Wednesday, January 26

Top 20 / Best Indie Metroidvania Games on Nintendo Switch

Last Updated: 1/26/22!

Ori and the Will of the Wisps [Moon Studios] - When reviewing games in general I try to carefully avoid hyperbole and excessive exuberance whenever possible. To that end, even with well over 1,500 reviews under my belt and so many terrific titles played, I’ve only awarded 2 perfect scores among them for Stardew Valley and Dead Cells. In the case of Ori and the Will of the Wisps I’m going to be adding to that very exclusive list with pretty well no reservations. With its nimble movement, massive scale, gorgeous environments, and combination of so many elements that feel like they’ve been carefully refined to be their most engaging it’s likely the best Metroidvania title I’ve ever played. I will warn that the platforming is probably a little more challenging than the average, requiring patience and precision, but for the most part success rests solely on your skills as the controls are spot-on and well-implemented. With there being so much ground to cover and spots you’ll want and need to return to, as you acquire the necessary skills or changes to environments to give you access, I do wish there were a few more waypoints scattered about but that’s about my only real criticism (OK, and it has crashed on me twice, but thankfully with no real loss of progress in either case). There’s a very good reason Microsoft backed this horse, and it is a gift that has been shared with Switch owners that is absolutely worth your time and effort.

Hollow Knight [Team Cherry] - Another one of the titles I didn't originally review for the system, this is another one of those games that would be criminal not to include on top lists, especially given its difficult-but-addictive nature. Throw in a very distinctive look and a combination of tough combat and traversal and it is highly-regarded for a reason.

Carrion [Phobia Game Studio] - While it’s great to play games or watch movies cheering on the brave heroes who fight and persevere against horrible monstrosities, admit it: Given the chance it would be a ton of fun to spend some time on the other side of the equation. Carrion offers up just that, the opportunity to take control (well, with its swarming and morphing form perhaps it should be “control”) of a horrible mutation of a creature who enjoys chomping down on some human flesh and ragdolling them around the room for laughs… and if you have a twisted streak like I do you’ll likely do a bit of that yourself as you splatter blood all over the walls. That core bit of fun was very present at PAX, as were some puzzle-solving aspects, but in the demo you couldn’t get a solid look at how the game would challenge you. The good news is that there are some clever puzzle elements offered up that will force you to consider the situation in front of you and make smart decisions. Armed guards with a variety of weapons won’t get taken out so easily, so some degree of stealth and using alternative paths may be in order, or perhaps throwing a crate (or better yet, a body) to distract them and allow you to strike from behind. Since the experience is so unique and quite engrossing it feels like it is over a bit too quickly, but I suppose I’d rather that happen than it wearing out its welcome. This is absolutely one of the most unique games I’ve played in quite some time and is highly recommended if you’ve ever dreamed of fully unleashing your dark side.

Kunai [TurtleBlaze] - Kunai was a title that left me excited but a bit uncertain from its PAX demo last year. I loved the look, and the ability to use your kunai on each side essentially as grappling hooks to aid in traversal and even combat seemed ripe with potential, but it was hard to see whether or not it would all come together in a way that would help it break through to being something special. I’m happy to report that having played through the final product there’s nothing I can think of that feels missed. The gameplay is challenging but fair, its traversal elements are well-designed and feel great, and its mix of smart design and fun combat help it to push its way to standing among the best Metroidvanias the system has to offer. Admittedly, there were times where the combination of backtracking and not being 100% sure where to go next could be aggravating. Though, in general, the game’s map tries to help there were situations where it didn’t have quite enough detail to lead the way. Small quibbles like that aside, Kunai absolutely delivers the goods and with its unique grapple mechanics stands tall even in the somewhat crowded Switch Metroidvania space as one of the best on the system.

Guacamelee 2 [DrinkBox Studios] - While I really enjoyed the original Guacamelee I actually thought it got a bit more hype than it deserved overall. Whatever qualms I had with it got absolutely body slammed into oblivion in its outstanding sequel though. I initially got the bug playing it with 3 strangers at PAX East and having an absolute blast. Whether going it solo or with some friends it's just an outstanding Metroidvania brawler full of challenging fights, great upgrades, tons of silliness (I love beating people up as a chicken), and some of the most brutal puzzle platforming level design as I've seen if you want to grab every power-up and secret. Just an all around top tier title.

Steamworld Dig 2 [Image & Form] - Widely, and quite deservedly, regarded as the best one of the best early indie games on the Switch (though perhaps Stardew Valley would have something to say about that) Dig 2 essentially took everything that already worked well with the original and improved upon it. Far more hand-crafted, full of humor, and exemplifying the ""just one more run"" treasure hunting loop it is very satisfying but also challenging to both your mind and reflexes. To get everything you'll need to work through some tough trials but it is a very rewarding ride.

