If few thought that the Nintendo Switch would be the success it has become, fewer still thought it would be the indie powerhouse of the three major console brands. For decades Nintendo had an infamously poor relationship with third party developers, resulting in fewer and fewer third-party releases as their hardware became more and more out of step with their competitors. But it’s a fact that they have been making an effort to court independent developers for their Switch. Now when indie videogames appear on the eshop they often sell in higher quantities and at a quicker pace than any other platform, even industry trendsetter Steam.
It makes a certain amount of sense; indie videogames typically require less hardware power to run and often imitate genre classics that people played on Nintendo’s own consoles in the 1980s and 90s, making them especially suited for the Switch. The ability to play them portably makes them even more enticing. Of all the great indie videogames released on Switch in 2017, these are the five I call must-plays.
Battle Chef Brigade
Trinket Studios/Adult Swim Games
Battle Chef Brigade is about Mina, a young woman who chafes against her mundane life working in her family’s restaurant. She longs to join the Battle Chef Brigade, an elite force of warrior-chefs who hunt the biggest, meanest monsters in the world and use the monster’s parts to craft bold dishes. She steals money from her parents and runs away to enlist, then gets drawn into a conspiracy that threatens the tenuous balance between the allied races and the monsters they hunt for sport and sustenance.
I 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 side-scrolling beat-em-up arenas; meals are cooked in a Match 3 puzzle game. I must balance both halves simultaneously, hunting the needed ingredients, cooking them into a top-ranking dish, and delivering a unique plate that matches the demands of every participating judge before time runs out.
Battle Chef Brigade wasn’t the financial success that Trinket Studios hoped it would be. Do your part and enlist with the Brigade on Switch today.
Read my full review of Battle Chef Brigade here.
Chucklefish Ltd/Concerned Ape
Stardew Valley begins with its player character working in a cubicle farm for the colossal Joja Corporation. The job is unremarkable and interchangeable, and they are unfulfilled by it. Their grandfather left a letter when he died, 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. They move in and develop the rundown property into a thriving home while getting to know their new neighbors in Pelican Town.
Like the classic Harvest Moon titles it imitates and builds upon, Stardew Valley’s strength lies in customization. My broad goal is to create a successful new life in the valley, but there are a variety of paths to accomplish that ideal. I can cultivate the property into a vegetable farm. I can focus on livestock like cows and chickens, or other more unusual farm animals. I can grow lots of fruit and create a winery and brewery. I can ignore farming and become a master fisherman in the nearby lakes, rivers, and ocean shore. I can find my riches by delving into the nearby caves and battling the monsters inside. If I feel like taking the hard path, I can ignore my farm entirely and find all my profit by foraging for berries and mushrooms in the countryside. Personally, I am distractible with compulsive completionist tendencies so I end up doing a little bit of everything.
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.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is about how hard it is to be a good father to two hyperactive children when you’re also an octopus disguised as a human. I guide Octodad through levels based on mundane activities like grocery shopping and barbecuing in the backyard, each with a stealth twist. It’s not until a visit to the aquarium crosses his path with a vengeful chef that the masquerade is threatened. It’s up to Octodad to save his family and preserve his secret or lose the life he has built.
Octodad derives humor not just from its premise but from how I interact with its world. Each of Octodad’s limbs are assigned to specific buttons. Walking is not as simple as pressing a direction on the joystick. I must also lift and lower Octodad’s legs by pressing and releasing the left and right triggers. Even a simple task like climbing an escalator is turned into a hilarious exercise in precision and timing as I struggle to walk with intentionally awkward controls. The right joystick controls one of Octodad’s arms, which can telescope out and grab things with its suckers. Like walking, doing this with accuracy is deliberately awkward and much humor is found when grabbing an object sends everything near it flying in every direction.
Octodad has an absurd premise and knows it, but it doesn’t milk it for long. It can be finished in a few hours. What really sets it apart from other comedy physics games with purposefully weird controls is its story and its heart. Octodad, for all his deceptions and logical contradictions (how exactly does an octopus sire two human children?), is a committed and loving father and his videogame is worth a visit.
SteamWorld Dig 2
Image & Form Games/Thunderful Games
Image & Form Games’ SteamWorld franchise employs a variety of genres to portray the adventures of steam-powered robots in a region of space inspired by the United States’ Mythic West. There are several entries released across multiple series but the best of them all is the adventure-platformer SteamWorld Dig 2. I take control of Dorothy, a supporting character from the original SteamWorld Dig, as she explores the treacherous mines beneath the surface of El Machino in search of her friend Rusty. What she discovers there has long-lasting repercussions for their world as seen in SteamWorld Heist and Quest.
Most of SteamWorld Dig 2 is spent exploring subterranean mines, caves, and ruins by digging through walls made of dirt and stone with Dorothy’s pickaxe. Gold and precious gems found while digging can be exchanged in El Machino for upgrades to her pickaxe, giving her access to new areas when a new type of material becomes breakable. Dorothy also discovers ancient ruins that provide her upgrades like double-jumping and a grappling hook to increase her mobility, as well as the usual bevy of hidden collectibles.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is a typical indie adventure-platformer in its design, but the addition of the digging mechanic and emphasis on moving downward rather than up puts an interesting spin on convention.
Read my full review of SteamWorld Dig 2 here.
Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment
Yacht Club Games
$9.99 USD (Based)/$39.99 USD (Treasure Trove)
Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is the second bonus campaign created as a stretch goal for the original Shovel Knight Kickstarter campaign. It casts me as the enigmatic Specter Knight, a grim warrior wielding a scythe and suffering from a nasty case of undeath at the hands of the wicked Enchantress. He is offered a deal: Gather the mightiest warriors in the land under the Enchantress and he will be freed from the curse. Specter Knight sets out to forcibly recruit the Knights who will come to menace Shovel Knight in his campaign as the Order of No Quarter.
Unlike Plague of Shadows, Shovel Knight’s first bonus campaign, Specter of Torment radically reimagines the videogame. The world map is gone, replaced by a menacing tower with a magic mirror to travel between the different regions. Specter Knight’s levels are almost completely built from scratch to take advantage of his unique movement abilities, such as grinding along railings and propelling himself through the air by slashing through special targets or enemies. Specter Knight’s skill and agility contrasts well against Shovel Knight’s dogged stoicism and Plague Knight’s sprawling alchemical skillset.
Tragic and moody, Specter of Torment is pure retro platforming goodness and probably the height of the entire Shovel Knight collection which already sets the bar for indie retro platformers insurmountably high.
Honorable Mentions: Enter The Gungeon, The End Is Nigh, Golf Story, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+, Has-Been Heroes