavily around an arcade, people who love these meccas of gaming entertainment, and a handful of general geek archetypes they checked quite a number of my personal boxes. For me while it isn’t perfect so many of the characters, their attitudes, and the general experience had elements that rang true to my own childhood and passions, making it a snap to relate to on the whole. That said, the less you’re familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of a vintage arcade and appreciate their historic cultural impacts the more you’ll likely find it hard to connect to many of the elements in the game. If you’re a child of the 80s though? I’d gladly give it a recommendation for a solid ride.

Coffee Talk [Toge Productions] - As the games industry continues to grow and evolve it opens the door to some very different modes of play, including those one the more casual end of the spectrum. Coffee Talk, first and foremost, is about the people (well, all manner of mythical beings in this case) you’ll meet and their stories as you manage your small open-all-night coffee joint. The more active aspect of the game is where you’ll need to size up new customers and try to find their perfect drink from a growing line-up of caffeinated goodness. This is even complete with some opportunities to hone your foamy art skills, and can be a fun diversion if you’re so inclined. The rest of the experience involves some limited interaction but generally taking in some interesting and very diverse characters, all of whom have their own problems and challenges you may not be able to remedy but at least give some passive advice about. All in all it’s a very chill and interesting experience, just be sure you’re aware of its nature before giving it a try if you prefer more excitement.

Evan's Remains [Matias Schmied] - This is a bit of a tough one as the overall package is an interesting mix, but whether you’ll be game for it will depend heavily on what you’re looking for. On the one end in terms of gameplay mechanics it’s a pretty straight puzzle platformer, and generally a pretty solid one overall. On the other it has a bit of a mystery to tantalize you, with your character searching for someone important who is missing, a cast of characters you’ll slowly begin to see and understand more about as you go, and a few revelations that will likely take you by surprise. It’s an unexpected mix, and while I think that the storytelling may be more of an incentive to play than the puzzling (which is good but not particularly revolutionary either overall), if you’d like to work your way through a general well-written narrative, pausing for puzzle interludes periodically to help break things up, it may be appealing for you.

Five Dates [Good Gate Media] - With the global pandemic just now reaching a full year since it was first discovered Five Dates is a bit of a quick turnaround marvel, looking to capitalize on an opportunity to make a rom-com-styled game in the days of Covid. With you taking control of the decisions of Vinny, a somewhat everyman kind of person who is being egged on by his best friend to hit the virtual dating scene, you’ll get the chance to look for love in a very timely manner… 100% over video chat. Among the first 5 women you’re able to choose from you’ll pick 3 to go on dates with, then having a follow-up date with 2 that you choose, and then hopefully finding a match with one of them to close it out. The thing is, while most dating games like this tend to skeeve me out a bit or feel like my choices are only a bunch of predictable and unrealistic stereotypes, Five Dates really feels like you’re talking to normal people. You absolutely won’t connect with all of them but that’s OK, they’re generally all quirky enough with their eclectic likes and dislikes that you may not find any of them are a great match. The thing is, the conversations feel pretty honest, can be funny, and were generally quite engaging. Would I repeatedly go back and change my answers and choices to explore a relationship with everyone in the game? That’s unlikely, but I will say that this was a pleasant surprise filled with people who, for once, felt genuine… and that’s something in itself.

Raji: An Ancient Epic [Nodding Heads Games] - While this statement may inspire some eye-rolling for some people out there as a life-long gamer I deeply appreciate attempts to expand inclusiveness in video games. By this point western gamers are generally quite well-steeped in the mythology of the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian persuasions, with the gods of those pantheons providing a great foundation for many narratives. In the case of Raji I’m happy to see a completely different set of fresh deities and stories of legend coming from ancient India, and with representative architecture and musical accompaniment as well. The result is a pretty rich and unique storytelling experience that’s worthy of attention. Thankfully the gameplay also, in general, has a fresh feel with the very nimble Raji on a quest to save her brother which features quite a number of well-implemented traversal moves and plenty of options to keep combat interesting. Where it unfortunately falters noticeably is in maintaining its pacing, with combat often feeling over-encumbered and sluggish when too many enemies are on-screen. Granted, the varied moves and weapon options help to compensate for this since it makes for engaging and varied combat, but it feels like though the Switch didn’t need to skimp too much on the beauty of the visuals a price was paid in speed. While it’s over a bit quickly the rish storytelling and culture of Raji still make it a stand out worth giving a look.

