Friday, December 31

Top 100 / Best Indie Games of 2021 on Nintendo Switch

Dodgeball Academia [Pocket Trap] -
While I’ll admit that when you mention a game with the name “dodgeball” right in the title you already have my attention, bear in mind that doesn’t make me an easy guarantee for positive feelings about the result. In fact, I’ll admit to some trepidation with this “Dodgeball RPG” and whether it would manage to make both ends of the equation well, since so many titles that try to go non-traditional routes have a tendency to get one piece of the puzzle right but come up short on the other. I’m here to reassure you that Dodgeball Academia does no such thing. It plays great as an RPG, with a ton of great and unusual characters, a number of bad guys to deal with, and some crucial decisions when it comes to equipment and where you put your focus for your pretty limited character upgrades. At the same time it plays incredibly well, indeed blowing away my expectations, when it comes to the action-oriented dodgeball play. Who’d have thought, the gameplay isn’t just engaging and full of technique… it’s also damned hard at times and you’ll need to make clever use of the strengths of each member of your team and their powerful Balltimate abilities when the chips are down. While I don’t mind a great RPG every once in a while it has been a long time since I’ve been this genuinely excited to return to one every time I load it up.

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan [ManaVoid Entertainment Inc] - Having spent far more time with Rainbow Billy than I would have expected, I’ve become a big fan of its unique mix of adventure, platforming, relationship building, and mini-game driven combat. At a glance anyone can see that it has a very family-friendly look and feel, in particular with a key element of combat being talking to your opponent and trying to always accentuate the positive. Inevitably the majority of the time you don’t so much defeat them as wear down the emotional walls they’ve put up to enlist their aid to help restore color to the world that has been made a dreary black and white by the evil Leviathan. While that makes the combat sound a bit simple, in execution there’s quite a bit you have to consider from a tactical point of view as well. The first character you put into any lane will use their special ability (if you’ve helped develop a friendship with them), and these become critical as the game goes on and foes get tougher, and the more characters you put in a lane the tougher the mini game you’ll need to play gets. The result can lead to a surprising degree of strategy being needed at times, especially since some opponents will really throw you for a loop with special rules you’ll need to figure out and get around to be successful. Aside from being a bit on the saccharine side for the hardcore set the one fault I’d give the game is that its dialogue really tends to go on, to the point that I’ve just begun to skip a great deal of it, since it isn’t hard to glean what’s important in the conversation without needing to go through it all. Perhaps the goal was to deepen the feel for characters and their connections, but for me it more often derailed the momentum of enjoying the gameplay itself. It absolutely won’t appeal to everyone but if you love games that dare to be different and wear their heart on their sleeve I’d consider it a must-have to add to your collection.

The Wild At Heart [Moonlight Kids] - Sometimes all you need to get excited about a title are a few evocative words, commonly referred to as an “elevator pitch”. In the case of The Wild At Heart it can simply be summed up with the words: Pikmin Adventure. While I do wish the load times were a bit less onerous, the crafting system and health were a bit more well-implemented, and that it didn’t feel like nightfall (and peril) were baked in to interrupting your exploration and puzzle solving in some areas… I’ve gotta admit, this game absolutely has me hooked. There’s a major focus on exploration and often experimentation, the dungeon-like nature of some areas and their puzzles that is an appreciated challenge, and the story and themes of the game definitely pull you in the further you go. This all combines to make for one of my favorite indie titles of the year, despite some of my quibbles with some specifics, and it should be capable of appealing to a very broad audience with its general play style and obvious influences.

Skul: The Hero Slayer [SouthPAW Games] - As a die hard fan of roguelikes perhaps it isn’t surprising that I’ve found Skul to be a great challenge and a good bit of fun. In general, it keeps things simple: You don’t have a ton of skills to leverage, the head you use dictates the nature of the attacks you do have to work with, and the meta progression you get outside each run is actually pretty scant when compared to many titles out there. The result feels like a classic challenging side-scrolling slasher one run, and in another a brawler, it’s really a crapshoot depending on what head you get… but also on what mini bosses you may face early on and how your head matches up to their attack patterns. Yes, that can make it frustrating, especially in the early going as you make mistakes that you’ll end your run for… but in the roguelike spirit you learn, improve your skills, and keep fighting until what were once obstacles become more routine and you move on in search of new heads, perks, temptations, and teeth-gritting challenges.

Dusk [New Blood Interactive] - When I played just a demo of this well over a year ago at PAX East on the Switch hardware I knew it had massive potential, and playing the release version all I can say is “Bravo!” to the folks at New Blood for their efforts. Don’t let the old school low-poly look fool you, beneath that is a silky smooth FPS experience with level designs that feel both retro and modern somehow, and best of all that will throw some genuine surprises at you that help to get the blood pumping. The recent remaster of Quake was great for the opportunity to revisit a true classic, but I’m also happy to have it fresh in my mind to be confident in saying Dusk manages to run some laps around it that reflect far more capable modern hardware and some evolving gaming sensibilities. Whether playing in handheld or in docked mode this is a dual-wielding (dual shotguns are a rush) shooter that is insane in all the best ways, chock full of more secrets than you could throw a decapitated head at, priced perfectly, and even comes with a little throwback extra goodie demake, Dust ‘82, that plays well in its own right.

Doki Doki Literature Club Plus [Team Salvato] - First developing quite a notorious reputation as a free title, DDLC has finally made its disturbing way to Switch… and with a few extra bits of content to boot, though they’re just niceties and don’t really move the needle much. To be clear, the warnings shown before you play aren’t to be taken lightly, and this game should be avoided by people who aren’t quite mature or those with depression or mental health problems as this is a title that will very likely trigger you in a serious way. All of that said, while in terms of pacing it isn’t a perfect game it’s also quite unsettling and will leave you with quite a bit to reflect on. That would include personal relationships, the mental health issues that can be around you beneath the surface, and certainly traditional romance games that DDLC starts out in the vein of but then takes an extremely hard and disturbing turn… or two, or three from. As someone who is steadily critical of semi-interactive visual novels you’d have to take this statement with a grain of salt, but by a fair margin this is the most compelling game associated with this genre I’ve ever seen, and its themes, imagery, and characters have a tendency to stick with you, pretty well no matter what specific paths you may choose. You’ll need to be sure to be patient, as signs of trouble don’t appear until maybe an hour in and it’ll take being over 90 minutes in before the rails fall off… but there’ll be no mistaking the point of no return and when it all goes to hell. It is absolutely not an experience appropriate for everyone but, for anyone who shouldn’t be avoiding it for various reasons stated above, I absolutely recommend it if you want a shock to your system and likely something to think about.

Loop Hero [Four Quarters] - The thing I tend to love most about indie titles is their ability to surprise with remixes of gameplay elements you’ve never seen before. Sure, it can be risky business, and potentially crash and burn, but without such experiments we’d never see original titles like Loop Hero. Part RPG, part strategy, and part roguelike you won’t have an active role in the combat taking place as your hero makes their way around the ever-evolving pathway of the title. That said, you absolutely will be responsible for their success (or lack thereof) through the careful management of their inventory, the town you’ll slowly build to help support them, and shrewd placement of various tiles along the path that can both help and certainly hinder their chances for survival. The trick is that without carefully consulting a guide (which, in this case, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend) how best to approach these placements is a bit of a mystery, and for the best results will require some experimentation and perhaps some luck as well. For people who enjoy a challenge there’s simply nothing else like this on the system, and while it lacks the satisfaction you’d have if you were actively involved in combat there’s a great element of suspense every time you decide to extend your current run just a little longer, hoping your battered hero can weather the storm and bring back even more loot. It’s unusual, inventive, and absolutely worth checking out.

Lost in Random [Zoink] - Full disclosure, up front I’ll admit that I’ve always tended to be fond of games from the Zoink crew, in particular finding their off-beat sense of humor to be great fun. In the case of Lost in Random I really think they’ve stepped it up though. Taking on an ambitious visual design that borders on being Burton-esque in many ways and mixing it with a terrifically dark and distinctive story would already have made me quite happy. However, what really won my heart was the game’s fabulous melding of strategic deck-building and brawling action, resulting in an overall feel of combat that I found utterly unique and that I can only hope to see occur in even more games down the road. I’ll admit that my enthusiasm for those battles, getting to test out my carefully-selected combination of cards, tended to make the more story-driven adventure beats in between feel a bit more bland in comparison, but that’s also where the developer’s trademark humor and quirky characters tended to help keep me happy even as I lusted for more combat. Undeniably distinctive, even if not always perfect, this felt like a perfect compliment to the coming holiday season with its darker tone, and I’d hope that even people who have come to dread seeing the term “deck-builder” would see how its pairing with consistent action makes all the difference.

Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space [Skunkape Games] - Oh, Sam & Max, I simply can’t resist your weirdo humor, references, and charm. Once again the dysfunctional duo have been unleashed on the Switch to do what they do best: rapid-fire tell jokes about everything and everyone in sight (not all of them hit, but I’ll give them credit for a strong batting average nonetheless), make trouble, and consistently deliver new unexpected scenarios and weirdness. Moreso than even their last set of adventures on Switch the five chapters included here, opening with a confrontation with an unruly Santa mind you, change things up and put them in scenarios ripe with potential for silliness and their trademark hijinks. Certainly there are times where the controls aren’t as ideal using a controller as they would have been with a mouse, and there are puzzles that may involve some funky logic, but the enjoyment is really all about the ride and the tremendously funny dialogue along the way. If you’re in need of a good laugh and don’t mind checking everything in a room just to see what dialogue it may prompt this is a title that will reward your diligence consistently and with a fair amount of amusement.

Tails of Iron [Odd Bug Studio] - This is a title that hit me a bit out of nowhere, took my lunch money, and is now making me earn it back one challenging battle at a time… and for the most part you can count me impressed. While I’ll admit getting started my interest was a little shaky, just because I prefer titles to get down to business a little quicker, once I was set up with my basic gear and understood the flow of combat I was fully on board. I’m not sure I can emphasize enough that if you’re not down for a challenge this may rub you the wrong way, as though there’s not much to the combat in terms of moves, the expectation is that you’re on top of every dodge, parry, and counter in order to survive. Normally I tend to turn up my nose at anyone implying “Souls-like” combat, since in most cases the challenge comes from poor or frustrating controls, but in the case of Tails I’d say it would be well applied, at least for the big battles that will tend to hold you up for a while as you perfect your strategy. Mixing together an interesting art style, a somewhat unusual story of you trying to regain your rat kingdom from frogs and other villains, and tough-as-nails combat, Tails of Iron is worth a shot if you believe yourself worthy of hard-fought glory.

Super Mombo Quest [Orube Game Studio] -
There’s nothing quite as satisfying in the indie games space than to stumble onto something that immediately feels pretty special that you’d previously never seen or heard of. For me that’s precisely what happened with Super Mombo Quest, and within just a few minutes I was really able to start grooving with its fast-moving platforming action and precision that is demanding but never unfair. Progression in the form of unlocking new skills and perks, as well as entirely new forms and abilities, keeps things interesting and never dull and I don’t know if I’ve ever been held in suspense keeping an eye on my combo meter as much as I have with this game, desperate to earn my Mombo Combo on every stage. If you’re a fan of platforming with personality and depth this is an absolute must-own title!

