Friday, February 12

Top 30 / Best Indie Adventure Games on Nintendo Switch



[Last Updated: 2/12/21] When it comes to gaming genres the term “adventure” can be a bit confusing or misleading since it has come to mean pretty radically different things in terms of the style of play. On the one end you have more action-oriented games with sprawling worlds to explore and on the other you have what were traditionally PC point-and-click games which are more focused on story-telling and puzzle-solving. The Switch has thankfully been well-represented on both sides of that coin and boasts some great indie titles that even deviate from those formulas a bit but remain all focused on exploring the game world.

Sparklite [Red Blue Games] - Since I’m a huge fan of roguelikes and their ability to revitalize and alter how you play more classic genres I’ve always wondered how it would pair with the Legend of Zelda. Sparklite takes quite a traditional track, working with weapons and mechanics reminiscent of the Zelda series but keeping the world a bit more compact, generally making for quicker runs if nothing else. Once you get your bearings and understand how elements like badges work you’ll be off to face a pretty stiff challenge, especially in the early going. Just be ready, until you’re sufficiently geared up to take on the bosses (especially early on), you’re likely to get a bit frustrated. Some quibbles over the somewhat clunky menu, no provision for a more easily available mini map, and other nuisances can creep in at times but there’s no doubt that this is a high-quality adventure that’s challenging, inventive, and rewarding.


Flipping Death [Zoink!] - Whenever you talk about classic adventure titles there's roughly a standing assumption that they'll bog down at some point with obtuse item puzzles or funkiness, it's pretty well a genre staple. To combat that Flipping Death doesn't have you managing items in your inventory but instead inhabiting the bodies of the living to perform character-specific tasks to solve problems. The fact that most of these characters are extremely weird and quirky and it all adds up to a great time full of silliness and laughs but consistently challenging throughout as well.


Hyper Light Drifter [Heart Machine] - The indie darling from the PC space has finally come to Switch full of its challenging dashing and slashing. You'll need to carefully choose where you decide to go, and if things don't seem to be panning out too well in one direction you should try another, as some paths are more challenging than others. Filled out with some difficult boss fights and ability upgrades that require making some tough choices of what you'll want to invest in it's an engaging experience all around.


Thimbleweed Park [Terrible Toybox] - The classic LucasArts adventure games were staple PC titles always guaranteeing great laughs from their quirky characters, silly dialogue, and often-bizarre puzzles. Now some of the best minds behind those classic titles have come back to the table with Thimbleweed Park, hopefully exposing a new generation to their signature style and sense of humor. While the pace is a bit slower than people are likely used to the Switch's touchscreen makes it an ideal platform for playing these games quickly and effectively. Thimbleweed Park is a terrific reminder of how well humor can work in games.


The Swords of Ditto: Mormo's Curse [One Bit Beyond] - While when I got the chance to play The Swords of Ditto at PAX East I was impressed by its visuals and weird weapons, I didn’t get enough time with it to appreciate how terrific the overall experience was. Based on what I understand Switch owners got a bit lucky as the game with the expansion seems to be an improvement on all fronts in terms of accessibility and variety, giving us the best experience right out of the gate. While the DNA of Zelda games is obviously present, Ditto is thoroughly its own game, standing apart from that series not only visually but with plenty of its own ideas as well. If you’re looking for a world to explore full of discovery, some unusual characters, and plenty of surprises it’s easy to recommend, just be patient with it as you’re getting started.


Jenny LeClue: Detectivu [Mografi] - One of the more overall neglected flavors on the Switch has been single-player experiences I would consider to be both appropriate for people of all ages as well as accessible. In addition, while female leads have become far more common in the past decade young women are generally more neglected. Enter the bright, quick-witted, and sassy Jenny LeClue, a young detective who it seems can turn just about any situation into an opportunity to investigate. The conceit of the story is that she’s a literary character who has had her time in the limelight but whose author is being pressured to do something radical with, in order to boost flagging interest. What follows is a wonderful, and sometimes unpredictable, adventure that you’ll have periodic opportunities to at least influence a little while solving a variety of puzzles. It’s smart, has a terrific lead character, and should be a good time for all ages.


Pool Panic [Rekim] - This was hands down my favorite title I'd never really heard about that I got to check out at PAX East. Thoroughly weird, consistently creative, and with terrific small but charming details and touches everywhere Pool Panic is a game that actively defies easy description. It's a mix of action, adventure, puzzles, and geometry I can easily say I've never experienced before and to top it all off that sets the stage for some unique and fun competitive local multiplayer to boot. I simply love this game and it was one I absolutely had to finish.


Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King [Castle Pixel, LLC] - Perhaps a little less gaining inspiration from the classic top-down Zelda titles like Link to the Past than copying it outright, Blossom Tales is an excellent game to help hold you over until the Virtual Console arrives. Cleverly playing out as a grandfather tells his granddaughters a story about a brave hero, Lilly, the focus is on taking most of the classic Zelda weaponry and then adding some more unique items of its own if you're willing to search them out. Thoroughly satisfying for the price of admission, Blossom Tales plays like a "lost" Nintendo title.


