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—especially for indie videogames, which don’t get huge advertising campaigns 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 its sophomore year.
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 mountain, Celeste. I guide Madeline up the treacherous peak 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 platformer of the same name by Matt Makes Games, Celeste combines challenge and depth with accessibility. The default videogame is a difficult masocore-style platformer, but the included Assist Mode lets me adjust different aspects to my liking. If my reaction times are too slow to nail a moving platform, I may turn down the game speed. If I need more time on a wall jump to determine my next move, I may activate Infinite Stamina. If I can’t cut a corner the mountain expects me to cut, I may increase the number of available Air Dashes. If all the spikes, blight, and fantastic enemies are too much to handle, I may activate Invincibility and stroll with impunity through the gauntlet. But when I’m ready 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, memorable characters, and the options to make itself 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)
Darkest Dungeon is a gothic horror videogame that mixes dungeon crawling with strategy-RPG and management elements. It begins when the player character is summoned to their ancestral home by a relative’s final letter and charged with fighting back the monsters that have overrun the family estate.
Settling into the nearby hamlet, I recruit adventurers and send them on raids into the various wings of the property. Adventurers that survive these raids return laden with experience and riches. I must use these treasures to develop the town, upgrading adventurers’ equipment and skills and providing amenities to reduce their stress levels. Caring for them is important, as an over-stressed adventurer may turn on his comrades during a raid, and a weak one will be crushed by the estate’s deadlier enemies. I must foster a host of recruits from terrified newbie to fearless veteran in preparation for the final confrontation with the ultimate evil deep in the heart of the Darkest Dungeon.
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 search for resources and treasure but now they fall victim to a corruption that turns them into berserkers enslaved to a mysterious force. Armed with a sword-like nail, the Knight delves into Hallownest’s depths to discover the truth about the corruption which destroyed an ancient kingdom.
A surprisingly massive game for its price point, Hollow Knight is an astounding adventure-platformer that more than earns its place on this list.
Read my full Hollow Knight review here.
Dead Cells is an action platformer about a sentient ball of goo that possesses a beheaded body and sets out to explore a prison island that has been overrun by men, demons, and beasts driven into a feral bloodlust. By fighting off these foes I can guide the player character to uncover the island’s secrets, revealing the story of a flawed king and his attempts to stop a plague in his kingdom. Maybe by finding the king, the goo can find some explanation for its existence, but the island is treacherous and its inhabitants deadly. Luckily, after each body’s strength has been spent, the goo can slither back to the executioner’s block where a seemingly endless supply of beheaded corpses wait to be possessed.
Dead Cells’ main conceit is bringing adventure-platformer progression to the familiar procedurally generated action genre. When the player character dies, they drop all of their equipment and pickups . . . except for the rare runes hidden in some areas of the island which grant permanent abilities to the player character. On the first attempt, the protagonist cannot interact with any alternate paths and I must follow the straight path forward. But with more runes discovered, ladders of ivy can be grown leading to a sewer, or teleporters can be activated leading to a sepulcher. The final destination is always the same, but the number of paths leading there and the rewards earned along the way change as I explore more and more of the island.
Dead Cells is a furiously difficult action videogame that punishes button mashing and rewards patience, precision, and knowledge. These types of indies are a dime a dozen, especially on Switch, but the unique combination of crafted alternate paths in ever-shifting procedurally generated worlds gives it an identity of its own.
Undertale is an RPG that challenges the conventions of its genre, creating a videogame about the consequences of behaving or not behaving like a typical RPG protagonist. It tells the story of a young child who wakes up in a cave and must find their way home. The cave is also the entrance to a kingdom of monsters. How the child interacts with these monsters determines what direction the story will go next. They can destroy everything in their way, ultimately committing genocide against the monsters they encounter, or else show mercy and befriend the monsters instead.
If I play Undertale like a normal RPG by attacking and killing everything I encounter, it’s a pushover of a videogame as the child grows to such strength that nothing they encounter can stand before them. This also results in a boring and terrible story where everybody dies and nobody gets what they want. But if I defy RPG norms and refuse to fight or kill anything that gets in the child’s way, the story becomes more nuanced and the real truth of what’s happening in the monster kingdom comes to light. But this is also the harder path. By not gorging my player character on easy experience points from fallen monsters, they have much fewer hit points to survive enemy attacks which grow stronger and more elaborate the closer to the end I come. Completing Undertale while attaining its peaceful ending is an act of true skill.
It was difficult to follow videogames in the mid-2010s and not hear about Undertale, but the hype is well-deserved. It’s a thoughtful, hilarious, and entertaining videogame that has a lot to say about the actions we take for granted in the medium.
Honorable Mentions: Slayaway Camp: Butcher’s Cut, Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, Undertale, Crypt of the Necrodancer: Nintendo Switch Edition, Super Meat Boy, Into The Breach, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, Guacamelee! 2