The Legend of Tian Ding [Neon Doctrine] - While there have been quite a number of side-scrolling action/brawlers this year, for the most part they’ve been coming up short in one area or another. If you’ve been itching for something particularly compelling in the space, the great news is this is a game that should absolutely scratch it. What I like most about it is the overall flow of combat and how capable you are with your base abilities but can opt to grab enemy weapons to use as well, and there’s quite a variety to choose from. This sort of setup lends itself to very few extended battles playing out similarly since you’ll need to work with what opportunities you’re given without much time for planning. Throw in the many rooms you’ll encounter that will challenge you to make full use of your arsenal of traversal skills effectively and there’s plenty to be satisfied with on the platforming side as well. Put them together with a tale of a modern hero that has some colorful characters and odd humor and the package comes together to make for a terrific choice for action fans on the Switch.

Death’s Door [Acid Nerve] - Opening with a pretty minimal understanding of what’s going on, Death’s Door gets off to a bit of a rocky start. Once you give it a bit where you understand its relatively simple but effective controls, and you make a bit of progress, the picture does get clearer and that allows a sense of satisfaction to settle in nicely. Playing out as a sort of slasher adventure with a satisfying number of puzzles, as well as an abundance of secrets, Death’s Door isn’t for beginners but for the most part is never unfair either in its degree of difficulty. You’ll need to be quick, make periodic upgrades that suit your style of play, and always try to be a bit curious about every possible way you can go to be sure you don’t miss anything to get the most out of it. In particular the formidable bosses you’ll face can require a mix of skill, patience, and a fair amount of luck… but that’s what makes getting through them all the more satisfying. Smart and stylish, if you were a fan of Hyper Light Drifter or games like it, Death’s Door fits perfectly into that same space, finding the balance between adventure and challenging-but-satisfying combat.

Flynn: Son of Crimson [Studio Thunderhorse] - There’s something to be said for games that know what they want to be, even if not necessarily revolutionary in any particular way, and are then executed with a high degree of care and quality. For me Flynn is one such game, adhering closely to the classic 16-bit action platforming template and in general then simply staying the course with a steady stream of new weapons and abilities to keep things interesting through its handful of hours of playtime. Through the use of your weapon-based attacks and magic you’ll work your way through puzzles and a fair amount of combat, with the periodic changes to new zones changing up the enemies and obstacles you’ll face nicely. In terms of the bigger picture, both in terms of the narrative and overall design, perhaps the more paint-by-SNES-era-numbers essence of the game holds it back from being a truly inspired stand-out title. However, if you’re a fan of the era it undoubtedly emulates some of the best it had to offer and feels both retro and just a bit satisfyingly modern at the same time on Switch, making the odds of it being a hit with genre fans pretty solid.

Cyber Hook [Blazing Stick] - Having originally checked it out at PAX East last year, Cyber Hook was a title I was pretty eagerly waiting to see in its final form. A neon-lit parkour title with a mix of running, jumping, some shooting, grappling, and a fair amount of crashing and burning it’s just a very different experience altogether. I’m happy to see that the final product does seem more polished and diverse in its level designs, though that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t have an occasional rough edge you’ll encounter. The main thing I love about it is the almost Spider-Man like flow you’ll need to get into in order to sling yourself around the course. Now, getting to the point where you can execute that can take some work, execution is everything and jumping from your grapple line can be tricky to get the hang of pulling off consistently… but when it clicks it can be very satisfying. While the likes of speedrunners will, no doubt, hone their runs to perfection what I enjoy most is the improv of it all. Your plan will tend to go south quickly and often and the fun is in recovering and pulling it off anyway, in many ways reminding me of the same sort of thrill I got from the under-rated ClusterTruck. This won’t be a game that will work for everyone, but it’s different, challenging, plays well in quick bursts, and can be just as entertaining, if not more, when runs go wrong as when they go right.

Glyph [Bolverk Games] - I’m a fan of games that combine elements from multiple titles to make for a new experience so Glyph, featuring a mix of 3D platforming ala Mario and others with a healthy dose of Marble Madness (or Monkey Ball for younger gamers) mechanics firmly checks the box for unexpected. Of course with the rolling element the challenge becomes more focused on managing uneven surfaces and controlling your inertia, so even sometimes simple level layouts can be troublesome in the beginning as you get a feel for the physics of it all. That said, once you get it down, the game does a fabulous job of throwing challenges at you in a steady stream for regular gamers but also tempts more daring folks with hidden secrets that will send the needle much higher for difficulty. Sure, the rewards are generally just simple cosmetics, but for people determined to get everything the game has to offer it’s going to get pretty bumpy and you’ll need to truly master all aspects of controlling your spherical character on all sorts of uneven terrain and obstacles while making sure your jumping and landing games are on point. With plenty of content for the average gamer and loads of hair-pulling action for the pros this is a pretty unique platformer with wide appeal.

Bladed Fury [NExT Studios] -
While side-scrolling slashers have been around for quite some time, and tend to show up in some abundance, I’ve more often than not been disappointed by them historically. Too often settling in too early with locked-in attacks and combos and facing too many enemies that work as decent fodder but fail to really satisfy, setting up and experience that sucks you in and then keeps you engaged is obviously a challenge. Enter Bladed Fury, a very stylized and sexy slasher visually, but also one with a well-told story, a strong set of core moves, and enough variety in enemies and upgrades to remain engaging throughout… though it does feel like it ends a bit quicker than it could. While mechanically the timing and feel of some attacks can take time to learn, and this can make countering some enemies and their attacks tricky, in the end it feels fair and helps compel you to hone your skills rather than just mash away at buttons. If you’re up for a pretty decent challenge, some great visuals, and love to mix things up and make things bloody this is a great choice.

Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure [Stuck In Attic] - I’m pretty much always a sucker for the classic noir detective style, and when a game instead chooses to skewer it a bit with humor as well it tends to make me laugh. This point-and-click style adventure is very much in the vein of the classics from the likes of LucasArts, though as always that comes with some baggage in the form of some puzzle moments that will make you seriously consider hitting an online walkthrough. The key here though is definitely the humor that comes through in some clever dialogue and some truly odd situations, and that’s backed up by what’s generally terrific hand-drawn art. If you’re an adventure fan, this title should be satisfying.

Greak: Memories of Azur [Navegante Entertainment] - When you’re this far into a system’s lifespan, making a splash with a game that not only has a distinctive look but that’s in a way that still feels fresh can take some work. I’d seen Greak last year at PAX with an early-ish build and already there was no question that a great look was already established but in my time I was only able to see the potential in the character-swapping mechanics. I’m happy to say that on release the final version works nicely, still possessing a great simple-but-attractive look, smart puzzle elements with each character having their own feel and usefulness, and even relatively simple but satisfying platforming and combat to work as the connective tissue between everything. While I wouldn’t put it at the very top tier within the overall puzzle platforming genre, I’d say there are some better stories told or titles with more diverse and compelling action, I do have to tip my hat to it being a well-made and engaging title genre fans absolutely should check out.

Kathy Rain: Director’s Cut [Clifftop Games] - While there have been a great number of LucasArts-esque point-and-click adventure titles on Switch, not all of them have been created equal. While many get the pixel art, quirky dialogue choices, and unorthodox use of items to solve puzzle elements right, it turns out a form of gameplay created on a platform that uses a precision pointing device hasn’t always translated well into using console controls. Among its achievements, I’d actually consider this to be Kathy Rain’s greatest strength, its method of letting you move around and then select highlighted elements to interact with relative to where you’re standing both intuitive and generally effective. Add on a fair amount of attitude, an interesting story, and what are generally sensible puzzle solutions (though you’ll undoubtedly resort to trial and error eventually, most of the time the space you’re working in at least keeps it contained) and this is a definite one to consider for classic adventure fans.

Little Nightmares 2 [Tarsier Studios] - Having missed out on the original, though certainly having heard its praises, I walked into Little Nightmares 2 with next to no pre-knowledge aside from knowing to expect a creepy tone. Without the ability to contrast it against the original I can’t speak to how it holds up, but what I will say is that, on the whole, it is a well-crafted and very atmospheric action adventure with a spirit in line with classic cinematic adventures that I love. While there’s no dialogue you easily get a sense of the situation given the dark and ominous look of your surroundings and the pretty evil enemies you’ll encounter. You’ll spend the majority of your time either exploring or trying to elude capture or death, and that will require a mix of being stealthy, some problem-solving, and a bit of periodic violence as well. While it may not have the same clever narrative hook the likes of a title like Inside and others this is a well-crafted and quite gorgeous title that performs quite well on Switch and will engross you over its handful of hours.

Wytchwood [Alientrap] - When I think of games that heavily involve crafting my mind usually goes to survival titles, a genre I’ve struggled with though there have been some exceptions to the rule. I can appreciate where the appeal is, but there’s typically some onerous element, typically either in inventory management, too many dull or menial recipes, or there simply being too many means to meet your demise. Wytchwood, to me, is a bit of an anomaly, blending together satisfying crafting, plenty of exploration and discovery, a satisfyingly coherent set of management screens, and what turns out to be a pretty compelling story as well. I suppose best categorized as an adventure, you’ll find there are plenty of unusual people to meet, problems to solve, and mysteries involving yourself to unravel. What I really appreciate is that it does all of this in a way that feels highly accessible, focused, and light. Without any real peers that I can think of on the system this is an excellent mix of flavors that I hope a broad audience is able to enjoy.

El Hijo [Honig Studios] - Stealth games, in general, usually aren’t my bag for whatever reason but while El Hijo heavily involves that mechanic there’s enough charm and variety that it works for me. Initially trying to escape from the monastery he’s been dropped off at and then in search of the people who wronged his family there’s not a lot of story but it’s easy to understand and relate to so that works. As you’re introduced to new spots to hide in or even move through there can be a learning curve at times so it’s critical to check out anything that looks like it has potential or you could waste time trying to get through a spot using a far tougher plan than is necessary but I also appreciate that it seems in places there’s not only 1 way to get through. It won’t be a match for everyone but its cute style and clever variety keep it enjoyable, interesting, and sometimes challenging throughout.

King of Seas [3DClouds] - Whenever you embark on a journey while raising your Jolly Roger on the high seas, pretty well everyone out there is going to evaluate the experience against the genre-defining Sid Meier’s Pirates. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, and there’s no doubt that going back and playing that title now isn’t all that hot, but it set a crazy bar long ago and the fact is nobody has hit all of the things it did right since. Out of the gate King of Seas actually shows quite a bit of promise and captures the essence of fun seen in that classic title with solid ship-to-ship combat, plenty of incentive to explore, latitude in how you want to get your business done through trade or more violent means, and an amusing sense of humor. The problem is it doesn’t feel very ambitious to break too far beyond that, leaving it with a feeling of some potential unfulfilled. Throw in some general glitchiness and hitches from time to time and while it’s the most satisfying swashbuckler on the system, to be fair it doesn’t have much in the way of respectable competition either.

Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! [Mr. Nutz Studio] -
While the genre struggled in the early days on the Switch, the beat-em-up has proven to be alive and well on the Switch, including some titles I’d consider genre-defining that have arrived over the last 2 years. Asterix and Obelix, taken from the French comic, are characters I’m not at all familiar with so I can’t comment on their use here, though I will note their personalities as well as the unusual characters they interact with in the story, do provide a decent basis for light humor. Gameplay-wise you’ll be dealing with the contrast between the smaller and more precise Asterix and the much larger and brawling Obelix, though since the controls are the same for each at a high level they perform similarly. The play tends to be pretty traditional, though perhaps a bit light on overall strategy compared to some more accomplished titles, but I do appreciate the inclusion of some secret spots on the periphery you can find and that help to encourage exploring the space. Playable solo or with a buddy what strikes me most is that within the genre this may be the most stripped down but still enjoyable titles I’ve played in the space, and with the co-op I could see this being a great title to play with a younger or less experienced gamer, helping to bring them into the fold a bit more gently. It isn’t the most complex or satisfying brawler out there by a fair margin, but there’s something to be said for its sense of humor and accessibility that many of its brethren lack.

A Short Hike [adamgryu] -
We’ve truly been blessed over the past 6 months or so with a strong run of generally bite-sized exploratory adventures that focus far more on the wonder of nature and discovery than the normal more action-oriented fare typically out there. A Short Hike, though only lasting a few hours, seems to have that perfect ratio to keep everything tight and satisfying, never having to wander too far before you see something to be found, someone to interact with, or a hint at something you may be able to discover later with the right equipment. Moving around the scenic park you’ll encounter a variety of people, some there to help you and some in need of some quick help which typically won’t have you tromping around to find what they’re looking for. It may not have loads of depth or character development but honestly you’re likely to be so enchanted with the beauty of your surroundings and the clean simplicity of the overall experience that it won’t matter a bit. A definite recommendation for people looking to relax or younger gamers with parents trying to find them something appropriate for just about any skill level.

Badland: Game of the Year Edition [Frogmind] - While this is a title that has been around for quite some time at this point, I’m surprised by how well it has held up both in terms of its great funky art style and its simple-but-challenging play. For the most part this is a one-button game, which you’ll use to control the flapping of your little furry creature(s) to keep as many as you can alive through all sorts of obstacles and death traps, remembering that in the end you only need one to survive to move in. It’s worth noting that you’ll just want to hold down the button for the amount of oomph you need, tapping the button will end up being a dead end for you quickly. The real price here, though, is just the sheer amount of levels and content that come along for the ride for the budget price, even including local co-op and competitive multiplayer levels as well. If you’ve never picked this up, and your down for a deceptively-tricky action game that has much more polish than its budget price would imply, it’s definitely worth the plunge.

Haven Park [Fabien Weibel] - As much of an action and shooting game junkie as I am, looking for games that challenge me and provide thrills, a great game that moves in the precisely opposite direction can very much grab me. Whether something like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, or other titles out there, sometimes slowing everything down to enjoy some Zen-like calm can be very appealing. For me, Haven Park absolutely nailed the sweet spot for about 5 hours of my time and once I had started I simply had to see it through to the end, which can be difficult to do with as many games as I tend to play and review on a weekly basis. Your goal is a pretty simple one, to restore, improve, and find the many hidden secrets of this park you’ve inherited the responsibility for from your grandmother. This is an experience focused on exploration, the joy of discovery, a bit of puzzle solving, and taking the time to follow every path, check out every hunch, and simply enjoy yourself. I would say that towards the end of the game I did wish for an ability to set something up to allow myself to port around the map more quickly as I shored everything up but it’s a relatively small quibble, if you enjoy games that help you slow down and unwind this comes highly recommended.

Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective [Darjeeling] -
As much as I've tended to see people bemoan the "kiddie" nature of Nintendo systems over the years, it can actually be a challenge to find games on Switch that are easy to recommend for green, younger gamers who may not have their coordination together yet. Fittingly based on a best-selling children's book, Labyrinth City has so much going for it for the young, or at least the young at heart. Each new location is jam-packed with visual details, corners to explore, secrets to find, and what I'd simply call magical moments as different elements from the page come to life. Though it unfortunately won't take long to get through all the game has to offer, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of discovery I had with it, rekindling those feelings of being a wide-eyed kid looking over pages ripe with detail from my childhood.

Unpacking [Witch Beam] - Usually when you think of casual games puzzles and the like are usually what comes to mind, or perhaps something akin to a visual novel. With Unpacking it’s clear there are other avenues to tap though, at least when the game is laser-focused on a very specific objective… in this case something as simple as unpacking some boxes and carefully organizing their contents. These activity-based games tied to tasks most people abhor doing in the real world are a bit of a mystery. What makes it so satisfying to organize and perfect a virtual world while more often than not the mess you’re sitting within playing it remains untouched? I don’t think this game has the answers to that conundrum but there’s no mistaking the sense of satisfaction in devising the perfect drawer for putting your socks in, perhaps taking the extra step to also organize them by type or color as you go… just to make them perfect. As you progress through the game the scale of your effort continues to grow to multiple rooms as your character’s life progresses to new stages. That’s where the other magic in the title lies, the reflection on how we grow and change, and to see what special items continue to endure while so many others prove to be disposable. The result is absolutely wonderful if you’re looking to calm your mind and simply take joy in a productive task.

Regency Solitaire [Grey Alien Games] - You’ve got to respect a development team that takes on a well-known casual card game and decides to swing for the fences to make as feature-rich a version of it as possible. That’s very much the case for Regency Solitaire, which likely won’t be able to suddenly win over hardcore types with its Jane Austen trappings and story of a young woman getting pressured by her family to go for money rather than love, but absolutely sets itself apart from most anything else in the same space. While all of the special cards, rules, and how best to utilize things like your wild cards or perks to maximize your points may take some time and trial and error, the almost roguelike progression where you’ll be able to unlock improvements or rechargeable abilities (which you’ll need to strategically manage) absolutely adds flavor and some appreciated personalization to the mix. All then set against the literary backdrop, this is a casual game that screams maximum effort and is worthy of a look if you’re hoping to unwind a bit with something more relaxing but still well-made.

Curse of the Dead Gods [Passtech Games] -
Roguelikes have exploded in popularity in the past few years, with games like Dead Cells and Hades showing the way the last 2 years in how to make top-tier mainstream titles in the space. Curse of the Dead Gods may be a bit too challenging for a more generic crowd, but if you’re a fan of more challenging far in the spirit of Darkest Dungeon or (I wasn’t going to say it, since I hate when people say it) Dark Souls, it’s a title that does “hard” right. Absolutely swimming in the “risk versus reward” mentality every room you choose, every side passage you run into hoping for loot, and every bit of healing you benefit from at the cost of further corrupting your soul is about giving you choices and (often) then making you pay for them. When you first start out corruption feels like the enemy you’re fighting, and to a degree that’s true, every 100 points of it you receive you’ll take on a new curse. But even the game’s curses are often a matter of perspective and once you embrace them, and get some meta progression perks going, things get challenging and fun. Combat is tough, with your dodge and parry being essential to survival, and there’s a rhythm to it that takes getting used to but that plays with terrific (and appreciated) precision. Once you’ve got a handle on the combat, have made some smart investments with your meta progression, understand which weapons best suit your style, and have learned to use curses to your advantage whenever possible, you’ll find a deep, challenging, and rewarding roguelike well worth your attention.

Spelunky [Mossmouth] - One of the last OG indie titles to finally come to Switch, Spelunky promptly gave me a nice slap in the face to remind me of just how quickly I could utterly fail in a game. As one of the earliest and most staggeringly popular tough-as-nails roguelikes out there this is a game chock full of things that will gladly kill you, and in the early going most of your runs will be capped off with a “Oh, I’m not supposed to do that” moment as you meet some new enemy or trap type and aren’t quite prepared for the pain it is set to bring. All that said, when you get to a new level or zone for the first time there’s nothing quite like that thrill… right before you discover something new again and in many cases promptly die once more, just to start all over again. While there’s no doubt roguelikes have lunged ahead with newer ideas, to a degree leaving Spelunky feeling a bit dated and perhaps more on the sadistic side than the average, the fact that it’s very easy on the pocketbook at a mere $10 and still has a fair amount of charm to go with its brutality make it a must-own for anyone who loves roguelikes and may never have had the chance to take it on.

Overcooked! All You Can Eat [Ghost Town Games Ltd] -
Possibly one of the best games to challenge and entertain determined groups either locally or online in this generation, Overcooked started strong and at this point where they’ve brought everything together into one package it’s tough not to be impressed. With the original, the sequel, and all associated DLC packed in there’s a whole menagerie of characters to choose from, a ton of locales and challenges to tackle, and a host of options both local and online for matching up to cooperate or compete with others. What I truly appreciate is how the challenge is still very much there for more seasoned groups but there’s also a terrific assist mode that will change everything into being much more casual and family-friendly as well, opening the door to anyone being able to enjoy plenty of prepping, chopping, cooking, cleaning, and serving. If you’ve already got both games this may be unnecessary but if you’ve been waiting to dive in or only have one of the titles this is a terrific excuse to get a great amount of content at a bargain price all in one.

Bonkies [Crunching Koalas] - While my family and I have become quite jaded with multiplayer titles, since so many of them fall into pretty predictable gameplay, there are sometimes games that do something new that are worth getting excited for. Bonkies, thankfully, is one such title that offers up an unusual construction challenge involving monkeys, jetpacks, and robot arms. The name of the game is definitely precision, whether that involves feathering your boost, working quickly and efficiently to get pieces in place, or taking special care with special blocks that have a tendency to blow up everything you’ve worked for if you fail to take care. What sets the game apart further is that unlike the majority of multiplayer-focused games out there you absolutely can play through the game Solo and still find it quite challenging and enjoyable, you’ll just be fighting with yourself rather than your family and friends. It’s really two very different games through those lenses, with one being about technique and precision and the other layering on some serious communication and coordination, also understanding who the best people are for specific tasks since mistakes can be so calamitous. Unfortunately, if you’re playing with younger or less experienced gamers this may make Bonkies a poor choice unless they’re quick studies, but if your group is up for a unique challenge this offers both frustration and fun in pretty equal measure.

Clone Drone in the Danger Zone [Doborog Games] - One genre that’s lacking in depth and variety on the Switch has definitely been fighters. Sure, there are both some AAA and indie efforts that will let you throw down in the traditional 2D sphere, whether more serious or a bit casual, but there aren’t many games that dare to break the mold. Clone Drone is a title that does just that, moving play into 3D voxel-based arenas where you’ll play as a sort of robotic gladiator, taking on foes and various lethal traps in mortal combat where your goal is to take out the opposition using whatever weapons you have available to you. Even if you’re unable to get an instant killing blow the good news is that partial damage like hacked away limbs will still help make your job easier but those same vulnerabilities can work against your own surprisingly fragile bot as well. The roguelike format is challenging and can be fun, at least for a little while, but it’s the multiplayer options that include both cooperative and competitive that show the extra effort and give the title additional distinction. I doubt it will appeal to everyone, and learning to hone your technique with the somewhat limited core attacks and weapons can be tough when there’s not a ton to work with, but there’s just something unique about being in an arena with some other people trying to survive, with both excitement and sometimes silliness playing out in the process.

