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The 60 Best Nintendo Switch Games

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Best Nintendo Switch Games Tetris 99

25. Tetris 99

One of the biggest surprises of 2019 was the reveal and launch of Tetris 99, which combines the tried-and-true puzzle gameplay with his own particular blend of mayhem. The game, which is free to download (provided you’re a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber), is perhaps the least expected take on the battle royale genre — but some would argue it’s the best. Developed by Arika, known for Tetris: The Grand Master series, Tetris 99 pits you against 98 other players simultaneously, and the last surviving player wins. It’s ridiculous and mesmerizing — not to mention mind-blowing when you stop and admire how Tetris 99 demonstrates the true adaptability of the original Tetris.

It’s hard to believe that three decades on, Tetris is still a worldwide phenomenon. It’s also hard to believe that Tetris 99 was a joke someone apparently made on Twitter before Akira made it a reality. Even harder to believe, Tetris 99 is able to stand side by side on a stage with behemoths such as Fortnite and APEX Legends. I won’t dare say Tetris 99 is the best battle royale game on the market, but it sure is a fan favourite. (Ricky D)

SonicMania

24. Sonic Mania

The existence of Sonic Mania can be referred to as nothing short of a miracle, but the use of the word ‘miracle’ would be doing a disservice to the fans/developers who made it happen. Sonic Mania comes from the dedication of old-school underground Sonic fangame-creating and ROM-hacking fanbases, almost teeming with the ether of communities like Sonic Retro, that have been pining for a true sequel to Sonic & Knuckles since its release in 1994.

In fact, Mania is a result of the hard work put in by long-time classic Sonic fan/game dev, Christian Whitehead (a.k.a Taxman), whose work on ports of classic 2D Sonic games to mobile devices and modern gaming consoles, made in conjunction with Headcannon, served as the pitch for the entire project. While today the Sonic series is mostly known for its laughably bad modern 3D titles, with the pinnacle being 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Mania broke that (fungicidal) mold by bringing the Blue Blur back to exactly where he left off 24 years ago.

Mania’s gameplay is painstakingly put-together to be as true to the classics as possible, while introducing new gameplay elements, making it closer to an official sequel than any other Sonic game since the mid-90s, especially over something like, say, Sonic 4. The beautiful — and immediately nostalgic — soundtrack and visual designs add to this package as well. Above all, Sonic Mania is a unique success story, a triumphant moment that we don’t get to see often in an increasingly calculated world of big-name gaming. (Maxwell N)

golf-story-1

23. Golf Story

All throughout the Switch’s banner first year on the market, there was one genre that felt severely underrepresented: Role-Playing Games. For a long time, it seemed like RPG fans on Switch would only have I Am Setsuna at launch to sink their teeth into until Xenoblade Chronicles 2 hit in December. Enter Golf Story, an indie release from the relatively mysterious two-man team, Sidebar Games. Billed as a spiritual successor to the stellar Camelot Mario Golf titles, Golf Story surprised many with its charm, wit, and inventive game design.

From its opening scenes, two things are obvious: Golf Story is all about the characters, and it never takes itself too seriously. Sharp writing with Australian sensibilities abound (“Sucked in!”) and keep players grinning throughout the classic underdog story. Golf Story leans into the typical sports narrative tropes to create a truly lovable cast of characters, as well as some of the most hilarious moments in a game I’ve seen in a long time. The mark of any great RPG is its storytelling, and Golf Story uses a combination of unique set pieces and creative dialogue box animation to drive its ridiculous story arcs home.

Though certainly not the focus, the actual golf gameplay is also quite satisfying during both side quests and full-scale matches. Though the elevation of the ground is a bit difficult to determine due to the 16-bit style, the game does an otherwise great job of providing a solid golf experience, with a full range of clubs, courses, hazards, and gimmicks. Optional side quests will test the mettle of the best players, while the main story does a good enough job of steadily introducing new strategies and concepts. If you’re in the mood for a silly adventure that might just trump the Mario Golf classics of old, you owe it to yourself to play Golf Story. (Brent Middleton)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Inside Playdead Studios

22. Inside

What makes Inside a technical masterpiece — and one of the most polished video games ever made — is how it manages to do so much with so little. It’s simply amazing how much mileage Playdead gets out of a two-hour game with no real script, no dialogue, no boss fights, no real cinematic cutscenes, and no central hook. Inside is a masterclass in minimalism and restraint, and a prime example of how sometimes less is more.

