E3 is nearly here, and there’s a certain excitement buzzing around the Nintendo community that hasn’t been seen in quite a long time. Much of the talk about the Switch “not having any games” has been quelled following the releases of Puyo Puyo Tetris, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, NBA Playgrounds, Disgaea 5 Complete and so on. Nintendo has been pushing ARMS and Splatoon 2 heavily, and many are looking towards E3 with high hopes and expectations of what’s to come from the Big N’s first party–and maybe even third party–developers.
But what about the Nindies? Independent studios are playing an integral part in the Nintendo Switch experience, a sentiment that Nintendo itself expressed with its Nindies Showcase at the launch of the system. Indies have not only been dutifully filling in the gaps between major releases, but a few of them have ended up being some of the best games on the platform (looking at you FAST RMX). There are still several major games coming in the form of Stardew Valley, Overcooked: Special Edition and Yooka Laylee, but all of those are multi-platform. For this list, we’re going to take a look at the top console-exclusive indies Switch players can look forward to this year.
3. Dandara (Long Hat House, Late Summer/Early Fall)
Dandara has an interesting backstory. The titular hero is inspired by a historical Afro-Brazilian warrior who died fighting to free other slaves (she’d been one herself) during the colonial period in Brazil. In a particularly cool design choice Horizon, Brazil-based studio Long Hat House decided to name and loosely design the in-game Dandara after the real national hero. Thus, the badass afro-toting heroine was born. Of course, the game’s story is largely fantasy and is in no way representative of Dandara’s life or struggles, but it does include some awesome references to people and events from her life.
Dandara is a Metroidvania with a twist: Dandara never walks or runs through an environment. Instead, the only way she gets around is by swiftly leaping between special platforms and surfaces. These are scattered everywhere from the floor, ceiling, and walls, and can be moving or stationary. Some are rigged with timed traps that require quick thinking and precise platforming. Seeing a skilled player dance their way around the environment while avoiding obstacles and disposing of enemies really shows how high the skill ceiling for this game can be.
The lore, surreal character design and fluid gameplay are at the heart of what makes Dandara a contender for one of the most exciting indies coming to Switch this year. It has heart, it’s unique, and it looks like a joy to play. Also, as a bonus, Long Hat House has confirmed that Dandara will join Voez as one of the few Switch titles completely playable using only the touch screen. The team is targeting a late summer release, but don’t be surprised if it takes until Fall to get this one perfectly polished.
2. Pocket Rumble (Cardboard Robot, Spring)
Let’s face facts: Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers is an iconic game at a terribly inflated price. There’s little doubt that it will still move units, but what about the Switch owners who want a solid, old school fighting game at a fair value? There are two options: either treat yourself to one of the many classic Neo Geo arcade games on the eShop or pay just a couple bucks more for a new Neo Geo-esque experience in Pocket Rumble.
Pocket Rumble’s art direction, music, and mechanics are all reminiscent of games like SNK Gals’ Fighters and King of Fighters R-2. The developers wanted to make the game accessible to fighting game novices, so Pocket Rumble features a simplified two-button control scheme that’s said to work well when using individual Joy Cons for multiplayer. What really makes Rumble stand out from the Neo Geo crowd, though, is the modern polish that’s gone into it. The backgrounds are simple yet detailed, and the characters all look incredibly distinct and have a wide variety of unique, fluid animations. The game’s music has a certain earworm quality to it too, though it’s yet to be determined how many tracks it will include.
So if you’re looking for an old school fighting game with a modern twist, what should you go for? Well, Street Fighter has the legacy, the iconic characters, and the rock-solid gameplay that players have come to expect over the years. However, it’s also four times the price. Pocket Rumble, featuring eight unique characters, a variety of modes, ranked and unranked online matches and local multiplayer, is coming to the Switch for just $10. Throw in the fact that Rumble uses GGPO netcode for extra-strong online play and that a ninth character will be added in a free update, and it becomes hard to argue that the game won’t be a better value than The Final Challengers.
1. Hollow Knight (Team Cherry, TBA 2017)
If there’s one thing that generally tends to differentiate indie games from AAA games, it’s creativity. Larger studios with major publishers and investors often put their budgets towards tried and true ideas so as to not alienate their consumers (see: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare). On the other hand, indie teams typically have much smaller budgets and less to lose by taking creative risks. Enter Hollow Knight, a brooding 2D action-adventure game centered around a devastated world of insects and built off the back of a meager $57,138 Kickstarter budget.
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania adventure dripping with personality. The player controls a little insect hero with the goal of unraveling the cause of the destruction around him. In doing so he traverses a desolate wasteland while fighting off enemies, upgrading abilities and discovering plenty of secrets. The command of atmosphere Hollow Knight has, is impressive, with a soft watercolor art style reminiscent of the recent Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake accentuating the game’s somber tone. Knight also boasts a beautiful orchestral soundtrack and sparse sound design that hits all the right notes in conveying the solemn nature of the player’s journey.
More than any other game on this list, Hollow Knight feels like a major win for Nintendo. It’s already been a massive hit on PC, and though the team says that they’re looking into other consoles, the Nintendo Switch is the only one Team Cherry has officially confirmed that they’re currently working on. Whether a full exclusive or (more likely) a timed exclusive, this is something Switch owners should keep their eyes on. It’s unique, meticulously designed, and should fit perfectly with the growing library of indie gems coming to the platform. Here’s to seeing it before year’s end.