My Singing Monsters Playground [Big Blue Bubble Inc] -
With release timing that isn’t ideal in such close proximity to the latest Mario Party, and having been let down by many titles attempting to steal even a sliver of its oxygen, Playground is actually a pleasant surprise. If you’re looking for the full boardgame conceit that does add some strategy and flavor to the proceedings, this will sadly disappoint. However, if you or your family trends towards impatience and just want to get down to the action, this is a game that will absolutely have everyone covered. Tackling a series of mini games which get actively chosen by the person in last place (a nice touch), you and your friends will compete in a surprising variety of free-for-all, 2-on-2, and 3-on-1 events, trying to earn gems that will help determine the final winner. For the most part you can consider it Mario Party without any of the board aspects and you’d have the right general idea. The mini games themselves tend to be the star here, and having seen so many games try to compete in this space and fail miserably it’s terrific to see one that’s trying its hardest to mix together enough variety, simplicity, fun, and complexity all at once to justify participation by people of pretty well any skill level. In the end Mario and company don’t really need to fear this title if you’re a fan and are willing to pay up for the fun. If, however, you’re looking to get a taste of that action at a lower price point and are willing to sacrifice some polish and nuance this is a great option to be aware is out there.

LEGO Builder’s Journey [Light Brick] -
The first thought people tend to have with a LEGO title is an action-oriented romp you can casually enjoy on your own or, even better, with a friend. Builder’s Journey isn’t in that same vein though, instead taking a very different path to provide a slower and more contemplative puzzle experience that, of course, centers on the creative use of LEGO pieces to get you through. What really made the greatest impression on me from the game though isn’t the smart use of the pieces in a very sensible context but instead the story that it tells. Without dialogue or narration of any kind the story of a parent and their child starting out on a journey together, with some sidetracks that separate them along the way, is what pulled me in the most. Completing the puzzle on each screen would give me a taste of what happens next and that tended to be my biggest driver, though I absolutely appreciated the unique challenge of making use of the trademark pieces to solve problems brought. It isn’t without flaws, with running time and occasional issues where knowing what piece you want to put where can be encumbered by the camera not cooperating well topping the list, but on the whole I still found the experience very satisfying. There’s just something special to me about the whole package of what this game offers, and given its highly accessible nature for gamers of all skill levels it’s easy to recommend… even if I wish the experience could have lasted a bit longer.

Space Otter Charlie [Wayward Distractions] - It’s always a joy to play a new indie title that you’ve never heard of or seen that immediately grabs you, and for me Space Otter Charlie did precisely that. Cute, charming, extremely approachable for all ages in both its content and degree of challenge it’s a terrific title that really feels at home on the Switch. You’ll play as a spacefaring otter who needs to explore ships in search of salvage materials ranging from fuel and energy cells to a hodgepodge of random parts you’ll need to craft equipment both critical to your mission and sometimes just a bit silly and fun. I think it’s the balance of legitimately solid play where you’ll need to carefully boost around and shoot enemies and debris mixed with endearing characters, some silly costumes, and an abundance of otter factoids that just make it a joy to play. Perhaps it won’t be tough enough for hardcore folks to get deeply engaged in, but if your goal is to enjoy a well-designed game while having a perpetual smile on your face this is a terrific hidden gem on the Switch.

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure [ustwo] - It’s weird how at times in certain genres when it rains, it pours, and exploration-based discovery titles are currently out in force. Alba may not be a very long or meaty game, but its wholesome characters, super-chill wandering and discovering, and even inclusion of the element of getting great snaps of the local wildlife at least makes it a joy. Feeling incredibly well-suited to the Switch, a joy whether in handheld mode or docked, I appreciate its slightly more distinctive sense of style and tone even among its other laid back contemporaries. If you’re looking for something to take a few hours to enjoy, simply taking in nature and a bit of wonder along the way, this is a great option for you on the eShop.

TOEM [Something We Made] - I don’t know whether it was triggered by a pandemic that had everyone stuck in their houses and wishing for a chance to appreciate the world around us but this year has produced a string of pretty amazing exploratory adventures, with TOEM being the latest to join the club. Formerly featured in one of Nintendo’s Indie World Directs, this somewhat quirky and very calming title sports a distinctive black and white hand-drawn art style and encourages you to see everything in the world around you, down to the little things like hidden bugs or the occasional shy monster. It will likely only take most people around 4 hours to finish, a little more or less depending on how determined you are to work out every quest available to you, but if you’re looking to enjoy a consistent stream of odd surprises and interactions mixed with what are generally pretty sensible puzzles it really scratches that itch well. Among its recent brethren it’s perhaps a little longer and more varied in where you’ll go and what you’ll do, but with the photo taking there can be times where you’ll know what you need to do, but doing it in a way that the game recognizes can be tricky too. While it isn’t perfect, and may well be too sedate for some folks, I found it to be an enjoyable journey that helped me relax and feel great for a few engaging hours.

A Juggler’s Tale [Kaleidoscube] - With its marionette characters and associated string-based challenges, rhyming narration, and a healthy dose of charm A Juggler’s Tale is certainly unique. Playing out as a sort of puzzle adventure you’ll continue to be presented with scenarios where you’ll need to work out how to survive or escape from what’s usually some calamitous set of circumstances. As you could expect from moment to moment the results can thus vary, and at times if you’ve missed some visual cue you may find yourself feeling a bit stuck, though thankfully the answer is always somewhere nearby at least. There are times where the controls can feel a bit on the dodge side, sometimes resulting in failure even when you know what you want to do, but for the most part you do get accustomed to some of the quirks and learn to work with them. While the adventure only lasts a few hours it is at least memorable, in particular because of the narrator who makes everything you’ve done feel just a bit more grand.

Mail Mole [Talpa Games] - There’s no doubt that releasing a 3D platformer on a console that Mario built (and currently has quite a few titles out on as well) takes some guts, and while Mail Mole can’t be considered up on the high tier that franchise occupies it also has some charm and mass appeal that help it to be at least notable. Your goal will be to burrow your way through a variety of themed stages, jumping when necessary, throwing in some dashes, and collecting carrots and turnips before delivering the mail in each locale. While this isn’t too difficult early on the further you get there’s a steady increase in challenge but in general it’s a pretty smooth ride so even younger players should be able to do well with it. I do think that the button hold and release style jump and just the general layout of the buttons is lacking (it would be nice to be able to map them or have alternatives) but since there are at least only a few controls so it isn’t so bad. There are times where the fixed camera can be troublesome for seeing the action as well but on the whole it usually does a fine job and removes a layer of concern less veteran gamers can have trying to keep track of the direction they’re moving in while trying to pan the camera at the same time. If you’re looking for a slightly different flavor in your Switch platforming be sure to check this one out, you just may dig it.

The Smurfs: Mission Vileaf [OSome Studio] - Whenever approaching a licensed property, especially one associated more with kids, veteran gamers are going to come to the table with a healthy amount of earned skepticism. The Smurfs, in particular, have been featured in many games through many generations over the years, but I’d say few have been notable. Mission Vileaf, for me, is a pretty refreshing break from the mold, offering up a great opportunity to explore their three-apple-high world and save the day. The family-friendly 3D platforming is broken up by reasonably simple combat and use of your ever evolving Smurfy gear, clearing the infected vegetation and dispatching corrupted critters. Difficulty is thankfully defined up-front to allow for a wider range of skill levels, and the ability for someone to join in co-op style to lend assistance makes it a terrific option for gamers in training. It may be lacking in overall complexity, and it won’t go toe to toe with the best the genre has to offer on the system, but it’s still a Smurfy good time if you’re open to the experience.

SNK Vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millenium [SNK Corporation] -
While there has been a whole series of conversions of the fighting games from the Neo Geo Pocket, and many have been decent, until this point none of them quite felt worthy of more broad support than folks looking for some nostalgia. While there’s no getting around the limitations of it being tied to that much older hardware, with the reduced screen area for gameplay and 2 buttons for control most notably, as a fan of fighting games from both companies the representation in this specific title makes it noteworthy. With a mix of characters from multiple series on both the Capcom and SNK sides, as well as options to play with a singular fighter, paired up for a tag team, or in a team of 3, there’s ample opportunity to choose the style that suits your preference. In addition, don’t let the 2-button set-up fool you, it’s truly impressive how many moves they were able to cram in for each fighter, all with a feel of flow that’s easy to get into hitting signature moves and executing satisfying combos. While obviously there are more technical and visually-impressive fighters on the system this budget-friendly and surprisingly deep fighter shouldn’t be counted out, it’s a winner.

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

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

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.

A Monster's Expedition [Draknek] - One thing I’ve learned over the years as someone both on the programming end of software and on the consumer end is that creating experiences that are “simple” by nature is often anything but. With that in mind, there’s a certain effortless quality to the clean and well-planned rule progression and puzzles in Expedition that I really appreciate and admire. With minimal direction and some simple experimentation you’ll pretty understand each new element added to the rule mix as you simply try to make your way around a series of islands, enjoying some unusual artifacts with amusing descriptions along the way. It’s light but still challenging, for the most part establishing and then carefully following a slow and steady progression in complexity and difficulty the further you get. A great example of work invested to convert what could just be a puzzle game into more of an enjoyable puzzle experience worth checking out.

Timelie [Urnique Studio] - While time manipulation puzzling has been done before in the indie space, there’s an element of visual polish and flair that helps Timelie stand out nicely. There is a bit of a learning curve at times, as you’ll need to experiment with different methods and taking risks to proceed, but for the most part the game’s stages are designed well so they’ll sort of force your hand in trying different tactics since those you’ve used to that point won’t work any longer. It’s a solid puzzle experience that feels fresh, doesn’t overstay its welcome or get too incredibly onerous to complete, and often leaves you feeling satisfied after you’ve plotted out your perfectly-planned path and then get to watch it executed, sending you on to the next stage.

Where Cards Fall [Snowman] - Considering the abundance of puzzle games on the casual-friendly Switch, including many from the mobile/tablet space it’s getting tougher to find something that feels new and unique. That’s precisely the case with Where Cards Fall though, which debuted in the mobile space first, but doesn’t show too many of the usual signs of bumpiness in getting it converted for console enjoyment. I will admit that the controls did take a little getting accustomed to, and perhaps aren’t perfect, but once you have the relatively short list of things you can do down, from there it’s all just about working your way through over 50 puzzles that keep layering in new tricks and degrees of complexity. Throw in visuals that help it to clearly stand apart from its competition and some great tunes and it’s a treat. I do wish the coming of age story that advances as you progress provided a little more clarity on everything that’s going on though, just because what you’re able to see feels good and not knowing a little more detail does make it feel like you’re missing out on something that could have helped take the game to the next level.

Filmechanism [Chemical Pudding] - It’s always great to see smart puzzle games that deliver play that hasn’t been run into the ground and that provide the opportunity to get some help when needed. Mashing together puzzle platforming, old-school box pushing, and the ability to capture elements where they are and restore them to those positions later gives Filmechanism plenty of opportunity to keep its challenges fresh as you go. The opportunity to simply take the normal easier path, or one of two tougher paths, helps to give everyone a chance to enjoy the experience, and if you’re determined to take them all there’s also plenty of content. Wrap it all up with a great vintage presentation that is more than adequate and even a usable hint system to help you when you get stuck and it’s a well thought out package that’s ideal for puzzle fans of all skill and experience levels.

