Mini Reviews: February 10th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Kunai [Nindie Choice!] - 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.


It Came From Space and Ate Our Brains - At the very beginning I’ll admit my excitement was pretty high for this twin-stick shooter. The unique look, the game’s use of darkness, and the base feel were all working for me. The more I played, though, the more I became a bit underwhelmed with it all. Though there are some different zones that have varying layouts, they’re consistently populated with the same pretty generic mobs to deal with. Though there is some variety in the weapons, and each one can be upgraded with a little investment, there wasn’t anything that stood out as being terribly unique or exciting to use. Usually when you’re excited about something your feeling is you want more of it, but in this case I’d change the statement to me feeling like I want more _from_ it. There’s a solid base here, there just isn’t enough compelling flesh on its bones to make it stand out when there are simply so many terrific shooters to be played on Switch.


Reknum - Clearly looking to tap into people’s retro platforming affections, Reknum at least switches things up with a female protagonist. With relatively chunky character sprites you’ll guide your character, armed with both a bow and a sword through 6 pretty distinctive and reasonably large areas, dispatching enemies as you go. With a relatively low-budget price perhaps the expectations for it should be kept on the lower side, but the controls being a bit on the loose side and some of the overall feel being a bit wonky pretty quickly put a hit on my overall enthusiasm for the adventure. If you’re open to the challenge and can overlook some warts it’s not a bad package, just even within the same price range I would say there are multiple retro titles in this vein that are more worthwhile.


Super Tennis - With the lack of sports titles on the Switch you may have seen this game’s name and felt your pulse race a little bit. Even thinking back to the NES days of Tennis there can be fun in even simplistic representations of the action. Unfortunately, in the case of Super Tennis there isn’t any action to speak of, at least none in the way you’d assume. Rather that control your player, moving around the court and setting up your shots, in Super Tennis you’ll participate in what feels like a series of Quicktime events… except they’re ones that are even less thrilling. You will need to get attuned to all of the buttons on your controller though as you’ll have a pretty brief amount of time once your opponent sends the ball your way to press a random series of buttons… and that’s it. You will slowly gain new unlocked character elements to make your tennis pro look different or sillier, but there’s really nothing else going on here.


Motorcycle Mechanic Simulator - Wow, OK, this is one of those titles where, being honest, it pained me to try to play it. While I’ve come to have pretty low expectations for games of this type (I don’t typically see why they’d be interesting or fun since they’re very repetitive) the muddled way you need to use your controls in this particular one sets it apart with its being miserable to play. Considering I got stuck in just the tutorial, repeatedly reading the instructions on the screen and then failing to understand what it was I needed to do, it didn’t get off to a great start. Even once getting past that taking in bikes and moving around to different parts to improve or replace them is a cumbersome experience at best, but then the rewards for success are so uninspiring I can’t see any compelling incentive to suffer through the experience.

Top 20 Indie RPG Games on Nintendo Switch


While there are a few very high profile major RPG titles now on Switch there has been a steady flow of great indie titles in the space as well, though not all of them are cut from the same cloth by any means. From action to turn-based, traditional to more unique these indies have you covered for options.

Stardew Valley - 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.


Children of Morta - 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.


Bastion - 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.


Pillars of Eternity - 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.


Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns - 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.


The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse - 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.


Transistor - As the follow-up to Bastion, Transistor has some of the same base elements as an action-oriented RPG but they're very different games with very different play styles. In Transistor you'll gain enhancements you can then manage and combine in a variety of ways to produce very different effects. The ability to stop time and plot out the attacks that you'll then execute also gives the game a far more tactical feel to help differentiate it. Also featuring terrific art, it is this time paired with some exceptional music to complement the on-screen action.


Super Daryl Deluxe - For me there's something really funny about such an unassuming (and honestly dumb-looking) burnout of a kid looking to save the day. Sort of working as a side-scrolling action RPG you'll need to carefully choose which of Daryl's many ridiculous powers to use for success. Facing off against a menagerie of enemies that are almost as unusual as Daryl himself this is an oddball title with a ton of content that doesn't skimp on the challenge.


Golf Story - While perhaps the hype train for Golf Story got a little too far ahead of itself pre-launch Golf Story still ended up being a very charming and somewhat goofy RPG. While its golf mechanics aren't quite up to the standards of the best the Mario Golf series had to offer they do a fine job of giving you the control you'll need to conquer the game's diverse set of courses. Not surprisingly most problems here are solved with your clubs generally but some of the more creative and silly sequences try to keep it from getting too repetitive and predictable. A thoroughly enjoyable RPG all around.


Battle Chasers: Nightwar - While this RPG is turn-based and has more of a classic JRPG feel to it, there's no question that its comic book art inspired look and style are thoroughly Western. You'll need to choose which party members work best for you as you level them up and make them more powerful. The visuals easily help it to stand out as the game has a great sense of flair to keep the journey engaging and exciting.


Moonlighter - One part Zelda-esque combat and dungeon exploration and another part shop simulator Moonlighter is a title that looks great and plays in a truly unique way. By night you'll go into dungeons in search of adventure and loot that you'll then need to carefully price to sell for the best price possible in your shop by day. You can then use your money to improve your shop, attract new vendors to town (including a blacksmith and armorer you'll very much need), and upgrade your gear to let you take on progressively tougher challenges.