It’s also a game that masterfully finds a double meaning in its metaphor, thanks to a secret ending that sees the boy unplugging the power to the facility. After doing so, he collapses into the same position as the zombified citizens under the government’s control. Here, Inside is perhaps breaking the fourth wall by implying that this ending is unplugging us, the players, from the game. When you turn off the switch, you are effectively relinquishing control of the boy, therefore ending the journey — perhaps underlining our own unhealthy obsession with video games and technology in general? Whatever the intent, be it a simple meta-commentary or something more, Inside left me with a lot to think about — something very few games do (Ricky D)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Super Meat Boy

21. Super Meat Boy

For the unfamiliar, Super Meat Boy is a 2D sidescrolling platformer, and the objective of the game is to transport the protagonist, Meat Boy himself, to Bandage Girl, his beloved damsel in distress, who is usually located on the other side of the level. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, here’s the catch. Super Meat Boy is as far from simple as anything could possibly be. The game is extremely fast-paced and incredibly unforgiving. The controls are smooth and responsive, but the overwhelming difficulty of the game manages to water down the beautifully executed mechanics. As you progress through the levels, you’re faced with wave after wave of various obstacles that will stop at nothing in their quest to stop you in your tracks. And in most cases, they succeed.

This is where the heart of Super Meat Boys success comes into play – Super Meat Boy is executed in such a manner that makes you want to keep on playing without it getting tiresome. No matter how many times you turn into a goopy pool of meat on the ground, you will be tempted to try again. It’s hard to determine which aspect of the game is causing this – it could be the speedy, smooth controls that allow the player to make use of a wide range of acrobatics. It could also be the lively retro-styled graphics that urges the player into returning to the game just one more time and/or the innovative level design, that is flawlessly executed without it ever becoming too repetitive for one’s taste.

No matter what it is, Super Meat Boy is indeed infused with a formula that makes it appealing to everyone from the most casual of gamers, to those who are always up for a challenge. One could say that the game is the personification of frustration, coated with an appealing layer of sheer fun that attracts all sorts of gamers. (Johnny Pederson)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Steamworld Digg 2

20. Steamworld Dig 2

This sequel takes everything that was refreshing about the first tunnel-digging adventure and offers improvements at nearly every turn. In a sea of twisting Metroidvanias, the self-made labyrinths of Steamworld Dig 2 stand a pickaxe above the rest. It’s a fantastic example that there are still new places to go underground, and inventive gameplay that can take players there. Set some time after a simple robot 49er named Rusty uncovered some bad stuff happening below the surface of his ore-filled claim, this latest entry follows that rickety droid’s niece, a spry piece of machinery named Dorothy who goes in search of her now-missing kin. Armed with her similarly pointy tool (and eventually a few new ones), Dorothy uncovers even more sinister deeds simmering below — just like the first game, however, it’s up to her to carve out a path to get there.

Steamworld Dig 2 gives players more freedom than almost any other Metroidvania in how they choose to explore the world. With almost every surface able to be ground up into bits, chopping away makes tunnels that lead to precious ore scattered about, which in turn can be sold in town for supplies and enhancements that make mining easier, more efficient. This game is all about the pleasant rhythm of digging to get rich, but thanks to razor-sharp controls, awesome new abilities that allow for more creative traversal of the ever-growing mazes, and a more-focused map that relies more on carefully-crafted obstacles than the previous entry, the whole experience feels more polished. Cap that with great mining/robot humor and a hilariously cynical sidekick, and Steamworld Dig 2 is akin to striking the Metroidvania mother lode. (Patrick Murphy)

Xenoblade-Chronicles-2 Best Nintendo Switch Games

19. Xenoblade Chronicles 2

The popularity of grandiose role-playing games is prevalent among gamers, hence the hype surrounding Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the latest installment in the long-running Xeno series. There are faults to be found in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but far more noticeable are its instances of success.