Ghosts and Apples [Rough Cyber Humans] - Just because a puzzle game is pretty simple in its design doesn’t mean it can’t be challenging and even maddening. Ghosts and Apples demonstrates this in spades, with the controls being merely a matter of selecting the top or bottom of the tubes to the left or right of your character to stuff ghosts into. The goal is simple to stack ghosts of the same color to make them disappear. Simple, right? Funny how upping the pace and throwing some additional roadblocks in your way can quickly make it feel anything but. In the end this really isn’t a casual game at all, despite what you may assume looking at it, and can be a frantic challenge, no matter how simple its premise may be.

Skydrift Infinity [Digital Reality] -
One of the subgenres I’ll say I’m most disappointed having seen ride off into the sunset in recent generations is combat racing. It seems that the Mario Kart series has pretty well dominated that general space for quite some time and aside from people trying to replicate that formula (and generally failing) there hasn’t been much to choose from. That changes with Skydrift Infinity, which doesn’t just entertain with some great competitive combat, but also throws in the fact that you’re trying to do this in the air, adding to the challenge. You’ll work through a variety of events raging from being focused on speed, to combat as everyone fights to end up in first, to elimination races where you’ll be in a constant struggle to keep yourself out of last. Not everything is perfect, I do wish there were more tracks available (though at least they make full use of what they have with reverse races) and in some cases it can be pretty easy to lose track of where you’re supposed to go and where the boundaries are for you to race in, but the thrill of maneuvering through tight spaces, dodging buildings, and then blowing up your enemies helps to make up for it. If you’ve been feeling the need to race and blow some stuff up this will do a fair job of scratching that specific itch.

Cruis’n Blast [Raw Thrills] - When it comes to over-the-top, crazy, and almost excessively arcade-style racing I’m not sure anything out there can quite match the classic Cruis’n series. Cruis’n Blast, rather than looking to make strides to evolve or reinvent itself in any remote way, comes to the Switch fully embracing everything (and I do mean this in the best complimentary way) stupidly ridiculous about its lineage and puts it right in your lap whether you love or hate it. For anyone more remotely interested in realism or tight control mechanics you can just keep moving, this won’t be an experience for you. However, if the thought of racing with your neon-lit and juiced-up triceratops as you plow through your opponents, doing backflips and barrel rolls over ramps along the way, sounds plain AWESOME this will be your jam. The adherence to even goofy-ass things from yesteryear like every car surface being highly reflective, something nobody would ever do now but that was all the rage back in the day, is a sign that this port was made with respect and love. Will it deliver hours of entertainment? That would depend on you and whether your goal is just to “beat the game”, which could take only a few hours, or whether you plan to enjoy unlocking and tricking out everything, sucking in the goofiness of it all either solo or with some friends. While not for everyone, I absolutely respect the love and care put in by the developers to honor the essence of Cruis’n, no matter how ridiculous some of it may be to more modern (or simply more “hardcore”) gamers.

Hot Wheels Unleashed [Milestone S.r.l] - Having spent a fair portion of my childhood playing with the cars, tracks, and quite a few playsets there’s absolutely an element of nostalgia in Hot Wheels Unleashed that comes in waves and puts a smile on my face. I can only imagine what weight this collective love for the property, and the associated expectations it comes with, put on the shoulders of everyone working on this project. For the most part the great news is that the resulting game is quite a lot of fun even without leaning entirely on the many iconic cars and playsets the franchise brings to the table. Perhaps I’d prefer an element like combat to spice things up a bit more, but going the “toy-sized track within a full-sized environment” route does manage to help compensate to a degree for the missing ability to blow up your competitors. It doesn’t completely lack in technique either, as you’ll need to work on your drift turns (which also then fill your boost gauge) and carefully manage any situation where you may catch air or encounter transitions between a real-world surface and the track since those can quickly lead to disaster if you’re not careful. In terms of things that hold it back the almost mobile-esque unboxing system and the seemingly ever-present hard sell efforts for you to buy DLC for the game that just released can rub the wrong way. That said, the main “local play” mode that switches up scenarios for you to unlock gear, online multiplayer, and a track editor all help to compensate with plenty of opportunities to explore, expand your virtual car collection, and bask in the glory of this iconic franchise.

Super Impossible Road [Wonderful Lasers] - Rolling onto the scene and feeling like the marriage of Super Monkey Ball, a futuristic racer, and an exercise in calculated risks and insanity, Super Impossible Road certainly makes an impression on Switch. In principle the goal is simple, regardless of the specific event type: get to the goal at the end of the track as quickly as possible. Whether that’s by trying your best to stay on the often-windy track, taking your chances jumping off the side and trying to land on a lower section of track, or some combination of all the above, you can bet none of the options will necessarily be easy. One of the best ways to at least try to give yourself all the help you can is to tune your craft with equipment that best suits your style, usually with a focus on your grip of the track or your ability to control yourself in the air. Whether you try to find a balance and stick with it or even move between a few configurations to best suit the given event and track layout is up to you. Make no mistake, the game earns its name in spades, and racing against others tends to lead to a lot of risk-taking and paying the price, but if you enjoy gritting your teeth and working to “git gud” there’s nothing quite like this on the system.

Fez [Polytron Corp] -
This far into the Switch lifespan the list of outstanding top-notch indie titles that haven’t yet made it to the platform is dwindling. There’s absolutely no doubt that Fez is one such title that has taken too long to get here and is incredibly welcome. In screen shots it may just appear to be a solid pixel platformer, but that would be woefully underselling it since in reality it’s a hybrid of sorts, allowing and even necessitating your rotating the levels in 3D space in order to reveal hidden secrets, surprises, and challenges that you’ll continue to face in a purely 2D plane in terms of the action. This results in a feel that’s somewhere between an action platformer and a puzzle game at times, and in many ways I’m shocked that as long as the game has taken to get to Switch someone else hadn’t already beaten it to the punch with a similar feel, but nobody really has. Clever, full of heart, and genuinely unique in its gameplay mechanics, Fez may be long overdue on the platform but hasn’t lost any of its very genuine appeal.

Picross S Genesis & Master System Edition [Jupiter Corporation] - If you’re a puzzle gaming fan, you’re probably well-acquainted with the Picross franchise. While the S series on the Switch has made strides to add to and refine the formula from time to time, there’s no doubt getting to be a limit on what new can be introduced to the recipe at this point, as is illustrated with its competition which, aesthetics aside, has roughly landed in the same general space. Throw in classic Sega art and music though, and if you’re a classic gaming fan like I am and this edition easily makes a case for the modest fee of admission just to enjoy being basked in some nostalgia. While I wish more tracks were included it was honestly the music that immediately sucked me in. Given that there are many puzzles that are smaller in scale some of the art elements you’ll reveal can be a bit underwhelming but that’s fine, as you get to bigger puzzles you’ll reveal some great reminders of games from years past that, for fans, are sure to put smiles on faces. If it has become tougher to innovate with new modes I think collaborations like this are a great path for Jupiter to take as they provide value-added content for puzzle fans and celebrate developers and franchises that people hold dear at the same time.

Astalon: Tears of the Earth [LABS Works] - I tend to have a love/hate relationship with retro throwback games of various kinds. Sure, I have fond memories of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras but I’d be a fool to claim that many of those titles couldn’t be improved upon when viewed through a modern lens and with current hardware. That said, when a developer manages to nail the “feel” of those games of the past without falling into all of the pitfalls true games from that era tend to have, it can be something pretty special. Managing your party of three heroes, each possessing their own style of attack, stats, and special abilities, you’ll explore some pretty large areas consisting of a variety of rooms connected in various ways. What’s also great is that every time you perish (which will happen, possibly a lot) you’ll be able to spend gems you collect in each run that you can then use to upgrade your characters or enable special abilities with. When you mix this all together the result is a retro title with both an authentic and modern feel in parallel, and a pretty great experience for people who appreciate a well-made throwback experience.

Blizzard Arcade Collection [Blizzard Entertainment] - Before they became Blizzard and released the likes of the WarCraft and Diablo series, among others, the folks at then Silicon & Synapse created a diverse set of 3 very different titles that showed they were set for greatness. Released in a single collection you can now play and appreciate them all in both their original as well as enhanced (how thoroughly varies) forms. Starting with the one I never owned and only rented a few times in theory I should have liked Blackthorne more since it has DNA in common with cinematic adventures the likes of Prince of Persia and Out of This World. You’ll need to run, jump, climb, shoot, dodge, and blow things up in this title, but there’s a stilted sort of quality to your character movement and overall play that never quite did it for me. Still, I know many people with many fond memories of it so I know my opinion isn’t necessarily the popular one. From there things take a big step up in the form of The Lost Vikings, a puzzle platform action title that will have you shifting between your 3 characters who each possess a key skill, with the challenge being using them each properly in each situation in order to progress. Considering it’s a template that went on to inspire many other titles including the popular Trine series it’s a smart title that’s fun and well executed. Saving the best for last Rock N Roll Racing is absolutely one of my favorite games from the SNES era and it’s actually a racing experience I prefer to even Super Mario Kart. Possibly one of the best overall combat racers ever made the fact that Blizzard went the extra mile at some point to give it an upgrade to support widescreen play, to include actual classic rock tracks (with a few new ones added), and to support a 4-player split-screen mode really puts a smile on my face. For retro fans who grew up with these titles or anyone out to see the excellent start the people behind Blizzard had before they hit it huge this is a must-have collection.

Steel Assault [Zenovia] - Run-and-gun shooters were absolutely a consistent staple in the arcades and on consoles back in the day, and that puts a certain amount of pressure on developers in the current day to do anything that feels new and exciting. What’s great is that sometimes just small things can really make a difference and the grapple in Steel Assault quickly became the star of the show for me. Giving the game a feeling that sits somewhere between a classic shooter like Contra and the beloved Bionic Commando, there’s just something refreshing about the flow of this game that’s very satisfying. That’s not to say that, by any means, it’ll be an easy run. You can expect to crash and burn quite a bit, with the expectation being that you’re really on top of how best to use your grapple quickly and effectively even while under fire, and that can sometimes require some diligence to get through tough spots. I think the challenge is also exacerbated a little by checkpoints that sometimes feel a little spread out, though conceptually they usually make sense and some areas are simply bigger and tougher than others. While in terms of raw content the game technically isn’t a very long one, getting to the point where you’ve got the skill and experience to be able to blow through it all will take some time, making this a great challenge for classic arcade fans.

Centipede: Recharged [SneakyBox] - Taking classic arcade titles and trying to give them new life in the modern era tends to be a challenge, and I’ve definitely seen both great successes and utter failures to date on the Switch. While Centipede may not be near the top of my list of favorites from the early arcade era, I did spend a significant amount of time playing it both in the arcades and on my trusty Atari 5200 back in the day. Recharged absolutely makes the right moves to honor the basics of the game and give it a push towards being more modern with a pretty wide array of power-ups that absolutely change up your strategy depending on what you happen to get. Scorpions and fleas absolutely remain your worst enemies, poisoning mushrooms that will send any centipede hurtling down towards you and continually spamming new mushrooms onto the screen respectively. In addition to the enhanced classic arcade mode there are a number of challenges as well that build specific scenarios to survive, which is a nice touch. About my only complaint is that the soundscape of the game is so ordinary and honestly pretty quiet, the sounds of the various enemies in the original title were outright iconic and were essential to building the classic arcade wall of cacophony. The lack of their inclusion, or even at least subtle nods to them, is a disappointment as they would tip you off to what was coming. A minor criticism perhaps, but it’s one critical area that should have been honored to put a cherry on top of this otherwise rock solid arcade update.

