Thursday, December 31

Top 100 Indie Games of 2020 on Nintendo Switch


It’s that time of year again, and with a release schedule as insane as it was in the last year trying to summarize the best games of the year is more challenging than ever. While the normal way to approach this would be to condense the best games into a narrow and smaller number like 10 or even 20, anyone who follows this site knows that isn’t how I roll (though I do have genre-specific lists that do just that). The following list breaks games down into sub-categories, often below even the genre level, in the attempt to point out great titles that will appeal to as broad a spectrum of gamers as possible. The goal isn’t just to list off the best games by pure score, but instead to come up with a list that’s as diverse and representative of the multitude of great titles on the Switch eShop.

Please bear in mind, this list only includes games I’ve been lucky enough to review over the past year so there will be omissions both large and small. Opportunities to review some titles large, middling, and small just didn’t line up so my list can’t speak to them. Still, having reviewed 635 titles this year I had plenty of great titles to choose from. I hope gamers of all ages and interests can find a great match for their tastes somewhere in here.


Hades -
OK, so I’ll admit the folks at Supergiant Games (behind the favorites Bastion and Transistor in particular) had me with the fact that they decided to make a roguelike to begin with. But, pedigree doesn’t always mean a home run (sadly, looking at you Exit the Gungeon) so I’ll admit that despite how great this game looked I was nervous as it loaded up. Given that the bar for roguelike excellence is Dead Cells, with all of its amazing action and variety, making a big splash in this territory takes some real skill. Damn, as if their past titles weren’t clear enough, Hades locks Supergiant Games in as a real force to be reckoned with, and that’s all the way up to the AAA developers. Hades is smart and stylish, fast and fluid, tough and tense… and in general among roguelikes the surprise is that I’d also consider it very approachable, even from the get-go, for anyone with some familiarity with action titles. Where it really takes things to the next level is that it starts with the rock-solid core of several well-designed weapons, each with their own base style, but then through divine enhancements and other means of modification you unlock as you go each run can feel radically different. You can enhance each skill a little or go deep in one discipline, both approaches are valid and can give you a lot of power if you can keep moving and alive. What I love is that while the range of ways you can play is reminiscent of the likes of Dead Cells the systems in this game still feel very fresh and unique. Throw in stellar voice work, more mythological figures than you can shake a stick at, and a truckload of inherent replayability that comes with any good roguelike and this is one of the top games on the system. 
 

Streets of Rage 4 - Right out of the gate I had an admission to make, when it comes to the beat-em-up genre I’m firmly a Final Fight guy, always have been. With that out of the way I’ll quickly make a bold (but having played the game quite a bit, very simple) declaration… even with no allegiance to the Streets of Rage franchise this is hands down the best overall beat-em-up I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. It looks amazing, each of the characters have similar but distinctive moves you’ll need to really dial into to be effective, it supports both local and online multiplayer, it’s tough but not often cheap, and it has a truckload of content to explore and unlock. Not only does it manage this laundry list all in the same package, in pretty well every area I’d say it outclasses the competition (sometimes handily) across the board as well. For fans of the genre this is your Holy Grail, and for anyone who has ever wondered why people enjoy beat-em-ups this is the best example of what it has to offer, though it may spoil you if you decide you like what you see since it stands a fair distance above its competition. If ever there was a brawler that could justify a perfect score it’s this one.


Ori and the Will of the Wisps - 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. 
 

Grindstone - There’s nothing I like more than a surprise game that shows up, slaps you around a bit, and leaves you thirsting for more. With its pretty wacky (and seriously violent) cartoon-like style, smart mix of puzzling and strategy, and a terrific surprise specifically in the form of Daily Challenges that will ensure I keep coming back for more, Grindstone absolutely delivers the goods. If you’ve played a variety of puzzle titles before the base mechanic will be familiar, your typical goal is to try to chain as many enemies of the same color as possible. Past that though I can’t say I’ve played anything like this since Grindstones that are dropped for high enough combos then allow you to change to a new color in the same chain, leading to even bigger combos. Now add in a touch of temptation with chests that will coax you into lingering on a board longer to unlock a new blueprint for usable gear, special monsters that will demand you consider how to take them off the board, and even some wild boss battles and the 200+ levels will give you plenty to think about. The cherry on top is the Daily Greed Challenge though, which will challenge you to a sequence of tough levels, providing you with options for perks at each step and truly pushing your strategy and sense of daring to the max if you want to be competitive on the leaderboards. It’s rare that puzzle games are a treat from top to bottom, and add in that it is drenched in great cartoon carnage and Grindstone is a game you’ve got to at least give a moment to check out.


Spiritfarer - 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. 
 

Super Mega Baseball 3 - Getting right down to it there’s just something about the Super Mega Baseball series that taps into what love and nostalgia I have for baseball as a sport, particularly in video game form. While I could see where some sports fans could be irritated by the lack of MLB teams and players for me it takes me back to the days of playing games on the NES or in the arcade against friends, though obviously the degree of complexity on all levels has appropriately increased. What then seals the deal, and what impressed me so much about this title, is how scalable the experience is in terms of depth and difficulty. If you just want to just kick around in some exhibition games, great. A whole season? Sure. Manage a franchise including all of the trades, potentials for injury hardships, and customizing just about anything you can think of? Without the worries of a license it’s all available to you. Throw in the ego system which will allow you to tune the difficulty up or down incrementally as your skills grow and it can remain as easy or tough as you choose. The statement that this is the best baseball title without question on Switch may be easy for lack of any legitimate competition whatsoever but more than that it is one of the best baseball games I’ve ever played, period.


Moving Out - While the Overcooked series is famously (or is it infamously?) known to many fans of local multiplayer I’ll admit that I consider one of its weaknesses to be broad approachability. There are just enough mechanics and features in it that manage to frustrate more than they generally entertain that after the first few levels I struggled to keep my family and friends on board. Working with some ideas roughly in the same vein, and certainly sharing some aesthetic qualities on a general level, Moving Out can be challenging but I also consider it to be more fair and thus more likely to be fun with a larger audience. In it you and your friends will play as movers who must get all manner of furniture and knick knacks out of a house and onto your truck. No surprise, it quickly can get more complicated as you’ll need to work together to get larger and more awkward pieces out. The good news is that if you’re willing to perhaps forgo a bonus and offend your customers you can also have a ton of fun busting up the place in the process, breaking windows and disregarding best practices in the name of shaving off seconds. Throw in bonus objectives that range from mildly challenging to silly that vary from stage to stage, and while people could get a little more tense early on as everyone learned the ropes for the most part it was a room full of smiles as everyone locked into their niches and got things done. Highly recommended for approachable family fun!


Fuser - The rise and fall of music titles and their mainstream popularity has always been a bit interesting to watch. Certainly the peak came with the smashing success of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but games like Dance Central and its ilk as well as other subgenres have continued to slowly pump out engaging content for the fans. With the release of Fuser, Harmonix has once again taken a crack at making a title with true mainstream appeal, not just delivering an insane and diverse library of tunes to utilize but also working out a way to make the job of a DJ mixing the beats accessible and pretty engaging for a wide audience. You’ll spend time early on in the Campaign mode, with each new challenge introducing you to new tricks of the trade as you go. At the base of it all you’ll have 4 turntables to drop tracks onto, typically corresponding to the core beat, the bass line, the higher accompaniment, and then the vocals. At the basic level you’re able to do plenty with just this, timing your drops either at the measure or taking a cue for where it will seamlessly pick up from the previous track. From there you’ll be run through the paces, working with fades, altering tempos, creating custom loops of your own, and more. If you’re fascinated by music and doing a great job of manipulating it the well is a pretty deep one but if you’re looking merely for a game to “beat” in some regard it may not be a great match. Moving past the Campaign a number of community features allow you to collaborate, learn, and share but the value of those added opportunities is tied to what you’re looking for. Fuser lacks the party game sort of energy and show-off factor that some of the other major Harmonix titles has in its library but for fans of all music this is a pretty fascinating opportunity to play with it in an absolutely new and fascinating way. 
 

Shady Part of Me - 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. 
 

Carrion - 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.




Shantae and the Seven Sirens -
While I’m a relatively recent fan of the Shantae series, having just been introduced to it in the collection release on Switch a while ago, I’m definitely getting into the groove and enjoying what feels like its consistency. Some great characters, perhaps a bit on the silly and dramatic side, backed up by rock-solid action platforming and more often than not varied and exciting boss fights. Clocking in completing my first full runthrough of this edition in a bit under 8 hours for the most part I’d consider it satisfying, though I will offer some nitpicks. While I won’t fault the game for generally being highly accessible with plentiful healing and opportunities to collect coins to be used for upgrades, that does diminish the excitement of big battles that don’t revolve around some puzzling and pattern solving. Especially in the fights against Risky Boots I sort of gave up on trying to be subtle and would just full-on blitz her with attacks until she was done, usually only needing to heal twice at most before it was done. Certainly that was my choice but at the same time her battles tended to be highly repetitive and only iteratively harder each time so my indifference felt earned. While some trappings like the enemy card system that would give you up to 3 incremental improvements to a particular skill or attack were nice they, along with the majority of the magic system attacks, felt a little under-utilized. Nice to have, but mostly non-essential so a bit wasted. Bear in mind, I’m being a bit picky only because I think the game was terrific and I just want to see it refined further and get better. While I wouldn’t call it perfect I think it’s a terrific title that gamers of just about any age or skill level could likely enjoy. There may be a few sections that will push you, and there are spots where figuring out where to go next can be a challenge, but its upbeat tone, polished presentation, and accessible fun are hard not to enjoy.


Horace - 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. 


Bloodroots - This is a title that got me excited the first time I saw it in a Nindie Direct and that I was even more thrilled with when I got to play it some last year at PAX. The silly and almost arcade-like kinetic action as you sweep through levels like a tornado of destruction, using whatever implements are available, to dispatch your numerous enemies is a thrill. I was concerned that it would somehow burn itself out, running out of ideas and somehow losing its edge but those worries were unfounded. New challenges, weapons, and scenarios continue to challenge you throughout, moving between more free-form destruction levels and those that require precision and smart use of what’s made available to you. If there’s one concern I have with the game I’d say that it may be a bit tougher than the average person would like, and one of the reasons for that is that there are times it feels overly picky. Sometimes this is a simpler thing like you being close but apparently not just close enough to grab a weapon as you blow by but then there are stages where you’ll need to jump from a moving barrel to another but nuance isn’t one of the game’s strengths and without nailing the jump you’ll repeatedly die. If the game were only slightly more forgiving, leaning further into the fun energy and high-score-chasing chaos than being so picky about precision I’d consider it just about perfect for anyone. As it is, everything is still a load of fun, just be ready for some rough spots where you may need to walk away for a bit to let your rage subside.