Seers Isle [Nova-box] - More often than not I find that I’m not much of a fan of “interactive novels” on the Switch. It’s not so much that they can’t be a valid entertainment as they’re too often lacking in quality. Whether it’s predictable stories, tepid writing, too few meaningful choices, or a lack of immersion they just don’t typically deliver on their promise. To its credit, Seers Isle pretty well addresses every complaint I have about the genre. Its art style is distinctive and new shots of characters and the current action are constantly showing up to pull you in. Its multiple characters have some mystery and intrigue about them, generally being drawn outside of traditional archetypes and more like real people, and wow are there a lot of choices to be had ranging from those that feel small to ones that obviously have great consequence. The result is a pretty engaging story that works, though perhaps the abundance of characters and options are its Achilles heel in this case since with so many branching paths the end tends to come a bit too quickly. That said, repeat runs for different outcomes are typically rewarding due to the quality of the writing and characters so I’d say if you’re a fan of the genre this is one worth checking out.

Speed Dating for Ghosts [Copychaser Games] - These days indie developers have created sort of a Wild Wild West atmosphere for what you can expect in games, and certainly with a title like Speed Dating for Ghosts it’s hard not to be a bit puzzled wondering what it’s all about. While the general premise is just what the title says, you talking to 3 different ghosts in the context of speed dating sessions, it’s really a game about the stories they have to tell. Ranging from humorous, to awkward, to somewhat sad and touching, in a pretty brief amount of time and through generally casual conversations it’s surprising how much you can learn from these ghosts across from you and even connect with them a bit depending on your own life story. Each playthrough, where you’ll meet 3 ghosts, talk to them a bit, and then decide whose story you want to see concluded to a degree, is relatively short but if you enjoy meeting unusual characters with varied and interesting stories that you may need to follow the right branching dialogue paths to tell it may be satisfying to you.

The Red Lantern [Timberline Studio] - Typically when you hear about roguelikes your mind conjures up images of action-oriented and intense play, whether slashing, jumping, or shooting. In the case of The Red Lantern there’s none of that though, with the roguelike essence revolving instead around your character who is looking for direction and meaning in life being able to try repeatedly to successfully reach a remote cabin in Alaska with her budding team of sled dogs. Make no mistake, there’s no question that you’ll fail, and depending on your luck or skill that may only be a handful of times or many more. But really the game is less about you reaching your goal and more about the many experiences and hardships you’ll face along the way. Scarcity of resources tends to be the earliest killer, your limited meat, bullets, and means to create fires make your chances remote at best. Thankfully you and your dogs never really die, when you fail you’ll just find yourself back at your van and ready to take on the challenge once more, hopefully with some new perks you gained from your previous run. I’d say if you’re just out for a game to complete the experience will probably not be a satisfying one, the joy in the game is the storytelling and your character’s interactions with her dogs and nature with smart writing and a message about learning to find yourself and learn to survive no matter what the odds.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Coteries of New York [Draw Distance] - Being only mildly familiar with the Vampire series, but having generally heard good things, I perked up when I heard about this. Though this offshoot of the main series plays out in a visual novel form the world you find yourself in still has a full and lush quality to it that many in the genre lack. As you progress you gain the sense that there’s a deeper mythology and bigger world outside of your own experience, and the ability to play through with 3 different characters who each have their own journey helps to reinforce this feeling. If you’re a fan of vampire lore, well-written characters and dialogue, or in immersing yourself in a different world where you’re able to explore possibilities outside of your normal experience it’s a pretty fascinating title that’s a real virtual page turner and, for me, proves out the potential for what visual novels are capable of when the proper effort is put into world building, terrific accompanying art, and interesting characters and motivations.

When the Past Was Around [Mojiken Studio] - With a unique hand-drawn art style and some unusually inventive point-and-click puzzles When the Past was Around definitely stands out from the crowd. Now, granted, depending on the puzzle at times it can be difficult to follow the train of thought in how to move from clues to success, but since there tends to be limited repetition in how these challenges work I suppose that’s to be expected. Throw in an element of love and loss and though it all comes to a close pretty quickly the experience is generally a memorable one.