Jetboard Joust [BitBull Ltd] - As an old-school arcade fan I'll admit I've been a big fan of indie titles that have come to the Switch putting a twist on classic gameplay. Jetboard Joust undoubtedly cribs heavily from the likes of Defender from back in the day in particular, but by adding roguelike elements, different weapons, and even bosses it differentiates itself quite nicely. Make no mistake, this won't be easy at first, even if you're familiar with the general mechanics of trying to keep innocent people from being grabbed by enemy craft and flown to the top of the screen... then turning into more formidable foes you'll need to deal with. The alternative weapons are different enough from one another that I'd imagine people will have strong opinions about their most and least favorite, and I appreciate the way they can change how you play and add a wrinkle of strategy to the mix as well since their ammo is limited. This won't be a game for everyone but for a budget-friendly price anyone who appreciates classic arcade games and a challenge should absolutely pick it up!

Spelunky 2 [Mossmouth] -
It’s always a bit tricky to release both an original game and its sequel at the same time, but in the case of Spelunky 2 and its OG brutally-tough roguelike predecessor it works out reasonably well and either (or, even better, both) are worthy of a shot if you’re down for a challenge. Picking up as more of an entree to follow up on the original’s appetizer round, Spelunky 2 essentially takes everything into account, does quite a bit of refining, makes some cuts when necessary, and then adds some appreciated depth to what worked best. As you’d expect the list of deadly enemies and traps has expanded substantially, and you’ll quickly go through the trial and error of understanding all of the new and unique ways you’re able to die in the caves you’ll explore. That said, there are also some great treasures, surprises, and moments of elation that await you as well… if you’ve got the skills and patience to tackle the undertaking ahead of you. The result isn’t any sort of reinvention, but more of a perfecting of the formula of Spelunky. Whether you opt to tackle the challenge alone, or viably play with other intrepid explorers online, this is a polished product as deserving of “classic roguelike” status as the original.

Risk of Rain 2 [Hopoo Games] - Having played both the original Risk of Rain and the Early Access version of this sequel on PC I’m pretty well-acquainted with both the level of challenge it provides, and of how chaotic the combat can tend to get in a hurry if you don’t keep up with the spawn rate of your enemies in spots. In many ways they aren’t very nuanced, your objective is to move through environments as quickly as you can, killing enemies along the way, in search of the teleportation shrine that will move you to the next area. Every moment you waste essentially powers up your enemies but that can also be a positive as blowing through a horde or two will give you some loot to spend at randomly-placed boxes, kiosks, 3D printers, and equipment like healing drones or defensive guns. Each stage then culminates in a challenging blow out boss fight. A load of classes, including a new one added in the latest patch, and the ability to team up online all make for plenty of ways to engage in great action… just be warned that if you’re seeking context, story, or nuance that isn’t what this game is about. It’s much more of a throwback conceptually to the days of arcades where the onslaught needed no explanation, you just needed to be ready to do as much damage as you can to get as far as you can before dying… and then starting all over again.

Undermine [Thorium Entertainment] - As a connoisseur of roguelike titles of all stripes Undermine had me excited at first glance. With its pick-axe throwing protagonist(s), quite varied power-ups and potential curses, and some tough-as-nails bosses to battle it feels fresh while pretty familiar so genre fans should quickly feel right at home. My main warning would be that you should be ready for a pretty slow and deliberate grind, with results and satisfaction taking a bit longer to achieve than what I’d consider the average. That said, it also has a much longer tail of content to continue to unlock as you chip away at meta upgrades and new hard won gear. There are certainly a number of titles in the category with more flash and craziness, but the deliberate and more measured pace of Undermine, as well as a steady stream of new things to discover for those who are willing to invest in it, this is a pretty unique and worthwhile addition to the upper shelf of titles in the category on the Switch.

Dandy Ace [Mad Mimic] - While I’ve been a fan of roguelikes for quite some time it’s only been in the past few years with top-tier titles the likes of Dead Cells, Hades, and more that they’ve really been catapulted into more mainstream gaming circles. That, of course, invites games looking to capitalize, but matching the high standards of stand-outs like those is a real challenge. While Dandy Ace isn’t quite as polished and impressive as Hades in multiple areas, I’ll at least give it credit for its visual and stylistic flair as well as hearty degree of challenge and (eventual) variety. As is the case with pretty well all roguelikes that have meta progression the early running will tend to be more repetitive and rough, as you won’t have access to much variety or power in the cards you’ll use to power your attacks. That said, if you’re willing to experiment with what you have you’ll find the game’s enhancement system, allowing for stacking cards to add secondary abilities to your attacks, quite versatile if you’re willing to take some chances and learn what overall style of play works best for you. If you’re a roguelike fan and have been searching for your next fix that will keep you on your toes this is a great option.

Unsighted [Studio Pixel Punk] -
Unsighted is interesting to me, in part because at just a casual glance, or even just a very short play session, I believe people will severely underestimate its ambition and execution. Its look and play style can certainly feel familiar, but it is the sheer volume of features and surprising elements the game brings to the table that help it stand very much on its own. Mixing a sense of open-world-ish adventure (you can tackle “dungeons” in any order you wish, and even choose your own moral path), challenging and rewarding technical combat (really gotta master the parry and counter), and a ton of ways to enhance your character with perks, gear, and even accessibility options to tone down the difficulty in a variety of ways, there’s no question of the effort that has been put in to making this satisfying for everyone. Once you’re a few hours in, and your true adventure is underway, you’ll find that the phase where you’re comparing it to other titles has passed and you’ll be immersed in this distinct world which is full of surprises and challenges. It’s a wonderful surprise, simultaneously familiar but undoubtedly unique at the same time.

Black Book [Morteshka] - Whenever you see new titles show up in a genre that seems to be currently having its moment you end up taking a moment to see what it has done to differentiate itself from the pack. In the case of Black Book it doesn’t take too much effort to see how it is determined not to be considered an also-ran in the deckbuilding pack as it taps pretty heavily into Slavic lore while telling its story of your character as a young witch, finding her way as she learns to tap into the dark powers at her command in order to be reunited with her lost husband-to-be. There’s a bit of a learning curve simply getting into some of the language of it, and understanding how best to use the cards you accumulate in battle, but for me the combat was what you’d somewhat come to expect but I found the story and characters themselves to be pretty fascinating. It may be a little over-encumbered with things to concern yourself with, managing various demons and who they terrorize rather than turning their ire towards you may have been a game system that wasn’t needed, but I’ll credit it with adding flavor to the whole endeavor. If you’re seeking something different with much darker twinges in its storytelling than you’d normally find, this will deliver.

Archvale [Idoz, idoz & phops] - This is just one of those titles that’s hard to describe in a way that gives it justice, a sort of retro-looking twin-stick slasher/shooter adventure that has some RPG elements, and will involve you needing to periodically do some intense dodging. See, I told you it was tough, I think it’s one of those games that’s easier to describe simply watching it. Your gear is vital to your success, whether purchased or crafted, and the meandering layout of the map will definitely have you regularly warping back and forth between points as you go since it isn’t unusual to find yourself heavily outclassed at the end of a given path or within a dungeon. At times I do wish the game did a better job at providing some guidance, as early on I found myself wondering what I was supposed to be doing or where I was supposed to go, but once you accept there’s not going to be much direction you just roll with it. While perhaps the experience could use some polish to bring it all together a bit more, the reasonably-low price of admission does fit well with its no-frills approach, delivering satisfying twin-stick combat where you can use some pretty diverse and powerful weapons, and generally maintaining a tough-but-fair degree of challenge throughout. A nice change of pace and bit of fun marrying some classic adventure elements with more rigorous and intense shooter-like combat.

Strange Brigade [Rebellion] -
Having played through the full campaign of Strange Brigade with my daughter on PC, and having a terrific time with it, I was overjoyed to see this announced for Switch. While there’s no doubt that graphically things have been pulled back a bit from my top-notch graphics card I was impressed with the look and performance of the Switch version… though as always portably the sacrifices are a bit more pronounced. Whether solo or with others online or locally you’ll be tackling some old-school mummified enemies of various kinds, looking for secrets, working out puzzles, and generally being a badass in the classic Indiana Jones-esque sort of manner. While this is a shooter without a doubt the pacing is much slower than you’d normally find, with a focus on accuracy, making use of a wide variety of traps that are pretty well everywhere, and your occasional special skill that can get you out of a jam. On top of the action a highlight for me is the running commentary from the classically styled narrator who reinforces the older period things are taking place in and injecting all sorts of funny commentary on different going on throughout. If you’re looking for a shooter that’s simply in a class of its own I’d definitely recommend joining up with the Strange Brigade.

Boomerang X [DANG!] - With indie titles I’m always tickled when I encounter something just a bit different that feels fresh and challenging, and for me Boomerang X (though perhaps a bit on the short side overall) fits nicely into that groove. Quickly acquiring the said boomerang, which I prefer to imagine as the legendary Glaive from the movie Krull (yes, it has one less prong and looks different, but this is my Colwyn fantasy!) you’ll very consistently be given some new move or technique and then a series of trials that will push you to show mastery of that new skill. Once you’re rolling you’ll be dashing, floating in slow-mo, and picking off enemies who get increasingly challenging like a pro… though each new and tougher variant you may need to puzzle over before understanding how to take them out. Perhaps the rough handful of hours you get is appropriate, as it keeps the title from overstaying its welcome, but I still would love to see a few more levels of craziness to really push my skills tacked onto the end just to give the solid design its full and fitting due. If you’re a fan of accurate shooting while on the fly and some quick-moving traversal this should satisfy you pretty much completely.

Earth Defense Force: World Brothers [YUKE] - While I’ve generally heard good things about the Earth Defense Force series, to date it’s one that I’ve never had the pleasure to check out. But I’ll tell you what, it pretty quickly and easily turned me into a fan. It’s all about giant bugs and kaiju-sized monsters, the end of the world, and blowing everything in sight up real good… and while perhaps that doesn’t make it terribly nuanced it sure can be a blast (quite literally). While I obviously can’t contrast it with previous entries or comment on how it has either evolved or stagnated in the greater series, viewed as a stand-alone title I’m impressed by the great voxel-based look which works perfectly for maximum destruction, the pretty wide variety of compatriots you’ll rescue along the way to continue to add more diversity into your squad, and the bonkers story that makes no attempt at all to let concepts like reality enter into the mix. Best yet, you can enjoy it with friends or even online, though as always I’ll throw in the caveat that online support for Switch games outside of the massive AAA titles tends to come and go in a hurry. All in all it’s a great and ridiculous distraction from all of the troubles you may have, allowing you to lock in, destroy everything you see, and embrace the controlled chaos of it all.