Wildfire - 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.


Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials - What’s interesting with indie games is their consistent ability to seem familiar at first but then consistently surprise you by defying expectations. Barbarian is one such title, having the look and initial feel of an old school Metroidvania from the 16-bit era but then upping the typical game in the areas of puzzles and the number of secrets to be found. I was pretty well amazed in just the first few hours how many secrets were just hinted at that I gave a shot, thinking like it is in many games that it was just me being too eager to find something cool, but then finding my instincts had been right. For me there’s just something highly satisfying about that and I found myself spending as much time trying to find secrets as worrying about progress. As can be the case with the genre, getting lost can be an issue as you try to squeeze out everything there is to find and then get back on the main track. However I didn’t generally find myself backtracking too far in most cases and that kept the game from dragging as you need to get around as some games do. While perhaps it may not quite be a must-have experience I’d expect genre fans will find it to be a consistently pleasant surprise. 




Jenny LeClue: Detectivu -
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. 
 

Chicken Police: Paint it Red - 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. 


Röki - 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 .


Journey of the Broken Circle - 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. 


Oddworld: New n Tasty - While the Switch has had some entries from the Oddworld series that have dabbled in a variety of styles of play, most of them at best only moderately successful, New n Tasty marks their return to the original… though thankfully in gussied up redux form. You’ll control Abe as he desperately tries to escape and share the truth (reminiscent of Soylent Green) with his brethren. Mechanically true to the original the controls take some getting used to since this isn’t a straight action platformer but instead a puzzle platformer with some movement and controls that are more like Abe’s following your commands on a broad level, perhaps even after taking a few drinks. There are places where this can absolutely be frustrating but the style harkens back to earlier times and classics like Prince of Persia or Out of This World among others so it is an understood style of control, just one that perhaps now feels more dated than ever. Regardless there’s some craft and charm in the polished look and silliness of the whole affair and it does do a good job of justifying how the original was able to start up a franchise with its weirdo charm. 
 



One Finger Death Punch 2 -
Ever since the early days of the genre I’ve been a big fan of a good beat-em-up. While most people immediately think of the likes of Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or any number of other classics from the late 80s into the early 90s, I look back farther with a fondness to the likes of Kung-Fu Master. Rolling with that inspiration in mind, I first got the chance to play One Finger Death Punch 2 at PAX last year and to look at it, yes, at its core it is just a two-button stick figure fighting game. However, give it a few minutes and get into the rhythm and you’ll find that it’s so much more. Yes, you have only two buttons to concern yourself with, your left and right attacks, but what’s amazing is how much the developers have managed to eke out of that system. A wide variety of enemy types (including those who’ll take multiple hits in different directions) will challenge you to be precise, essentially planning out each attack so you don’t miss and leave yourself open to taking a hit. Some will throw or shoot weapons at you that you’ll be able to avoid, block, or even grab, and keeping track of which it will be will then influence your planning for attacks since a projectile can knock out multi-hit enemies with one shot. All of this makes the game one that demands your full attention, to some degree constantly doing the math to keep track of your hits to either side. The reward for your diligence is then one of the most silly, insane, and consistently visually surprising brawls you could imagine, with crazy weapons and over-the-top special attacks of all kinds that generally left a smile on my face. If there’s a criticism it’s with the somewhat clunky overworld map that’s a pain to navigate at times, but outside of that if you love a good brawl with a surprising level of variety this is absolutely a game you should be checking out!


Super Crush KO - Early in the Switch lifespan, when the pickings were sometimes a bit more thin, there were some core Nindie titles that helped occupy my time. Among my favorites was the very distinct high-score-chasing space shooter Graceful Explosion Machine which encouraged repeated play as I’d try to get top ranks and a few rungs higher on the leaderboards for every stage. Who knew the same core concepts of multiple attack styles, a sense of flair, and a scoring system that pushes you to keep changing things up would work so well in a beat-em-up? Apparently the folks at Vertex Pop did! Very similarly to GEM I love the flow of things, and how you need to continually improvise not only to keep out of harm’s way but also in order to chain more and more attacks into your combo. It can be almost meditative when you’re in the zone, dodging, dashing through bullets, throwing uppercuts, and even shooting. In terms of raw stages, much like GEM there aren’t a ton to get through, but the joy here is in revisiting and climbing the online leaderboards, and for that this game crushes it.


Going Under - As an enormous fan of anything roguelike Going Under has been on my radar since I first saw it announced, billing itself as a sort of insane 3D beat-em-up where you can pick up just about anything to use as a weapon. When I got the chance to check it out at PAX East this year I could see the promise of the fun in it, and I began to see the humor that actually serves as one of the game’s surprising areas of appeal, but there was just also something that didn’t quite click for me. With the full release now available to me I still feel like something’s missing in the formula that somehow keeps it from true greatness but that isn’t to say it can’t be fun to take for a spin of challenging and often chaotic combat. Since you’re able to use so many sorts of objects you find laying about, and in a pinch you won’t always have ideal choices around you, it does have a rough early learning curve. Weapon durability, range, effectiveness… you’ll generally just need to experiment to get a feel for these things. The same can be said for many perks and items you’ll have to work with, the brief descriptions aren’t always as instructive as they could be so it can be a bit of a mess until you sort it out. The skewering of corporate culture is spot on and often hilarious if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle farm, so that helps bring the experience up but it may be offset by meta progression that, compared to its competition, doesn’t feel quite as helpful as normal… perhaps making the grind to success feel a little less rewarding on the way. I have mixed feelings about it in the end, really appreciating the silly tone and its addressing a flavor of roguelikes I haven’t seen much of to this point but at the same time missing the spark in it that drives my enthusiasm to recommend it with more than somewhat above average force. Roguelike and beat-em-up fans should appreciate and enjoy a change of pace, but everyone else will probably be fine missing it.




Dodo Peak -
There’s nothing I enjoy more with indies than games that defy expectation. At first glance Dodo Peak looks like a pretty straight-forward action puzzle game that’s just going to be cute and somewhat benign. Oh, but how deceptive it is. While not everyone may be as much of an arcade nerd as I am what I appreciate the most about the game is its mix of elements from a few different games. While everyone I’ve seen has been keen to mention Q*Bert, which you can absolutely see bits of, the deep cut here is a less-known game called Flicky. The fact that the eggs you collect trail you and you’ll need to be mindful of them (even as there get to be more and more of them) when they’re in danger really cranks up the challenge and planning that will be required. You can’t just squeak yourself through a tough spot, you’ll need every member of your brood in tow to make it as well so that’s where planning will need to come in as well. While in the early going your ideal route is relatively simple, and possibly even outright dictated, the further you go the more things open up and you’ll need to contemplate how best to proceed. While it is by no means a massive game the budget price, polished presentation, and mix of multiple arcade classics as well as modern sensibilities really make it stand out from the crowd in the eShop. 
 

Hidden Through Time - If you’ve ever had kids or were a kid at some point you may recall the Where’s Waldo books. Given a densely drawn page full of detail your challenge was to spot the striped hat and shirt of the bespectacled nerd who seemed to have a talent for seeking out other people or places that would distract your eyes from finding him. Taking that same sort of idea visually and running with a more general hidden object theme we now have Hidden Through Time, a puzzler full of charm and personality that will consistently make you feel like a fool for missing an object after repeatedly checking the same area and swearing it isn’t there. What really helps the game stand out is the quality, charm, and entertaining small details hidden everywhere in the large scenes you have to look over. It may be simple conceptually but it’s the care put into the endeavor that really sold me on this one. If you’re looking for a great title to casually kick back and enjoy this comes highly recommended.




Kingdom Rush Origins -
Finally the last unreleased version of the Kingdom Rush franchise is on the Switch, and Origins also happens to be my personal favorite of the bunch. While you could argue that there aren’t too many major differences in the core play between each entry there are enough elements that were introduced with the more fantasy-focused Origins that it stands apart from its peers with differences deeper than mere aesthetics. The big difference is the much more active environments you’ll find yourself in, featuring details that range from mere distractions in the background to flowers you’re able to activate to do a little extra damage to enemies, to your foes being able to surprise you by either creating or finding alternative paths mid-stage to throw off your plans a bit and perhaps require regrouping. As always once you get into the groove with a few heroes to choose from and the ability to max out your upgrades for each element of defense you construct you can really come up with an interesting variety of strategies for surviving the onslaught of your enemies. Since the game has such a wide menagerie of creatures to work with from stage to stage you’ll find the same strategy that got you through a few levels before won’t necessarily work once the enemy turns the screws on a later one. This mix of planning, careful use of your adhoc abilities, and figuring out when and how to adapt to the varied waves the game will throw at you is a consistent challenge and almost always satisfying when you’re able to pull it off. Highly approachable, best played with the touchscreen but workable with a controller, and full of small touches that show a genuine care in engaging your attention fully through some tough stages I’d say any of the games in this trilogy are worthwhile, which one you prefer will likely just be a matter of taste. 
 

Embracelet - 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 - 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.


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.




Neon Abyss -
While it’s still what I’d consider a niche genre overall roguelike shooters are one of those that I practically consider sacred. While I’ve played and enjoyed a great number of them there are probably only 3 I’d say are pillars of sorts in the genre: The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and Enter the Gungeon. While all of them play differently the one thing they have in common is their top-down perspective. I’ve seen attempts at side-scrolling roguelikes before, but none of them has really stepped up to the level of the greats… until now. Neon Abyss is the game-changing and genre-defining side-scrolling roguelike shooter you’ve been waiting for, it’s simple as that. For comparison purposes I’d say the game it shares the most with conceptually would be Isaac, and that’s because it pushes much more heavily into the potential for craziness and diversity in every single run. Rather than the focus being on weapons, though it certainly has some very creative ones, Abyss is much more about the absolutely dizzying number of items and how putting them together in different combinations can produce some radically-different results. While there are opportunities to make some choices, for the most part every time you enter the Abyss you’re on a runaway train of craziness and your only choice is to try to make the most of it. One run may be pet-heavy, in another you’ll be able to fly, some will give you devastating firepower, but no matter how geared up you may feel the fickle RNG gods can still take it away.

