The Switch is Nintendo’s latest incarnation in the home console market and by far a commercial success. Its use of touch screen technology, innovative handheld, console design and a plethora of great first-party titles have proven the house that Mario built is still a force to be reckoned with in the current console war. But unlike past Nintendo systems, the Switch has its share of fantastic third party and indie titles that help expand upon its ever-growing library of games. With a quick glance at Nintendo’s online store, one easily sees the direction that this company is heading towards with its insistence on supporting independent developers to create innovative software for the handheld/console hybrid. Both affordable and novel, the indie scene on the Switch is worth taking note of and with numerous titles receiving critical acclaim it appears that this shot in the dark of the once Sony and Microsoft dominated market is waning. The indie market is a creative domain where new developers can showcase the notion that great games do not necessarily have to display big budget visuals and bombastic gameplay.
10: Dead Cells (2017)
A roguelike Metroidvania game in the truest sense, Dead Cells epitomizes the degree to which its developers, Motion Twin, wanted to harken back to the age of great 2D platformers of the 16-bit era. A minimalistic plot on an unknown island, the game tells the story of a prisoner who upon escaping his captors, must engage in a series of difficult battles that resemble the roguish difficulty of the Souls series. A variety of weapon and armor upgrades, a money system for new material and twitch mechanic that allows other players to have an input on the destination the protagonist takes, all culminate into a unique and riveting gameplay experience. While Motion Twin is known most notably for its mobile games, Dead Cells is one of the most riveting indie experiences you can have on the Nintendo Switch.
9: Enter the Gungeon (2017)
Dodge Roll Studios put together a bullet hell shooter that is as unique as it is challenging. To top off the complexity of the frenetic action sequences is a roguelike item system that can take away everything you own when your character dies. The developers allow players to choose from over 300 guns that when combined, can spawn some very interesting weapon effects. From the outset, players can choose from four distinct protagonists that each possess a unique attribute such as lockpicking treasure chests or summoning AI character support. In addition, a second player can join in at any time for multiplayer action that provides an extra layer of depth and chaos. The plot may be confusing if not comical, your heroes are on a quest to capture a mythical gun that can literally shoot away the past with a single blast. But this does little to take away from the depth of challenge the developers placed in the body of the gameplay.
8: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (2017)
Nicalis Studios must have summoned the Gods themselves when they produced this isometric roguelike masterpiece. You play as the titular character Isaac in an adventure that begins in his mother’s basement and progresses gradually into a multidirectional quest. Nicalis incorporates a randomly generated dungeon system that renders no two playthroughs exactly alike. Furthermore, Isaac encounters over 10 unlockable characters, each with their own attributes that alter the gameplay. The Switch edition expands upon the original’s dungeons and monster types, including an integrated controller support system for a drop in and drop out cooperative gameplay. Nothing about this title is similar and everything about is unique, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a dungeon crawling experience not to be missed on the Switch.
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7: Golf Story (2017)
It seems that the RPG genre would blend in so perfectly with a sports adventure title but that is exactly what happens with Golf Story. Created by Sidebar Games, Golf Story tells the story of a down and out golfer who is on a journey of self-discovery in reclaiming his love for the sport. The game features eight unique areas, each utilizing individual weather system that ranges from snow-covered courses to green acred summer hills. Instead of sword and shield battles like most other traditional RPGs, the developers here incorporate golfing as the source of combat and character leveling. Each area includes side quests and minigames that help the protagonist gain experience as well as money for weapon upgrades. Furthermore, this indy game features a variety of NPC characters that offer useful tips and can even grant experience points to the protagonist simply by engaging with them on the world map. The only aspect of this indy title that is traditional is its three-click golf system that gives a sense of accuracy to this sports/RPG hybrid. Available in both digital and physical formats, Golf Story is the game for players who may not be a fan of the sport necessarily but are desperate for a novel RPG experience.
6: Owlboy (2016)
With an owl/human hybrid character, a lush landscape set amongst the clouds and a retro-inspired art style, D-Pad Studios produced a monumental achievement in the world of indy gaming for the Switch. The game puts you in the role of a winged protagonist named Otus, who descends from a world in the skies to rid the islands below of the monsters that overtook it during a single catastrophic event. Throughout his journey, Otus can grapple enemies and throw them like projectile weapons while soaring between levels in search of the sky pirates who destroyed his village while all along uncovering the truth about his ancestors in their connection to the catastrophe. Amongst all this grandiosity in the plot, Otus encounters a multitude of side characters that join him on his quest to vanquish the sky pirates. Nothing short of an homage to the Super Mario Bros trilogy on the original NES, Owlboy crystalizes everything that makes the action platforming genre so appealing to retro gamers and Switch owners alike.