A combat system  that builds upon the mechanics of its predecessors means that crafting a cacophony of combos (complete with cinematic camera coolness) in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a walk in the park for Rex and his pals. Refinements to many aspects of its design — from the user interface to the management of side quests — assist in bolstering overall quality. The sheer variety of expansive environments throughout its colossal open world, a story that grabs one’s attention despite its inherent silliness, and a big ol’ bundle of secrets to unearth all result in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 being a splendid iteration of both its genre and series.

The cherry on top is the effortlessness in which it absorbs players, inviting them to sink countless hours into its ocean of eclectic activities with the utmost of ease. (Harry Morris)

Best Switch Games New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe

18. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe

The Nintendo Switch has seen some pretty great platformers within the past two years. Just to name a few, Switch owners have had the great pleasure of playing games like Super Mario Odyssey, Celeste, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, and Kirby Star Allies. Most recently, the Switch got an excellent port of one of the Wii U’s greatest offerings in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.

One of the biggest standouts on Nintendo’s successful hybrid device, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe tends not offer much new in terms of core gameplay compared to its last-generation counterpart, but that is by no means a bad thing. However, in the game’s port to Switch it does add a familiar character with Toadette, who can turn into Peachette (who looks identical to Princess Peach) via a power-up. Moreover, to make the Switch package come of even better value, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe comes packed with New Super Luigi U, which was a fantastic add-on for its day (during the Year of Luigi), and remains so today.

The fifth game in the New Super Mario Bros. series, Deluxe now stands as the pinnacle of the series. Simply put, it has refined the classic formula to a tee with its release on Switch.

Above all, much like the rest of Nintendo’s first-party library, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a highly polished product. New content may not be at the top of its list of priorities, but it more than makes up for it with solid gameplay mechanics. Nintendo knows its way around a good platformer at this point, and they are especially familiar with those of the side-scrolling sub-genre, as demonstrated by New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. Switch owners would be remiss to not add this game to their Switch library. It strongly — and intelligently — adheres to the classic Nintendo game concept: feel-good, pure entertainment. (Brandon McIntyre)

Skyrim

17. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Those feeling a bit lost at sea upon finally fully exploring the massive world that Breath of the Wild immersed them in need have no fear; thanks to Bethesda and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you don’t have to go back to the real world quite yet. With its massive play space, stunningly beautiful visuals, and absurdly abundant list of quests, side quests, and side quests to the side quests, players won’t need much convincing to stay in this province of Tamriel for a spell. Whether you’re up for some dungeon looting, sword-and-sorcery combat, or for some reason really like crafting stuff, there’s something for everyone here. Join guilds, go on adventures, read lots of fake books, slay dragons, and eavesdrop on the staggering amount of conversations taking place in a world that almost seems to be a living, breathing thing — if enemies would quit getting stuck in doors, or you couldn’t fall through the ground.

Already played Skyrim? Play it again as a cat monster guy! Or maybe try your hand at being a vampire this time! The Switch version comes with all the previously released DLC, making an enormous game even more overwhelming. And now, thanks to the portability of the Switch, the Dragonborn can infiltrate all parts of your life — not just the couch-sitting ones. These many years later, Skyrim still impresses. Though it may feel like a slight step backwards to not be able to climb every visible surface like a nimble elf man, the inability to clear small fences shouldn’t dissuade anyone looking for an epic journey to pick up a sword here — either once again, or for the very first time. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Dead Cells

16. Dead Cells

Dead Cells doesn’t necessarily evolve the rogue-like genre, but what it does expertly refines it. Sporting buttery-smooth gameplay with an addictive and rewarding one-more-run structure, Dead Cells is as exhilarating as it is brutally difficult. Each run through its procedurally generated levels is filled to the brim with pixel-perfect combat, relentless enemies, loot and upgrades aplenty, and — most importantly — a substantial level of variety that helps make each run feel distinct. This is very much a good thing — a mandatory thing, even — because repeating levels is what you’ll be doing as you die again and again, all in the name of mostly minuscule progress. Whenever you do get through a run and finally beat a boss or unlock some incredibly badass weapon for a future attempt, the satisfaction is all the sweeter for it.

