Wednesday, March 24

Top 10 / Best Music/Rhythm Indie Games on Nintendo Switch


Definitely one of the more thinly-represented genres out there aside from explosive fads ala the likes of the Guitar Hero or Just Dance type franchises, music titles have a load of potential for creative play and engaging play. Among those that I've played on the Switch these represent a pretty wide spectrum of gameplay types but in general they all feature top notch music. One honorable mention for this list is Avicii Invector, which has a challenging almost endless runner sort of play but unfortunately due to the copyrights around the music I'm unable to include it in my list since video of it gets blocked... but if you're looking for yet another great choice it's worth noting.
 
Just Shapes and Beats [Berzerk Studio] - Possibly one of the more bizarre titles I played in 2018, Just Shapes and Beats pretty well gives away its secret in the title. While that may sound very simple and it's gameplay mostly emphasizes merely trying to avoid getting hit, there's no denying that doing it all with so much style makes for a lot of fun. Playable with friends locally or others online there's also an element of teamwork you'll find as players are able to save each other when someone gets knocked out. Full of some great tracks, colorful designs, and a ton of personality this is an outstanding title deserving of attention.
 

Fuser [Harmonix Music Systems] - 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.


Thumper [Drool] - As has been the case with quite a number of games I’ve enjoyed on the Switch to date I would gladly recommend Thumper to anyone, but would throw out two caveats as well. First, while I don’t think being good at rhythm games is necessarily essential to you being successful in the game, there’s no getting around the fact that being able to feel and anticipate the beats will help you immensely. The second is that this game gets to be extremely challenging, playing it has maxed out my personal intensity to the point that my thumb hurts from me mashing down the A button with apparently all of the force my hand can exert. I would expect that it is a game many people who decide to buy it won’t ever finish just because at some point the bar feels just a bit too high. Regardless, if you like its aesthetics, its pounding beats, and a stiff challenge, there’s really nothing holding me back from recommending it whole-heartedly.


Superbeat: XONiC [Nurijoy] - Sporting a large and diverse set of tracks that has continued to grow (for free) with additional DLC post launch Superbeat: XONiC is an excellent and often quite challenging music and rhythm game best played in handheld mode. You'll have to tap and swipe your screen to match the beat and patterns that the game throws at you for music ranging from J-Pop (OK, there's a lot of J-Pop, but most of it is quite catchy) to some curve balls like Speed Metal. From song to song what you'll need to do to score will vary a bit wildly but just like classic games like Guitar Hero with a little familiarity and practice it is amazing what you'll be able to pull off.


Super Beat Sports [Harmonix Music Systems] - Somewhat reminiscent of the Nintendo Rhythm Heaven franchise in places Super Beat Sports consists of 5 pretty different music and rhythm mini games. While all 5 are fun (whether alone or with friends, though games are generally always more fun with friends) for me the highlight is the game that blends air hockey, tennis, pinball, and I suppose breakout, Buddy Ball. In a head-to-head affair you'll try to out-score your opponent but what you'll need to do so changes regularly and it can be quite unpredictable. Well worth your time if you're looking for something with some musical flair to play with your friends.


Runner 3 [Choice Provisions] - Taking it all in, scoring this game for a general audience is a challenge. On the one hand it has a ton of very cool content, with a terrific funky design, creative levels, exciting new elements, surprising unlocks, and a soundtrack that sticks with you. On the other it’s not hard to see where mainstream audiences are likely to get too frustrated with the game to bother to see a lot of it. Score-chasers and speedrunners will no doubt revel in the challenge, but the thing is that regardless of whether the game was made more mainstream-balanced those elements would still be strong. With a patch to tone things down I could easily see the game jumping up a point as it became more inviting, just right now it’s much more of an acquired taste and that’s a shame.


