There are a bunch of indie games newly coming to the Switch, including the Microsoft-published Ori and the Blind Forest, which will be coming to the platform on September 27, Nintendo announced in its “Indie World Showcase.”
It will join Cuphead, which released on Switch earlier this year and was also previously a console exclusive on Xbox One. But there was a lot of other info on a variety of games crammed into Nintendo’s 20-minute “Indie World” stream, so let’s break it down.
The time-slowing first-person shooter Superhot that mixes puzzle solving with bullets will be out later today.
Both Hotline Miami games are finally coming to Switch by way of the Hotline Miami Collection.
Risk of Rain 2, a really fun co-op roguelike, came out of Early Access on PC earlier this year and will hit Switch sometime in the next month.
The Diablo-like game from 2012, Torchlight II, comes to Switch on September 3.
Creature in the Well, the dungeon-crawler with pinball mechanics, is coming to Switch on September 6.
Out This Fall
Freedom Finger, a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up where you steal enemies’ weapons to use against them, is out this fall.
The gruesome side-scrolling action game Blasphemous comes out September 10.
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition will make the jump over to Switch on September 27.
Previously unannounced, The Touryst is a voxel puzzle adventure game that looks reminiscent of Star Tropics. It’s coming to Switch sometime in November.
Comedic hack ’n slash Skellboy lets you swap out body parts in addition to equipment and is outDecember 3.
Munchkin: Quacked Quest is a party game where you try to survive a dungeon by undermining your friends. It will arrive sometime before the end of the fall.
Northgard is a viking strategy game that comes to Switch on September 26.
The cooperative fantasy puzzle game Trine 4 will bring whimsical problem solving to Switch on October 8.
One Finger Death Punch 2 is a minimalist fighting game that will be out on December 2.
Sparklite is a pretty-looking top-down action role-playing game that looks heavily inspired by Zelda and will be out sometime this fall.
Cat Quest II is also coming to Switch this fall because the cats clearly didn’t take care of business the first time around.
Sometime This Winter
EarthNight is a side-scrolling platformer where you can fly and run along the backs of dragons while listening to a chiptune-inspired soundtrack that’s coming out sometime before the end of the year.
Close to the Sun is a first-person horror game, while Kine is a comic-book-looking physics puzzler, both of which are due out before the end of the year.
Röki is an atmospheric game that takes place in the snow among both friendly and menacing creatures, which is fitting since it’s set to release sometime over the winter.
Youropa is a 3D puzzle platformer where you seemingly play as a delightful little person with a blob for a head. They’re protected by paint, though, and they die if it gets scraped off from falling too much.
Hypercharge: Unboxed is a co-op shooter where you take control of toy soldiers and pretend to be plastic badasses, sort of like the Army Men games.
What The Golf? is the golfing game for people who actually can’t stand it, like Putt-Putt on drugs.
Dungeon Defenders Awakened is a spin-off of the first game, which was absolutely wonderful and deserved better than its ill-fated, already-released sequel. It will be a timed console exclusive when it comes to Switch in February.
Do you want to pet the dog? Of course you want to pet the dog. Best Friend Forever will let you pet all the dogs when it comes to Switch on February 14, 2020.
Sometime In 2020
Eastward is a new game being published by Chucklefish that has the looks as pixelated and beautiful as you’d expect.
Skater XL currently in Early Access on PC, where it’s had a mixed reception. We’ll see how it ends up looking on the Switch when it comes there next year.
The boat-making exploration game Spiritfarer is planned to arrive sometime next spring.
Phogs! is colorful and adorable and you play as a double-ended dog. It’s also slated to arrive in the first half of 2020.
On May 22, app developer and game publisher Panic announced a new gaming handheld called Playdate that quickly became a mini-sensation online. Playdate is also the name used by a small, yearly indie showcase for experimental games, the 2019 edition of which took place just a few days later. The back-and-forth over the name “Playdate” has sparked an ongoing discussion about which parts of the indie game space get to be successful, and how those spoils are shared.