Rogue-likes have nailed formulas like this in the past, and standing out in an arguably oversaturated genre is tough these days. Dead Cells couldn’t make a splash as just a hard game, and so its visuals are even more of a significant USP, seeming to be the pioneer for pushing indie developers’ updated nostalgia graphics from 8-bit to 16-bit. The game has that familiar Symphony of the Night look to it, and this focus not only comes off great, but also helps the game run beautifully. Put simply, the intuitive combat that Dead Cells hangs its hat on just wouldn’t feel the same in another visual style, and the combination of the two is so good that the game rightly sits right at the top of its genre. (Alex Aldridge)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Undertale

15. Undertale

Undertale is an independent RPG created by Toby Fox that relies on some traditional RPG tropes, and then marvelously subverts them. It tells an endearing story of a child who has fallen into a land of monsters, where the child must choose to either fight or spare their potential foes. The resulting battle-system is intriguing and rewarding, and ties smartly into the story itself. Often breaking down the fourth wall between game and gamer, Undertale plays with convention and manages to wrap together fun and intriguing gameplay as well as a compelling story. (Marty Allen)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Hollow Knight

14. Hollow Knight

Blasphemy be damned; Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania easily on par with — and possibly surpassing — the two hallowed titles the genre is named after. Hauntingly atmospheric, impeccably polished, and packed with an absurd amount of content that rarely feels less than organic, this indie gem has brought magic back to traditional platforming-based exploration that had been missing in so many of its kin.

Doling out its story through breadcrumbs of lore, Hollow Knight follows an empty wanderer as he descends into a mysterious bug kingdom whose protected stasis is being threatened by the creeping infection of an outside force. Making his way through the vast, decaying underground lands leads to the discovery of new allies, enemies, and powers, all of which contribute to a rich story, as well as help guide this warrior on his way toward discovering and fulfilling his ultimate destiny. Players who embark on this difficult journey will be rewarded with wonderfully lush environments, satisfyingly empowering upgrades, and a captivating vibe that manages to be both playful and ominous at the same time.

These elements alone are crafted to standards that would make some AAA developers jealous, but what makes Hollow Knight excel above its peers is superbly responsive gameplay merged with meticulous level design. Combat is composed of simple actions, but enemy patterns vary widely, leading to numerous viable strategies — especially when approaching any one of the game’s many brutal bosses. These massive encounters are memorable highlights, increasingly tough tests that require patience and mastery of the game’s various systems, including an array of charms that provide various buffs and additional skills. The game’s maps also exploit the deep system for movement, subtly pushing inexperienced players in one direction, while still providing a surprising degree of openness for the more adventurous to carve out their own unique paths via shortcuts and movement exploits.

The wealth of options and attention to detail in Hollow Knight is simply staggering when compared to others in the genre. Thanks to precision controls and endless secrets to discover, there is no doubt that players will continue returning to Hallownest again and again. Team Cherry has created a stirring world of myth and monsters that rivals the best Metroidvanias of all time. (Patrick Murphy)

Stardew Valley Best Nintendo Switch Games

13. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley overall is an incredible game on PC, but being released on the Switch allowed the indie darling to create even more new experiences for players. In Stardew Valley, your character quits their day job to go take care of their grandfather’s farm, which he gifted to them when he passed away. Your days are mainly filled with farming, petting your animals, and getting to know the town and all of the neighbor’s quirks. It is the perfect game to relax with, as no task is too daunting, and it’s just so damn cute.