Moreso than any game in the genre outside of Isaac risk versus reward is a constant battle here. You’ll generally have a limited number of coins, grenades, keys, eggs, pets, hearts, and shields and depending on your run any of them could be more scarce or vital to your success. All of these variables can certainly make for some frustration, but the great news is that aside from there being an ability to go with Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty as you play more and have more successes you’ll also be able to unlock even more gear, characters, special rooms, and even more that will help to keep the experience evolving and getting even more unpredictable. Now, at least for launch I would be remiss not to mention the game can have problems with some bosses and circumstances with slowdown, and when it kicks in it can be a slideshow. The good news is that even with as much insanity on the screen as there can be on an ongoing basis these stutters are only temporary in nature, so hopefully a patch will help clean them up. Even with these issues though, Neon Abyss is an absolute blast to play. You’ll have ups, you’ll have downs, you’ll cackle with glee as you put together an arsenal that melts an entire room of enemies in seconds. If you’re a fan of shooters I consider this an absolute must-play (and hey, there’s a demo too), but even for more mainstream gamers if you’ve ever considered trying out a roguelike shooter this is absolutely one of the best options out there.


Super Meat Boy Forever -
Fans of one of the OG teeth-gnashing platforming challenges from the early indie days have been waiting for a number of years to see Meat Boy make his triumphant (and brutally tough) return, and with the arrival of Forever… there’ll be mixed reactions?!? This may not be the sequel everyone was hoping for as the style of play has been changed completely, even if the degree of difficulty hasn’t subsided at all. Where before you had full control over Meat Boy (or any of his unlocked contemporaries) to work through loads of platforming challenges, this new entry in the series has taken on a form more consistent with an endless runner. There are positives as well as pitfalls to this choice, with the streamlining of what you have to worry about possibly making the experience more accessible but leaving the experience mostly with very picky timing on everything you do in its place. Since you’re unable to freely move many levels also take on more of a puzzle-like feel as you try to work out your path (hopefully picking up pacifiers along the way and maybe finding hidden secrets) since you’ll simply die if you get to the edge of the screen and turning isn’t always something you can pull off wherever you’d like. The big upside is that every time you play through the levels are bound to lay themselves out differently, giving the game immense replay value, but whether or not you’re down for the new format that may have come at a high price for your enjoyment or perhaps your expectations.
 

West of Dead -
While there are many roguelike shooters on the Switch (and quite a few of them are absolutely terrific) none of them plays quite like West of Dead. The biggest change is in the pacing, switching out arcade-style intensity with the more careful action befitting your undead gunslinger. Make no mistake, this game is absolutely a challenge, and in true roguelike fashion it’s not going to compromise it’s level of difficulty for the benefit of your ego in the early going especially. The thing is, once you get over the substantial hump of Chapter 1 (pro hint: unless you like dying don’t take on the Wendigo in the second level, he’s optional) and get your bearings, as well as a few new weapons and items for your arsenal selection, it does let up. Many mechanics for progression and flow take a page from the Dead Cells handbook, a smart move, though unfortunately the build variety and choice in that title isn’t as present here. Though I love the Mignola-esque art style the darkness mixed with funky geometry can sometimes be annoying as you'll get stuck, and the camera that tries to keep a bead on the action can contribute to occasional issues further. Though perhaps this is a title best reserved for the hardcore roguelike fans who know what they’re getting into, the game’s sense of style matched with the voice of Ron Perlman may compel some new blood to the genre as well. Just don’t say you weren’t warned. 
 

Ruiner - With its visual flair, dystopian world, and what appeared to be a penchant for tense and violent action, Ruiner has been on my radar for quite some time. When it was released on other platforms my heart sunk a bit though, as it seemed to be pretty widely criticized for cranking up the difficulty too far and coming up short on fun. Count this as an instance where the delay in the game coming to Switch was absolutely a blessing. You’re a man on a mission, though revelations over the course of the story continue to make you question who you’re working for and whether everyone may simply be out to manipulate you for their own bloody purposes. The good news is that towards those bloody ends you’ll have access to quite a diverse arsenal of both projectile and melee weapons, though in general you won’t be able to use any of them for very long before needing to pick up another. This dynamic, mixed with a diverse perk system, makes every battle improvisational, requiring you to keep on the move and on the lookout for any opportunities that may present themselves. The most useful (and fun) thing to keep track of are enemies who are on the edge of death that you can dispatch with a finisher, with the incentive not just being a cool kill but often some crucial health or energy that can help keep you from being overwhelmed. Sure, there can be skirmishes that seem less well-balanced than others, and in the end I found the time wandering around town to be wasted effort, but overall these are small criticisms. While Ruiner may not be perfect, it was a title I couldn’t stop playing until the credits rolled. Intense, violent, surprisingly varied, and I’d argue quite replayable due to the wide variety of perks you can invest skill points in, its mix of shooting and slashing feels quite distinct and it’s one of the most satisfying games I’ve played this year.


Inertial Drift - While some people prefer their racing to be a bit rough around the edges, banging around turns and defying any sense of realism, others prefer to go the other direction and focus on nuance. That’s certainly the case for the aptly-named Inertial Drift, which won’t give you the arcade-like thrills of bumping into your competitors (when you do race against a single opponent you don’t make contact with them, they’re always effectively ghosts), but instead focuses on skilled drifting, which offers great fun and challenge in its own right. The big differentiator here is that the right stick controls the angle of your drift, which is a brilliant idea, and really allows you to have fabulously-precise control of your car through turns, and as you get better your understanding of how best to turn versus drift continues to evolve. There’s no doubt the degree of challenge is also higher here, but if you find yourself struggling initially I’d very much recommend choosing a different racer and car. Every vehicle has its own associated technique with it in terms of how you approach turns, whether just letting off the throttle, braking, or whatever it may be. Each feels very distinct and I could see where different people could prefer each particular style of racer. To top it off the hand-drawn sort of art style looks pretty amazing, so if you prefer nuance to trading paint this may be the racer for you. 
 



Phogs! -
While I love great challenging roguelikes and other titles geared towards the hardcore set I’ll fladly admit that well-made family-friendly fare always puts a smile on my face. I originally got to play Phogs at PAX East 2 years ago and just in that 20 minute demo I got excited about the game’s potential with its super-cute look, characters, and style. Now, with it finally making its way to Switch, I’m thrilled with the final result. It’s smart, intuitive, adorable, and I think (most critically) highly accessible without necessarily feeling “easy” either… something that’s a rare combination even among the more than a thousand indie games I’ve played on the system. At the base you’re controlling a two-headed dog, with either you controlling them in parallel solo (doing that left/right brain thing) or with you and a friend each controlling one end. There generally aren’t many controls to learn, you’ll be concerned with movement, grabbing things with your mouth, and stretching when necessary. What’s great, though, is how creatively the game works within those general limitations to create different puzzle opportunities. If one head grabs a lightbulb the other can shine light on things, if the one end grabs a water source the other can control the flow of water like a hose. These variations keep levels generally feeling fresh with new scenarios, but the dynamic where one person’s job is to grab and hold something is also a great way to take some pressure off of a less experienced gamer in the pair, leaving the tougher or more nuanced controls to the more capable one. Of course, if you’re equally paired you can always alternate who does what as well. All in all there’s much more to this game than its cute factor (though that’s undeniable) that deserves recognition, Phogs is a smart and highly-accessible co-op puzzle experience that delivers all-ages fun and some great creative variety. 
 

Sky Racket - This is one of those games where with the elevator pitch alone I was revved up and ready to go. A retro-styled mash up of shmup bullet dodging and breakout? Where do I sign up? Fortunately, though granted the experience isn’t necessarily a long one (and I’d say it’s a mistake not to have online leaderboards to encourage people to replay stages to compete on scores), Sky Racket’s execution justifies the excitement. Not only does it look like a long lost title from the 16-bit era, there’s just a whimsical quality to it that lines up with that time as well, making it feel like a bit of a lost classic. I’d say the experience is equally good solo or with a friend, though paired you’ll probably want to be sure your skills are at least comparable to keep some frustrations at bay. If you’ve been bemoaning there simply not being enough innovation in the market you owe it to yourself to partake of this great and unique indie gem.


Biped - I first encountered Biped at PAX East, repeatedly walking by the booth on the way to other appointments and seeing small crowds forming and having a great time. Later, when I finally got to take it for a spin with one of the reps on-hand at the booth I could see why. For a game featuring two robots as the protagonists there’s somehow something very cute and endearing about their look, mannerisms, and the way they scoot around. By contrast, at least in the time I got with the title, I was a bit taken aback by how tricky the experience could be. Now, having played the final product the good news is that some of what I’d faced was from later in the experience and though there’s no doubt Biped won’t be a cakewalk for anyone it consistently manages to be surprising with smart level design, generally superb controls, and just enough variety in its relatively short duration to keep you engaged. I think the best feature it has is that while typically co-op games struggle to provide a solid experience if you have to play them solo, in general Biped does such a great job at it that you could assume it isn’t necessarily meant to be a co-op game. There’s no doubt that in some circumstances the controls, where you use each joystick to carefully move either leg, can be a bit touchy but with so much precision required in some puzzles you’ll work through that’s not necessarily a surprise. Regardless, whether solo or co-op Biped is easily one of the best action puzzlers of the year on the Switch… just be ready for some challenges (which is a good thing).


Bake ‘n Switch - While there’s no doubt that the Overcooked franchise has been wildly successful, and can be an absolute blast to play with friends or family, in terms of accessibility I’d say it’s a mixed bag. Not only does the chaos and switching between many tasks require some level of coordination and cooperation, there’s a certain degree of pressure and challenge to it that may be too much for less experienced gamers. I think that’s where Bake ‘n Switch comes in and delivers an alternative that can be similar, and still gets to be more and more challenging as it goes, but feels a bit more friendly since it helps reduce the individual chaos a bit by making it easier for each person to lock into set roles. The character you choose isn’t just cosmetic, that decision also defines (to a degree) what you’re best at, with your special ability even further reinforcing that. Now, if people get hung up on picking a character they like visually but are uninterested in which role they should then play (fighting off mold, combining breads, baking, etc) that may backfire a bit but if you’re looking to optimize your potential for success everyone should do their best to stay roughly within the roles and run with it. One notable thing the game doesn’t have is an ability to play it solo, though. You’ll need to have someone to play with locally or a friend you know you can hook up with online (sorry, currently there’s no matchmaking) and for some this may be a dealbreaker so it’s important to note. However, if you’re looking for something to meet up and play with friends periodically online or have people over for some fun playing together this may be a more broadly accessible answer to cooperative (or competitive if you like) kitchen cookery. 
 



