Thursday, December 23

Top 100 / Best Indie Games on Nintendo Switch


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


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


Dead Cells [Motion Twin] - This was probably my favorite game of 2018, though since it's also a very challenging title it won't be for everyone. I played a ton of it on PC in Early Access but in its final form on the Switch everything I liked about it solidified completely with rock-solid and satisfying gameplay. The fact that you can be effective with a variety of builds, its multiple paths you can follow, and satisfying progression as you make repeated attempts make this the gold standard in roguelikes for me, and it proves out what they're capable of.


Stardew Valley [ConcernedApe] - Possibly one of the most successful indie games ever made by a single developer Stardew Valley is wonderfully calming and varied. After inheriting your grandfather's farm you'll need to rebuild it, whether focusing on crops, livestock, or some combination of both. If you're more inclined to spend your time fishing or hitting the mines for loot and glory you can also enjoy those tasks to keep things from getting stale. Rounded out with a pleasant collection of characters, seasonal events, and a whole lot of charm Stardew Valley is very easy to sink hours into once it gets its "Just one more day" hooks in you.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


Ori and the Will of the Wisps [Moon Studios] - When reviewing games in general I try to carefully avoid hyperbole and excessive exuberance whenever possible. To that end, even with well over 1,500 reviews under my belt and so many terrific titles played, I’ve only awarded 2 perfect scores among them for Stardew Valley and Dead Cells. In the case of Ori and the Will of the Wisps I’m going to be adding to that very exclusive list with pretty well no reservations. With its nimble movement, massive scale, gorgeous environments, and combination of so many elements that feel like they’ve been carefully refined to be their most engaging it’s likely the best Metroidvania title I’ve ever played. I will warn that the platforming is probably a little more challenging than the average, requiring patience and precision, but for the most part success rests solely on your skills as the controls are spot-on and well-implemented. With there being so much ground to cover and spots you’ll want and need to return to, as you acquire the necessary skills or changes to environments to give you access, I do wish there were a few more waypoints scattered about but that’s about my only real criticism (OK, and it has crashed on me twice, but thankfully with no real loss of progress in either case). There’s a very good reason Microsoft backed this horse, and it is a gift that has been shared with Switch owners that is absolutely worth your time and effort.


Spiritfarer [Thunder Lotus Games] - While many gamers enjoy blowing away enemies, racing through hairpin turns, or guiding their team to victory there’s a growing contingent of gamers who either prefer or enjoy more soothing experiences. While there are a few notable titles in this space already on Switch none are quite like Spiritfarer, which combines exploration at sea with a variety of building and cultivation elements, a wide assortment of charming characters, and a generally gentle hand providing direction but placing no urgent demands on how you wish to play. You’ve been tasked with taking the responsibility of ferrying the dead to the afterlife from Charon himself, and most of your adventure will involve you putting together a ship worthy of the important task of making the final journey of the souls you help as pleasant as possible. Doing that will require quite an investment in crafting, cultivation, trading, and building relationships with the people you meet. It’s interesting how many of your activities are turned into sort of mini games, helping to at least give some of your repetitive tasks a little flavor and keeping you engaged throughout. While over the course of the pretty long journey there’s a tendency to fall into quite a bit of repetition if you’ve been looking for a meaningful journey without the pressures of your typical title this is likely an ideal fit.


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


Assault Android Cactus+ [Witch Beam] - Absolutely one of the games I had wished for the most to come to Switch since the system launched, Assault Android Cactus is a next to perfect arcade-style twin-stick shooter. Complete with intense action, big and challenging boss fights, and 9 distinct characters who each have their own primary and secondary weapons the game is full of opportunities to go back and have some more fun. The Switch version even added an additional Campaign+ mode that further ups the ante for challenge, also making it the best edition of the game out there!


Celeste [Matt Makes Games Inc] - While not a game I formally reviewed for the system this is one of those titles that can't be omitted since it is both terrifically challenging and very accessible with loads of options to make the difficulty more within your reach. Throw in a very strong story and it's definitely one of the top tier games on the system.