In the original PC release, Stardew had a more limiting and rigid structure, where you as the player can be tied to your PC for the day cycle — which in real lifetime is about fifteen minutes per in-game day. With the Switch, you’re now allowed to pick up and play the game in smaller increments as you see fit. Also being on the Switch allows Stardew the capacity to be more mobile, so you can take it with you wherever you need to go, even if that’s moving from your couch to your bed. Stardew is about filling your days with whatever pleases you, and in a way, that’s what the Switch as a system is about too. The two combined has a way of creating happiness, whether you’re watering your crops while on your lunch break, or fishing for that rare fish while curled up on the couch. (Katrina Lind)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Splatoon 2

12. Splatoon 2

Creating a sequel to a beloved shooter is difficult. If the game is too similar to the original, new players will compare it to any number of the typical annual shooting entries. On the other hand, existing fans of the series need to be catered to with familiar mechanics and game design decisions. Splatoon 2 manages to tread this line incredibly well and ends up feeling like a new game while retaining the tight, addictive Splatoon gameplay that made the original one of the best games of the surprisingly strong Wii U library.

It’s clear that the dev team listened to fan feedback from the first game, and made tons of small quality of life tweaks. There is now a difference between team ranks and single-player ranks. Players can finally change their loadouts between matches without leaving the lobby. The addition of pants and hair options allows for more character customization than ever in a game that’s very much about style.

At the same time, Splatoon 2 also succeeds with its major additions, like an inventive new story mode, a completely new horde mode that works online as well as locally, and the new ranked mode, Clam Blitz. These all offer incredibly fun and inventive takes on the shooting genre as a whole.

Coupled with noticeable visual upgrades and continued support promised for at least 2 years after launch, Splatoon 2 is an undeniable must-own for anyone with a Switch. (Brent Middleton)

11. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Mario has been relying on his feet for decades, and the precision gameplay behind the high-jumping, goomba-stomping action rarely disappoints. However, for the Switch Ubisoft had a different idea (so different that it was initially met with a chorus of internet boos), and instead decided to give Mario’s dogs a rest while putting the power in his hands — and players’ minds. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle might go against the grain a bit for those who never imagined concocting a strategy for anything outside of tricky platforming, or that their favorite former plumber would wield a firearm, but somehow it came together and worked beautifully. The X-COM gameplay translates amazingly well to the Mushroom Kingdom’s core characters, where Mario, Luigi, Peach must team with Rabbid lookalikes and a talking Roomba named Beep-O in order to stop a maniac bunny that can’t control his VR goggles. Or something. Like with the best Mario games, plot doesn’t matter that much; gameplay is where it counts, and Mario + Rabbids does not disappoint.

Once the oddity of not directly controlling Mario wears off, players are treated to a surprisingly deep and engaging level of turn-based strategy, as well as a variety of maps and enemies that constantly challenge one to rethink tactics from battle to battle. Those new to the genre might feel a bit intimidated at first, but like a typical Nintendo game, the difficulty is paced to perfection, never suffering from intense rises or falls, all the way through to the end. In fact, Ubisoft has done an incredible impersonation of Mario’s makers, nailing the colorful look and feel of the franchise so well that those unaware of the game’s actual developers could easily be fooled. A lot of love was put into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and the results amount to one of the best “Nintendo” games not made by Nintendo — ever. (Patrick Murphy)

Rocket League Best Nintendo Switch Games

10. Rocket League

What is there left to say about Rocket League? Nearly three years after its initial release, the game landed on the Nintendo Switch with additional updates, features, and new platforms (including the newly Nintendo-themed cars), that make this unorthodox sports game a must have on Nintendo’s hybrid system. Psyonix’s insane formula of rocket-powered cars playing soccer has only gotten better with age, and the added bonus of playing it on the go via local split-screen only adds to the game’s appeal.