Mushihimesama [Cave] - While there are certainly more modern takes on bullet hell shmups from the past it’s always interesting to see an OG classic come to the system and show people how it's done. While I hadn’t previously had the pleasure to play Mushihimesama its a title whose reputation preceeds it, and I’m inclined to agree with the accolades I’ve seen for it after spending some time with it. For the most part there aren’t overly complicated systems to learn or techniques to master, it’s purely a matter of being effective at dodging everything coming your way, maximizing your power-up opportunities, and blowing up everything in sight. As you’d hope or perhaps expect you’re also able to play it vertically so people with a FlipGrip or other means can moreso enjoy the experience as it was meant to be played in full, though I’ll note that without manually setting a zoom it still doesn’t utilize the full screen which was a bit of a disappointing detail. For people who aren’t full-blown fans of the genre it will probably seem insanely tough, but for people with a deep-seated muscle memory for dodging it’s a terrific old-school taste of insanity.

B.ARK [TicToc Games] - What can I say, when you throw some cute pups into a game you’ve got my attention. B.ARK, as pained as that acronym seemed to have been to construct, is a side-scrolling shooter with classic arcade roots but certainly some modern flair as well. Whether playing solo (which is a bit tougher) or with some friends, it’s colorful, has some great enemy and boss designs, and tends to keep you busy dodging bullets and being careful about how and when to deploy your charged shots and power-ups. My one warning would be that to look at it parents could be thinking it’s so cute and may be a fun match for younger gamers. You could go that route, but this is a legitimately challenging shooter even by default so unless they’re the type that grits their teeth and is determined to “git gud” this may not be as solid a match as you could think based on its colorful look and cute characters. If you’re into shooters and appreciate games that are willing to deviate from the old-school and plain spaceship formula to have a little more fun though it’s a great match.

Quake [MachineGames] - OK, so I don’t think anyone needs to tell you that Quake is one of the most influential first-person shooters of all-time. Sure, id and 3D Realms originated the genre with the likes of DOOM and Duke Nukem but Quake brought the genre screaming into the full 3D space for the first time full of intensity, a killer soundtrack, revolutionary multiplayer, and quality level design that even holds up reasonably well today. As for the port itself to Switch I’ve never really played the game looking and feeling better. Visually it’s crisp and clean, the action is fluid and pretty well flawless, and aiming using the dual sticks feels almost as accurate as my old school preferred mouse (well, in my case a trackball) and keyboard. My one complaint may just be that I wish the music was more raucously loud to help fully transport me back in time, but that’s obviously incredibly minor. I did debate whether or not this could even remotely be considered an “indie” title but with it being thoroughly and lovingly retro and showing up on the eShop at all of $10 full-price I’ve made that call and will stand by it. If you consider yourself a FPS nut, or even have a modest interest in the preservation of cornerstone titles in the history of video games this is absolutely worth owning and appreciating.

Tesla Force [10Tons] - My feelings on this title swung around a bit since, at first blush, Tesla Force has a ton in common with 10Tons previous release of Tesla Vs Lovecraft, changing out a more arcade-like roguelike shooter for a more traditional roguelike style. However, once I invested some time and began unlocking new playable characters, perks, and weapons, everything quickly came together. In particular playing as Mary Shelley and H.P. Lovecraft, who both differ in feel from the original Tesla quite a bit, kicked my enjoyment into overdrive. Navigating the map in each zone is also a great addition, as it forces you to do some planning to be take advantage of potential perks in some areas along the way, while being mindful that lingering too long will allow the doom clock to tick away another hour, making all of your enemies more formidable. Yet again 10Tons has proven that they’re kings of making great twin-stick shooters, now I’m just hoping they can revisit another earlier favorite of mine and revisit Neon Chrome to give it an update.

Trigger Witch [Rainbite] - OK, so I’ll admit it, games that do something weird to combine elements I know and love tend to catch me by surprise and can make me inflate my scoring to go with that feeling. While I suspect that’s the case for Trigger Witch, a game I’ll readily admit is by no means perfect, I’m still on board for the idea and the majority of its execution. Imagine a Zelda-esque top-down adventure but rather than using your sword, or perhaps sensibly magic since your character is a witch, you’ll instead be packing some heat and shooting things up twin-stick style. Since this is the first title I’ve played in this vein the novelty really works for me, though I think the next one I would tackle I’d have some higher expectations for in terms of refinement. The characters and dialogue are quirky, the shooting action may not be as intense and tough as I prefer but I found it to be fun, and I think Trigger Witch makes an excellent case for more developers to get ambitious and take on making this style of play an official thing… because I’m definitely down for more.

112 Operator [Jutsu Games] -
Simulations can be a tricky business on consoles since they typically feature more complex controls better suited to the PC, but the ones that get it right are sometimes a real treat. While it won’t be a flavor everyone will love, 112 Operator fits this mold well, though part of its success has to do with the relatively simple controls you’ll quickly become accustomed to. With the means of control out of the way you’ll be able to enjoy a surprisingly intense game that, perhaps at a distance, seems simplistic or dull, but when you’re immersed in the moment can be heartwarming or tragic at times. Your work as an emergency switchboard operator will put you right in the thick of things, monitoring incident reports and dispatching the proper personnel to handle a variety of scenarios. Where the game truly shines is in the calls you take, which will put you right on the spot to make sometimes very difficult decisions on the fly… which can lead to happy successes or absolute tragedy. It’s the unexpected that can really make 112 Operator compelling, and I understand that as you play it more and more the novelty of certain calls may diminish, but I’ll absolutely admit that having someone on the other end of the line relying on me to help them through a very tough situation is unique and quite compelling indeed.

Super Arcade Football [OutOfTheBit] -
With the general lack of options for sporting experiences on the Switch, it’s always great to see a new contender enter the ring. In the case of Super Arcade Football, definitely with an emphasis on the word Arcade, people looking for depth will likely be disappointed, but if you’re just looking for a good time that keeps things simple (but still challenging) it can be surprisingly engaging. Forgoing the use of multiple buttons for different moves or actions here you’ll stick to one button for passing, shooting, and tackling… and once you get used to things you’ll find you’re able to put at least a little bit of a curve on the ball as well to at least introduce some nuance to things. Matches are short, changing weather conditions at times are a nice touch but don’t fundamentally mess with things too much, and starred objectives that change for each match add an element of challenge to the mix to keep everything from running together completely. Throw in the ability to play with someone else (locally, or online if you’re lucky) and though this isn’t a full-blown sim by any means it’s surprisingly engaging and delivers some fun for a budget price.

Signs of the Sojourner [Echodog Games] -
There’s just something about this game that feels so brilliant and yet there’s also something unassuming about its nature that makes me worry people will skip over it without a thought… and that would be a shame. Mixing diverse and pretty interesting characters, a story that slowly plays itself out and likely would take multiple playthroughs to completely appreciate, and a brilliant take on deck building strategy used as a representation of human interaction it’s absolutely unique. Starting out from your hometown, choosing to either follow a trade caravan or venture out on your own in search of goods for a store you’ve inherited, you’ll encounter all manner of people in different areas who, at first, you may struggle to be on the same page with. Your conversation is either successful or a failure based on the strength of your limited deck, but even if you struggle early on with each conversation you’re able to inherit one card played by your partner but you’ll have to sacrifice one of your own in the process. As you progress it really all gets to be about the added attributes some cards can carry that are critical, sometimes allowing you to survive a tough conversation with someone you aren’t necessarily vibing with… but there’s just something about the entire construction of the game, its mechanics, and its story that are fascinating and kept me wanting to visit “just one more town” and make it easy to recommend.

Cozy Grove [Spry Fox] - While bludgeoning or blowing away bad guys can always be good fun, everyone should have some time in their lives to slow things down. With a laid back tone, cute and friendly characters, and a small variety of activities to complete Cozy Grove seems great for settling in with on a daily basis to help bring the positive feels. While not as full-featured as Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing the price tag here is also far more budget-friendly and the characters you’ll meet and stories they’ll share are also much more fulfilling for the most part. If you’ve been looking for an experience that will help wash your cares away as you tend to the needs of some souls in need of help, and who will be grateful for it, Cozy Grove is a warm fuzzy of an experience that will gladly help you in that goal.

Lamentum [Obscure Tales] - I’m sad to say that more often than not, on the Switch, games pushing “horror” in some way have struggled and failed in the department of delivering compelling play. Creepy? Yeah, to a degree in some cases. Able to deliver a few jump scares? Sure, though many times you can see them coming, which can make them less effective. The thing is, far too many lean too hard on those elements justifying you playing the game rather than having them accentuate what’s already an interesting or compelling experience to begin with. Lamentum, with its simple start of you getting involved with a mysterious man in the hopes of saving your wife from a terrible disease, does a good job of setting the initial hook and then slowly but surely revealing itself bit by bit as things continue to devolve and go wrong. With its pixel art presentation the tendency is more towards establishing an ambiance and a creeping sense of dread than visceral scares, but the somewhat adventure-esque nature of play serves as a great glue to keep you exploring and periodically getting a little jump here and there. While perhaps not enough to make you afraid to play it in the dark, the grim and gothic tone of Lamentum at least helps it stand out early as we approach the Halloween season.

Layers of Fear 2 [Bloober Team] - “Walking simulators” that play out as horror titles on the Switch, more often than not, have tended to be a bit of a bust for me. Whether reliant on cheap jump scares that quickly grow tired, an overabundance of objects you can examine pointlessly dragging things down, or simply by outright being dull they just have been lacking the right combination of elements to make them stand out. By contrast, Layers of Fear 2 more often than not gets the formula right, slowly teasing out details to clue you in to what is going on, relying more on a sense of building dread than cheap thrills, and integrating in puzzles in a variety of ways that are often novel. If you’re looking for action, blood, gore, or quick frights it won’t likely do it for you but if you’re willing to let its slow burn style get going you’ll find it’s a satisfyingly creepy and unnerving journey.

Life is Strange: True Colors [Deck Nine Games] - While there are many excellent story-driven titles in the Switch eShop, the tendency is more usually on grand tales or bold accomplishments than fleshed out characters that feel authentic. True Colors still has a compelling story to tell but what struck me most about it was a weird feeling of authenticity to the key characters. Just something in the way they interact feels far less stiff and simplistic than the norm, and often the choices I’d have for responses to situations would feel sensible within the context of the current circumstances and characters. Certainly the discovery and exploration around your character’s powers and then the process of trying to resolve the game’s central mystery in this humble Colorado town are compelling, but without the depth of the characters being there I don’t think the whole package would work as well. I’ve seen plenty of people bemoaning how the game’s gorgeous visuals have had to be compromised on the Switch, and I suppose since this is a full-priced game if you have the option of playing it on another platform (and you don’t mind the lack of the convenience of portability) that would be a reasonable choice. That said, it’s still visually striking and the character models generally look great, so take those complaints with a grain of salt.