Unbound: Worlds Apart [Alien Pixel Studios] - While they weren’t initially very well-represented on the Switch, in the past 2 years the Metroidvania genre has been thriving thanks to a wide variety of indie titles. With that in mind, doing things a little differently would likely be a good idea, and that’s where Unbound makes a case for its potential success, by leaning a bit in the opposite direction most titles choose. While exploration and rewards for persistence are building blocks all titles in the space should have, and that are represented well here, rather than placing an emphasis on combat as most games do within the space, Unbound leans into the puzzles instead. Through the creative use of portals and a variety of powers you’ll wield as the game moves on you’ll be able to navigate through some tough challenges that vary in style and difficulty, making for an experience that never is quite able to get dull and that will put you to the test in some cases to work through how to properly make your way through some intricate maze-like level design. While perhaps not as ideal for the action-oriented set I found the more cerebral approach in this case to be satisfyingly refreshing compared to the norm.

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights [Live Wire] - When you’ve played enough indie titles over time it’s hard not to get a bit cynical when you see certain elements in games. For whatever reason the more hand-drawn black and white style that Ender Lilies uses is one that I’ve been burned on before so I approached it with some hesitation. I’m happy to say that it pretty quickly shattered my concerns with well-worn platforming and slashing, some smart level design, and a story that caught my attention a bit more than usual. Throw in progression with new weapon choices, skills, and growth and it’s much more than a pretty face. Even the games enemy bosses, which often can end up feeling generic or unfair or flawed in some way and bring games like this down feel well-designed and tough but beatable, giving the game a great middle-of-the-road difficulty rather than trending in the direction many have chosen of late of shooting for a “Souls-like” experience by setting up a damage sponge with lackluster design and calling it a day. Mixing together a unique and generally gorgeous art style, classic Metroidvania play, and a story that manages to at least be a bit of a surprise, Ender Lilies arrived on the Switch without much fanfare to announce it, but leaves you with a memorable experience.

Foregone [Big Blue Bubble Inc] - One glance at Foregone and many video game fans are likely to mistake it for the incredible Dead Cells… and given that the game’s art and animations were created through a very similar process that’s not a coincidence. It’s the similarities in the two titles that actually make Foregone very tough to review, there’s no denying similarities but they’re also quite different in their construction and goals. Taking on a more traditional Metroidvania style reminiscent of classics from the 16-bit era you won’t have many of the roguelike trappings that both made Dead Cells more varied and challenging. That means the most of all the level designs and flow are dialed in and you won’t have as diverse of options in customizing your build by far (though the melee and shooting weapon variety is appreciated). However, it also means there’s more of a story, overall the learning curve for success isn’t quite as severe, and more traditional gamers will likely find it easier to get into due to its more familiar nature. The game’s most critical component, the execution of combat, works very well here and you’ll likely need to master the use of your dodge and the timing of your attacks to be ready to contend with the game’s various enemies effectively. I did sometimes run into performance hiccups, but in general I’d say they never felt like they interfered greatly with my success either. While the shadow of Dead Cells does loom over many aspects of Foregone, if you’re looking for a rock-solid Metroidvania that mixes melee and projectile weapons in combat effectively and feels great to play more often than not it’s well worth a look.

Blasphemous [The Game Kitchen] - From first glance during a Direct there was no question that Blasphemous, visually, was something pretty special. With a dark and gothic tone all its own, this is certainly a stand-out in the Switch library. What may be divisive for the average gamer will be the degree of difficulty that comes along for the ride. Owing much to the likes of Castlevania in its overall style and feel, with you slashing your way through enemies, finding power-ups and secrets all about in a non-linear way, the old school sensibilities of those original games is also in full effect here. This is an unforgivingly tough game, one that will prompt controllers leaving peoples’ hands, whether being put down or even thrown. If that sounds like your jam I’d say the experience is pretty easy to recommend, though perhaps it doesn’t do a great deal to stand out from its inspirations in terms of innovative gameplay. If you’re not a seasoned gamer and aren’t looking for a title to kick you down and coldly tell you to “git gud” repeatedly you’ll likely be better off taking on something a bit less ambitious though.

Gato Roboto [Doinksoft] - Probably the game’s biggest flaw is just that it’s over in roughly a handful of hours, though its budget-friendly price is very appropriate for the quality and duration of the experience. Even if you’re not pulled in by the cute premise, there’s no question this is a title that is laser-focused on packing your time with the game with variety, some challenge, and fun. Its limited runtime makes it tough to say whether it really approaches the quality of Nintendo’s own franchise, but it is by no means in its shadow, just bear in mind it borrows very liberally from the series and aside from the art style and silliness of its main character it does little to change the formula. But if you’ve been waiting to enjoy the adventures of Samus on the Switch this may be the closest you’ll get to that feeling on the console and it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.

Sundered [Thunder Lotus Games] - Coming from the same team that worked on the boss fight-centric Jotun, Sundered has the same signature gorgeous hand-drawn art and impressively-scaled bosses to fight but this time went with a Metroidvania feel and it works. Even on easy this game can be challenging at times as you'll get rushed by enemies periodically but the action feels great, power-ups come with some regularity, and some of the level design is quite clever. The procedural map in places and degree of challenge may frustrate some but the overall experience is well worth checking out.