Whether it’s online casual or ranked matches, friendly exhibitions, local co-op, or a challenging season mode, Rocket League never gets old. Switch players can even engage in cross-network play with Rocket League’s Xbox One and PC community, and to our surprise, this system works without a hitch. As someone who spent well over 200 hours with Rocket League on PS4, I see myself putting in way more hours on the Switch. Much like Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, or even Super Mario Odyssey, Rocket League is well worth your money if you consider how much time you’ll spend playing the game. A must-have for any Switch owner. (Ricky D)

Best Switch Games Octopath Traveller

9. Octopath Traveler

What sort of group dynamic drama happens when you posse up a grizzled warrior, a pure-as-snow cleric, a feisty merchant, an idealistic apothecary, a vengeful dancer, a pompous academic, a wise huntress, and a dumbass thief? You’ll have to play a different game to find out, as Octopath Traveler has no interest in telling that sort of macro story, instead keeping its focus on the eight individuals that populate its fantasy world. This approach may irk fans of intricate JRPG plotting, but creates an opportunity for role-players to take on more of a part than just mere button pushing, allowing them to fill in the relationship blanks by using an ancient weapon once known as ‘imagination.’

It’s a bold move, but Octopath helps jumpstart that inner creativity with lush visuals inspired by the 16-bit era, a hybrid mix of pixel art and polygons that results in gorgeous pop-up book quality. From shimmering desert sands to soft ripples of idyllic ponds, the many landscapes are stunning, themselves almost incentive enough to continue the eight quests. Luckily, Octopath‘s turn-based gameplay is just as engaging, mixing Boosts and Breaks with a variety of attacks and defenses to provide an accessible level of depth and complexity that should encourage players to try out new characters and strategies. It’s a throwback that captures the feeling of older JRPGs while simultaneously feeling fresh and exciting, making for one of the best games on the Switch. (Patrick Murphy)

shovel-knight best nintendo switch games

8. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove

Sometimes an axe is too heavy or a sword is out of reach, and so you’re left to fight like a peasant with a shovel. Occasionally, the ridiculous can be an utter genius, and Shovel Knight blurs the boundaries of ingenuity. Shovel Knight is equally humble in its celebration of retro gaming, as well as innovative in its fresh approach to game design. Your shovel is a versatile piece of equipment that isn’t just used to defeat foes; much like in real life, its capability to dig provides opportunities to find treasure which upgrades your equipment. This furthers your valiant mission to defeat the Enchantress and save the Order of No Quarter from themselves. An Indie game published by Yacht Club Games, it began as a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign and has since created a legacy of its own. (James Baker)

Celeste Best Nintendo Switch Games

7. Celeste

At first glance, Celeste may seem like a typical 16-bit adventure, but as the game progresses it quickly becomes clear that Matt Thorson and his small team of collaborators have created something truly special. For a game originally created as a prototype in four days during a game jam (and later expanded into a full release), Celeste looks great and features one of the most memorable soundtracks in recent memory (courtesy of composer Lena Raine). It’s also blessed with tight controls, intricately designed levels, and loads of secrets to discover — and despite its difficulty, Celeste has received nothing but high praise from critics since its release. In fact, what makes Celeste stand above its peers is how it indistinguishably ties its difficulty to its message. In the end, the mountain at the center of the game isn’t just an obvious metaphor for Madeline’s struggles, but for our own. Each time you die can no doubt be frustrating, but the game encourages the player to never give up. Not once does it mock you, and instead, it places you back to where you died, allowing you to try again, hoping this time you will succeed.

Celeste is without a doubt the best indie game available on the Switch, both an excellent platformer and an engaging meditation on the perils and methods of tackling depression and anxiety. It is not pretty, but it is sometimes very beautiful. (Ricky D)

MarioKart8Deluxe

6. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

This one was just too damn good to leave in exile on the Wii U. While the attach rate on that console was staggeringly high, there were still plenty of fans who never got to experience one of the slickest, deepest, most gorgeous games in the genre. Nintendo clearly needed to fill a spot in their launch window with a big franchise, and few franchises are bigger than Mario Kart; in the end, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was a no-brainer. For those who didn’t get to experience it the first time, this latest entry boasts all the same great tracks (a mix of new and remastered favorites) and all the same great characters, including the amazing DLC cups, only everything is available right off the bat — no need to unlock.

