Monday, March 15

Top 20 / Best Indie Casual Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 3/15/21] While most people buying a physical console like a Switch are looking for tougher and deeper experiences there’s a pretty wide audience for more casual fare as well. Whether these are worthy mobile conversions or simply games with basic mechanics that are highly approachable the casual category has a surprising degree of variety. Whether they’re puzzle games that are great to work on while relaxing or simpler action games that don’t require mastery of a controller these are the best titles in this category on the Switch.

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.


Picross S5 [Jupiter Corporation] - The contemplative puzzle series is back and more polished than ever with this new iteration of Picross. Whether you’re looking to work on the classic single-color pixel puzzles, the tougher version of those in Mega Picross that changes up the rules a bit, challenging color puzzles, or then multi-piece pictures made from a variety of individual pieces of all shapes and sizes this version will have you covered. It may be that I’ve been away for a version of two but what struck me most with this latest title is the quality of its tutorials for each of the modes. While I’ve played them all before between this and other franchises, the subtle hint system and explanations offered for how to play each mode effectively and in the smartest way possible was handled very well. I felt like this time around I’ve developed a much better understanding of the nuances of Mega Picross with the game’s guidance, though it could just be I’ve done it enough times now that I’ve come to understand it through brute force instead. With a pretty diverse set of challenges and plenty of puzzles across each mode Picross maintains its big picture lead on the competition with this outing, offering plenty of modes with nuanced but still significant differences which each help push your puzzle skills to new heights. 


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.


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.


Enigmatis 2: The Mists of Ravenwood [Artifex Mundi] - The classic hidden item puzzle game genre has made some real strides over the past few years. Throwing in a story, some cinematics (though a bit dated), and a pretty wide variety of puzzles it's far more than just looking for small baubles hiding in what appears to be a hoarder's stash at every turn. Enigmatis 2 impressed me with its puzzles, its ease of play, and its smart help system that focuses on keeping you making progress over doing the work for you.


Fledgling Heroes [Subtle Boom] - There’s no doubt a good reason for people to debate whether games like Fledgling Heroes “need” to be on Switch. With a one-button mechanic for play, controlling when your various bird characters flap their wings, yes this is a game that you could enjoy on a mobile device without the need for physical controls even. That said, the colorful and appealing art style, variety of ways the different birds you’ll unlock play through their levels, customization options (if you’re into them they’re a plus, if you’re not I’m not considering them essential to positive feelings though), and even reasonable challenges you’ll hit in order to get through the loads of stages impressed me. With different objectives and critical skills required in many cases I often found myself adjusting in my seat, digging in, and forcing myself to take it seriously to get to the next level. Even with quite a number of other titles to get to last week I also found it easy to return to this title because it was challenging but not necessarily taxing, and so easy to just pick up for a few minutes and put down. It may not be pushing the hardware to its limits by any means but if you enjoy playing something lighter and more relaxing that will still make you work this definitely fits the bill.


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.


True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 [Goblinz] - Who knew that having played a number of horror-esque games on the Switch that the one that would be the most consistent and compelling to play would really be a casual title. Another elevated hidden object game, True Fear managed to be a bit creepy and weird throughout but never lost focus on providing great gameplay first and foremost. I'm hoping to see Part 2 come to Switch as well to see where things go as this puzzler didn't disappoint.


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.


Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 [Vertigo Games] - Following up the previous delectable outing on Switch, CSD3 is back with a new somewhat silly story with your empire having been reduced to rubble and starting over in a food truck. Aside from that, and how it has some influence on the presentation and how you’re able to customize it’s more of the same tense and quick action, new recipes, and more fun. As was the case before, this is a title I’d hesitate to say is great in docked mode because using a controller for the action is workable but can leave your fingers in knots whenever things get a bit crazy (which happens often). Playing using the touchscreen is far easier, though sometimes the on-screen buttons you’ll need to press can feel a bit small I’ll admit when you’re trying to be precise. Regardless, for fans of food prepping games I’d consider this series one of the best I’ve played, offering a fair challenge but also to a degree letting you pick your poison since you control your menu and the meals you’re looking to repeatedly prepare quickly. It’s a challenging food-frenzied blast if you can keep up.


Roundguard [Wonderbelly Games] - When it comes to casual games from the previous generation or so that I remember with great fondness, the unique Peggle is one that easily stands out in my mind. Now imagine taking the base mechanics of carefully dropping your ball in the hopes that it will bounce in your favor and instead make that your character, adding a mix of roguelike and RPG elements on top of that for progression… and you’ll get Roundguard. While I wish there were more classes and spell diversity overall, what you’ll find here is a very clever title that packs a surprising degree of strategy and challenge. Randomly-dropped equipment in one run can match your preferred play style perfectly and give you the buffs you need to go deeper while on the next the RNG gods may forsake you, leaving you to bite it before you even get to the first boss. If you’re seeking something that’s sort of a casual plus experience, maintaining a base easygoing feel but with elements that spice things up quite a bit, you will definitely want to give Roundguard a hard look.


