Wednesday, March 17

Top 10 / Best Simulation Indie Games on Nintendo Switch


There's no doubt that simulation-style games are typically more common (and even often better suited) on the PC platform where you'd have access to a mouse and keyboard, opening the door to control options unavailable to a simpler console-style controller. Nevertheless, there are titles of a "simmy" nature that are either sufficiently simple by their nature, or have received careful conversion to make them palatable and fun on the Switch. Here's a list of the best that I've encountered on the system so far.

Two Point Hospital [Two Point Studios] - 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 [VooFoo Studios] - 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.
 

Megaquarium [Auroch Digital] - Simulation/building games have always been a genre I think of the PC for in general, and indeed many have their roots there. While they can be ported over to consoles, more often than not the PC-based core tends to be very noticeable and a mix of clunky menus and controls hamper the experience with a controller. Megaquarium exhibits practially none of those issues, is both intuitive and controller-friendly as a whole, and if you’ve been itching to get your build on it may be just what you’ve been looking for. The goal is to take on an aquarium that’s either new or in need of help, get your tanks and gear to support them set up, manage the aquatic and vegetative life in each, and then oversee the expansion and maintenance of it all to keep it growing and thriving. While perhaps lacking in the extra thrill you can get from something like Rollercoaster Tycoon this is still a very competent and rewarding sim, and it scratches an itch I’ve had on the system for a while now nicely.


Rebel Galaxy Outlaw [Double Damage Games] - 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. 
 

FUZE [FUZE Technologies] - Have you ever wondered how games are developed and what it takes behind the scenes mechanically to make it happen? Have an interest in learning how to code with the motivation being to make your first game? If so, this will be of interest to you. Sporting a library of assets, tutorials walking you from baby steps to more advanced concepts, a variety of examples that you can tinker with to see how things are done, and full keyboard support (thank god), FUZE4 is a lot to take in. There’s a great deal of opportunity at your fingertips if you’re willing to invest the time and effort, and unlike books or online courses that have you learn in a vacuum the advantage here is the ability to more immediately appreciate the fruits of your labor.


Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 [Frontier Developments] - Ever since the original title in the series way back in the day I’ve been a big RCT fan. While management games like this aren’t always very creative or fun (looking at a variety of theme park managers over the years, including a few duds on Switch), for the most part the proper titles in this franchise (not the terrible mobile-ized ruined ones) have been a treat. Everything about the game on the PC is here, including laying out and tweaking every detail of your rides and attractions, plotting out your research plans, managing your personnel, monitoring your guests to see what’s working and not, laying down scenery and theming to make things special, and best of all creating some truly wild and outstanding rollercoasters. The one big issue is that there’s no getting around doing all of that is pretty cumbersome with console controls. To the credit of the development team the radial menus and control scheme in general works well, though it does have a bit of an initial learning curve. Just competing against a mouse and especially a keyboard altering things like names or getting into deeper menus just takes far more time. Throw in the need to fight a bit too much with the camera in critical spots like during coaster construction and it’s hard to ignore some of the shortcomings in the control implementation. If you don’t have access to a PC that can play the game be assured, the depth of play here is 100% intact and absolutely worthwhile, just be ready to work for it a bit harder than you would where the game was designed to work first.
 

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town [Marvelous Inc] - When you’re making a new iteration of a revered and classic series I don’t doubt the greatest concern lies in how great a risk you’re willing to take in changing things. The wider the audience and probably the more casual the series happens to be the higher the stakes are if you make some tweak that doesn’t end up working out. I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons demonstrates where generally keeping things the same, but then making a few key changes for the better, both plays it safe and innovates effectively. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, feels like it chose the easier and “safer” path. Generally serving up precisely what its fans expect, complete with a great (and cute) visual overhaul, Friends of Mineral Town is undoubtedly a terrific farm/cultivation RPG… but there’s no mistaking that the experience is also extremely familiar, perhaps to the point of detriment depending on your tastes. You’ll be able to farm, fish, mine, explore, attend special events, and develop relationships with your fellow townsfolk… but aside from the obvious improvement in visuals the game also feels a bit stuck in a time warp. Fans of the series, and even converts from other titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, will likely find plenty to enjoy here if you’re looking for the repetition and relaxing pace of the farming sim life. Just where I think the aforementioned games generally feel a bit more modern and refined this feels incredibly safe, for better or worse.


Speaking Simulator [Affable Games] - This is one of those titles that is likely to divide people firmly between the lovers and the haters, without a whole lot in between. As the game’s name implies the focus of the majority of the gameplay is in manipulating the mouth of your character, a robot, in order to get it to not just speak but also exhibit some other characteristics within your interactions that would make you seem human. The humor ensues as you go through a number of social situations where you’re trying your best to remain composed as you struggle to get your words out and eventually begin to show visible signs of wear and tear. The question will be whether the novelty of the experience can keep its grip on you as more elements slowly get added, making your undertaking increasingly challenging or hopeless depending on how you see it. It’s a tricky balancing act and it will likely vary from person to person where the needle moves, whether in the direction of frustrating or quirky and entertaining.


Bee Simulator [Varsav Game Studios] - Blending together elements of flying games, exploration, some mini game action, and perhaps a bit of overly-aggressive environmentalist themes Bee Simulator is a unique experience. Working as a single member of a greater hive you’ll get a feel for the life bees live from the inside, working to collect nectar, rumble with competing insects every once in awhile, and engage in an occasional dance perhaps to share the location of some premium flowers. For the most part it’s a light affair, though I’ll note that quite often race sequences seem strangely out of balance in their difficulty compared to other tasks and younger or less experienced gamers may well find them frustrating. I’m noting that challenge disparity primarily because outside of those race sequences this is an easily accessible and friendly title whose attempts to educate and enlighten (while I’d argue perhaps heavy-handed) are appreciated. While it may not ultimately have a great deal of variety, and its story doesn’t last terribly long, it’s most certainly a unique title unlike just about anything else on the system.


Big Pharma [Twice Circled] - These management simulation style games certainly have their place, and since they aren’t well-represented on the Switch I have no doubts Big Pharma will be enticing to the right crowd that has been starved for this sort of experience. That said, as is what I’d consider typical for the genre, console controls simply aren’t ideal for quickly moving through multiple screens of details and if you like to play on the go you’re going to likely have some issues with scaling as well. Your goal here is to understand the market, research new chemicals and elements that in the proper combinations will satisfy the needs of your consumers, and optimize your production lines in the space you have to work with to produce the right drugs. The challenge is in getting your arms around it all, contending with windows of information sometimes getting in your way, and living with some quirkiness like equipment being inconsistently named and using a controller to take the place of a mouse and keyboard. If you’re starved for this sort of play and are determined to enjoy it on the Switch Big Pharma should satisfy, you’ll just need to clear some hurdles to get there.


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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