Wednesday, May 13

Top 15 Indie Casual Games on Nintendo Switch

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.

Kingdom Rush Frontiers - If you’re going to bring a tower defense title over from the mobile space the Kingdom Rush series is absolutely the one to go with. No matter how many games in this genre I’ve played none has quite had the simplicity, the replayability, the quirkiness, and the outright quality from start to finish that Kingdom Rush has in spades. Each map has its own entry and exit points to consider, with some even throwing in an unexpected additional path just to screw with your plans. Each hero you can choose (most need to be unlocked) has their own strengths and weaknesses in general, so you can be sure to pick one that suits your play style, and your choices in how you enhance your heroes and base unit types throws on yet another layer of customization I appreciate. Even better is that depending on the enemy units and situations you face no matter how hard you try there’s not often a single strategy you’ll be able to use if you want to truly prevail. Planning is important but so is adaptability, and being able to understand what buildings upgraded to what degree will turn the tide in either stopping or at least slowing down some difficult combinations of foes. While it’s easy to become jaded with the genre it’s always easy for me to get sucked in whenever a new Rush title comes out, something I’m glad to say has now continued onto the Switch as well.

Enigmatis 2: The Mists of Ravenwood - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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.

Cook, Serve, Delicious 2 - All in all if you’ve been a fan of food prep games of this type, or have been watching them from a distance, there’s quite a lot to love about CSD2. It has a truly staggering number of dishes representing all sorts of culinary tastes and visually the game makes them all look terrific. The time management aspect of the game is also handled well, with the pre-prep dishes providing both an opportunity for easily chaining successes and an opportunity to crash and burn if you don’t stay on top of them. If you generally stick to playing in docked mode I’ll warn you that it’s simply a tougher road, though it can be done, but playing both ways using the touchscreen made success far easier (though still a challenge) in my experience. If you love food and are looking for a tasty take on the restaurant biz Cook, Serve, Delicious 2 will definitely satisfy.

Roundguard - 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.

Build a Bridge! - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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.

Townsmen - While its appearance is relatively humble the gameplay is surprisingly deep and surpassed my expectations. I’d approached it as if it would have simpler mobile-like mechanics and it does do a better job than that. About my only major complaint aside from the presentation would just be that there were sports where I’d set things in motion and then would have to wait to watch as everything got queued up. There is a fast forward button but even with that in effect there can be times when the game drags a bit. However, since even with the size of the Switch library this sort of game is an oddity it’ll likely be worth a look for people who enjoy their city building, just perhaps a little watered down overall, if nothing else by the lesser complexity of the time period.

Woven - 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.

Marblelous Animals - Games making their way over from the mobile space can be a mixed bag on Switch both in terms of appropriateness and quality. What works well on a phone or tablet sometimes simply feels out of place on a dedicated console. In the case of Marbelous Animals what you get though is a reasonably challenging game along the lines of the old school Labyrinth where you’ll be using the gyro controls to roll a variety of animal-themes marbles through hazards and traps to collect coins and get to the hole at the end of the level. It isn’t a revolution by any means but whether using the system in handheld or perhaps a Pro Controller while docked it’s a nice change of pace and may seem to be a purely casual affair but can also be quite challenging at times. Throw a budget price into that mix and it’s not a bad deal.

Where The Water Tastes Like Wine - One of the things I love the most about indie games and devs are the risks you see being taken in the form of new experiences that challenge the status quo and expectations of what a game can be. Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is very much a game in that lane, with a deep focus on storytelling, and in a way that feels very bound to the classic oral traditions of the past. You’ll meander around the country and encounter events which you have a limited ability to affect and then periodically meet up with fellow travellers who are looking for a good yarn. As you progress and continue to encounter new people (or sometimes people you’ve met before) you’ll begin to appreciate how what starts as simple tales will often morph into new and often more interesting variations with time and more people embellishing them. That the majority of this is done with terrific voice work and complimentary music really makes the game stand out, but there’s also no getting around the needlessly slow pacing and sparse map as you continue to explore the country. For the right crowd it will no doubt be fascinating, but for anyone looking for even a hint of excitement you’ll probably want to give it a pass.

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!