As an extra treat, Nintendo also made several improvements, including a revamped battle mode, which is now actually worth playing. This time around they include arenas specifically designed for chasing your friends like a maniac globophobe, eradicating the world of enemy balloons. There are also additional modes that see karts attacking each other with piranha plants, or playing capture the flag with a Shine Sprite. In other words, there’s loads of stuff to do in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe besides the incredibly entertaining racing. With the ability to take the shell-throwing, banana peel-dropping, mushroom-boosting action anywhere, this really is the best version of the best game in the franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

5. Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze

Good things do come in big packages. The trick for any game developer is to find the small game within the big one, which is exactly what Retro Studios did with Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. Tropical Freeze is the fifth Donkey Kong Country sidescroller, the second made by Nintendo’s Austin, Texas-based studio, and some would argue the best of the bunch. The game doesn’t deviate much from the established formula, but Retro Studios has done more with this latest DKC than a simple change of scenery. The most striking improvement is that Donkey Kong is in HD for the very first time, and he looks great. But don’t be fooled by its beauty; Tropical Freeze is a tough platformer, seemingly designed to frustrate even the most gifted gamers. Here is a game made with wit and excitement, boasting plenty of moments of visionary beauty, but also a game that will drive you mad. I lost count keeping track of the number of times I died while playing, but it was all worth it.

Tropical Freeze‘s six islands contain some tense challenges, as well as lots of unique level ideas. Each level delivers a sense of scale that feels bigger than most two-dimensional games, and the constant switches and level variety keep it fresh and interesting throughout. Tropical Freeze is full of astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills, and ills. The lengthy boss fights and the multitude of well-placed secrets and collectibles stand out as some of the best parts of the game, and like many Wii U titles, Freeze also features a couch multiplayer mode where a second player can choose between Diddy, Dixie Kong, and Cranky Kong. Meanwhile, original series composer David Wise returned to create one of the best video game soundtracks of this generation. Brawling, magnificent, heroic: that’s Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. (Ricky D)

Bayonetta 2 Best Nintendo Switch Games

4. Bayonetta 2

Had Bayonetta’s second adventure been as watered down as many expected it to be due to Nintendo’s family-friendly stance, it wouldn’t have been a true sequel. Luckily, not only did Nintendo allow Platinum Games to make Bayonetta 2 the way they wanted to, but they actively encouraged them to go wild. As a result, Bayonetta returns as her crude, violent, highly sexual self, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bayonetta 2 takes everything the original set up and improves it greatly. Comboing split-second dodges and consecutive attacks feels even more satisfying than in the original, and the Switch allows the visuals to shine, making the original look inferior in comparison. Nintendo-based costumes also add an extra visual flare, allowing you to pummel demons with Bowser’s limbs, or slice angels with the Master Sword.

But above all, the greatest part of Bayonetta 2 is its protagonist. Bayonetta is honestly one of my favourite characters of all time. Her unrestrained enjoyment of battle definitely rubs off on the player, encouraging you to utterly destroy and humiliate your opponents. The story itself isn’t breaking any new ground, but Bayonetta’s lovable personality and interactions with other characters never stops being entertaining, and only enhances your enjoyment of the game. We can all thank Nintendo for providing not only the creative freedom but the funding necessary to bring us this absolute gift of a game. (Ade Adeoye)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Super Smash Bros Ultimate

3. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

There are very few game franchises where every release is a major cultural event for the medium. Leading with the tagline “Everyone is here,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is absolutely jam-packed with more characters, stages, music, and game modes than ever before. The sheer value it offers is ridiculous (especially when compared to other major fighting games).

The truth, however, is that this latest iteration has delivered far more than just a massive volume of content. Ultimate is a fast-paced, addictive romp of a fighting game so well-balanced that nearly any of the 70+ fighters are viable given enough practice. Impressively, it also lends itself well to being a perfect pick-up-and-play game that gamers of all skill levels can jump into and enjoy. This perfect balance of depth and accessibility has almost always been the hallmark of the series, and it’s back in full effect here.

There really is something for everyone in Ultimate. The new smattering of multiplayer modes (the fan-favorite Smashdown is especially fun) and specially customized Classic Mode battles offer significantly new ways to play for series veterans. Meanwhile, the new single-player mode — called World of Light — is a fresh way for newcomers to gradually become acquainted with different characters and matchups. And the rock-solid core fighting mechanics? They tie everything together. The result is a must-own Switch title right up there with Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. (Brent Middleton)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Super Mario Odyssey

2. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is arguably the most important Super Mario game since Super Mario 64 launched on the N64. I personally may not like it more than the incredible 3D World released on the Wii U, but Odyssey reinvents the series for a whole new generation.