Lost Words: Beyond the Page [Sketchbook Games] - I’ll admit that this is a title that got off to a bit of a rocky start for me, with me essentially wondering what to do at first. The distraction of the pointer that you do end up using for some tasks kept me from realizing I was also sometimes supposed to move my character independently as well. Once that was understood though what followed was unique and extremely worthwhile. Not quite a game in any normal sense, Lost Words is more of a creative interactive bit of storytelling with plenty of varied and beautiful forms. From page to page what you’ll need to do may vary, sometimes consisting of some simple platforming and other times feeling like a bit of a mild puzzle. The attraction though is a heartfelt and sometimes sad story that really manages to grab you, a bit moreso as you’re heavily involved in helping it unfold visually. It won’t be for anyone looking for a challenge or even puzzle fans, this is really for people looking for something unique and beautiful to touch their hearts, and the level of quality with which it is executed I can get behind.

Overboard! [inkle] - While I typically look to games to provide some action and excitement there are sometimes games that come from less hardcore roots that can still be very entertaining. I consider Overboard to be on that list, dropping you off into a story right after the point your character has decided to throw her husband to his death off the side of a cruise ship with your goal being to somehow get away with it. Working as a mystery somewhat in reverse you’ll definitely need to do some research by talking to a variety of characters to suss out opportunities to blur some lines and throw up some smoke but it’s tricky, and it’s going to take you a number of runs to try to work out a viable path for success. What really makes it work is whip smart writing, in particular for your witty main character who has some great observations and choices that certainly just get her into even more trouble with the hopes of somehow using those actions to your advantage in the end. This may be one of my favorite interactive narratives I’ve played on the system.

Sumire [GameTomo] - Though I love running and gunning and high-intensity games there’s no denying that games with a compelling and heart-felt story are capable of leaving a serious mark as well. Sumire, with you playing as a young girl who has recently lost her grandmother and is hoping to connect with her spirit, is one such compelling title. In her journey of only one day she’ll interact with a variety of characters and be given choices, most of which will carry a serious consequence in how things play out by day’s end so you’ll need to be mindful in how you choose. With terrific and colorful art, a great mix of the grounded real and the fantastic, and a meaningful story to tell, Sumire is a memorable experience story lovers should be sure to enjoy on Switch.

Curious Expedition 2 [Maschinen-Mensch] -
For me Curious Expedition 2 is everything I look for in a sequel outing. It delivers a bit more quirk and color in its characters, locations, and things to discover. It has made some small refinements to the dice-based combat and feels a bit more common sense this time around (though that could have to do with familiarity now, but originally in the first it felt like rougher going early on). It gives you plenty of opportunity to make both good and bad moves from start to finish, whether it’s in the composition of your team, taking a chance on a roll in a specific event, or taking a detour to check out a potential landmark along your route and risking your team running out of provisions as a result. There’s no question that the RNG gods can be cruel at times here, but on some runs they can also randomly save your ass so it feels fair. As strategy roguelike combinations go I believe this is one of the strongest, not just providing satisfying play but also throwing in a generous dose of personality and humor to keep you further engaged and entertained.

Dicey Dungeons [Terry Cavanaugh] - OK, so perhaps at this point the concept of a deck-building strategy roguelike has been played out a bit… but what if you added an additional layer of RNG madness with dice just to spice things up? That’s precisely what Dicey Dungeons does and, damn, if that doesn’t reinvigorate things a bit and further increase the challenge and fun of tackling classical turn-based combat. Depending on which of the game’s classes you choose, which in themselves will often shake up your approach, the game is really about making a commitment to your strategy based on the cards you have and then learning how to take whatever rolls you may get and turn them into success. Of course, if the RNG gods are really determined to piss on your parade, disaster may still be coming for you… but that’s really the nature of roguelikes and inherent in risk versus reward concepts it plays with. There’s no doubt that the game’s presentation errs on the simpler side but if you’re a strategy fan such details fall away when you’re so hyper-focused on the battle of the moment and turning what would seem to be a random garbage roll into a winning combination. This is a game that has very much earned its high marks with a great concept that has been executed incredibly well, taking what has become familiar and raising the stakes even further.

Pathway [Robotality] - Elevator pitch time: Set off on an adventure with a party of your choosing with a wide variety of skills. Every step of the way is filled with the potential for fortune or peril, with you sometimes being forced to make tough decisions about how to proceed with the hope it’s the right one. Whenever you’re thrown into combat it’ll be pretty solid (if a bit on the well-worn and generic side) tactical fare, with your needing to carefully manage your people, their cover, and supplies in order to survive. Oh, and Nazis! All in all while I wouldn’t say Pathway does anything that strikes me as revolutionary, I really dug the narrative elements, the diversity of the characters you can set out with (with quite a number to unlock), and the tough but fair challenge I typically faced.

Crying Suns [Alt Shift] - When it comes to strategy games, on a general level it feels like the Switch hasn’t been terribly well-represented as a whole, though there are some standouts. One advantage of the lack of competition is that when well-made entries show up, they should be able to hope to clean up a bit from people starved for a bit of a challenge. On pretty much all fronts Crying Suns should satiate that hunger, delivering an outstanding sci-fi story, some decent ship-to-ship tactical combat, and a bit of nail-biting suspense as your ground parties attempt to collect artifacts planetside while hopefully not being annihilated. With loads of potential encounters to either help or harm your efforts the roguelike elements really help provide some longevity as you try to make your way through each chapter, perhaps running into a bit of luck one time and crashing and burning the next. All in all, it feels pretty unique on the system and demonstrates the power of the roguelike formula to spice up just about any genre.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension [Draw Me A Pixel] -
OK, so typically when you see games coming over in some form from the mobile space I tend to put on my skeptic hat and play “Did we really need this on a dedicated gaming console?” In the case of Wrong Dimension, though, I’ll skip right to the chase and bluntly tell you: YES! Dripping with creativity, humor, and often unexpected and unorthodox solutions to problems (OK, so you may need to make use of the in-game hint system or a FAQ in some cases when you get stuck), this is probably one of the most weirdly inventive titles I’ve played in a while. Across a few very different chapters you’ll often be at odds with the narrator, circumventing his attempts to hold you back and convince you that the title’s statement is true. There’s obvious love but valid mocking humor here for classic adventure games, a beloved Nintendo series featuring a certain warrior in time, and everyone’s not favorite, free-to-play games… and on the whole the jokes (including a few running gags) are amusing fun. While you’re able to play using the controller in docked mode it isn’t much surprise that the best way to enjoy it is in handheld mode with the touchscreen. If you’re in the mood to laugh and work through some very unique puzzles this is absolutely a title you should be checking out!

UnMetal [@unepic_fran] - While we hardcore types love our games, that isn’t to say that when confronted with examples of the silliness we regularly accept without question we can’t have a good laugh. It’s in that spirit that UnMetal has been forged, aping the style, story, and tropiness of many classic games and movies only to then crap all over much of it… and if you’re like me that’s when hilarity ensues! The action plays out to match the story your raspy-voiced anti-hero is sharing with his interrogator, trying to explain the events that led to his current incarceration. This setup is really the critical component in the game’s humor, with the interrogator regularly stopping everything to ask an obvious question or make a pointed observation about the ridiculousness of everything that just happened or was said. Obviously having its sights set primarily on the classic Metal Gear series, the gameplay is generally very retro and arcade-y in nature but just decent, it’s really the sense of humor and the game giving you room to be outrageous that elevates it all to a different level. Perhaps if you don’t have room to laugh at the forms of entertainment you enjoy this will be a wing and a miss, as may be the case if you’re unwilling to giggle at some of the more crass humor that the game revels in. That said, if your goal is to play along and be entertained, UnMetal stands out as a game filled with laughs that will keep you playing along just to set up the next joke.

Astrologaster [Nyamyam] - Inspired by the spirit of Shakespeare’s Renaissance England, Astrologaster features a unique pop-up book art style, choral verse that tells the story of your character “Doctor” Forman and his patients, and use of the stars to try to help guide your patients through problems both medical and interpersonal. It’s a bit of an oddity, to say the least, but that’s also what I really enjoyed about it. Once you get used to the constraints of what you’ll be able to diagnose and how you’ll have the option to try to take things seriously, generally tapping into your common sense and intuition, or having some fun potentially at the expense of your clients. Regardless there are some laughs and surprises along the way to be had and as unusual as it all is I must admit that I was intrigued to play through a few more appointments in order to see a follow-up with one of my repeat customers to get a handle on what happened after I imparted my advice the last time. It’s not a game to be taken seriously but its unique presentation and style make it well worth a look if you’re in the mood for something thoroughly different.

Boyfriend Dungeon [Kitfox Games] - Elevator pitch time… so what if the goal was to make a game that fully embraces and meshes together intense slashing roguelike combat and… a dating sim?!? Yeah, I know, right… these things just seem to naturally belong together, for sure. Despite the clash in styles, and though not without some flaws, I have to throw my hat off to the folks at Kitfox Games for putting earnest effort into getting both right in parallel, not obviously neglecting the quality of one for the other and making their genre-bending only a half-hearted effort. The definite risk is that while it does a good job on both ends of the spectrum it wouldn’t necessarily stand up to the best in the genre on either side. Particularly on the roguelike action side since the combat, though decent, isn’t as fluid and varied per weapon to the level that other games in the eShop have set the bar to, but it’s certainly enough to keep you entertained. The only other criticism I would have is that conceptually wanting to have the best weapon for you in dungeons can put you on a very different path from who you want to get to work with romantically, so when this is in conflict it can make things a bit weird, even if the dialogue generally allows you to keep the tone and mood under control to a degree. It’s a weird one, for sure, but it works surprisingly well on the whole.

Happy Game [Amanita Design] - Like a moth to a flame I tend to be easily drawn to the oddball titles on Switch, and there’s no doubt that Happy Game qualifies for that distinction in spades. Very deceptively titled, unless nightmare fuel puts you in a happy mood I suppose (yes, I know there’s plenty of you out there), while the experience only lasts a few hours it’s one helluva trippy ride. In terms of gameplay style it mostly plays out with puzzles, but not with any set sort of consistent rules. More often than not you’ll just need to move your pointer around the screen and click or drag on objects (or nightmare monsters) in order to change or trigger them, working out what must be done. The rewards for your efforts are typically some very weird or somewhat terrifying visuals that will either make you laugh (if you’re a bit twisted, like me) or perhaps regret ever deciding to play the game. An absolutely appropriate treat for this time of year, Happy Game may be on the short side but there’s not much question that time is at least memorable.

Kill It With Fire [Casey Donnellan Games LLC] - While possibly not an ideal game for arachnophobes, Kill It With Fire is what I’d consider a “wacky physics type game” done right, as long as you have patience with its quirks. Each stage consists of multiple rooms full of objects that you’ll want to pick up and sometimes inspect, eventually finding a hidden creepy crawly that you’ll want to squish. While initially you’ll need to use the clipboard that displays your objectives early on you’ll find some hairspray that, when paired with a lighter, will let you have a bit more fun, just be careful to conserve your “ammo” and try not to light the whole place on fire in the process. As you go you’ll find new gear to help you be more effective and have fun, and with patience you’ll often find hidden rooms and goodies to reward your diligence. As is the case with many games with this sort of feel it is by no means perfect, but usually it’s the quirk and oddity that help add to the fun… and there’s nothing quite as satisfying and lighting a red spider who’ll spawn spiderlings on fire, then having them all come out flaming while running around causing general chaos. An odd treat.

A sincere word of thanks to all of the great indie developers and fans out there who helped to make it an exciting and fulfilling year!