Yoku’s Island Express [Villa Gorilla] - All I had to do was hear the words "pinball adventure" and my ears instantly perked up. What, again, could have been a pretty easy and by-the-numbers title thrown out to grab the attention of classic pinball fans like myself turned out to be so much more though. Yoku's Island Express is creative, quirky, challenging, and consistently surprising throughout its runtime, and put a smile on my face pretty much the entire time I played it. Throw in the fact that though it may not be terribly easy it's also extremely family-friendly and it's a title that absolutely feels at home on the Switch.


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.


Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles [Prideful Sloth] - 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.


Helheim Hassle [Perfectly Paranormal] - Where weird games are concerned I may be one of the subgenre’s biggest fans. Granted, the style of play in them varies wildly but if you’re bringing some laughs, plenty of WTF moments, and gameplay that deviates from the norm I’m typically down for it. Helheim Hassle really nails all of those critical areas with gusto, and the result is one of the most bizarre and creative action platformers I’ve ever played. You see, the hook in the game is that your character Bjørn is able to remove his limbs and as you gain the ability to completely disassemble yourself the weirdness and unique challenges of reconfiguring your various body parts to gain different benefits becomes clear. However, it isn’t just the silliness of moving around as two arms and a head or any number of other combinations that works, it’s the planning and execution behind the puzzles that will test you with the need to pick the right limbs for the right reasons. You may need to trigger a lever that’s hidden away but you’ll need to trigger a platform, make a quick jump, be able to talk to someone, and then be sure once you get there that you still have an arm to work with. Doing that can actually get to be a bit of an undertaking in places and experimentation is definitely the key to success. Pair those smart and creative mechanics with an absolutely bizarre sense of humor, and legitimately funny characters and dialogue I’d say are only rivaled by the likes of the (former) folks at Zoink Games, and you have one of my favorite games of a year where a good laugh is very much appreciated.


Röki [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.


Windbound [5 Lives Studios] - Starting out with an admission I’ll say that, in general, I’m not typically an automatic fan of survival games. Too often their crafting systems, to me, feel clumsy or contrived to waste your time searching for particular resources and it can bog the experience down. Where I find Windbound to be a pleasant surprise is that for whatever reason this world, and what you need to do to survive, feels relatively intuitive and even natural. You’ll struggle with scarcity in places but for the most part the challenge is in crafting your primitive weapons and materials and understanding that in order to progress you’ll need to be ambitious and use some smarts to take down native animals in order to then be able to craft better materials and so on. This makes for tense moments, to be sure, and it’s precisely those very moments when you’re facing down a hulking beast or braving a new island with potential challenges that you feel like you’re truly in a fight to survive. The mix of exploration, discovery, and fighting to survive can require some patience, experimentation, and perseverance but in general I found the payoffs along the way to be well worth it. The result I find to be somewhere between the classic Legend of Zelda Wind Waker and a survival game, and while the balance may not be for everyone I think it is a solid effort worth checking out.


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.


Skellboy [Umaiki Games] - 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.


Ittle Dew 2+ [Ludosity Interactive] - One flipside of the classic Zelda homage coin is Ittle Dew 2+, a title that has some of the same sensibilities but has much more of a style and sense of humor all its own. While there is combat action in the game it is generally less interesting (and in the overworld can be quite dangerous to your health) the puzzles are truly challenging and some will have you scratching your head a bit. In addition to the ample dungeons in the original game there is an additional world in the Switch version, providing even more great content with shadows of the Zelda formula present everywhere.


Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure [Stuck In Attic] - I’m pretty much always a sucker for the classic noir detective style, and when a game instead chooses to skewer it a bit with humor as well it tends to make me laugh. This point-and-click style adventure is very much in the vein of the classics from the likes of LucasArts, though as always that comes with some baggage in the form of some puzzle moments that will make you seriously consider hitting an online walkthrough. The key here though is definitely the humor that comes through in some clever dialogue and some truly odd situations, and that’s backed up by what’s generally terrific hand-drawn art. If you’re an adventure fan, this title should be satisfying.
 

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. 


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


Zarvot [Snowhydra LLC] - While mechanically this is a sort of shooter adventure in terms of gameplay it's the presentation and story of Zarvot that makes it entertaining. You'll play as a cube named Charcoal who, together with his friend Mustard, set out to get a great gift to cheer up their friend Red. Somewhat randomly on the way you'll face enemies you'll need to shoot it out with, some crazy weird boss battles, and all sorts of odd story beats. It's odd, charming, and for the most part gorgeous as well.


Wandersong [Dumb and Fat Games] - 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.