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.
 

Build a Bridge! [BoomBit Games] - While Build a Bridge doesn’t manage to match the more inventive and silly fun of something like Bridge Constructor Portal, among the more traditional bridge builders on the system I’d say it’s probably the one I’ve enjoyed the most. Granted, a lot of that boils down to having the controls working well and without kinks, something the other titles have hopefully patched by now, but first impressions can be vital. I wouldn’t say that Build a Bridge breaks any major ground in evolving the genre but if you’re a fan of physics-based titles and are trying to make a decision I can’t find any reason not to recommend it.


Clouds & Sheep 2 [HandyGames] - While I never got to partake of the original Clouds & Sheep, thankfully the complexities of the storyline didn't hinder my enjoyment of the sequel. Just kidding, this is just a straight-up cute resource management-type game where you'll need to care for your sheep, provide them with water, food, and perhaps an opportunity to find love as well. While it looks simple you'll quickly find yourself sucked in to a greater challenge than you'd expect, combining clouds to cast lightning down to kill poisonous plants and trying to tend to the wishes to your flock to keep them happy and yourself flush with stars that you'll use as currency.


1001 Ultimate Mahjong [NAWIA GAMES] - If you haven’t been eager to play Mahjong on the Switch, I doubt a review that has positive things to say about it will likely change your mind (though that would beg the question of why you’re reading it). However, if you enjoy well-made casual gaming 1001 Ultimate Mahjong is a surprisingly strong choice. With its variety of looks and thoughtful features it may be the best title of its kind I’ve played, and I do enjoy a good game of Mahjong once in a while.


Puzzle Puppers [Cardboard Keep] - With a pretty disgusting level of cuteness Puzzle Puppers manages to make solving some clever puzzles a bit of fun. With a scalable degree of difficulty depending on how efficient you're insisting on being to maximize your score it can also be pretty accessible. Throw in a pretty reasonable price and it's a great casual challenge for all ages.


Piffle [HIPSTER WHALE] - Who knew that even after all this time I could get sucked in by a cute game that has elements of Breakout and maybe some Bust a Move and their ilk. Sure, it’s super-casual, sure I didn’t have too tough a time getting all stars on every level for quite some time, but hey, it kept adding in some layers and to its credit I had to get out of a few tough spots (though I horded my power-ups like crazy and probably could have made my life simpler). There’s nothing terribly complicated about Piffle but what there is works like a charm and it offers just enough challenge to get you hooked and keep your interest without likely discouraging anyone too greatly. Will it be for everyone? Not in the least. But aside from it perhaps being a bit pricier than I’d expect for this sort of title (though, to its credit, it is very polished) it’s a really good time and should help you melt away some hours while generally having a relaxed and good time.


Woven [Alterego Games] - Most modern games tend to feature protagonists who are ready for action and tough as nails. Moving in precisely the opposite direction we have Woven, and it’s plush main character Stuffy who ambles along with a consistently innocent and pleasant demeanor. Pairing up with a mechanical friend they set out to discover what has happened to their land and to turn things back around. The game is mostly about exploration, with some relatively simple puzzle solving and hidden textures all about to update Stuffy’s look with. While this won’t be a title that will appeal to hardcore gamers in the least with its cute characters, colorful scenery, and generally slow-paced adventure, Woven is a kid-friendly treat.


My Universe: Cooking Star Restaurant [Maximum Games] - Once again the My Universe series delivers a more casual and kid-friendly take on games, this time with a restaurant experience that falls somewhere between Diner Dash and Cooking Mama, though in general without the associated pressure. You’ve opened a new dining spot where, in order to get off to a great start, you’ll be doing most of the work. Whether getting people to their seat, taking their orders, cleaning up tables, or making each meal you’ll at least be kept busy and thankfully your customers are generally very patient and understanding compared to anything else in the genre. Initially you’ll be making American fare, but then with consistent success new chefs will arrive, each bringing new cuisine and variety to your food establishment. Food prep breaks down into multiple steps, each with a relatively simple task whether chopping veggies, mixing batters, or flipping burgers and pancakes. None of these steps are typically terribly challenging so veteran gamers will want to steer clear but novices and younger kids will likely find this to be a great beginner experience to enjoy.
 

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.


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!