Children of Morta [Dead Mage] - While I have played (and generally enjoyed) a ton of roguelikes of all flavors on the Switch I can’t say any of them has been quite like Children of Morta. Played from a top-down perspective and with a serious dungeon crawling style it’s challenging, has an absolutely fantastic art style, and features multiple character classes to play that are each viable and have distinctive feels. The run-to-run progression, opportunities that represent risk and/or reward, and unpredictability of precisely what you may face are all on point as well but what pushes the game the extra mile for me are the quick but poignant story threads you’ll slowly encounter as you get further in. At its core this is a game with family themes and beats and for me it really amplified the connection I have to both the game and its characters. That extra degree of care is uncommon in the genre and it really elevates it to the top tier of roguelikes. If you’re down to grit your teeth a bit and eat it on one run and then find success by the skin of your teeth the next Children of Morta is a terrific example of what roguelikes are capable of in talented hands.


Cuphead [Studio MDHR] - With a mix of brutal boss battles and challenging run and gun sections Cuphead is notorious for being a tough game. While the degree of difficulty is well-known for a reason, that isn’t to say that the majority of the game is impossible by any means. Much like certain classic games like Punch-Out in particular, the key to success is careful observation, learning the enemy patterns and then getting a comfort level for executing what needs to get done. The fact that it will additionally be remembered as one of the most visually fascinating games of the generation is just icing on the cake, no matter how incredible it looks it wouldn’t be well-regarded if the gameplay wasn’t there to match.


Katana Zero [Askiisoft] - Katana Zero was absolutely one of the best games of 2019 and I’d be shocked it if didn’t end up in my Top 10 (and those of many others as well) for the year. While it is perhaps a bit too heavy to be a wide mainstream title, its constant focus on changing up the formula and never letting you get very comfortable is quite an accomplishment. Throw on a narrative begging to be revisited in search of greater understanding of all of the story beats and it also has a surprising degree of replayability on that front as well. As a whole it is an experience without a peer on the system and serves up a handful of intense and creative insanity well worth experiencing.


Nuclear Throne [Vlambeer] - Though it’s pretty clear in places that Nuclear Throne has aged a bit since its original release, its unapologetic degree of challenge and a wide variety of builds still make it one of the best twin-stick shooters on the Switch. This isn’t a game you’ll really ever master per se, you’ll just have deep runs where things click and you’ll find success. With some great unlockable characters, each with their own style of play, Throne has no shortage of personality and continues to push you with a “just one more run” mentality to work to get further. If you’re ready for a challenge, and can deal with its visuals having aged a bit, Nuclear Throne absolutely delivers one of the best roguelike shooting experiences on the system without question.


Slay The Spire [Mega Crit Games] - While deck building games would usually fall into the category of titles I’d file under “an acquired taste” the Switch now has 2 rock solid titles with that style of play that have proven mainstream friendly this year. While SteamWorld Quest went more story-driven and static though, Slay the Spire very much embraces a roguelike approach instead that keeps it challenging and surprising across many attempts you’ll make with its heroes that each have a very different style. There’s definitely a learning curve here, as you’ll need to experiment with different combinations of cards to work out which synergize the most effectively together and which you’re better off without. For true roguelike or strategy fans this is absolutely a title you won’t want to miss out on, it easily lives up to the positive buzz it has been receiving.


GRIS [Nomada Studio] - A tricky thing with story-driven and emotional games is that typically the more powerful they are the more their gameplay mechanics tend to suffer. That's very much not the case for GRIS, another terrific story told without words, outstanding visual design, and surprisingly satisfying puzzle platforming as well. I always enjoy puzzles that push you but don't break you and make you feel smart when you figure them out and this is something it manages effortlessly for the most part. It's a feast for the senses that is highly recommended.


Hollow Knight [Team Cherry] - Another one of the titles I didn't originally review for the system, this is another one of those games that would be criminal not to include on top lists, especially given its difficult-but-addictive nature. Throw in a very distinctive look and a combination of tough combat and traversal and it is highly-regarded for a reason.


The Gardens Between [The Voxel Agents] - When we first saw footage of this title in one of the Nindie Directs it was already clear that the game was brilliant visually. What's great is that those amazing visuals then paired with a touching story about friendship told without words and some of the most unusual and fascinating puzzle designs I've seen in quite some time. The time shifting mechanic is put to great use throughout, and by the end you'll really need to pay close attention to every detail to figure out how to make it work to proceed. Among many great stories told this year it's one of the most relatable of the bunch and is paired with a creative puzzle style.


The Messenger [Sabotage Studio] - Possibly one of the best retro console titles I've ever played, The Messenger actually feels like a collection of multiple terrific and challenging titles. Starting out as a more straight-up action platformer after many levels and challenging bosses you'll feel like you're done but then, BAM, the game expands into an epic and even more challenging Metroidvania. It blends classic sensibilities with outstanding level designs, a Shopkeeper who absolutely cracks me up throughout the game, and some of the most satisfying action I enjoyed all year.


SteamWorld Heist [Image & Form] - With multiple skill levels available SteamWorld Heist is a game that anyone, from a tactical strategy newbie to a grizzled veteran, should be able to enjoy. Well-designed, looking fabulous on Switch, and thoroughly engaging it offers a rewarding combination of careful planning and then execution in aiming that I can’t get enough of. Pulling off a tricky ricochet shot from across the room is such a rush, just remember that when you inadvertently end up blowing up a crewmate a little later because you didn’t plan it out well. While battles can be aggravating at times the great news is that every time you try placements and layouts will tend to vary either a little or a lot so you may have just had a bad break. If you haven’t yet checked out SteamWorld Heist you owe it to yourself to give it a shot, it is unquestionably one of the best games on the Switch.


The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + [Edmund McMillen] - One of the very first games available for the system, as I was already a huge fan from the PC space it was a Day 1 purchase for me and I absolutely have no regrets. One of the most weird, somewhat obscene (which could be perfect, if you're like me), and consistently challenging as what you're working with can vary wildly from run to run... it's simply one of the best roguelikes on the system.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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


Carrion [Phobia Game Studio] - While it’s great to play games or watch movies cheering on the brave heroes who fight and persevere against horrible monstrosities, admit it: Given the chance it would be a ton of fun to spend some time on the other side of the equation. Carrion offers up just that, the opportunity to take control (well, with its swarming and morphing form perhaps it should be “control”) of a horrible mutation of a creature who enjoys chomping down on some human flesh and ragdolling them around the room for laughs… and if you have a twisted streak like I do you’ll likely do a bit of that yourself as you splatter blood all over the walls. That core bit of fun was very present at PAX, as were some puzzle-solving aspects, but in the demo you couldn’t get a solid look at how the game would challenge you. The good news is that there are some clever puzzle elements offered up that will force you to consider the situation in front of you and make smart decisions. Armed guards with a variety of weapons won’t get taken out so easily, so some degree of stealth and using alternative paths may be in order, or perhaps throwing a crate (or better yet, a body) to distract them and allow you to strike from behind. Since the experience is so unique and quite engrossing it feels like it is over a bit too quickly, but I suppose I’d rather that happen than it wearing out its welcome. This is absolutely one of the most unique games I’ve played in quite some time and is highly recommended if you’ve ever dreamed of fully unleashing your dark side.


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


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


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


Horace [Paul Helman] - Horace is an odd title in that much like the title character robot of the same name it is quite unassuming and humble but there’s so much more to it. In terms of the gameplay it’s mostly a smart puzzle platformer that puts up some challenge but is never too over-the-top taxing either. What makes it special though is the story of Horace and his “family”, which evolves from him being a curious sort of family “pet” to a meaningful and important member of it. There are so many magical moments of joy and sadness that feel unusual paired with the gameplay and yet given the quality of both there’s no room for complaint. Top that all off with mini games and a wide variety of surprises and though there’s not much outwardly sexy about the game’s name or main character to pull you in, rest assured it’s a real gem of an experience if you give it a shot.


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


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


Kingdom Rush [Armor Games] - While one of the sequels in the series has already been released on the system (Frontiers), the OG Kingdom Rush has now arrived on the Switch. For the uninitiated, this is really what I’d consider to be one of the best examples of great games to emerge from mobile platforms, pretty well defining how to make an engaging tower defense game that’s smart, challenging, and even throws in some humor. The stages are generally well-designed, the enemy units you’ll face are varied, and you’ll be pushed to develop strategies to address specific units and bosses that will show up on some levels, forcing you to often abandon your well-worn default plans or at least play enough to upgrade those tower types so they’ll be more effective. While I’d still consider touchscreen play to be your best bet, the console controls in docked mode are still generally effective, just when things get tense you may struggle to highlight the proper spot at times. For the budget price this game delivers a truckload of great content that’s battle-worn and has been refined over time, making it an easy choice for strategy fans if you’ve not already picked it up on other platforms already.


Kunai [TurtleBlaze] - Kunai was a title that left me excited but a bit uncertain from its PAX demo last year. I loved the look, and the ability to use your kunai on each side essentially as grappling hooks to aid in traversal and even combat seemed ripe with potential, but it was hard to see whether or not it would all come together in a way that would help it break through to being something special. I’m happy to report that having played through the final product there’s nothing I can think of that feels missed. The gameplay is challenging but fair, its traversal elements are well-designed and feel great, and its mix of smart design and fun combat help it to push its way to standing among the best Metroidvanias the system has to offer. Admittedly, there were times where the combination of backtracking and not being 100% sure where to go next could be aggravating. Though, in general, the game’s map tries to help there were situations where it didn’t have quite enough detail to lead the way. Small quibbles like that aside, Kunai absolutely delivers the goods and with its unique grapple mechanics stands tall even in the somewhat crowded Switch Metroidvania space as one of the best on the system.


Metro 2033 Redux [4A Games] - Set in a post-Apocalyptic Russia, primarily taking place in the labyrinth of subway tunnels and other areas below the surface, Metro 2033 Redux is an atmospheric and pretty gritty first-person experience. Under threat by various mutated creatures and the intimidating threat of the Dark ones you’ll find yourself struggling to survive and persevere. What makes it even more great, in my mind, is that you’re able to choose the leaner and tougher original experience that forced you to play it more sparingly as a survival game, trying desperately to conserve your resources, and a more shooter-like action game. Honestly, I found both to be viable and challenging in their own right, and the atmosphere and tense action are something the Switch, to this point, has been needing.


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


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


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


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


Shady Part of Me [Douze Dixiemes] - There’s something pretty delightful when you encounter games that you’ve never previously heard of that, once you begin playing them, grab you and demand your attention until they’re completed. Shady Part of Me is a smart puzzle adventure of sorts with a story to tell and a fantastic hand-drawn art style that absolutely fits that bill, and what’s fascinating is that rather than having only one or two elements that stand out and are compelling it delivers a high degree of quality on all fronts. The story revolves around a young girl who appears to be institutionalized and troubled, with a slow trickle of hints to her overall condition doled out the further along you get. She’s not quite alone though as you’ll also alternatively take control of a shadow version of herself who is generally projected on the wall but sometimes the floor as well. Puzzles alternate between the 2D shadow space which plays as more of a puzzle platformer, and the 3D main space where you must often manipulate objects to change the placement and scale of the shadows on the wall that are either blocking your doppelganger or helping her to either proceed or nab origami birds as bonuses along the way. All of this happens in some of the most elaborate and often surreal hand drawn art environments I’ve seen in a game, and certainly never as well integrated into the puzzles. This all comes together to create an experience that’s utterly unique on the console and one I would highly recommend.


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


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


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


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


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


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


Ape Out [Gabe Cuzzillo] - As someone who loves playing things that are different and a bit daring, Ape Out has easily shot out as one of the games I’ve enjoyed playing the most on Switch. Its level of difficulty isn’t to be underestimated but the fortunate thing is that everything resets pretty quickly so you’ll be right back in the action to give it another try. Though it may seem simple there are definitely strategies to learn, or at least ways to help you cope with the insanity. Much like the great dynamic jazz that backs up the gameplay Ape Out is really all about improvisation, taking in the situation you’re giving and making it work. Similarly that will mean not everyone will “get it”, but I have a load of respect for the vision and rock solid execution all of the people behind this title were able to realize.


Heave Ho [Le Cartel Studio] - While having played so many indie games on the Switch is interesting and exposes you to all sorts of takes on multiple genres one admitted downside is that it can also make you a bit jaded. When it comes to my family, who are often asked to partake in helping me evaluate multiplayer games, I’d say the rate of that happening is far more accelerated. Conceptually Heave Ho may be simple, working solo or with up to 3 friends to simply grab and swing your way from the start to the finish line without falling, hitting spikes, or meeting your splattery demise in some other way. However, there’s a certain charm to it that pretty well immediately made everyone laugh and have a good time. Even after repeatedly getting frustrated in certain spots, especially when trying to keep from dropping costume-unlocking coins that can up the challenge significantly at times, the fun cut through the difficulties for everyone. Solo does work, and is great for honing your skills, but the game is absolutely meant to be played with friends, the more the better. Overall, this may be the best and most accessible multiplayer co-op game on the system.


Hell is Other Demons [Cuddle Monster Games] - All things considered, Hell is Other Demons is a very good platforming shooter that plays smart, is challenging, and ultimately will support a wide variety of styles through its varied weapons and upgrades. While in docked mode the characters may look a bit chunky that means in handheld mode everything is very easy to see and helps make play on the go all the more viable. Each increasingly-powerful weapon you get to work with tends to encourage different styles of play and that keeps things consistently interesting and exciting. This is yet another shooter deserving of your time and attention and it deserves a place among the top tier of titles in the genre on Switch.


Killer Queen Black [Liquid Bit] - After having heard so much about this killer multiplayer arcade title I was interested to see what the fuss was all about. While the core of the game is ultimately reliant on playing with as many as 7 other people (4 to a side) in this case the developers have gone the extra mile to ensure it can be played across platforms so availability shouldn’t be as much of an issue as we sometimes see with Switch-exclusive multiplayer titles. One note is that there’s definitely a learning curve, and thankfully there are a multitude of offline tutorials that try to break everything down from the multiple paths to victory, to what roles people can play, to simply learning how to follow what’s going on since things tend to get hectic. While it may feel a bit on the simpler side, depending on your taste, this is a game that just about anyone should be able to pick up and get in to and it absolutely offers up a both a co-op and competitive multiplayer experience that nothing out there can rival.


New Super Lucky's Tale [Playful Corp] - For me New Super Lucky’s Tale marks a bit of an exciting time on the Switch, and as a fan of classic platforming. While there are many games that have aimed for hitting the mark of the likes of the classic Mario franchises like Super Mario 64 nothing has really proven up to the task. While some may consider it blasphemous I’m here to say this title has absolutely hit the mark, and done so with its own sense of humor and style rather than being derivative. Smart and varied level design, a mix of 2D and 3D platforming which are both very successful, and some nods that absolutely put a smile on my make for more than a handful of hours of family-friendly enjoyment.


Pillars of Eternity [Red Cerberus] - Damn RPG lovers, the Switch has been a terrific return to Nintendo fully delivering a variety of options in this genre. Pillars of Eternity further solidifies that statement, providing a deep, satisfying, and even challenging experience depending on how you set things up. What makes it stand out is that this isn’t another JRPG, it’s a conversion of a more classic PC RPG, with a different perspective and feel, going with an isometric view and pausable real-time combat. The struggle to make the interface friendly for console moving from mouse and keyboard is real, getting the hang of navigating menus and hitting every possible screen you’ll need to manage your characters and gear can take some time. Once you settle in though it’s a very satisfying experience that should appeal to a pretty wide audience.


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


Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns [Infinity Plus 2] - While fans of the old school original game likely won’t even need to read this review, it’s worth noting that though some elements of this classic from the DS may be a little behind the current curve you can still easily see how it blazed a trail for the concept of a Match-3 Battle RPG genre. While perhaps the story would best be considered serviceable by RPG standards it does manage to throw a pretty wide variety of enemies and challenges at you, requiring you not only to be smart with your puzzle matching but also show some strategy in how you use the class skills you’ll acquire over the course of the game and dictated by a variety of choices you’ll make. Once you’ve unlocked all of the buildings the game has to offer you’ll have the choice to grind and acquire new skills and perks, all while changing up the puzzle formula just enough to keep things from feeling too redundant. Throw in multiple base classes that give you an incentive to play through the game multiple times with different strategies and the game offers hours of smart and satisfying strategic play for puzzle fans.


River City Girls [WayForward] - While the beat-em-up genre was absolutely a staple of both the arcades and the early console days more recently titles have been few and far between. The great news is that if you’ve been aching for a new excuse to dust off your brawler skills and smack some bad guys around River City Girls is easily among the best offerings available on the Switch. In general reminding me of the excellent Scott Pilgrim beat-em-up from a number of years ago there’s a quality to the presentation, action, and obvious love for the genre here that’s unmistakable and it’s a blast to play solo or with a friend. Of course if you’re someone who’ll simply settle into what combos work and fail to make full use of your attacks the that continue to unlock as you progress it will probably feel repetitive but that’s simply the nature of the beast and it won’t have been for the game’s lack of trying to give you new moves to work with as you level up.


Shovel Knight: King of Cards [Yacht Club Games] - While I haven’t formally reviewed any of the previous Shovel Knight games I’ve been a quiet fan of the series since it started. Between its lovingly retro look, the team’s ability to infuse new life into mostly established elements and enemies by changing the protagonist’s abilities up each time, and overall smart design the franchise is a master class in great game design and execution. With this last chapter in the series they’ve managed to one-up themselves further by introducing not just the fresh (and somewhat challenging at times) mechanics of the boisterously silly King Knight, but also a full-fledged deck battling card game in the form of Joustus. While there’s, no doubt, some risk in having attention shift between two radically different styles of play since people may strongly prefer one to the other, given the quality of both I think the final product proves to be superior in the end because of the combination. If you’re late to the Shovel Knight party there’s a real feast to be had with the Treasure Trove collecting them all together, but if you’re looking for a stand-alone retro game with variety King of Cards is an excellent choice.


Skullgirls 2nd Encore [Lab Zero Games] - While I’ve consistently heard nothing but great things about Skullgirls from my friends who are massive fighting fans up until PAX this year I’d never gotten to check it out myself. Watching the game being played it’s hard not to be impressed by the diverse and beautifully-animated characters, some of which have some of the craziest moves and specials I think I’ve seen. It’s also very apparent that this is a pretty technical fighter, which was where my one real concern with the game cropped up. What’s a bit shocking though is that in general for someone like me who has played a fair number of fighters for the most part the moves that trigger the on-screen chaos feel natural and mostly intuitive. Simply experimenting on the fly moves and even combos seemed to come to me pretty easily. From there it’s all about the flow of gameplay and the best word to describe it is intense. Solo players should appreciate the story mode that provides some background for the very odd menagerie of fighters, but everyone should appreciate the choice to go 1-on-1 or up to 3-on-3, providing for plenty of opportunities for changing tactics and generally catering the matches to your liking. Available online play is definitely appreciated, though it’s important to note that even great indie titles on Switch don’t tend to have online communities that survive for long. While there have been very good indie fighters on the Switch I actually think this one is the best.


Sparklite [Red Blue Games] - Since I’m a huge fan of roguelikes and their ability to revitalize and alter how you play more classic genres I’ve always wondered how it would pair with the Legend of Zelda. Sparklite takes quite a traditional track, working with weapons and mechanics reminiscent of the Zelda series but keeping the world a bit more compact, generally making for quicker runs if nothing else. Once you get your bearings and understand how elements like badges work you’ll be off to face a pretty stiff challenge, especially in the early going. Just be ready, until you’re sufficiently geared up to take on the bosses (especially early on), you’re likely to get a bit frustrated. Some quibbles over the somewhat clunky menu, no provision for a more easily available mini map, and other nuisances can creep in at times but there’s no doubt that this is a high-quality adventure that’s challenging, inventive, and rewarding.