This week, one of the organizers of the Playdate event, Nathalie Lawhead, wrote a blog post criticizing Panic for, in her words, “basically telling us we can’t use the name anymore because it would be a shame if our event got confused with what they are doing.” After being contacted by Panic cofounder Cabel Sasser in 2018, the event organizers changed its name to “Playdate Pop Up” in January of this year. “I didn’t perceive [the email] as leaving us much of a choice,” Lawhead told Kotaku.
“We’ve been calling ourselves Playdate for years,” Lawhead wrote. “An event like Playdate (us, proper) is hardly a threat to Playdate (game-toy),” she wrote. “We are literally the culture that your advertising is supposedly touting (‘weird’, experimental). You come in, take these ideas, mentalities, philosophies, register it, own it, and bully the people that broke that ground for you.”
Lawhead’s post prompted Panic’s Sasser to respond on Twitter with a copy of his original email to the event organizers. In the email, dated May 29, 2018, Sasser wrote that Panic had been working on the Playdate hardware since 2014 and that the company had already registered the trademark for the name.
“When our dumb thing launches, I feel there’s a very real possibility people will start confusing your thing with our thing, and that will be really annoying for your thing,” the email read in part. “So ideally, I think it’d be best if your Playdate either tweaked [its] name (i.e. always ‘The Playdate Game Show’ or something more unique) or otherwise came up with a totally different and unique name. And if we decided that was a good solution, I would make sure we compensate you in some way for your time and the pain in the ass factor.”
As it turned out, the message that Panic intended to send and the message that the Playdate event organizers read were quite different. “My intention was always to find a way for our Playdates to co-exist joyfully,” Sasser wrote this week on Twitter. “I was worried we would overshadow yours. That sounded entitled—I’m sorry. I thought your idea to add ‘pop up’ was great, but we remain fine with you using the name Playdate. Please, keep using it.”
While Sasser’s response on Twitter helped put to bed the question of whether Panic would try to enforce its trademark against the Playdate event, Lawhead’s blog post and the remarks of her fellow event organizers have also prompted Panic to address ways that the popularity of Playdate the device can be shared with the larger experimental game development community.
Panic describes the Playdate, a miniature, lemon-yellow gaming device with a black and white screen and a hand-crank, as “something that adds a little brightness to your life.” The $150 device includes a “season” of 12 games that will be delivered digitally over a period of time, created by designers like Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy), Bennett Foddy (Getting Over It), and Zach Gage (Sage Solitaire).
The notable names attached to the project are a big part of the excitement around it, but also one of the points of criticism surrounding the console. “The lineup for Playdate’s first ‘season’ of 12 games and the people who made them are meant to be a surprise, but the roster of exciting creators released to tease us is pretty white, and exclusively male,” wrote Kotaku’s Josh Rivera. “And while the presence of odd-game maestro Keita Takahashi has me crossing my fingers that the rest of the roster will balance that out, that’s a shame.”
Kotaku reached out to Panic to ask if Playdate’s first season of games will include any work by women. “Yes,” a spokesperson Panic said in an email. “And queer/trans/enby people are represented in season one as well. But while we worked hard on this, it’s still not enough.” The spokesperson said that game developers, especially those in “any underrepresented group,” should get in touch with Panic about making Playdate games.
In the face of the discussion and criticism around Playdate by some in the indie developer community, Sasser discussed other ways that the device might be a tool for helping struggling game designers. Playdate’s software development kit (SDK) will be open to the public, for example, making it possible for people to side-load their own weird games and projects. In addition, Sasser said on Twitter that the company was exploring ways to set up a scholarship program that would be partially funded by Panic, and partially funded by a pay-what-you-want slider built into the Playdate software development kit.
“We think this is Panic’s obligation to fund and pursue this,” the Panic spokesperson said.
EMi Spicer, another one of the Playdate event’s organizers, told Kotaku in an email that while Sasser’s proposals all sound good to her, it’s too early in the discussions to comment on them further. “Right now we just feel it’s important for us to both stand up for ourselves while keeping these conversations civil and try to reach a better path forward than how this has gone so far,” she said.
Koral is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle game where you control a water current that moves under the ocean, swimming amongst the diverse sea life and bestowing healing energy to coral reefs. It’s a simple game with a series of elegant puzzles that move at a slow, smooth pace.
Watch the video I put together to marvel at the game’s beauty or read the script down below:
The only method of input is an analogue stick, or the WASD keys on a keyboard. I played it using an Xbox One controller on PC.
I love the commitment to simplicity at play here. Puzzles usually amount to collecting glowing energy from plant life and carrying it to various reefs to restore life. Doing so lights up the world in ways that never failed to make my eyes widen and send chills down my spine.
The game takes cues from other indie titles like Journey or Abzu, but the simple yet effective art style helps give it its own identity. Koral cleverly disguises levers and moving platforms as sea life or large chunks of rocks that open up new areas with new puzzles.
Each area is usually designated by larger one-way currents or walls of pollution that clear up to let you advance. Some areas even have Finding Nemo-style currents that shoot you through a tunnel.
The game gets a little trickier once it introduces timed collectables that must be gathered in order, similar to the red coins in a Mario game. Part of the process involves plotting the right course so it can be done in the limited amount of time you have. Some of these sections felt a little clunky, but I never got stuck.
Koral is definitely a game you can breeze through in one sitting. I spent a little over 2 hours from start to finish, but there were also one or two areas that had some optional collectables.
Collectables in the game are pretty fascinating. There isn’t much to them outside of a glowing orb of light. But once you pass through them, the game shows you a bit of information on screen that gives you some insight on sea life or the impact that humans have on these underwater ecosystems.
As someone who binged through Our Planet on Netflix recently and can’t help but be reminded every day of the impact that climate change is having on the world around us, seeing a virtual representation of it was moving. The game’s store description says Koral is a love letter to the ocean, but it’s one that carries a sincere message to the player. Swimming through polluted water full of plastic or seeing the effects of dynamite fishing is heartbreaking.
The game’s designer, Carlos Coronado, put together a video about its development, which involved a boat trip between Carlos and a handful of friends and collaborators as they sailed along the coast of Catalonia, Spain. The game was actually developed on the boat, with Carlos and crew diving into the water to get reference shots of coral reefs, animals and even granular things like new eco-friendly buoy systems. It’s refreshing to see a developer actually post a lot about their process and bare human concerns about their project. Especially when that process seemed like such a fun time and one that was full of a good amount of rest and relaxation.
Koral takes a super simple concept and paints a loving tribute to the biodiversity of the ocean. It reminds us why it’s so crucial for us to take notice and save what we can while there is still time.
Koral is available on Steam for Windows and Switch.
In the new indie game File://maniac, there’s a killer on the loose. Your job is to hunt them down. But instead of sneaking through dialog trees or picking up clues, you’re opening folders and deleting files on your PC.
File://maniac, which came out last weekend for PC, Mac, and Linux, was created by Italian developers at Born Frustrated Studios and started as a project for the Global Game Jam, an annual event where developers have a weekend to make a game. In order to solve puzzles in File://maniac, you need to make changes to the game’s files on your actual computer. Getting rid of a locked door might require placing the door’s files in your recycling bin. Finding the password to a lock means opening up a handful of notebook files and searching until you find the code. It’s a different sort of puzzle solving, one that encourages the player to be aware of the game world’s artificiality. Games are just bundles of files, code, and assets. File://maniac doesn’t give you free reign to mess with everything and there are set puzzle solutions, but playing around with the actual game files creates a fun mixture of puzzling and “exploration” as you poke around folders and directories.
There are games with similar conceits. 2016’s Quadrilateral Cowboyis a heist game where players need to do on the fly coding to create solutions and bypass obstacles. Subserial Network requires player to browse a fake internet and open real files to hunt down androids. File://maniac never gets quite as complex as those games, thanks in part to a hint system that tells you what to do whenever you reach a puzzle. It’s never too detailed—a request to move a file, hints that you need a copy—but it undercuts the brain teasing somewhat. File://maniac compensates with style. The world is moody and slowly watching your directory fill up with messages from the killer creates a sense that you’re being watched. There’s a lot of tension, as if one mistake could lead to disaster.
File://maniac is short but that’s in service of a larger mystery. Playing through the first fifteen minutes of puzzles leads to the revelation that you’re stuck in a loop. The game itself becomes an even bigger puzzle, a massive lock box that you need to break. File://maniac’s developers have said they want to add more episodes and more puzzles. For the moment, there’s not too much, but it’s a fun experiment in game design worth opening up your directory for.
I spent the weekend at PAX East, and while I didn’t play nearly all of the games I wanted to, I got to play quite a lot and even discovered a few I’d never heard of that I’m now extremely excited about.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of them, which is still only a fraction of what was there.
Cyber Shadow (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Retro action platformer with a beautiful faux-8-bit art style; the game’s developers told me the game takes its cues Castlevania and Contra. It feels like we get at least one standout version of this type of game every year at this point, and Cyber Shadow looks to be the next one of these. If I could only play just one other ninja game this year, I’d want it to be Cyber Shadow.
Silver Chains (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Adventure horror game that has you exploring a creepy old house seemingly haunted by your dead mom and sister. There’s a lot of contrast between light and shadow; the lamp you hold changes the look and feel of the rooms as you move through them. Too scary for me, but some of the best hardwood floors I’ve ever seen in a game. Only crashed on me once.
Vambrace: Cold Soul (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, April 25)
Looks like a clone of Darkest Dungeon with anime vibes, but its developers told me the game is heavily inspired by FTL: Faster Than Light. The goal is to get through dungeons before various meters run down, with every new room you enter taking its toll on you. Unlike Darkest Dungeon, there’s much less grinding, with overall progression pinned to collecting pieces of armor rather than experience points. Hallelujah.
Colt Canyon (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Twin-stick shooter in which you play as a minimally-pixelated person in a cowboy hat and poncho searching for their loved one by painting the desert red. With blood, of course. It’s a roguelike, so the map is procedurally generated. While the controls were snappy, the map felt a little boring to explore. Great pixel-splatter effects, though.
Dead End Job (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
A ’90s mashup of pop culture references and proletariat drudgery. The art style and humor have the feel of Ren & Stimpy,while the premise is basically Ghostbusters in an office complex. You explore these white collar dungeons by going room to room, killing various creatures, then hoovering up their ghosts to gain XP and earn new abilities. It’s another roguelike, and while the Office Space vibes weren’t doing it for me, the Saturday morning cartoon look makes it a nice, more colorful analogue to The Binding of Isaac. Also Clippy, Microsoft’s troubleshooting paperclip, is one of the bosses, ’cause why not?
N1RV Ann-A (Switch, PS4, PC, 2020)
It’s the sequel to VA-11 HALL-A, but with a bigger selection of spirits to choose from. You pour drinks for customers and then see what pours out of their mouth, like a visual novel where you color in the pages with booze. Very much looking forward to this game. Hopefully it comes to Vita. (It’s not coming to Vita).
Project Downfall (Switch, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
The developers described this one as Hotline Miami transformed into an old school first-person shooter. The art style was definitely cool, but the movement made me queasy, so I stopped playing after only a few minutes. But with a controller in my hand and the sensitivity turned down it looked like it would be great nightmare fuel.
World of Horror (Switch, PS4, PC, 2019)
The world is coming to an end as evil spirits begin to take over. Part visual novel and part role-playing adventure game, it reminded me of the first Mother game, Earthbound’s predecessor, refracted through the lens of a Japanese occult horror flick. I was supposed to complete a magic ritual in my character’s school to banish evil, but I ended up in a fight with a weird squid women who tore my head off.