Everhood [Foreign Gnomes] - As a huge fan of music of all kinds any games that manage to incorporate music and rhythm into the mix tend to catch my attention. Everhood is a bit of an oddball, looking and in some areas feeling like an understated quirky RPG ala Undertale but veering off on its own path with regards to its approach for battles. Rather than engage in turn-based combat or any of the expected modes Everhood will have you working your reflexes, often memory (as you try to memorize attack patterns), and your sense of rhythm as you try to jump and dodge your way through each foe’s onslaught. While you can opt to alter your skill level, really just getting more lenient as you go down by allowing you to recover health quicker, from even just the tutorial you’re going to get challenged more quickly than the normal curve, and depending on your comfort level this could be a problem discouraging players before they’ve even become invested in the story that early on. It’s absolutely unique, and that has merit, but its minimalism, early degree of difficulty, and story that pays off as you get further in but just seems odd at first make it hard to say will be for everyone.


Double Kick Heroes [Headbang Club] - As a big fan of metal, rhythm games, and zombies this is a title that has been firmly on my radar since I first played it at PAX East 2 years ago. So starting with the positive there’s a lot to love here if you’re into all of the above. Tunes covering the gamut of metal styles are represented, once you get into the swing of things you’ll often find the rhythm element satisfying and challenging, and in terms of zombies there are all manner of them to be seen here ranging from generic to be-hooded to even massive dinosaur varieties. The Story mode is a bit weird and silly as you go along and while some of the character likenesses and jokes can be fun I could see where some could see it as an obstacle to the action. Arcade mode will be for those who want to trim the fat and just get to tunes. Hellgate is for enjoying some tracks that weren’t part of the original lineup from some different bands. Finally there’s Fury Road which provides a bit of a roguelike spin on things but using the same basic original content. All of it is pretty solid and engaging. But then there’s the main issue… trying to figure out an ideal control scheme with the Switch joycon or controllers, and it’s a bit of a doozy. The default scheme I simply don’t consider viable, mapping the low and high toms (which are mostly what you deal with) to face buttons. You can hang for a bit but when you get tough rhythms your thumbs aren’t likely to keep up. Thankfully there’s quite a bit of versatility and you can use motion controls (they’re decent but probably not for people looking for accuracy, more for fun) or remap to whatever you like. I think moving the high and low toms to the triggers is the best bet, and works much better, but then there are songs where the snare (which you’ll map to the face buttons) will get an intense rapid succession of beats as well and then you’re right back into the same issue. Sadly, on PC a keyboard is really the ideal as your fingers hitting keys can simply be so much faster with less issue than trying to do the same thing while holding a controller. It’s a really fun game if you’ll stick through the control issue but it’s also a glaring problem that holds it back from greatness unfortunately.
 

No Straight Roads [Metronomik] - Brash, rebellious, and certainly a bit silly, the two members of the band Bunk Bed Junction you take control of in No Straight Roads, Mayday and Zuke, are die hard rock musicians determined to help it come back to prominence in a world dominated by EDM and the crushing control of NSR and its collective of superstars. When you’re taking on one of those stars in the game’s many boss battles is when the game shines brightest, emphasizing their very different personalities and requiring fresh approaches to success. It’s unfortunately the connective zones where the sometimes-wonky platforming as you explore the city or take on more generic mobs will likely chip away at your enthusiasm. Between the camera that you’re unable to get to a high enough angle to assist in effective platforming and too frequent problems with clipping or simply having strange issues in some areas with making what would seem to be simple jumps it makes for a bit of a roller coaster ride. Another oddity is that while music is certainly central to the game in the early going it feels like it wants rhythm to be a core part of the experience but when you’re in the thick of things more generic enemies may adhere to a beat but not in a way that feels carefully planned. It doesn’t detract greatly from the experience but it does seem like an area of neglect. Once you’ve gotten to the latest boss the game’s personality and sense of fun take the wheel and offer up challenging fun, but there’s no denying that most everything else feels like it could have used more polish and refinement. 


Mad Rat Dead [Nippon Ichi Software] - 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.


This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!

No comments: