The Switch is a few days away from being released, and Nintendo has decided to reveal a bunch of upcoming indie games to tantalize gamers who aren’t sure whether there’ll be anything good to play. I think I speak for a lot of people my age when I say that the games shown in this presentation speak very loudly.
Let’s get right into the games and see what we’re dealing with. Since many of these are not exclusives, I’ll discuss how they feel as Switch games as well.
Steam World Dig 2 | This time the game is bigger, even though it’s not procedurally generated. That should mean a bigger focus on clever puzzles, more interesting challenges, and a wider variety of unique things to look forward to, although less replayability and system-orientation in theory. The style and concepts, plus a positive track record from the devs bode well for a Switch game. Hearkens back to 16-bit platformers and feels at home on a Nintendo handheld.
Yooka Laylee | Secretly, this game is quite important for the Switch and the state of gaming as a whole. The spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series, and another major test for classic game designers who are trying to make a comeback in the indie scene; it’s a potentially refreshing reminder of the Nintendo 64 era philosophy of nonsensical open worlds of cartoon challenges. Personally I think it looks like it might fail to reach the same high notes as the old games, and that would be a very sad blow to the crowdfunding scene. The addition of multiplayer could redeem any shortcomings, however, since it’s an unexpected bonus. Multiplayer also establishes that the Yooka Laylee characters are gunning to become new mascot-like characters who can be thrown into all sorts of wacky genres, and this is the real key to why the game is so important.
Overcooked | A pitch-perfect match for the Switch. Compact, frenetic, family-friendly, and showing off the Switch’s HD rumble and 4-player multiplayer, this is going to satiate the appetite (heh) of families wanting to capture some of that Wii Sports magic.
The Escapists 2 | “Drop-in drop-out co-op” is the kind of thing you want to hear with the Switch. The bright aesthetic and sprite-based characters are guaranteed to feel good on a handheld, while the ability to switch to the TV for better multiplayer viewing is a welcome option.
Gonner | The highly-experimental style and far flung concept behind Gonner means it will pique curiosity, and once again this will speak to the old platformer fans of yore in an ideal form factor (ie. not the home computer). Normally with a game like this you have to wonder whether it’s going to end up having a high degree of quality to match the high degree of concepts, but Nintendo’s “curation” means you can feel safe trying it. The timed-exclusive aspect and added content for the Switch means anyone who really likes it will want to get it on the Switch.
Dandara | 2D platformers galore in this presentation, and each with a unique pitch. Gravity-bending levels, strong black female protagonist with an interesting arsenal, supposedly heartfelt story, and a rather challenging vibe all mean this shouldn’t be boring. The hand-animated pixel style is going to generate some automatic interest. Ever wonder why that is? Because it’s a way for devs to say “Yes, we remember when games were pure and better too.”
Kingdom: Two Crowns | Judging by the visuals, animation, no-outline style of the characters, this almost looks like it could be set in the same world as Dandara, or vice versa. Kingdom is going to have co-op multiplayer and seems to be about managing precious resources and surviving as a leader of a small kingdom facing destruction. It’s kind of basic looking and slow, but that’s good for people who don’t want stress. It certainly sounds peaceful. By highlighting games like this Nintendo is telling the SNES generation of gamers and the handheld market that they promise they will have a library to look forward to. It’s a cute game for a cute system.
Runner 3 | A bona fide exclusive for the Switch makes this a pretty big deal, since platforms are always judged by exclusives. The strange but accessible style of the game means nobody’s going to hate it, but I wonder whether anyone will love it. The trailer seems to show a rhythm element to the game that matches the soundtrack, and even some sections that have a totally different visual mode. Hopefully not too expensive, so that more people will be willing to roll the dice on it.
Blaster Master Zero | The only people who remember the original are in their 40’s, so there’s no harm in rebooting this classic. The structure and design of the game itself begs for revival. It’s a 2D platformer where you play as a pilot of an upgradeable tank, but you can also get out and run around as a cute little fighter yourself. When you enter caves as a pilot you have a whole separate adventure with a top-down perspective. It’s an amazing retro game that will probably get a warm welcome on the new swiss-army knife Nintendo console, even if it doesn’t show off the unique features of the system in any major way.
Flipping Death | This game feels like a Double Fine game for several reasons. It’s a Tim Burton-esque world where ghosts interfere with the real world (the flipside) to do favors for other ghosts. As a puzzle platformer with a certain charm, it should earn a crowd. With that said, the design of the main character and the presentation of the story gives off an effeminate hipster vibe, which will turn away a lot of people who worry it will be too much like a modern Double Fine game.
Graceful Explosion Machine | There’s not much to say about this game, since apparently the biggest selling point is in the HD rumble features. If it wins people over with this, I think we’ll see a warming of opinions in the West. Apparently Japan loves the idea of HD rumble already, so maybe it will get a bigger following there. Either way, it looks like an average Gradius-style bullet hell game with minimalist graphics.
Mr. Shifty | Teleporting rapidly through a ridiculous obstacle course of security while trying to pull off some kind of heist isn’t a bad idea, but it’s unclear whether this will rise above the level of a great Flash game. This dude is certainly hyped up about it, so maybe it has potential to catch on. Foul language ahead:
Tumbleseed | A minimalist “roguelike” challenge game where you navigate around randomly generated levels not by moving a character directly, but rather by tilting both ends of a central platform. Your character is a ball that rolls back and forth along the platform, and you have to avoid things like enemies and pitfalls. It’s cute, tough, and probably addictive. Using joysticks instead of any of the JoyCon gimmicks may actually be a selling point.
Shakedown Hawaii | I saw the trailer for this game back at PSX, and I instantly felt queasy. Vblank’s last title, Retro City Rampage, was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever tried to complete and review despite the high hopes I initially had. This game strikes a similar chord, making me feel like it’s a gorgeous masterpiece that has no idea what it’s trying to accomplish. A pure waste of brilliance. The ear-piercing “ping” sound of your bullets hitting cars and metallic objects tells me that creator Brian Provinciano still might not understand the logic of audio-visual cohesion. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if this game didn’t become a huge success just like his last title, which was also available on Nintendo systems.
Pocket Rumble | This game tests the limits of how simple you can make fighting games. Although it’s more advanced than Divekick, it is designed to allow everyone to pull of cool stuff. That’s a great premise, and the multiplayer aspect is certainly a big selling point for a Switch version, so it may actually do well. It’s currently in Early Access on Steam, and people seem to like it. The negative reviews are all from early last year when it was still quite far from complete, with one of the biggest complaints being that there weren’t a lot of people to play against.
WarGroove | Personally this game is the most exciting thing in the whole presentation. As somebody who only ever tasted Advance Wars but always wanted to play it somehow, I am thrilled that the Switch will be getting a robust equivalent. Online and local multiplayer, as well as a map creator, mean this will probably become a favorite for many Switch owners. It’s not an exclusive, but that’s the thing: it’s not about whether you can only play it on Switch, it’s about whether it will be complimented by the Switch’s unique portability-and-TV functionality. The answer is yes.
Stardew Valley | This is a darling of a game that really deserves to expand to more platforms, and I’m certain it will find fans on the Switch. The best spiritual successor to Harvest Moon you could ask for, it just feels right to play it on the Switch. The addition of multiplayer will revitalize the game for many who’ve gotten bored of the singleplayer, but for new players who haven’t tried it, it may feel even more comfy as a partner-driven game with the Switch.
The magic only a console can bring
Seeing this lineup of “Nindies” (their buzzword, not mine) made me realize that I would be happy to pay at least some money to try every single one of these on the Switch, even though I would hardly consider them if they were released on the PC (which many of them are). Although I consider myself a PC gamer for the most part, the novelties offered by handhelds in particular can turn any game into something more special, as Nintendo’s handhelds have proven this since the very first GameBoy. Where you play and how you handle a system is fundamental part of how you experience something. Just as the feeling of the “home theater” is a unique and impressive way to enhance cinematic glory, a dynamic little thing you carry around and play differently depending on your mood changes the way you feel about the games. Some people are obsessed with the fact that the games will now come on cards (they might call them ‘cartridges’) too, since even the packaging and physical nature of the product you buy makes a difference to them.
Identity is the other big part of owning a console and building a library. Just like a bookshelf displays your personality and interests, so does your selection of games and your console choices. I’ve spoken to quite a few 20-somethings that don’t want to be seen showing interest in the Switch, but privately are finding ways to justify getting one without looking like a “kid”. That’s why they latch on to Skyrim being released for it: it’s their shield from social criticism.
Indie games are usually promoted to fill the gaps between “big games” in their release schedule, but I get the sense that Nintendo is pushing this concept to a scientific level. They may be trying to train its audience to expect a steady flow between their big first party releases. If I understand correctly they want to release an indie game every week after the console’s launch, but that may have been a figure of speech.
Honestly, I think if the Switch had bigger buttons and was designed for more adult Western hands, you’d see a sales spike as jaded old dudes flocked to get the system that looks like it’s carrying the torch of the Super Nintendo proud and high.