There are a lot of incredible videogames on the Nintendo Switch. It can be overwhelming trying to pick one out if you don’t already know what you’re looking for—doubly so for indie games, which don’t get mass advertising or a large presence in big box stores—and the eshop is little help in finding its hidden gems. With the Switch’s second anniversary a month away, let’s look at some of the standout indie titles released for the platform in that time.
Battle Chef Brigade
Trinket Studios/Adult Swim Games
It’s always a delight to play a videogame and say “wow, I’ve never played anything like this before.” What’s wonderful about the indie videogame sphere is we, the players, get to make that exclamation so much more often than in the AAA sphere. And no game on this list better encapsulates that feeling than Battle Chef Brigade: You’ve never played anything like this before.
Mina is a young woman living in a small village, chafing against her mundane life working in her family’s restaurant. She longs to join the Battle Chef Brigade, an elite force of chefs who hunt the biggest, meanest monsters in the world and use those monster’s parts to craft the boldest dishes. Finally, she steals money from her parents and runs away to enlist, becoming drawn into a conspiracy that threatens the tenuous balance between the allied races and the monsters they hunt for sport and sustenance.
Players compete in one-on-one, Iron Chef-style cooking duels against Mina’s fellow Battle Chefs, rising through the ranks by crafting custom dishes for an eclectic group of judges. Ingredients are obtained by hunting monsters in sidescrolling beat-em-up arenas; meals are cooked in a Match 3 puzzle game. Both halves of the game must be balanced simultaneously, hunting the needed ingredients, cooking them into a top-ranking dish, and delivering a completed plate to each duel’s judges before time runs out.
Battle Chef Brigade wasn’t the success that Trinket Studios hoped it would be. Do your part and enlist with the Brigade on Switch today.
Chucklefish Ltd/Concerned Ape
When indie videogames aren’t making players go “wow, I’ve never played anything like this before,” they’re instead making us go, “wow, I remember this, why don’t they make videogames like this anymore?” With its 16-bit inspired pixel graphics, customizable farming options, and a town full of layered non-player characters, Stardew Valley feels like the videogame Harvest Moon should have evolved into had the series not been derailed by intellectual property rights shenanigans.
Players begin Stardew Valley working in a cubicle farm for the colossal Joja Corporation. The job is unremarkable and interchangeable, and the player character is unfulfilled by it. When their grandfather died, he left them a letter, telling them to open it when they feel a need to change their life. That day has arrived, and the letter contains the deed to a farm in the titular valley. Players move in and begin to develop their farm, ingratiating themselves with their neighbors. . . or allying with the local JojaMart and working to undermine and take over the valley.
Like the classic Harvest Moon titles it imitates and builds upon, Stardew Valley’s strength lies in customization. Your broad goal is to create a successful new life in the valley, but how you go about that is up to you. Do you cultivate your property into a vegetable farm? You can do that. Maybe caring for cows, sheep, and chickens are more your speed? You can do that. Maybe you’d rather grow lots of fruit and create a winery and brewery. You can do that. Or you can ignore farming, becoming a master fisherman in the nearby lakes, rivers, and ocean shore. You can do that. Or find your riches battling the monsters in the nearby cave. You can do that! Find your significant other in the valley. . . or date everyone who will give you the time of day. You can do that, but be wary of when your suitors catch on. Maybe you’re distractible and want to do a little of everything. You can do that. Or sell out the town to the corporation you came here to escape from. But why would you do that!?
Stardew Valley has become a legendary indie success story, turning its one-man development team from a part-time cinema worker to an admired millionaire auteur, and the Switch version is one of the best ways to experience it.
Matt Makes Games Inc.
Madeline is a young woman who struggles with depression and anxiety attacks. But she refuses to let that stop her from proving her worth by climbing the titular mountain, Celeste. Players guide Madeline as she meets new friends, confronts ghosts and ancient curses, and overcomes her own fears and doubts to reach the summit of Celeste.
Expanded and reimagined from the Pico-8 platforming title of the same name by MattMakesGames, Celeste combines challenge and depth with accessibility. The default game is a difficult masocore-style platformer, but the included Assist Mode lets players adjust different aspects of the game to their liking. If your reaction times are too slow to nail a moving platform, you may turn down the game speed. If you need more time on a wall jump to determine your next move, you may activate Infinite Stamina. If you can’t cut a corner the mountain expects you to cut, you may increase the number of available Air Dashes. If all the spikes, blight, and fantastic enemies are too much to handle, you may activate Invincibility and stroll with impunity through the gauntlet. But for those looking for more challenge, Celeste hides even more difficult level variations in its most obscure corners.
Celeste is the best of all worlds: A challenging, smart platformer with affecting themes and the options to make the game approachable to any skill level interested. It is the best platformer on Switch, and one of the best of all time.
Red Hook Studios
$24.99 USD (Base)/$39.99 USD (Ancestral)
A gothic horror game that mixes dungeon crawling with strategy-RPG and management elements, Darkest Dungeon begins when the player is summoned to their ancestral home by a relative’s suicide note and charged with fighting back the monsters that have overrun the family estate.
Settling into the nearby hamlet, players recruit adventurers and send them on raids into the various wings of the property. Recruits that survive these raids return laden with experience and riches. The player must use these treasures to develop the town, upgrading recruits’ equipment and skills and providing amenities to reduce their stress levels. Caring for recruits is important, as an over-stressed one may turn on his comrades during a raid, and a weak one will be crushed by the estate’s deadlier enemies. The player must foster an army of adventurers from terrified newbie to fearless veteran, preparing for the ultimate confrontation with the ultimate evil deep in the heart of the Darkest Dungeon.
The base game includes five wings in the estate, while the Ancestral Edition adds two DLC wings. The Crimson Court introduces insectoid enemies who inhabit the Courtyard and infect the other wings with a vampiric plague until their queen is destroyed. The Color of Madness adds the Farmstead, where a meteorite has infected the farmhands with an alien plague that warps them into soldiers to make war on the Darkest Dungeon, with the player’s recruits caught in the middle.
A visually striking and iconically written strategy-RPG, Darkest Dungeon is difficult, dense, and sometimes overwhelming, and it’s the best dungeon crawler on Nintendo Switch.
Hollow Knight is yet another indie game that combines the solitude of Super Metroid with the character building mechanics of Dark Souls, and while these sorts of platformers are common in the Indie videogame sphere, Hollow Knight stands out for being tightly designed, gorgeously animated, and surprisingly huge.
When a diminutive bug-knight arrives in Dirtmouth, they learn that the town rests on the ruins of Hallownest, an ancient kingdom. Adventurous bugs used to travel into the ruins to discover treasure and resources, but fewer and fewer have returned, falling victim to a corruption that turns them into berserkers enslaved to a mysterious force. Armed with a sword-like nail, the Knight delves into the depths to investigate, exploring Hallownest and discovering the truth about the Knight’s own origins and the corruption which destroyed the ancient kingdom.
Often on sale for less than ten dollars, Hollow Knight is an astounding adventure-platformer that more than earns its place on this list.
These are the five Switch indie videogames which I feel every Switch owner should have. I admit that many of these titles aren’t friendly to new or younger players just getting started in videogaming. That’s another list I’ll have to make some day. But these are my opinions; please share your own!
Honorable Mentions: Dead Cells, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Slayaway Camp: Butcher’s Cut, Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, Enter The Gungeon, The End Is Nigh, SteamWorld Dig 2, Golf Story, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, Undertale, Crypt of the Necrodancer: Nintendo Switch Edition, Super Meat Boy, Into The Breach