Spellbreak -
Have you been feeling like Fortnite has become a bit played out? I have… though I think I felt that way pretty early since I always considered the quick-build types complete BS but I digress. Spellbreak is hoping that whatever your grievances may be with that mega-successful free-to-play juggernaut that you’ll give it a look, and considering the price of admission being nothing I think they’ve put together a total package that justifies taking the time. There are absolutely elements in the match structure and gameplay that are the same, dropped onto a large island, there’s a storm that will continue to encroach in order to force players to fight each other within a reasonable time frame, and options to run solo or with others. Where the game veers off into its own territory is where I really appreciate the differences though. In place of weapons everyone is desperate to grab to have any shot of survival Spellbreak instead goes with a magical base, with you choosing which element you want as your core and then allowing you to pick up a secondary gauntlet for another elemental power to compliment. Where the creativity comes in is how you can make combined use of these powers in some situations, opening the door to some more interesting tactical choices when you’re attacking or even evading enemies. Fortnite veterans who aren’t put off by the differences should quickly feel right at home, but even people new to these sorts of games should find the learning curve reasonably accessible. Since it’s cross-platform in theory there shouldn’t be an issue in finding opponents, so get out there and get some spellcasting on! 
 

Knight Squad - I’ll just put it right out there, while I love the spirit of the movement to bring back local co-op games and the part the Switch has to play in it reviewing the average title in the space can be brutal. With a spotty history of some really lackluster titles that start to feel the same my family has become skeptical at best when I tell them we have a game to play together. That said, when I hit ones that offer up something better-than-average it makes me appreciate them all the more. Where Knight Squad succeeds isn’t necessarily through originality or innovation, though some of its modes are clever in how they’re set up, it instead takes a very kitchen sink approach… and on the whole it works more than it doesn’t. With support for up to 8 players, and with the ability to make as many or few of those bots as you’d like, you’ll have your pick of a surprising number of modes that include playing solo or as teams, a surprising number of power-ups that can quickly turn the tides if used well, and plenty of fun top-down chaos. Given its pretty reasonable price and overall variety I walked away impressed, and given how jaded I can tend to be with this sort of title that’s a bit of an achievement in itself.


Destrobots - With loads of local multiplayer titles out there on Switch it’s a tough business to find a way to stand out in the crowd. In the case of Destrobots, for me, the fact that it feels like it takes a page from the Bomberman series, while playing in a completely different way, helps it pretty effectively towards that goal. Taking control of your bot you’ll have the ability to shoot twin-stick style (though not with precise analog aiming, instead with strictly 8 directions possible) or use a spin move to try to deflect incoming fire or at a melee attack. A variety of offensive and defensive power-ups will continue to appear around the arena, helping to incentivize everyone to stay on the move rather than trying to hold any given position for long. Aside from the power-ups it’s the game’s stages, with many featuring special elements that make play both more strategic and unpredictable, that give me some Bomberman vibes and help to give the game more longevity than its average competing title. Add in the fact that it sports a very fair budget price makes it worthwhile for anyone looking for a game to enjoy with some friends.




Pumpkin Jack -
Ah, tis the season for games that deliver at least a spooky feel, even though I’ll acknowledge more often than not Halloween season games tend to be a bit lacking in overall quality and simply hoping to capitalize on peoples’ urges. While by no means a horror game Pumpkin Jack may be one of the best games I’ve played that leans into the Halloween-y spirit with a timely release, delivering high-quality platforming plus a fair amount of variety with a reasonable degree of value. You obviously play as the Jack-o-Lantern headed Jack, jumping, dodging, and slashing your way through a variety of well-constructed stages that consistently change up what you need to do and have plenty of secrets to find without going overboard. In particular I appreciate that the camera tends to do a great job of giving you the right perspective pretty naturally and I rarely had issues with depth perception when making tough jumps to small platforms which usually plague lesser 3D platformers. Where I think the game shines the brightest though are the action-driven sequences in between the platforming sections, including a fast-moving escape from a burning barn, wild horseback rides, a riff on the classic minecart sequence in a few places, and more. Throw in boss fights that have some smart variety to them and while visually it may be a bit rough around the edges at times (though there’s no denying its aesthetic style is perfect for this time of year) Jack and his crow companion absolutely deliver a treat of an experience a mere week before Halloween. 
 

Nexomon: Extinction - While there have been a few stabs at taking on Game Freak and the Big N’s mega-franchise they’ve tended to be at the higher-dollar level with other big companies trying to jumpstart their own franchises-to-be with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. I’d say some have fared better than others in that space but none has had anywhere near the sheer longevity of Pokemon. Finally, with Nexomon: Extinction, we’re seeing an upstart indie take it on and deliver it to market at a very modest $20 price point. How does it stack up? Well, if you’re expecting the bells and whistles to make it more akin to the current generation games you’ll find it lacking, but if perhaps you’re a lapsed fan who has walked away for a few years or just prefer the classic era of Poke-titles I’d say you’re in for a real treat. Granted, there’s no mistaking the degree the overall concept, progression, and feel of the combat are heavily borrowed but to its credit Nexomon at least flexes its muscles in enough places that it distinguishes itself. In particular I really enjoyed the curveballs in the story, the often highly self-aware sense of humor, and just the general flow and feel of the dialogue that makes up the connective tissue between battling, capturing, and cultivating your team. If you’ve ever been a Poke-fan or perhaps were always nervous to spend the cash to take the plunge for the first time, Nexomon is a satisfying and well-made indie-fied version of the franchise that’s worth checking out. 
 

Skellboy - 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.


Wunderling - Who ever said that puzzle games had to be for casual gamers? Oh sure, Wunderling could likely be enjoyed by just about anyone with its relatively simple one-button mechanic where you’re only able to control your character jumping… but to simply complete each level would be setting aside my favorite aspect of the game. The secrets, oh the secrets that this game has. Whether we’re talking about chests which will give you all sorts of silly gear to customize your character’s look, cassettes that will let you play music from the game’s soundtrack, or even an occasional hidden warp pipe that will take you to truly diabolical levels it’s the “hidden” challenges that accompany the standard game that have me hooked. Oh, and did I mention that the game’s premise and winks in the direction of Nintendo’s premiere franchise made me giggle and reconsider (only for a moment, mind you) my cruelty to the lowly Goombas out there? I love a game that works for everyone but then has an aspect daring the hard core folks out there to step up to the plate!


Home Sheep Home - OK, so charming and clever puzzle games that work as well solo as when playing with others are covered pretty well on the Switch, as are cute and fun multiplayer mini game collections… but usually games don’t necessarily do both well. Home Sheep Home, with its very cute Aardman Animations drawn characters, may be a budget title but has a degree of care and polish that feels like a real bargain. In the game’s main puzzle-solving mode you’ll be in control of 3 sheep, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that you’ll need to control together with friends or cycling through them on your own to solve a series of clever puzzles. While some core mechanics are always in play, usually centering on making the most of their individual abilities, the variety in these brain teasers really keeps the experience from falling into any sort of rut, and it really makes the experience fun to pick up and put down while giving you a compelling reason to return for more. Though perhaps the additional multiplayer mini games aren’t a revolution but considering they’re just icing on the cake I was surprised to find them more enjoyable than the typical Switch local multiplayer fare as well. Overall, for the very reasonable price of admission, this is a well-made and refined combo of a game that should provide plenty of entertainment for its modest price tag. 
 



Kunai -
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.


Foregone - 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.


Tohou Luna Nights - 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. 
 



Avicii Invector -
While there have been quite a few great rhythm games on the Switch, it seems that room will now need to be made for another rock solid musically-based experience. Playing as a bit of a counterpoint to the excellent but almost nightmarish and grim Thumper, Avicii Invector is hardly a walk in the park but there’s just something about its style of play and its often-amazing visuals that is quite inspiring. I have no doubt that given the music being the product of the game’s namesake, who unfortunately took his own life after struggles with medical problems and depression, the search for inspiration and the positives in the world were a part of his journey that unfortunately ended too early for such an obviously-talented person. The play feels like a mixture of an endless racer and rhythm game, with periodic sections where you’ll fly through rings instead. Whenever you’re having success the tempo will progressively speed up, so it isn’t unusual to hit rough patches where your multiplier will tumble, but at least the game will again slow itself down and let you get your bearings once more. About my only complaints are how the game will sometimes have odd sections where the difficulty will go up very quickly and then almost as suddenly return to a more manageable degree periodically as well as the left trigger beats that visually hit later than my brain would prefer, resulting in periodic early beats that were close but not quite close enough for the picky mechanics on that particular element. If you enjoy playing games to a terrific and pretty varied soundtrack this is one well worth checking out.


Mad Rat Dead - With an eShop full of titles it can pay to be different, but with the variety that’s out there even that has become a challenge. Enter Mad Rat Dead, a game with a bit of an attitude and an unusual mix of rhythm game and platformer that delivers on a unique feel. With a pretty unusual story you’ll find that your character, who has been killed in the course of some lab experiment, is on a mission. Brought back to life by the Rat God and given a chance to relive its final day, rather than revel in simple pleasures they're set upon revenge on the scientist instead. This helps propel the story, and makes for some humor, but the main attraction is the unusual action of the game. You'll have the normal sort of platforming moves available to you, the trick is that in order for them to work you'll need to try to do it all on the beat. When you get in the zone this works pretty well, and you can really feel like you're grooving away, but boy when you lose the beat or your core moves fail to chain well enough to put you in the right position it can be tricky to lock back in under duress. It's unusual and not always perfect in its execution but the mix of oddball humor in the story and distinctive action does help to differentiate it from the pack.




Jackbox Party Pack 7 -
My family and I have become massive fans of the Jackbox games over time, having played through each party pack at some point. The unique format, where you’ll be using your phones (or a tablet, or a laptop) as controllers is what makes it a very versatile game at parties as pretty well everyone should already be ready to play. Most games are geared for a minimum of 3 people (though I’d say most you need a minimum of 4 to be remotely fun) up to usually 8 but the provision to allow additional people into the game as the audience is a great feature that can get loads of extra people along to enjoy the ride and vote for their favorites. With what in mind I’ll cover the specific games in this pack.

Quiplash 3 is I think, technically, the fourth entry in the series since there was an XL in there at one point. It’s probably my favorite periodic mini game they’ve made (the original can now also be purchased as a stand-alone on Switch BTW) and at parties it has had people roaring. At one party we played it and Cards Against Humanity back to back and the pretty well unanimous vote was that the open-ended nature of Quiplash made it the better game. This third entry does little to change the formula, though it has taken on a Claymation look. Aside from that the third round has been restructured into a multi-prompt challenge, and I think we prefer it to previous formats. 