5: Axiom Verge (2017)
A side-scrolling action adventure that takes the best of the Contra series along with Metroid and places them into one satisfying experience, Axiom Verge tells the story of scientist awakening in a highly developed ancient world. This scientist, known as Trace, must uncover the truth of the planet Sundra while seeking a means of stopping its nemesis Elsenova from destroying it completely. Between its expansive arsenal of available weaponry, run n’ gun action sequences and in-depth storyline, Axiom Verge provides players with a science fiction world that is beautifully minimalistic in its 8-bit art style. Available digitally and physically in a multiverse edition, Axiom Verge gives the scope of classic NES mechanics with an expansive plot that blends the realms of reality and fantasy into a riveting finale that is jaw-dropping during its revealing final act.
4: Hollow Knight (2018)
From the outset, Hollow Knight treats viewers to the awe-inspiring gothic world of Hollownest. An ancient kingdom now left in ruin, the plot unfolds through the guise of a nameless knight set on exploring the underground labyrinths beneath the town of Dirtmouth. Throughout his journey, this nameless knight uses a sword like a nail club to combat the evil civilization known as the Wyrm species, lead by their leader the Pale King. Visually, the game is stunning with an art style ripped straight out of a noir film. Utilizing a black and white lighting system that harbors shadow effects that give way to deeply engaging boss battles, Hollow Knight is a visual masterpiece in 2D gameplay. As your silent protagonist progresses through the underground caverns of Hallownest you uncover the history of the land and the truth behind its extinct people. The game also features a multitude of endings depending on the decisions the player makes along the journey. Such variety in endings lends the title a high degree of replay value and that one simply cannot get from a single playthrough. A masterpiece of the platforming genre and an indy title that stands tall next to the big budget first party titles on the Nintendo Switch.
3: Steamworld Dig 2 (2018)
Who would ever have thought a title revolving around mining for gold could be so fun in the modern era was possible, but that is exactly what Swedish developers Image and Form produced with this series. Picking up directly from its predecessor, the sequel places players in the role of a steam-powered robot named Dorothy who is in search of the main character from the original title called Rusty. The majority of the plot revolves around digging through mines and uncovering material while engaging in boss battles that uncover new levels. As the plot unfolds, Dorothy can gain new weapons and abilities, such as pressure bombs that help uncover hidden areas scattered throughout each area of the map. The mining colony of El Machino is once again the setting of the plot, resembling an old Western town from the 1800s. The blowing sands and deep chasms of El Machino are expanded in direct correlation to Dorothy’s weapon upgrades. The hook shot comes to mind when pertaining to this point, as only certain areas of the world’s mines can only be traversed by the protagonist swinging across large chasms. This variety of weaponry and gameplay tactics are what elevates this indy title from the rest of its contemporaries. A great game both visually and in its gameplay mechanics, Steamworld Dig 2 is the perfect sequel on Nintendo’s flagship console.
2: Stardew Valley (2017)
Concerned Ape, the studio behind this title, must have had a love affair with the Harvest Moon series when they created this farming sim adventure title. Players assume the role of a city dweller who decides to take over their grandfather’s farm in the peaceful village Stardew Valley. Unknown to the protagonist, the farm itself is completely destroyed and thus the majority of the game is spent repairing your residence. Along the way, players must raise livestock, mine for material, grow crops and partake in social activities. The beauty of this game derives from the open-ended nature of its exposition. Players can choose to tackle farming life as they see fit. The town is a pastoral masterpiece littered with NPC’s that harbor engaging dialogue. Each conversation and social function is useful and never mindless. Players can even get married, having their mate help with farming duties that enhance the physical aspects of your country residence. The RPG elements in the game derive from the caves hidden among the backdrop of the town. Players can venture deep into these caves, full of enemy encounters and resources that can help you raise the stature of your farm. With all this combined, Stardew Valley is a product of rural pastoralism and depth that breaths new life into the farming sim genre.
1: The Messenger (2018)
An action platformer that harkens back to the brilliance of the 8-bit era, The Messenger pays tribute to genre greats like The Ninja Gaiden series. Players partake their journey through a world decimated by the Demon King’s onslaught that helped unlock the Tower of Time’s mass destruction. The protagonist is a ninja known as “The Messenger” who must deliver a magical scroll to the top of a sacred mountain. This messenger uses an ability known as “cloud stepping” that helps him perform a second jump in the mid-air during platforming segments. Furthermore, the game has branching paths midway through the story, allowing the protagonist to travel back to the past in an 8-bit visual motif and then to the future which utilizes a 16-bit art style. Such contrasting leaps in visuals, from 8 bit to 16 bit, are what make this game such a brilliant work of independent art. The world of The Messenger is brought to life with each jump in time with transitioning landscapes that absorb that absorbs the viewer into the world of the story. The Messenger does everything right with the milieu of the action platformer and in many ways, it supersedes those it aspires to imitate. A contender for one of the most innovative games on the Switch, The Messenger is a game that outshines most other titles with simple touches of 8 and 16-bit genius.
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