Trash Quest [Francis Vace] - When you’re looking to score a decent game on a budget you can’t always afford to be overly picky, but thankfully with some help you can often find some solid deals out there. While it isn’t very impressive visually, and certainly won’t hold your hand very much, if you enjoy Metroidvania-style exploration as well as some tricky puzzle platforming, Trash Quest is worth a look. Taken as a relatively small, short, and challenging package to fill some time, completing it initially, and then competing on the leaderboard for a quick clear time once you know what you’re doing, for its low price it has quite a lot of value to offer for the right crowd.

Bookbound Brigade [Digital Tales] - As an English major and classical literature nerd of sorts the setup for Bookbound Brigade easily piqued my interest. Work through a Metroidvania by controlling a group of characters from a pretty wide variety of classics and periodically encounter even more characters as you level up, gain new abilities and formations you can work with, and work to solve puzzles and defeat enemies as you go? Early on when running into Don Quixote I was encouraged even further on my nerd side with a great character reference. Unfortunately, in terms of the gameplay itself, it’s more of a mixed bag. The variety in what your crew becomes capable of actually gets to be a bit of an impediment as remembering all of the controls and being able to effectively use them quickly and precisely at times can get to be a bit of a chore. I like a good challenge but when it feels like the game’s own mechanics are one of your obstacles to getting into a groove and enjoying yourself it can be aggravating. There’s no doubt it has some good and original ideas, just I’m not sure it’s consistent enough in quality to get a firm recommendation.

Monster Sanctuary [Moi Rai Games] - When you create a franchise as successful as the Pokemon series it’s inevitable that there will be a long line of imitators. Developers from indies all the way to publishers have taken a crack at the formula with varied success but in broad terms to this point it has been notable how little variation there has been in the bulk of attempts. Where Monster Sanctuary first and most notably succeeds is in changing just enough by moving to combining the tried-and-true monster collection and combat with a Metroidvania-esque hook to its exploration. Perhaps it’s a relatively small change, but for me it provided a different and more engaging sense of exploration to help distract from the pretty well-known grind that you’d typically associate with games in this style. Also worth noting is that once you begin to assemble your team the depth and diversity of your various creatures’ skill trees is pretty impressive and perhaps bordering on overwhelming. You can go wide with many skills to work with, narrow with fewer but more potent skills, or even hyper-focused on one particular tree to make a powerhouse in a specific area. Then, further mixing and matching your team line-up to suit the enemies you’ll face you can really be potent in combat. It by no means reinvents the genre but it shows a depth of effort to break away from what you’d typically expect to deliver a more unique experience.

Tohou Luna Nights [Vaka Game Magazine] - Leave it to indie games to keep finding ways to push the “generic” genre experience of something so well-known as the Metroidvania in at least slightly new directions. Tohou Luna Nights, for me, got off to a bit of a rocky start because of how different it was in its approach but by the time I got to the game’s first boss and things like your ability to stop time had kicked in I was on board. I did find some elements of it to be a bit on the quirky side, and the story I’m not positive will be everyone’s cup of tea, but to its credit it doesn’t quite feel the same as its contemporaries on the Switch so that helps it stand out. If you’re a genre fan looking for a mix of classic and new sensibilities combined it should be a satisfying ride.

Dandara [Long Hat House] - This is another title that immediately caught everyone's attention when it was shown in a Nindie Direct. While the unusual fact that you don't run around so much as wall jump everywhere may not work for everyone there's no doubt that element added a degree of challenge and differentiation from just about anything else you may have ever played in the genre. Throw in a very unique overall aesthetic and unusual enemies and it's a memorable experience.

SteamWorld Dig [Image & Form] - Ultimately, even getting on in years a bit, Steamworld Dig still works very well and is almost immediately as addictive as it ever was once you get the ball rolling. The “just one more run” feeling doesn’t have quite as strong a drive as with its sequel, where there are far more things you’re hoping to unlock, but it is still a highly satisfying experience that is well-implemented. Ultimately priced as a budget title it offers a great time for a reasonable investment.

forma.8 [MixedBag] - I was enchanted by forma.8 and the slow-paced tranquility it has offered me. In particular with craziness of a variety of types everywhere the ability to zone out, listen to the soothing ambient sounds and music, and progress through the gorgeous alien landscapes has been welcome. For me the need to keep track of everything I’ve seen and then try to recall where they were to backtrack to them later, leading to some aimless wandering at times, got a bit trying at times but it’s not much different than many other games of this type either. If you’re looking for something to enjoy at a slow and deliberate pace, while providing you periodic bursts of challenges for both your mind and your action reflexes, forma.8 is a perfect fit.

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight [Bombservice] - All things considered, Momodora is a solid Metroidvania that certainly has visual flair and a solid core gameplay experience. The sensibilities with its challenge are both modern and super old school, putting the pressure on the player to “git gud” to accept and work through some ordeals to find success. While I like a good challenge I’d argue that Momodora’s weakness is a tendency towards cheapness a bit too often, which diminishes the fun a bit in the process. However, if you’re down for pushing yourself to get through this gauntlet of strange enemies and some frustration it’s worth checking out.

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!

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