Little Dragons Cafe [Aksys Games] - Consistent with the fact that last year's Stardew Valley isn't a game that everyone adored, Little Dragons Cafe seems to get pretty split opinions. Trying to find new recipes and ingredients will push you to explore the area around your cafe while trying to find and manage the help and making your dragon grow. Its pacing can be a bit slow and its action is more subdued but if you enjoy some relaxing gameplay it can be a very pleasant experience.
 

Tangle Tower [SFB Games] - When there are so many point-and-click style adventures available on the Switch it pays to try to stand out. Smart puzzles, some quirky characters, and a sense of humor have pretty well become standard features so the bar has become pretty high if you want to stand out from the generally very enjoyable pack. Where Tangle Tower manages to get an edge is with well-delivered voice acting, some particularly weird characters you’ll interact with, and even some surprises in terms of puzzle variety and creativity. Throw this all together with a compelling mystery and the average puzzle fan should find plenty to enjoy over the course of a handful of hours with this one.


Wildfire [Sneaky Bastards] - Stealth-oriented games have never typically made for my favorite experiences but there are times when the mechanic is either used wisely or it’s merely an option you have in approach. In the case of Wildfire there’s no doubt that biding time and sneaking around can be essential to survival, but it’s also a side-scrolling puzzle platformer that puts some fun powers at your disposal, allowing you to be a real bastard on the offensive as well. You’ll play as a simple villager who it turns out has a special ability to wield magic, the most fun form of which is a flair for pyrotechnics. Working to liberate your fellow countrymen from capture you’ll need to move between careful sneaking and opportunistic action, sometimes very rapidly as situations tend to devolve into chaos quickly at times. You’re powerful but hardly invulnerable so you’ll need to make judicial use of your powers to maximize their effectiveness, often by carefully considering enemy movement patterns and things like high grass in the environment. You could sneak by perhaps, but wouldn’t it be fun to light it on fire as they walk through it, catching them ablaze and sending them running? For the most part it’s really up to you how you play things the majority of the time, though with level bonuses that reward certain goals you may well choose to play the level both ways as well. With a consistent flow of new abilities to experiment with and revel in Wildfire is a pretty unique puzzle platformer with a ton of flair that’s well worth a look.


Bulb Boy [Bulbware] - While it isn't a terribly long adventure Bulb Boy is a creative journey with an unusual art style that consistently challenges and entertains. You'll never quite know what to expect next and the puzzles you'll be asked to solve in his journey require a wide variety of solutions. A great weekend adventure if you're looking for something different to try out. 


Ministry of Broadcast [Homeless Unicorn] - Harkening back to earlier days with a gameplay style reminiscent of the likes of classics like Prince of Persia, Ministry of Broadcast is a throwback I can really appreciate. While that meticulous style matching up action with precision may result in quite a bit of trial and error death at times within a few attempts in general all action puzzles are conquerable and that makes figuring them out and getting it right quite rewarding. The fact that the game takes on a sort of 1984-meets-The-Running-Man approach where it comes to the story helps make the sequences flow together to a degree and can be pretty entertainingly morbid and twisted at times, further reinforcing the experience. As an English major I’ll admit that some of the in-game text can get clunky, and that made me cringe a bit, but perhaps it also adds some layer of unrefined charm for the right folks as well so it may just be me. Having played a few remade titles from that earlier era on Switch it’s also refreshing to now see modern stabs at that same style of play, and I hope to see more in this vein if they can be executed as effectively.


Aggelos [LookAtMyGame] - Rocking great 16-bit-ish looks, some great chiptune tracks, and plenty of retro gaming feels Aggelos is definitely a title classic gaming fans should adore. Rather than being a remake or a reskin of known classics it feels like a game you’ve always regretted missing out on from that era that you’ve now gotten the chance to finally enjoy. As long as you’re prepared for some of its more old school tendencies and challenges it’s an adventure well worth taking.


Windscape [Magic Sandbox] - Though I may have felt a bit conflicted on how to score Windscape, I like its concept, most of its simple but workable design, and how much of it slows as a whole. At the same time there are sections where it drags a bit and details that don’t quite work as well as you’d hope, and these collectively add up. I’d say the more interested you are in a casual adventure that isn’t often demanding, and that you can just enjoy for the sake of the experience, the better a fit it will be for you. If you’re in search of stellar presentation and an abundance of thrills though you’ll end up being sorely disappointed. Windscape is hardly perfect, but it does enough right to be fun over a pretty impressive overall length if you’re in the right mindset for it.


FAR: Lone Sails [Okomotive] - This is one of those titles where I walked into the experience not really knowing much about it, being surprised by it being something quite different, and coming away very impressed. There’s little context to understand the situation involving the world you’re trying to survive in and little direction given, your continuous focus is just on powering up your cobbled together craft to get it moving, keep it working, and figuring out how to get it past the obstacles you’ll face. Somewhat quiet, the bleak world you’re working within makes the experience somewhat meditative as you move from one station to another keeping everything working. It won’t be for everyone but it’s just a different kind of game that I really appreciate.


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!