The Swords of Ditto - Mormo's Curse [One Bit Beyond] - While when I got the chance to play The Swords of Ditto at PAX East I was impressed by its visuals and weird weapons, I didn’t get enough time with it to appreciate how terrific the overall experience was. Based on what I understand Switch owners got a bit lucky as the game with the expansion seems to be an improvement on all fronts in terms of accessibility and variety, giving us the best experience right out of the gate. While the DNA of Zelda games is obviously present, Ditto is thoroughly its own game, standing apart from that series not only visually but with plenty of its own ideas as well. If you’re looking for a world to explore full of discovery, some unusual characters, and plenty of surprises it’s easy to recommend, just be patient with it as you’re getting started.


Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince [Frozenbyte, Inc] - A quick admission, while I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the Trine series overall I was just never much of a fan of the overall experience. Through some alchemy, or maybe my tastes as a gamer have evolved, that makes my experience with Trine 4 a wonderful surprise. Smart, absolutely stacked with puzzles, and though somewhat repetitive continually changing things up in small ways I appreciate it is an action puzzling dream, and all the better if you can enjoy it with a friend. As always, each of your 3 core characters have specific abilities that you’ll need to use in concert with one another to chip away at obstacles and discover hidden goodies that seem to be present every few steps. Though I’ll admit the combat, when it happens, is clunky, this is a game first and foremost about challenging your mind and it absolutely manages to do that on a pretty well continuous basis throughout. Far more than just resting on being a pretty game (my typical feeling about the rest of the series), this is one of the most satisfying titles I’ve played this year.


Untitled Goose Game [House House] - Bless indie developers and their ability to come up with weird concepts for gameplay that you probably never considered but upon seeing them are easily attracted to. Untitled Goose Game is such a title, and I was drawn to it the moment I laid eyes on its gameplay in one of the Directs. Maybe I can’t speak for everyone but there’s something really fun about unleashing your inner asshole every once in a while and if that thought appeals to you this game should be high on your list. Given a checklist of objectives, you’ll need to use your pretty limited goosey skills and some smarts to figure out how to complete them to progress. One unfortunate thing is that the game isn’t terribly long, though I suppose it may be better not have it overstay its welcome and lose its creative spark. Still, it’s a unique and entertaining playthrough if you’re in the right mindset.


A Robot Named Fight [Matt Bitner] - If Nintendo were to decide to turn the Metroid series into a roguelike it would likely end up looking quite a bit like A Robot Named Fight, though probably a lot more polished. Your goal is to survive and that can be quite a challenge. On each run you'll encounter new ship layouts, make use of different weapons and power-ups, and likely have very different experiences, some good and some more brutal. It adds up to a compelling challenge that continues to stay fresh for quite some time as long as you don't decide to give up in frustration too quickly.


Bastion [Supergiant Games] - While people with access to other systems may well have played Bastion before since it's been around for a number of years, it still is absolutely a great title that doesn't feel at all dated on the Switch. Very much an action-oriented RPG similar to a classic like Secret of Mana, in Bastion you'll slowly accumulate a variety of weapons that you can then upgrade and customize your combat with as they each make the game play pretty differently. While the art is fantastic its the solid gameplay and the ever-present narrator, telling the game's story in real time, that make it a memorable title.


Bridge Constructor Portal [ClockStone Software] - While there have been a few different bridge construction games on the Switch I'd say this one, by far, stands out from the rest. Not only does it feature unusual humor inspired by the presence of Portal's GLaDOS, but just in general even things like the little people trying to use your structures dying or getting flung about made me laugh. Back that up with some smart and challenging scenarios that will make you think hard about how to get through and it's a tricky but fun overall experience.


Everspace - Stellar Edition [ROCKFISH Games] - As a massive fan of the classic Wing Commander series this is a title that easily caught my eye while it was on PC. There's absolutely no doubt that it nails the space combat aspect very well, offering up variability with its roguelike structure, multiple ships you can experiment with and a variety of weapons as well. While it doesn't quite have something akin to the space opera I always enjoyed it absolutely delivers with its solid and challenging gameplay.


Flat Heroes [Parallel Circles] - While it may look visually pretty simple, featuring geometric shapes for the most part and a very clean design, the gameplay is surprisingly versatile and challenging. You'll quickly find your little cube has a nimbleness and flow akin to Super Meat Boy and all of those moves will get put to the test over the lengthy campaign. You can then take those skills to Survival mode to put them to the ultimate test or take on your friends in some surprisingly varied local multiplayer modes as well.


Flipping Death [Zoink!] - Whenever you talk about classic adventure titles there's roughly a standing assumption that they'll bog down at some point with obtuse item puzzles or funkiness, it's pretty well a genre staple. To combat that Flipping Death doesn't have you managing items in your inventory but instead inhabiting the bodies of the living to perform character-specific tasks to solve problems. The fact that most of these characters are extremely weird and quirky and it all adds up to a great time full of silliness and laughs but consistently challenging throughout as well.


Guacamelee 2 [DrinkBox Studios] - While I really enjoyed the original Guacamelee I actually thought it got a bit more hype than it deserved overall. Whatever qualms I had with it got absolutely body slammed into oblivion in its outstanding sequel though. I initially got the bug playing it with 3 strangers at PAX East and having an absolute blast. Whether going it solo or with some friends it's just an outstanding Metroidvania brawler full of challenging fights, great upgrades, tons of silliness (I love beating people up as a chicken), and some of the most brutal puzzle platforming level design as I've seen if you want to grab every power-up and secret. Just an all around top tier title.


Horizon Chase Turbo [Aquiris Game Studio] - Oh, to go back to the arcades, hearing the sound of quarters being dispensed from the bill changer, and diving into some classic gaming fun. Horizon Chase Turbo is a love letter to arcade racing greats like OutRun (a personal favorite) but it delivers so much more than that. With its smart pick-ups on the tracks, some great hidden unlocked cars, and more content than I ever would have imagined it's not a nostalgia cash-in, it's a celebration of classic arcade racing that will have you entertained and challenged for many hours if you want to find it all. One of my Top 10 Indie Games of 2018, this is a retro racing gem!


Hyper Light Drifter [Heart Machine] - The indie darling from the PC space has finally come to Switch full of its challenging dashing and slashing. You'll need to carefully choose where you decide to go, and if things don't seem to be panning out too well in one direction you should try another, as some paths are more challenging than others. Filled out with some difficult boss fights and ability upgrades that require making some tough choices of what you'll want to invest in it's an engaging experience all around.


Just Shapes and Beats [Berzerk Studio] - Possibly one of the more bizarre titles I played in 2018, Just Shapes and Beats pretty well gives away its secret in the title. While that may sound very simple and it's gameplay mostly emphasizes merely trying to avoid getting hit, there's no denying that doing it all with so much style makes for a lot of fun. Playable with friends locally or others online there's also an element of teamwork you'll find as players are able to save each other when someone gets knocked out. Full of some great tracks, colorful designs, and a ton of personality this is an outstanding title deserving of attention.


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


Mark of the Ninja Remastered [Klei Entertainment] - While it may be a port of an older title I can't say that I've played any other game that has nailed making stealthy play as fun for me as this one. Smart, tense, and full of both opportunity and options for how to approach completing levels Mark of the Ninja is just one hell of an action experience not quite like anything else.


Miles & Kilo [Four Horses] - While sharing quite a bit of DNA with last year's cute retro runner Kid Tripp, Miles & Kilo really refined and nailed things down to produce a satisfying experience worthy of inclusion on this list. Cute, challenging, and well-paced the alternating between the more traditional platforming when playing as Miles and the then it becoming a runner when Kilo is pulling him along keeps things fresh and fun throughout its relatively modest runtime.



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

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