Neo Cab [Chance Agency] - 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.

The Red Strings Club [Deconstructeam] - In the end what you’ll want to understand is that this is a cyberpunk semi-interactive adventure that explores society, corporate overreach, and human choice in a smart way. Rather than being one-sided in its philosophy it will challenge you to understand your own likely relative morality when it comes to what can or should be removed from the table when it comes to human behavior. If you’re looking to explore these types of topics, and are willing to go along for the ride even when it may get a bit confusing, The Red Strings Club offers up a unique experience.

VA-11 HALL-A [Sukeban Games] - If you’re down for a game with a different speed and feel, and value observing life described in little moments, Valhalla is unique and should have quite a bit of appeal. If you’re not firmly in that camp the degree of enjoyment you’ll get out of the game is more likely to vary wildly from amused to outright bored to tears. This is definitely one of those titles that’s a credit to the strength and diversity of what’s available on the system, just know that it’s not going to be an experience for everyone.

1979 Revolution: Black Friday [iNK Stories] - If your goal when playing 1979 Revolution is escape and fun you’ll be sorely disappointed, but not all experiences have to have that purpose. Using games as a vehicle to educate and give people perspective is a noble goal and one Black Friday absolutely accomplishes. While I have some understanding of the Shah’s regime and its overthrow seeing it more through the perspective of someone on the ground and embroiled in the conflict directly was quite fascinating. This won’t be an experience that will satisfy everyone but if you’re in search of something a bit different that will help you explore history in a very different way it’s worth checking out.

Old Man's Journey [Broken Rules] - 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.

OPUS: Rocket of Whispers [SIGONO INC] - Overall, if you’re down for a pretty touching story of people under stress but doing their best in an admittedly horrible situation it makes for a compelling handful of hours. Any expectations of the gameplay itself being satisfying should be checked at the door, for the most part it is just exploration with the job of helping advance the narrative. Despite that fact I still found the game’s story compelling enough to see me through to the end and appreciated everything it was trying to convey.

Haven [The Game Bakers] - While a great story in a game isn’t usually quite enough to singularly make its purchase a must, it can help to elevate a title beyond other elements that are more lacking. For me, the story and well-written romance between its main characters, somewhat stranded on an odd collection of floating islands, Yu and Kay was the most compelling reason to keep playing… with the exploration and other elements falling more flat by comparison. It’s unusual to observe in-game romances being anything more than superficial and predictable, but there’s both something about the essence of the writing as well as the voice acting performances of the characters that makes the game feel pretty special. Certainly the mystery behind their circumstances, what they’re running from, and what brought them together helps to add flavor, but it’s their pretty natural and believable relationship that will sustain your interest on this journey.

Little Kite [Anate Studio] - While I typically consider games a form of entertainment for pulling your mind away from the harsher realities of life, there are those that instead dive into the ugliness with both feet that definitely have their place. With a point-and-click adventure format that’s pretty straightforward the groundwork in Little Kite is familiar and set, but the sense of loss, dread, and fear experienced by the main character, a mother of a young boy who has remarried into an abusive relationship after losing her husband to tragedy, is anything but ordinary. My one complaint would be that some of the puzzles and how progression is implemented are a little sloppy, partially not helped by you staying in the same space for quite a while discovering items that will be useful for future puzzles but adding to some confusion on what you should be doing for the moment. That aside, there’s a logic to most of them that’s refreshing and sometimes creative. Whether or not you are drawn to the game will likely hang on the subject matter and whether or not something a bit “too real” is something you’d prefer to avoid or instead embrace and understand.

Stories Untold [No Code] - Though I’m old enough to recall, with some fondness even, the days of playing purely text-based adventure games the likes of Zork and others I can’t say I was initially thrilled at the prospect of returning to that style of play. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for Stories Untold to reveal itself as being much more, whether with some odd meta moments, strange visions of aliens and/or monsters, etc. While mechanically some people may find the gameplay itself to be a bit of a drag, checking through manuals and operating varied equipment as the situations demand, the mystery of what’s happening managed to suck me in completely and hold my attention through the completion of the game’s fourth and final chapter a few hours later which brought everything together in an unexpected way. Perhaps it’s more of an overall experience more than a thrilling game but Stories Untold did manage to deliver the unexpected, and that has some merit in a crowded eShop.

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!