What makes Odyssey special is that it isn’t so much a sandbox game as it is a toy box game. Instead of making a vast open world, the creators decided to make the levels in Odyssey smaller, but packed them with as many characters, puzzles, hidden secrets, call-backs, and various obstacles as could possibly fit. The whole game is basically structured like a giant playground, and the more time you spend messing around, the more likely you’ll be rewarded for it. Not since Super Mario 64 has a Mario platformer placed such a heavy emphasis on exploration, and boy is it ever fun running around these breathtakingly gorgeous, intricately designed levels that are oozing with style. Odyssey encourages players to explore every nook and cranny, and it helps that Mario now has Cappy to use as a standard throw attack. That possession power, embodied by Mario’s new sidekick, is what makes Odyssey stand out from every other entry in the series. It’s a brilliant idea that allows for dozens of additional playable characters, all with different powers, abilities, and ways of getting around. Professionally, Mario has always worn many hats, but in this game, he’s anything and everything he wants to be.

For every new idea Odyssey throws at you, this is also a game filled with nostalgia, and it’s worth noting just how many amazing references there are — both big and small — to the series’ past. You’ll encounter familiar characters, challenges, music cues, and more from past games, and there are even moments when Mario even transforms back into his 8-bit self! These 2D segments where Mario enters a warp pipe and is transported to a world that precisely recreates the 8-bit Super Mario Bros‘ mechanics and visual style may be the game’s biggest surprise, and sometimes it offers the hardest challenges. And for those of you who have finished the game, I’m sure you’ll agree that the New Donk City music festival, which recreates the stages from the original Donkey Kong, might be the biggest gaming highlight of the year.

The finale is a brilliantly executed sequence as well, letting Mario hop inside Bowser’s mind and body to rampage through a dying moon. That particular turn of events feels poetic and is an ingenious way to celebrate one of the longest running franchises in gaming. It’s also a testament to the sheer creativity underlying Odyssey that even after watching the credits roll, there’s so much left to discover. They say it’s all about the journey and not about the ending, but with Odyssey, the journey continues on. (Ricky D)

Best Nintendo Switch Games Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterclass in open-world design, a true watershed moment in gaming history. The result is nothing less than magical. It artfully blends the best bits of the franchise’s thirty-plus year history and produces a sandbox so full of mystery and so full of adventure that it could take you well over 200 hours to uncover most of its secrets. What we have here is the most ambitious title in the history of the franchise, an epic journey that quivers with anticipation, wonder, surprise, and excitement. It never gets old. It never gets tiring. There’s not a minute that goes by in which you’ll want to put down the controller, because Breath of the Wild keeps players constantly curious and fascinated by the world around them. There’s truly something unusually haunting and engrossing about the game, and whatever your opinion on the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is arguably one of the greatest games ever made.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced, and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, and simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brings a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s a landmark in video games such that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. In the end, however, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

PART 1  | PART 2  | PART 3

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‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.

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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.

Old Haunting Grounds

The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.

All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.

While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.

Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.

A New Era, a New Season

Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.

Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.

Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.

New Duds to Boot

Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Axe to Grind

Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.

Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.

A Better Destiny Awaits

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.

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What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?

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The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.

Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.


Sidebar Games

It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.

Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?

What Can We Expect?

Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.

Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.


Fabraz

Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.

Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.

What Can We Expect?

Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.


Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment

It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?

What Can We Expect?

A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.


Chucklefish

Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.

What Can We Expect?

Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.

Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.

Dating

One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.

My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.

World-Building

When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.

Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.


The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.

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‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different

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Death Stranding Slow Connectivity

Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found? 

About Death Stranding…

It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity. 

Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer. 

Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another. 

On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.

Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.

Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right? 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy. 

Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes. 

In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves. 

This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.

As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together. 

Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time. 

The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

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