The Devil is in the Details is an interesting and pretty new concept in gameplay for them, forcing everyone to try to work together towards success but doing plenty to encourage people to game things in their own favor as well. You’ll quickly all need to review tasks, some of which can be done solo, some you’ll need to communicate and collaborate on, and it can get noisy and hectic for sure. Champ’d Up is really the drawing game of the bunch with everyone making and naming their own heroes and then trying to get them to be chosen when given weird awards to work with. Depending on the group this can be a hit or a miss and I’ll note that currently it’s a bit buggy with the drawings not always being represented properly on the main screen (though on phones drawings always appeared correctly somehow). The big surprise hit for my family was Talking Points, a game where each person will essentially take a turn giving a PowerPoint presentation on a weird topic, but someone else is in charge of the slides. It’s a real improvisational challenge but yielded side-splitting results for us so everyone just wanted to keep playing. Truly a great time even among people who are usually on the introverted side but I could see results varying. 

Last, there’s Blather Round where you’re trying to get everyone else in the room to identify a specific person or thing (you’re given a list which includes easier and tougher ones to choose from) but you have very limited means to help them, with basic prompts with a variety of random words and then the ability to respond to guesses others have made. This was interesting and pretty fun but currently it was also buggy, losing a fair number of choices we’d made and showing them as “Blank”. We luckily just worked around this by telling people what the blanks represented but hopefully it can be resolved soon. Truly this may be the most diverse pack of the bunch and while there may not be a clear best game the change from the norm is it is hard to identify the one or two that are clearly the worst. Can’t wait for the next one!


Quiplash -
I’m so pleased that Jackbox Games has decided to release my absolute favorite game of theirs as a stand-alone title now on Switch. I’ve been a huge fan of this series (it has already gotten one sequel, and a third will be a part of their next Party Pack as well) since the get-go, mainly because it’s a game ripe with opportunity for hilarity. Players will be paired with one another randomly and given 2 prompts in each round, with the goal being to come up with the best answer that will make people laugh and vote for you. The more votes you get, the higher you’ll score, with a bonus if you’re able to snag all votes for yourself in a given round. On the adult end of the scale I’ve played this with groups back to back with Cards Against Humanity and even as notorious as that game is for laughs (only in card form, there’s currently no digital version on Switch) everyone agreed that Quiplash did a more consistent job of delivering the goods, and that’s likely because there are no limits on what your answer can be, aside from the level of taste the people you’re playing with may have. Current hot topics, known group history, even details from the current party or game may all come into play, it’s all a matter of how quickly you can pull together a clever answer that’s better than your opponent’s. With a very fair price, I’d consider the absolute best value of a party game on the eShop by far.




Picross S5 -
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. 


Carto - Having played so many of them, unfortunately the first thing I assume I’ll see when approaching any sort of puzzle game is that it will be something I’ve seen before. What’s so wonderful is when a title takes that assumption and utterly blows it out of the water, something Carto does with heart and just very smart design. Long story, but you play as Carto and you have the ability to manipulate the world to rearrange it. Cool, yes, but where things get clever is combining this with puzzles that vary in how they’re constructed as you advance the story. Talking to various villagers you encounter you’ll find that what you’ve laid down will need some rearranging, sometimes just to make sure the edges of the various tiles work together but often in order to ensure elements like roads or foliage are placed relative to each other as they’re meant to be. Throw in some great characters you’ll encounter along the way and it’s a cheery, creative, and unexpected treasure of a puzzle adventure well worth your time. 


MO:Astray - You'd think at this point in the history of gaming, given the popularity and abundance of platformers of all types, the genre would be just about out of new tricks to keep things interesting. MO:Astray is here to prove you wrong. While just the mechanics with you sliding your little slimeball around, working on your jump angles and trajectories to get yourself around, would probably suffice for most titles it takes things even further. You see, you’re also capable of taking control of creatures of a variety of types by jumping on their faces, and this can be useful for a variety of reasons over the course of the game… in fact it’s a key mechanic usually involved in the game’s multiple boss battles. While it may not look terribly intimidating in the early going, give it some time and you’ll be sucked in with challenges where you understand what must be done but you’ll be challenged to put together the precision to do it successfully. Taking on a variety of new and pretty substantial upgrades in abilities as you go you’re also never quite able to get comfortable. Just when you feel like you’ve got it all down you’ll need to incorporate a new skill with new accompanying challenges to boot. While it may edge a little further into being tough than most the included provisions for softening the difficulty a bit are available as well, making this puzzle-platforming mind-controlling adventure worth putting near the top of your list. 
 

KLAUS - While puzzle platformers are represented in abundance in the indie space, there are definitely ones that put in some extra effort to stand out. While it may lack some of the bells and whistles the titles at the top tier possess, KLAUS has a lot more going on within it than its initially straightforward presentation suggests. Steadily alternating the focus from pretty smart puzzles, to challenging platforming, to stages with a blend of both the great thing about this title is that it doesn’t settle into a pattern of simply dishing out more of the same but tweaked to be slightly harder. Hidden secrets, some boss fights, and some stages that will simply have to be seen to be understood await, and at a very reasonable price as well. Throw in a story that reveals itself slowly as you play and it’s an overall package that should exceed just about any reasonable expectations you may have.


Depixtion - While for many years the Picross series has sat safely at the top of its own puzzle kingdom, seeing threats from other comers but never really breaking a sweat to match or surpass them, the times they are a-changin. Rather than strictly copy the formula that has been so consistently satisfying some smart competitors have changed things up, trying new things, and some have found success. One such title is Depixtion, which on a general level follows the same playbook, but if you’ve been feeling like the typical Picross title trends a little too much towards being easy, you’ll want to give this one a look. The big difference comes from the way colors are handled. Breaking the spectrum up into 6 colors (Blue, Yellow, and Red… plus light and dark for each) on 3 distinct boards that are overlapped to produce the final colors the challenge here is pretty real. Where most titles will allow for a degree of “smart guessing” once you’ve filled in a fair portion of the puzzle, that method here would make any such attempts risky at best. If you’ve been thirsting for some tougher challenges in your Picross puzzling Depixtion has you covered.


Gunbrick: Reloaded - Puzzle platformers are generally pretty common on the Switch, so it can take some effort to stand apart from the pack in some way. Starting with its great visual style Gunbrick manages that, looking satisfyingly colorful and even cartoony. Of course that wouldn’t be enough to compensate if the gameplay itself weren’t satisfying so the good news is that though perhaps the game hasn’t invented anything particularly new it has managed to take classic mechanics and mix them in a smart enough way that they’re still satisfying. Having to be mindful of which of your sides are facing which way, and needing to engage in a variety of means to ensure you’re facing the right direction in the right spot, may often be methodical but it can also be satisfying. While it doesn’t deliver a blow out of originality the overall package is still a pleasing one for puzzle platforming fans looking for a new fix.




Hotshot Racing -
With its low-poly look coming straight out of classic Sega arcade titles like Daytona Racing we have Hotshot Racing, and while it may not have incredible depth or nuance damn if it isn’t a whole lotta fun. There’s nothing too complicated, you’ll choose from an assortment of international racers who each have their own flair (I love my boy Viktor), choose which of their cars you prefer, which each are tuned a little differently for variety, and hit the tracks. This is full-on arcade racing, with plenty of bumping and jockeying for position to put your opponents into the wall on turns and then conserving your boost to be sure you can fly across the finish line. The boost-building mechanic, which has you either power-sliding around turns or drafting your opponents who are ahead of you puts just enough technique in the picture to make you work for it and provides a little room for skill and strategy as well. For kicks aside from the main championships the Arcade one-off races can be switched to a cops and robbers mode as well as elimination, helping to provide some variety as well. It’s an absolutely outstanding old-school, fun, and great-looking arcade racer. 
 

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw - As an old school fan of the Wing Commander series I’m always excited to take on any new space sim promising dogfights, exploration, and excitement. Typically new attempts at the genre have a tendency to be incomplete in some way, lacking in their combat, coming up short in terms of an overarching story, or just not putting together all of the pieces in a thoroughly satisfying way. While not without its faults in a few areas I’d say anyone looking for that nostalgic sort of experience with Wing Commander vibes (well, specifically Privateer), or simply someone who enjoys a well-made space sim with RPG-like elements and some actual story will likely dig the hell out of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Starting out from extremely humble beginnings, flying what essentially looks like a space garbage truck, you’ll take on missions that offer some variety from hauling cargo to clearing out bogeys to perhaps going on the shadier side of the law. What you choose will carry some consequences in terms of where you’ll be able to fly or land so don’t take that decision lightly. One of the game’s downsides is that it can get to be a grind, working simpler missions to buy new ships or gear, and that can make for some repetition. Don’t worry, if you try to tackle anything outside of what you’re capable of the game will quickly and almost rudely tell you so as you’ll get blown to bits. Combat can be intense, but I think the left shoulder button which essentially allows you to let your ship fly itself to pursue a target is the key to it all remaining fun. You’ll often be taking on numerous enemies at once, so letting the ship keep pace while periodically dodging and fine-tuning your aiming to maximize damage is more practical than trying to do it all yourself. Feel free to try to do it all yourself but pretty quickly I found its use invaluable to staying alive. With a great deal of freedom, choice, and trouble to get into Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is probably the best overall package of a space sim on the system, delivering both rewarding combat and a story with characters that helps to knit everything together.  
 



Panzer Paladin -
While I have a great deal of nostalgia for the 8-bit era since I played a ton of games back in those days, going back can be a bit rough. While there’s an undeniable essence to many classics of that generation their gameplay typically hasn’t aged well. Indie titles looking to recapture that time often seem to struggle to find the balance, working to incorporate many vintage elements while marrying them with modern sensibilities… and the results have varied pretty wildly in all directions. Panzer Paladin, for me, stands out from this crowd quite a bit, not even loosely based on any firm precedent from the era I can think of and thus unburdened by expectations. The result is a game that absolutely respects the looks, sound, and many staples of 8-bit gaming and yet feels contemporary most critically in terms of its weapon variety and challenges. One element retro fans of the likes of the Blaster Master series will recognize is the smart inclusion of an ability to jump out of your mech and work on foot, leaving you vulnerable but still very capable (as I learned completing some boss fights with my mech ruined but determined with my whip to finish the job). The hunt for secret areas, weapons, and boosts is rewarded with a fair degree of consistency and in some stages you’ll find you may need the help, especially in terms of being geared up for the game’s generally tough boss battles. In terms of games celebrating the 8-bit era I’m quite confident in declaring Panzer Paladin the king of the retro hill as it somehow feels both old school and modern in the same breath, coming up with a mix of elements that keep the action consistently engaging with no real fat to be trimmed. It’s a high-quality effort from top to bottom.


Pinball FX3 - While the base game hit the eShop in 2017, the periodic release of new table packs has kept this retro gaming engine very relevant ever since. In particular the acquisition of the rights to produce tables based on the classic pinballs from Williams should make every retro gaming fan very happy. Already having released a handful of packs from that agreement, as well as a few notable original packs of their own, Pinball FX3 will likely handily stay on yearly lists for quite some time.