Masquerada: Songs and Shadows - In terms of downsides I’d say there aren’t many with the primary concern being whether you’re looking for something that’s heavily story and lore-driven or not. The story is absolutely the star here, with the visual presentation, lore, and voice acting working together to deliver an experience that feels pretty fresh. That said, if you were hoping for a bit more action it’s a mixed bag, not being particularly bad but definitely taking a back seat in terms of quality to the elements of storytelling. Load times can be a nuisance, especially when you’ll sometimes move through areas that seem to serve no purpose other than to connect areas visually, but they aren’t so awful that it brings the experience down. If you’ve been seeking out an RPG that looks great but breaks away from the pack in terms of its storytelling and general feel, Masquerada is absolutely a game worth checking out.


Cardpocalypse - While deck building and battling games were never something I got into physically, I’ll admit that in the digital space they’ve managed to get me pretty hooked. While we’re still somehow waiting on the well-known Hearthstone to make its way to Switch (I hope), with smart titles like Cardpocalypse available it hasn’t been too painful to wait. What makes the title notable is the schoolyard RPG aspect of it, where you’ll play the new kid in town trying to make friends and build a solid deck along the way. If you’re just looking to get down to business you’ll have the option to do that as well to a degree, but the joy here is in navigating Jess through the travails of Elementary School clique politics with some smart deck building and opportunities for customization along the way.


Joe Dever's Lone Wolf - Very much the dark horse on this list Joe Dever's Lone Wolf is just a thoroughly different kind of experience. Playing out like a mix of a Choose Your Own Adventure story and mixing choices you make in the story with action sequences you'll then fight out connected to the story beats it's thoroughly unique. The combat itself also takes some getting used to but once it clicks I also found it to be pretty engaging. While it won't be for everyone I appreciate its attempt to strike out on a path of its own and would be thrilled to see a sequel with some refinements.


Darkest Dungeon - Fans of tough games have no doubt already heard plenty about this dark and difficult RPG experience with a roguelike unpredictable twist. In Darkest Dungeon the act of completing the dungeon doesn't simply return everyone in your party to normal, the toll of the adventure can have serious and debilitating effects on the people you're trying to work with. Try not to get too attached to anyone, while you can invest in keeping them sane you won't be able to save them all. Managing your party's sanity here can be just as challenging as the monsters in the dungeons themselves.


YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG - As a whole while I found YIIK thoroughly different and quirky a fun way I can also see where those traits likely make it a love / hate proposition for people. If you’re really hoping for a more traditional experience you’ll likely be frustrated with the entire package, story, combat, and all. If, however, you have the indie spirit and appreciate experiments that may not always pan out but that are at least fresh this could really click for you as well. At least being able to somewhat relate to and understand the attitudes of some characters and the game’s approach I found it to be fun and I’d be fascinated to see what will come next from this developer having been provided feedback on this this title and running with that to try out something in a similar vein.


Windscape - Though I may have felt a bit conflicted on how to score Windscape, I like its concept, most of its simple but workable design, and how much of it slows as a whole. At the same time there are sections where it drags a bit and details that don’t quite work as well as you’d hope, and these collectively add up. I’d say the more interested you are in a casual adventure that isn’t often demanding, and that you can just enjoy for the sake of the experience, the better a fit it will be for you. If you’re in search of stellar presentation and an abundance of thrills though you’ll end up being sorely disappointed. Windscape is hardly perfect, but it does enough right to be fun over a pretty impressive overall length if you’re in the right mindset for it.


Heroland - Full of quirky and unusual characters, and built on a somewhat unusual premise of there being a hero amusement park of sorts where people go to get their dungeon crawl on, Heroland is most definitely different. You’ll play the part of a “tour guide” of sorts, managing a party of varying tourists and general oddballs through a progression of increasingly-challenging dungeons. While the combat plays out as a traditional turn-based RPG your ability to command your group is limited on a cooldown so you’ll need to take action strategically to influence tactics or use an item but otherwise watch and hope your group can pull it together. Between battles you’ll work through an often silly story, work to cultivate friendships with your party in order to improve performance, and experiment with ways to improve your group effectiveness. While, for me, the action takes a bit too much of a backseat to dialogue early on I appreciate the fact that this has a very different feel from your typical JRPG and is worthwhile as an option because of that.


Graveyard Keeper - Ever since the release and massive success of Stardew Valley I’ve been waiting to see what games it would inspire. Surprisingly, there really haven’t been many to date but now we have Graveyard Keeper stepping up to the plate. Certainly the elevator pitch for the game would be “Stardew Valley but with a morbid sense of humor” and that would be an accurate assessment on the surface. Dig a little deeper and spend some time with it though and there are some clear differences beyond just the gallows humor. Functionally many of the tasks and general routines are very similar, with you needing to explore, learn skills, acquire equipment through purchase or crafting, and make friends. Where Keeper comes up short is that it isn’t as structured and well crafted. Progress is slow, quest goals tend to string together too many tasks, and on a general level the game feels a bit more like a refined rough draft than a carefully composed and polished masterpiece. There’s no doubt fun to be had here, it can just be a lot of squeeze at times for not quite enough juice.


Shadows of Adam - If you’ve been looking for a game to hit you right in the feels as a lover of the 16-bit RPG era Shadows of Adam does a solid job of delivering that. Since it isn’t a sprawling epic running into 40+ hours of play it lacks the depth, variety, and player agency of many of those games, but it does offer up a more bite-sized portion that covers many of the key touchpoints you’d be looking for. It looks and sounds great, its characters and their interactions have that same sort of at times quirky familiar feel, and the turn-based combat is less complex but still generally satisfying. If you’ve been looking to recapture that feel and are looking for something you haven’t already played at some point, it does a good job of filling out the Switch line-up.


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!