Thursday, January 27

Top 20 / Best Indie Music/Rhythm Games on Nintendo Switch

Last Updated: 1/27/22!

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.

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.

Avicii Invector [Wired Productions] - 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.

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.

Klang 2 [Tinimations] - When it comes to music and rhythm games there are those titles that take a familiar road, often mapping buttons to specific spots you’ll need to hit in rhythm, and then those that veer off to do things their own way. In the case of Klang 2 on the one hand the controls are much simpler, not making you worry over multiple buttons, but on the other the focus on needing to aim directionally at different types of targets takes the challenge to a different level. Throw in its neon-like visuals matching up well with its often EDM-style tracks and it’s an energetic assault on your senses that can be quite thrilling. The one concern is the degree of challenge once you get over the first handful of stages, sometimes with difficulty spikes suddenly taking your current great performance and wrecking it quickly with patterns that are visually hard to discern, sometimes requiring a few passes just to be positive what sequence of things you’ll need to do in order to get through them. While it may not appeal to all rhythm game fans, people with a taste for more modern music and who enjoy something with a different sense of style than what the genre traditionally provides will want to pick this one up.

One Hand Clapping [Bad Dream Games] - OK, so to start I’ll admit that this isn’t your ordinary game and that’s both a good and a bad thing. At a minimum you’ll need to have a microphone with a USB connector to even get started (plugging it into the port in your dock), and a reasonable degree of confidence in your ability to not so much sing as be able to somewhat reliably match and control your pitches. Assuming you’ve got those bases roughly covered, One Hand Clapping is absolutely a unique experience mixing up some puzzle platforming with the use of your voice in a variety of ways. It starts simple, just needing to sing to trigger elements on the screen, but as you move on you’ll need to show some more refinement and sometimes a bit of creativity to solve puzzles that will put some demands on your vocal chords. While it generally works well I’ll admit that every once in a while the game seemed to get confused about whether I was singing a high or a low note, but for the most part it worked well enough to keep things moving. If you’re looking for a new twist on a music and rhythm game that won’t penalize you for not keeping up with the latest hits but still use your vocal instrument this is a great choice to have.

Lanota [Noxy Games Inc] - Without a doubt Lanota was a massive surprise for me, as its unassuming presentation and opening levels completely gave me a different impression of what to expect than what was delivered. Keep in mind, I’m considering that a very good thing though as the gameplay is refreshingly different and sometimes hectic, with the playfield exhibiting a somewhat crazy mind of its own at times moving around the screen and making your life even more challenging keeping up with what it’s throwing at you. If you’ve been feeling like the genre’s in a bit of a rut and are willing to overlook its weaknesses Lanota is a fabulous rhythm game worth checking out.

Runner3 [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.

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.

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.

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.

Monomals [Rogue Games] - One thing I typically appreciate in indie games is their willingness to simply be themselves, damn the consequences, and how that can result in novel play. In many respects Monomals accomplishes this, resulting in an unusual mix of fishing, platforming, and a music sandbox of sorts if that makes sense. Paired with its colorful characters and presentation it has some appeal for people seeking out something off the beaten path, without a doubt, but that isn’t to say it isn’t without its warts. If you simply play along and do your best, mechanically the controls for getting some boost-y thrust to move around in the air specifically in the action levels works well enough, but if your goal is to be more effective and meet goals trying to truly understand how they work becomes more of a mystery. I won’t lie, they feel odd, and it was almost as if the more I tried to understand them the less they made sense, so I settled on simply being patient and getting where I wanted to go eventually instead. Check it out if it grabs you, just beware that different doesn’t always work.

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.

Cytus a [Rayark Inc] - Depending on what you’re looking for Cytus ⍺ may be either a home run or a bit of a swing and a miss. If you value simplicity and the ability to viably play in docked mode over complexity this may be one of the best options in the genre on the system. If, however, you like your action to be a bit more varied and crazy and only intend to play it with touch controls it may get knocked down a few pegs. Aside from that sticking point that can go either way the game boasts a diverse and massive track list full of variety so if you’re down for some tapping, dragging, and holding you should have something to happily occupy yourself with for a while.

Musynx [PM Studios Inc] - Overall, if you’re down for some very challenging play and an absolute avalanche of tracks to play through MUSYNX is a fair choice. It’s greatest strength is going a more traditional route and nailing the implementation, but if you’re looking for something a little different it may disappoint. Regardless, it is a well-implemented and polished title that will offer hours of enjoyment to music and rhythm game lovers.

Lyrica2: Stars Align [Cosen] - When it comes to music and rhythm games the Switch library has been a real mixed bag, both in terms of gameplay styles and musical selections. Lyrica2 falls into the more traditional touch-based camp, and will require pretty dexterous use of two fingers, but is at least playable (though hardly ideal) with a controller. In terms of the music, since it is all in Chinese you may take that into consideration (though, honestly, it isn’t unusual for people not to know the words to their favorite music in English either), but to the game’s credit the tracks do vary in genre quite a bit from ballads to jazz to lighter pop-like fare. Visually, while it’s pretty simple, there’s a beauty to how its indicators float across the screen in synch with the music as well. Whether it’s a fit for any particular gamer would likely vary wildly depending on tastes but I can see a more generally mellow audience enjoying and being at least mildly challenged by it.

Rhythm Fighter [echo games] - I’m always a fan of titles that try out new combinations of genre styles, so when I heard about a rhythm-based beat-em-up roguelike I was immediately intrigued. Out of the gate while the style of play takes some getting used to there’s quite a bit of promise. The art style and characters are a bit on the silly side, helping to add to the fun. The soundtrack in general fits well to the action, and you’ll progressively unlock new characters that have different feels and that can be upgraded to better help suit your style. Where the problems set in for me revolves around the overall execution. The control scheme, though you get used to it, feels a bit on the clunky side overall which really comes to light when the game gets more intense and you’re trying to keep moving to stay alive. Nailing your hits on the beat precisely is absolutely a key to success but doing this consistently is more of a challenge than the game’s contemporaries. Whether this is a matter of the success window being brief or some issue in the timing (you can play with the latency in increments, though I didn’t find that this helped), but more often than not even while trying to be on the beat it wasn’t happening and honestly when I did get it right it “felt” wrong in terms of the timing. I think the thing that hurts it the most though is that when more difficult enemies are stacked in the same space or when the pretty bonkers boss fights hit everything gets so overwhelming that concerns like keeping the beat tend to go out the window completely. The bosses, in particular, are so generally all over the place with their attacks and speed that it feels like the core rhythm play gets betrayed a bit. Granted, the roguelike element and your ability to upgrade your character will help to counter this as you play but whether the core hook is sufficient to keep you grinding to get to that point may be a fair question from person to person.

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.

Gal Metal [DMM GAMES] - While Gal Metal won’t be for everyone it’s absolutely a unique title that caught me by surprise on multiple levels and that grew on me as I got more comfortable with its approach to the music. Much like real improv getting started with playing around in the music with different beats and combinations can be a complete mess, but with time and some confidence you can surprise yourself. While the story elements are completely bizarre they at least made me laugh, though I’d be curious just how much cultivating friendships and building specific stats influence things. Regardless, Gal Metal is a fresh take on music games and stands out from the crowd if you don’t mind its quirks.

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

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