Ghost Grab 3000 - While I have a great appreciation for epic games that feature massive worlds and complex storylines for me to discover over many hours since I grew up in the arcades I also appreciate a tight experience that challenges me and is fun in bursts. With its relatively-simple ghost chaining mechanics and simple-but-smart controls Ghost Grab 3000 does a great job of scratching that retro itch and making me say “Just one more round”. Your goal is to catch ghosts bouncing around the screen in your beam and then zap them. Sure, you could do this one at a time but first it wouldn’t be very fun and second you’d get a sad and paltry score for that effort. The way to rack up points is to chain as many together as possible before you collect but that ends up making for a very crowded and chaotic screen full of roving enemies and their many bullets. Thankfully you have a trusty dash that makes you temporarily invulnerable and a limited number of EMP blasts at your disposal which can be used to get yourself out of jams and rack up as high a score as possible. It’s all just about the leaderboards and scoring as high as you can in the end but if you’re looking for a quick and challenging fix it’s an excellent choice at a very low price.


Huntdown - As a fan of old school shooters and beat-em-ups of all persuasions perhaps it was inevitable I’d be a Huntdown fan. Thrown into an effort to bring down various gang factions in your futuristic city you’ll take control of one of three different officers in an attempt to bring down the bad guys. Hoo boy, and as it goes on will you need to work for it. I think it got off to a rocky start for me, not quite feeling as fluid in the controls and versatility for aiming as I’d like but growing on me with its tone and general style. Things are going to get tough, gritty, and downright bloody as you try to shoot and beat your way through enemies. Capped off with a battle against one of the sector bosses, the general length of stages hits a nice sweet spot, giving you time to get your groove on without generally overstaying its welcome. Bosses are quite varied, and at times this can mean they don’t get tougher on a consistent curve so much as be unpredictably easy or tough, but at least they pose a challenge. Borrowing both visual and gameplay elements and beats from diverse arcade titles of the past, Huntdown feels both familiar and fresh, I just would wish for the initial curve to be a bit less steep to allow a wider audience to not hit a likely wall quite so early.


Rigid Force Redux - When it comes to shmups on Switch the tendency is to see either games that tap firmly into nostalgia, adopting classic looks and play styles, or those that innovate and do things their own way. What I think makes Rigid Force Redux notable is that moreso than any other shooter I’ve played on Switch it feels like it manages to carefully walk the tightrope smack dab in the middle of those concepts. While it has primary and secondary weapon pick-ups as well as a general structure with elements reminiscent of the classics, the ability to reconfigure the position of your drones tightly forward, in a wider spread, or then behind you opens up new challenges and some surprises to help make things feel fresh. Granted, though not unusual for shooters of these types, when it comes to overall length the campaign is over faster than you’ll want it to be, and while you can then chase high scores afterwards it’s the breaking of new ground and the unexpected that provides more of the thrills, the rest can be fun but lacks that same spark. If you’re a fan of the genre you should find this to be a smart and fun experience, and more importantly for more casual fans who find the likes of bullet hells to be too intimidating the degree of challenge here is more mild and accessible, making it an appealing all-around package for just about anyone.




Atomicrops -
For me, Atomicrops is a story of early frustration, followed by a slow warming up, which eventually became a pretty deep and addictive love. Among the many roguelike shooters on Switch it absolutely stands apart, and getting the hang of how everything works is thus an unfamiliar challenge. Are you supposed to tend your crops? Go running out into the areas to the north, south, east, and west to find seeds and supplies? Focus on making money? Make sure to plant and cultivate roses as quickly as possible since they’re an alternative and powerful currency as well? The answer to all of it pretty much turns out to be “Yes”. I don’t think there’s only one strategy or set of tactics that will make you successful but since the game provides you with very little overall guidance and there are simply a staggering number of power-ups and pieces of equipment you may encounter you’re going to need to try and fail quite a bit before you’ll have some “Aha!” moments and feel like you’ve got your feet under you. The thing is, once I turned that corner and finally began to know just enough to pick the power-ups that best suited the situation in my current run, wisely choosing how and when to invest and in what, I got hooked and had to keep playing until I finally completed Year 1. Outside of a lack of much helpful guidance, which really can make the early game a bit of a bummer, my only other major complaint is that as the screen gets full of stuff happening at night and there’s chaos everywhere, at times you’ll swear you’re taking damage but can’t tell from what. It happening only once in a while you can write it off as you just missing something but the more it happened (once every few runs) the harder I would look and there were times I legitimately had no idea what killed me, never a good thing, but obviously not something so common I couldn’t be successful. If you’ve been feeling like roguelike shooters have been feeling too much alike and in need of an evolution be sure to give Atomicrops a shot, I think it’ll “grow” on you.


ScourgeBringer - There’s something about ScourgeBringer that deep down brings back my nostalgia for being in an arcade, pumping quarters into a game that consistently kicks my butt yet still puts a smile on my face. Be warned, ScourgeBringer is a tough and intense slashing and shooting experience with runs that will often end too quickly as you just couldn’t get in the groove. What makes it so worth it are those runs where you break out and get on a tear though, getting the right combination of perks and some luck on your side to smash some bosses and prove to yourself that it can be done. Of course meta progression is also a key part of you building success and overall I’d say the pacing of gaining currency to unlock some absolutely vital abilities feels about right, with you at least gaining 1 coin if you can defeat the first sub-boss. It can sometimes take a run or two to then feel comfortable making use of your newfound power but things like your heavy hit deflecting bullets or knocking enemies into each other are incredibly important to have when you’re in the heat of things. None of the above would matter if the game’s engine wasn’t up to the job but in terms of performance, fluidity, and mechanics I really can’t find any flaws with it. If anything some people may find the action too fast, and watching it can be a bit crazy, but when you’re in the moment it’s extremely satisfying how responsive your character is as you dash around the screen slashing, deflecting, stunning, and smashing. ScourgeBringer is yet another roguelike that stands alone with a pretty unique hook and overall flow while delivering a satisfying degree of intensity and challenge that the hardcore set should find compelling. 
 

Crown Trick - Among the many genres and subgenres roguelikes have managed to infiltrate I can’t say that a tactical turn-based adventure-ish RPG is one I’ve run across to this point. If there can be more compelling examples along the lines of Crown Trick I’ll just say now I’m all for it. This is a title I originally saw at PAX East and left me feeling iffy about the affair. Whether that was just that the demo wasn’t structured quite right, or the time allowed didn’t really allow me to dig in I don’t know, but the more time I’ve spent with it the more it has impressed me. There’s absolutely a learning curve for understanding what makes the game tick, especially when it comes to fighting bosses. It’s amazing how survivable encounters with tough enemies can be if you’re patient, observe the environment and your opportunities there well, and make effective use of multiple spells and abilities you’re able to have at your disposal. Attack, move, set up Spell A, blink (your ability to teleport away or out of trouble), Spell B, attack, attack, move, and repeat is similar to how many of my battles played out. Elemental damage plays a huge role in things and that’s where the environment comes in. I found I tended to have my battles play out in only a subset of my environment and if I’d moved further in even more opportunities would have presented themselves so don’t hesitate to move around and see what you have at your disposal if your enemies look too formidable. Summed up Crown Trick looks fantastic, plays very smart, has a fair amount of great risk and reward opportunity, and presents a roguelike challenge that feels fresh and addictive. It’s definitely worth a look. 
 

Dungeon of the Endless - I’ll admit that when I first started playing this title it was a struggle since there’s a distinct lack of explanation to much of what you need to do. That said, with experimentation (and quite a bit of failure) I slowly was able to understand what I was playing and it started to grow on me. Mixing together elements of dungeon crawling with tower defense, and topped off with what can sometimes be a crushing roguelike mentality, I can’t say I’ve played anything like it and that really makes it interesting. Your goal is to slowly proceed through each level of the random ship you’ve found yourself crashed into, carefully scoping out each individual room and clearing them out. Using what resources you find and power available to you you’ll be able to enhance rooms you clear, either setting them to help build resources or have various defensive properties to help for what comes next. The tricky part is that once you find the way to the next floor one of your party will need to move the core, leaving them vulnerable, while you hope your created defenses or other crewmembers help keep them alive. The indirect control you have over your crew takes some getting used to, especially when things get tense, but once you’ve got a handle on it all this can be a unique and challenging experience.


GoNNER 2 - I absolutely adore the original GoNNER but I won’t deny that it’s a love that wasn’t easy to develop in the early going. The fact that the sequel is so similar in its approach to the gameplay experience shouldn’t be a surprise but also somewhat inherently makes it a tough sell for more than a niche-y crowd no matter how much fun it can be once it gets rolling. The GoNNER experience initially is all about exploration, experimentation, discovery, and probably hitting up boards and FAQs as you try to find the game’s various heads, weapons, and additional gear or at least a reasonable explanation of what some of them do. The reason for this is there’s no help text or guidance of any kind in the game, and if you walked into the experience without at least knowing that a reasonable percentage of gamers would possibly just stop playing out of frustration. So, OK, you’ve got some heads, weapons, and gear so next you’ll play with combinations to figure out which work best for you. To the sequel’s credit there’s some new crazier stuff to find as well as a new-ish perk system so more than ever I think the “ideal build” will be more of an open question. Now, once you’re at least feeling set and geared up, as well as armed with a knowledge of what the heck you’re doing at times, you’re ready to work on getting that multiplier up, making the game go a bit crazy, and basking in the chaos of it all. Much like the original there are just things that make GoNNER 2 a challenge to love, but for those who do stick with it through the substantial initial difficulty curve it’s just a quirky and unique platform shooting roguelike experience like no other. 
 



Indivisible -
Probably one of the things I appreciate most in an indie game is for it to surprise me, and with its unwillingness to be constrained by a clear single genre Indivisible absolutely does that. Blending elements of a platforming adventure, an RPG, and even some Metroidvania exploration, it’s not quite like anything else I’ve played and that’s usually a good thing. Strict traditional turn-based combat tends to be dull to me so in particular it’s the pretty active combat in the game that I came to appreciate the more I played. You’ll certainly get into a consistent rhythm, working attack patterns you find most successful. But, there’s just enough strategy to what could just be a button-mashing mess to make it interesting in terms of who you attack with how, when, and then chaining into someone else. To sweeten the deal further I have to say that I really enjoyed the game’s characters, with the quality of the writing and voice acting their interactions just rang a bit more true than I typically see in an RPG. They’re still pretty traditional in their roles at the core but they have some genuine personality and that was a real driver for me to return and see where the story took things next. While genre purists may look at this as a hodge podge mutt of an experience I appreciate the mix and am hoping to see more in this vein in the future.


The Outer Worlds - Before fully getting into why I think this is an excellent title, and a breath of fresh air I’ve been needing on Switch, we’ll get to the elephant in the room. I have no doubts that like many titles at this degree of polish and high quality that playing it on Switch is the least optimum experience, and perhaps if you have the opportunity to play it elsewhere (assuming portability isn’t primarily what you’re looking for), that would be a better bet. There are absolutely signs of visual quirks and stutters you’ll run into but they didn’t make me enjoy the game less so we’re moving on. One of the series I’ve been aching for on Switch is Fallout. Both 3 and New Vegas are some of my favorite games from PC and after seeing Skyrim work so admirably on Switch it seemed like it would have happened. In lieu of them coming to the platform my desire for their experience has been quite fully sated by The Outer Worlds though. Better yet, while the gameplay is very reminiscent of that series (explore, build your stats in whatever direction you like, slow the action down to maximize your effectiveness) what then sets The Outer World Apart is its tone, world, and writing. Certainly removing the post-Apocalyptic world from the formula makes things a bit lighter but there’s genuine humor and a well-formed set of characters to interact with here that feel special and a bit next-level over what Bethesda has typically delivered. The Switch is by no means the ideal way to experience this title, and though convenient handheld play makes further compromises, but to ignore how well-made and enjoyable this title is through only that lens does this title a great disservice.


Rune Factory 4 Special - With a bit of a window remaining until the release of Animal Crossing, if you’ve been looking for something relaxing and structured to occupy your attention you’ll be in luck with Rune Factory. This more fantasy-inspired spin-off Harvest Moon series certainly has an unusual premise, with you literally falling into acting as a Prince and put in charge of a small town and its people. Through taking on errands, planting and cultivating your fields, tackling combat to ward off different threats, and more, you’ll gain new opportunities to enhance your character, encourage more tourists to come to your town, and develop relationships with your citizens. As with all titles of this kind the core experiences tend to get repetitive but that doesn’t detract from them being enjoyable and relaxing all the same. If you’re a fan of the likes of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing but have never dipped your toe into this series it seems like the perfect opportunity to do so.




Sniper Elite 4 -
The Sniper Elite series has always been an interesting red-headed step-child off to the side of the FPS genre. There’s no doubt its cornerstone element is the art of sniping, as well as the slow-mo kill cam shots of bullets ripping through your enemies, but to this point outside of that the games have been a bit clunky. The mechanics were always decent but the limiting factor was often the level design since the areas were simply too confined so conceptually it wouldn’t take your enemies much effort to figure out where you were positioned with so few options available to you. This entry completely blows that criticism out of the water, replacing overly constrained areas with large and wonderfully varied environments that absolutely encourage exploration and experimentation. Not only will you find random hidden stashes here and there, you’re really given the freedom to choose your personal path to success whether that’s storming in a straight line for your threat, or taking the long way to flank and utilize an element of surprise to devastating effect. This really is the leap in quality of level design I’ve been waiting for with the series, moving it away from being more of a niche bit of fun and making it a legitimate contender with the more successful series out there. Sure, you’re always going to want to set up those great long shots and enjoy the thrill of ripping a slow-mo shot through someone’s lungs, but now the connective tissue between those moments feels stealthier, smarter, and more engaging than ever. Throw in online multiplayer modes that also offer some pleasant surprises and this series finally feels like it has earned the elite in its name. 
 

Metro 2033 Redux  - Set in a post-Apocalyptic Russia, primarily taking place in the labyrinth of subway tunnels and other areas below the surface, Metro 2033 Redux is an atmospheric and pretty gritty first-person experience. Under threat by various mutated creatures and the intimidating threat of the Dark ones you’ll find yourself struggling to survive and persevere. What makes it even more great, in my mind, is that you’re able to choose the leaner and tougher original experience that forced you to play it more sparingly as a survival game, trying desperately to conserve your resources, and a more shooter-like action game. Honestly, I found both to be viable and challenging in their own right, and the atmosphere and tense action are something the Switch, to this point, has been needing.


Void Bastards - While I’ve seen a few titles try to step up to the plate to establish a solid roguelike FPS to date nobody has really nailed the entire formula. Whether because the roguelike elements were out of balance or shooting itself just wasn’t well-implemented, that has left room for someone to come onto the scene and show how it can be done right. Finally, with the release of Void Bastards, it seems like someone is squarely on the right track, just be ready to struggle a bit as you get the hang of things. You control what are essentially disposable criminals, each with different quirks (ala Rogue Legacy), and through perseverance you’ll begin to make your way further and further along in your mission, shooting, crafting, and sometimes simply running away in order to survive a variety of enemy encounters in space. Initially it can be a bit overwhelming as you learn the ropes, knowing which ships to try to hit for what supplies, how to deal with different threats, which shipboard systems are best to try to utilize and how, and also just when to know you need to panic and get the hell off a ship before you die. Perhaps unsurprisingly this can lead to there being a bit of a hump to get over, equipped with just enough crafted gear and earned experience to help yourself get further along. If you’re a major fan of roguelikes or have been hoping to see a new formula in your FPS gameplay this is absolutely going to be worth checking out.


Jet Lancer -  With so many high-quality shooters of all types and styles it takes some effort to put something new on the table, particularly something that stands apart from the rest with its own style. Jet Lancer manages to do just that with an intense and very inertia-based flying style, that takes some getting used to, and blends it with arcade-like swarms of enemies and even some terrific boss fights that will put your skills to the test. That isn’t to say it’s perfect. I’ve hit some rough patches when things have gotten intense a few times, hit a crash or two, and there’s no doubt some people won’t either “get” or enjoy the flight style in the game that reminds me most of the well-regarded Luftrausers (still somehow not on Switch!). However, if you’re ready and willing to bring the fight to your foes, keep your combo meter up, and knock enemy ships out of the sky with a mix of guns, barrages of missiles, and some great unlocks that will let you tune your ship to better suit your style Jet Lancer can be a ton of fun.


Serious Sam Collection - As time has gone on the first-person shooter genre has gone through quite a lot of changes and evolution, generally moving from simply being all about blowing through hordes of enemies and trying to add in either story elements or genre mixes to help it become a bit more elevated. Then there are titles like the Serious Sam series that are pretty well determined to stay in place and revel in the simplicity of carnage and crazy-ass enemies to blow apart… and as this collection proves that can still work when it’s handled correctly. You’ll be able to enjoy all 3 titles in the Sam trilogy as well as the DLC add-ons for the last of the series and follow Sam from his beginnings killing in the desert, then to more tropical locales, then to wrecked cities, and more while dispatching a host of weird and generally unique foes using an arsenal ranging from the more ordinary to the ridiculous. Granted, at times Sam feels like he’s trying a bit too hard to imitate Duke Nukem in terms of his one-liners and bits of dialogue but for the most part the style and feel of the action is at least distinctive. Yes, there are more evolved shooters on the platform without a doubt, as well as some AAA shooters that appropriately carry a higher price tag, but if you’re just down to blow stuff up on a budget it’s hard to argue there’s a better overall value on the system. 




Two Point Hospital -
Sharing a thought, in many ways I still have a real beef with EA and the fact that they absorbed and pretty well ruined at least two classic studios that were dear to me. One was Origin, and the other was Bullfrog. One of my favorite titles Bullfrog made, that I’ve found myself returning to repeatedly over the years, was their sim classic Theme Hospital. If you’re familiar with the game all I should have to say is that Two Point Hospital is pretty well an enhanced remake of that classic to make the sale, it even has the same PA announcer voice (creepy fact but it provides glorious flashbacks). For people unfamiliar with that title it’s essentially a very goofy hospital simulator where you can explore your OCD tendencies, setting up rooms and providing proper benches, bins, and snack machines to keep people happy. Oh, and you’ll also want adequate treatment rooms, doctors, and nurses as well. The further into the game you get, the more it slowly diverges from its inspirations though many of the basic details remain the same. If you’re a sim fan the Switch has had a tough run to date, with too many games that have failed to be interesting, were hampered by terrible interfaces, or some combination of both. Thankfully, Two Point Hospital addresses all of those normal issues with smart and silly play, a highly usable (and generally unencumbered) interface, and plenty of details you’ll want to focus on to have the best hospitals in the business.


Pure Pool - While I’ve never been super serious about playing pool it is a sport I’ve enjoyed in quite a number of pool halls and friends’ homes over time. There have certainly been pool simulators that have come and gone over the years, but while there were some good ones I can’t say it ever quite felt like they properly captured the entirety of the experience for me. That changed with Pure Pool, as in just about every regard it has managed to pull me in. Whether it’s the crisp and detailed visuals, the accurate and tight controls, or the helpful but not too helpful visual assists for working out the angles of your shots I’m not sure how much more you could ask from a simulator for the sport. Then, going the extra mile beyond the mere mechanics of the experience on the table, there are a lot of new avenues that will force you to improve and broaden your game here beyond mere 8-ball, 9-ball, and snooker. Special challenges will force you to maximize your efficiency, carefully set up your next shot, and then execute as you try to do things like clear the table in a short amount of time. Throw in support for taking on challengers locally or online with cross-platform support and billiard fans should have a great opportunity here to bring the pool hall experience home with them or anywhere they go. 
 



Lonely Mountains: Downhill -
If there was a major genre on Switch to argue may be the worst represented, whether AAA titles or indies, it could be sports. Given how much diversity that’s possible in the category this is a bit of a surprise but it’s where we find ourselves. When a genre title does then show up there can be a concern that fans on the platform are so starved for a new experience that they’ll jump on anything. In the case of Lonely Mountains: Downhill you shouldn’t have such a concern, at least depending on the type of experience you’re looking for. Part discovery and exploration, part precision, certainly part frustration, and I’ll gladly throw a bit of luck onto the pile as well, it’s an experience not quite like anything I’ve played before. Your goal is pretty simple at first, simply survive the tough ride from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Along that ride, though, you’ll see the hints of what’s in store for you as you then try to shave seconds off your time. You’ll swear you see what could be a trail off to the side, you’ll hit an intersection with a path coming from a completely different direction, or you’ll even see a spot you’re certain must be a jump. What follows is usually a grueling run or two where you’ll basically try to map out what’s possible, typically learning the hard way how not to execute certain sections as your rider plunges to a bloody (and often undoubtedly lethal) fall. No problem, you’ll pop right back to your last checkpoint and try again… and again. As a warning I’ve seen the game stutter at times as it scales in and out of the action, and there are angles where the brilliant tilt shift perspective look works against you with elements blocking your view from the foreground but the unique experience, the open-ended nature of how you tackle your run, and the sheer beauty of the different trails and mountains you’ll encounter make this an outstanding game like no other that’s absolutely worth a look if you don’t mind the challenge.


Golf Zero - Who knew that a game that initially confused me quite a bit in terms of what you were supposed to be doing (it should probably be more clear in the initial stages how you should be playing) could end up making me a fan. This is absolutely one of the more unusual games I’ve played this year really mixing up a puzzle platformer with golf to make something completely new and different. You see, you’re able to make your shots while in the air, which you’ll absolutely need to do the majority of the time, and while you can’t control your shot strength (in the end, probably a blessing) time will slow when you initiate your shot, making your focus aiming one or more shots in the hopes of finding success. Where it really can get diabolical is when you then layer the objectives that need to be met for a gold medal into the mix, forcing you to go the extra mile and prove your skills further. If you’re easily frustrated this probably won’t be a good fit for you but as a lover of quirky games that take a big chance on swimming upstream I have to give credit where it is due, this is a smart and pretty challenging budget title that deserves some attention. 
 



Knights and Bikes -
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.



198X - 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 - 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.


The Complex - 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.


Liberated - 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.




Kingdom: Two Crowns -
Since I was already a pretty big fan of the first installment of the Kingdom series (New Lands) that arrived on the system I suppose it’s not a great surprise I’m an even bigger fan of its more refined and content-laden follow-up. I somehow missed it when it arrived on the eShop but now with the release of the free Dead Lands DLC I’ve finally gotten the chance to see how much the title has grown while retaining pretty well everything I appreciated about the original. This remains a very subdued, at times a bit slow, but also somewhat tranquil and often outright beautiful title filled with discovery, experimentation, and a fair amount of failure as you try to maintain a critical balance of your human and monetary resources, as always trying to expand, build, and survive in what can often be a hostile world. All of the different flavors you can choose from, each with not only their own art style but also variety in what you’ll encounter and need to work out how to utilize properly for success, really take the core gameplay that was already solid and satisfying to a new level. If you enjoy slow burn strategy where you’ll need to work out how best to proceed without much direction this should absolutely be your jam.


Nowhere Prophet - In the last generation I’ve been surprised to see the deck-building strategy genre not only move from the fringes into the mainstream on the back of titles like Slay the Spire or the more casual SteamWorld Quest, but also continue to find ways to crank up their associated degree of challenge. While the frustration that tends to come hand in hand with that is sure to turn a portion of the audience away, for everyone else it tends to lead to deeper and more satisfying play. That’s what has happened with Nowhere Prophet, a roguelike strategy deck-builder that stacks more potential for failure onto you than normal as an additional layer of risk and reward comes into play. Your units who fall will still be able to be used, as a bonus even at a lower action point cost, but if they fall a second time they’re gone for good. This absolutely throws a wrench into your plans at times, but when the planets align it also opens the door to decisive wins if you can capitalize on hurt units while minimizing your opponent’s ability to punish you for it. As always there will undoubtedly be quite a bit of initial grinding as you get accustomed to the nuances of the game’s strategy, and its sometimes devastating consequences, but since you’ll be earning new cards you’ll need as you go your progress tends to turn around pretty quickly once everything clicks. Sure, you’ll curse the RNG gods at times for their cruelty, but that makes the satisfaction of success all the more sweet. 
 

Through the Darkest of Times -
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. 
 

Broken Lines - Let’s face it, while there have been quite a few titles out there that have decided to try to take on the likes of X-Com and its well-regarded tactical strategy combat, none have really come close. Either wisely looking to sidestep the issues others have had, or simply wanting to innovate and come up with something similar but unique, the developers behind Broken Lines use tactics in a similar way but with the action playing out more dynamically once you’ve set it up. Now, this made the tutorial a little rough around the edges at first (at least for me) as understanding how movement and actions are managed, as well as mechanically how you need to specify them as you intend requires some orientation. Once it clicked though I was really impressed with the result. While it may not be perfect, your units each have different roles and appropriate skills to match. You’ll need to learn how to use them each effectively and appropriately, moving carefully to be sure the right people are in the right places once you’ve made visual contact with the enemy. The end product is refreshing and new, generally feels fair, and makes combat feel quite dynamic. If you’ve been disappointed by the lack of X-Com on Switch and that to date no indie titles have really come close to the mark it has set you should give Broken Lines a look. It goes in a new direction, but in general it feels like a good one, and I’d love to see it explored further in the future.


Curious Expedition - If you were to try to give The Curious Expedition an elevator pitch it would best be described as the love child of classic Civilization and The Oregon Trail in my mind. Your goal is to choose a figure from history, understanding their various perks and weaknesses, and set out on an adventure in search of fortune and glory, but understanding that inevitably bad things are likely to happen as well. In terms of presentation it definitely shows its age, and that may put some people off, but if you put that aside and come to understand things like the game’s unusual approach to combat (you’ll need to hit the tutorial or you may be very confused jumping right in) its charms can sneak up on you. Considering there’s nothing quite like it on the Switch, this budget-friendly exploration title offers plenty of surprises and occasional silliness, testing your strategic decision-making and, no doubt, your luck.




The Survivalists -
As I have noted a few times before, in general survival games haven’t tended to be a favorite of mine in the past. That said, as the genre has diversified and mixed in different elements to make the experience more accessible (and sometimes actually a bit fun), I’ve slowly become more of a fan. The Survivalists is one such genre game that breaks down some barriers to do things its own way and the combination of crafting, resource management, monkey management, exploration, and experimentation often managed to put a smile on my face. While I’d hardly consider this a hard core challenge that isn’t to say you won’t find the island to be dangerous as you first get started or if you insist on pushing ahead beyond what your gear will handle well. As always, the early game then is about collecting resources, crafting, and putting together more and more reliable and functional gear. Where this is usually a pretty cumbersome grind a great feature of this title is the ability to train some monkeys to do some grunt work for you. I’ll admit that initially I didn’t consider their management too intuitive, even with instructions, but once I got the hang of it I could rely on them just clearing every tree, rock, or other resource in the immediate area, saving me a load of time and tedium. The help in the reduction of plain grinding, a pretty smart and well-designed crafting tree, and a consistent flow of surprises really made this one of my favorite survival games to date. Though, keep in mind since I’m not a traditional fan of the genre you’ll have to take my tastes into account when considering the purchase. 
 

Windbound -
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. 
 

Maid of Sker - Survival horror may be one of the most tricky genres I’ve seen to really make a quality game in. Whether the issue is too much repetition, too thin an overall story, or too much focus on cheap jump scares over building genuine tension many more games get it all wrong rather than right. I’ll admit that there are some elements of Maid of Sker that still irk me a bit, mostly the environment being chock full of objects you can see but not interact with and even a plentiful number of objects to pick up that serve no purpose other than to rotate them and appreciate how well they were modeled. Perhaps it isn’t a fair criticism but it is a pet peeve, though I’ll admit the areas all being bare of any detail would be a worse option, I just do wish there could be a balance in the middle. Regardless, while the game does have its jump scares I feel like for the most part they’re earned and not necessarily cheap. In the beginning you’re quite unsure of what’s happening and there’s a nice build up of tension before it begins throwing the scares at you. Another strength is in level design, the areas you’ll explore feel like they strike a great balance between not being too elaborate and confusing but also not feeling like you’re always moving directly from A to B to C with no room to make choices. Throw in some unique elements like needing to clamp down your own mouth in order to not make noises (careful or you may pass out from a lack of oxygen though) and this feels like a pretty well-planned horror adventure and certainly shows more effort than the majority of its contemporaries. 
 



What the Golf? -
Bless the indie devs that are determined to just completely go off in left field and do something unique. What the Golf is not really a sports game, or necessarily a puzzle game as much as it is a constant string of new riffs on the theme of golf, horrendous puns, and a wide variety of pop culture homages. While not all gamers may get every reference, which range from certain infamous mobile games to a super hot indie shooter that had unique mechanics to even a few concerning a certain mustachioed plumber, since it doesn’t dwell on any theme for long it won’t slow you down or limit your enjoyment. For people who just want to blow on through it may not take terribly long to “beat” if you just go to each hole and then keep going, but the additional par and starred challenges sometimes significantly (perhaps a bit inconsistently) ramp up the difficulty by adding new rules or even veering off to an entirely different kind of challenge altogether. Much like one of my favorites from a previous year, Pool Panic, What the Golf? is a collection of discovery and fun that just about anyone should enjoy.


No More Heroes - There’s something to be said for being authentically original, for me that’s especially the case for when the general plan is to be just a bit crazy. No More Heroes is, in many regards, the antithesis of big business design by committee game making. It’s cartoonishly violent, has many over-the-top characters (who you’ll mostly be killing), a storyline that charts a dark and bloody path but is still also consistently silly, and a protagonist who is ridiculous on many levels. Your goal is to literally cut a path through the world’s top assassins to take your place at the top, and on that journey there will be a ton of bloody madness. Sequences where you’re simply plowing through big bads and their minions are broken up by completely bizarre mini games and activities like spending time with your cat to help break things up, which does help to distract from what can, at times, be a bit of a grind. Also, the fact that Travis (your character) is a pretty sexist pig and there are an abundant number of provocative angles taken featuring the female characters may be a bit much for some people to take now, making the game feel a bit dated on a level besides the overall look. While it is by no means a perfect game if you can deal with the flaws it is absolutely a rollercoaster of violence and weirdness that can be quite a lot of fun. 
 

Helheim Hassle - 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. 
 

Cat Girl Without Salad - When it comes to weird games I’m a bit of a connoisseur on the Switch, I’ve even set aside an entire category for them specifically. Whether it’s a quirky sense of humor, unexpected gameplay elements, or just developers daring to be different I appreciate the risk of putting something left of center out there. In the case of Cat Girl Without Salad the folks at WayForward have managed to scratch pretty well every itch I could have with regards to entertainment, though I’ll very much note that befitting the budget price on the game this is a light snack of enjoyment and in no way a meal. With that in mind the strange and often hysterically funny running dialogue doesn’t get the opportunity to get tiresome, if you were going to have to repeat each level dozens of times I’m sure it would get old. But with a relatively mild degree of difficulty (though the third mission is a legit challenge) on the whole it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The thing is, aside from the great humor and unusual characters the surprise is that as a shmup it stands pretty well on its own as well, even throwing in unique weapons inspired by classic video games that generally blew me away with their creativity. While you may not love them all I’d wager at least a few of them will suit your tastes and they really elevate the shooting experience beyond the ordinary as well. For being a game inspired by an April Fools joke this is a title that shows far more love and craft than you’d expect, and as long as you don’t mind it being over too soon it’s highly recommended.