Windjammers 2 (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
I wrote about Windjammers 2 over the weekend. I’m excited for it to fill the casual sports game hole left by Rocket League (which I still love but don’t play as much anymore). It’s like if the characters from Running Man decided to quit killing one another and go on holiday in 1960s Marseille and play beach volleyball with a frisbee until the sun went down. I was not in the film Running Man, have never been to Marseille, and did not grow up in the ’60s, but 30 minutes with Windjammers 2 made me feel like I’d done all those things.
Samurai Shodown (PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019, Switch, TBD)
Another classic series is getting rebooted, and it’s a fighting game at that. The developers kicked my ass, but I was still able to appreciate the game’s emphasis on being patient and waiting to exploit openings rather than just try to aggressively bang out combos nonstop. The visuals look okay most of the time, but they get especially gorgeous during scene animations and special attacks, during which everything on screen feels like it’s painted on a scroll and fluttering in the wind. In those moments, it reminded me of Okami.
Creature in the Well (Switch, Summer)
One of my favorite games of the show. It was first revealed during Nintendo’s recent Nindies showcase, where we learned it would mix together overhead dungeon-crawling with pinball. I got to explore several rooms, came across some interesting puzzles, and almost beat a really fun boss, all by knocking projectiles around a room with a sword. The gameplay is clever, it looks amazing, and there’s just enough background world-building to imbue everything with a sense of foreboding and mystery.
WRATH: Aeon of Ruin (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
I’m terrible at old-school first-person shooters, but that didn’t keep me from appreciating the artistry and retro appeal of WRATH. It’s built in the original Quake engine, and as a result, it moves and controls incredibly fast, but the focus is on swapping through your arsenal for the most effective tool for the job at any given moment. You can fly through levels and unload ammo onto skeletons, demons, and aliens, but the point is to approach each encounter effectively and efficiently, rather than through pure aggression. Hands down the most responsive game I played at PAX East.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes (PS4, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
The studio that made one of 2017’s best games is bringing it back for a tactics spin-off. It’s still very early, so some of the assets were borrowed wholesale from Divinity 2 and parts of the UI were incomplete. Still, the level I played was enough to grock what Larian Studios is trying to do, which is: dive deeper into some of the series’ systems and world by focusing on discrete battles connected by a choice-driven narrative. Everything, from units to items, can be acquired through completing objectives and advancing the story based on particular choices, so there’s no grinding. Instead of overpowering enemies, the point is to outsmart them by weaving together a complex cascade of elemental attacks and effects based on each unique environment. I’m really excited for this one.
Panzer Paladin (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
I had no idea Tribute Games, the small indie studio behind Mercenary Kings and, most recently, Flinthook, was working on something new until I stumbled upon Panzer Paladin on the showfloor. You play as a warrior piloting a mech suit and explore 8-bit inspired side-scrolling dungeons full of enemies that look like they came straight out of Zelda II. Throughout this process, you pick up tons of weapons that can be wielded, thrown, or even broken to release special magic attacks. In the short time that I messed around with this mechanic, my imagination lit up with all the interesting possibilities for making a retro-Zelda game play more like Mega Man.
Aye Captain (TBD)
You’re a pirate commanding a small galleon on the high seas, which are ruled over by a malevolent empire. Everything is procedurally generated, with a map that can be explored in real time from an overhead camera angle. You swap into tactics gameplay whenever you run into another ship and decide you want to kill its crew and take everything they’ve got. Before every encounter, you take part in a short conversation during which you can choose whether to try and escape if the enemy is too strong, bombard them with your cannons first, or negotiate with them for mutual gain. I’m not big on the art style, which is just a hair away from going full-blown Captain Crunch at times, but the role-playing systems and tactical gameplay all felt deep and well thought-out.
Indie games make up a crucial and vibrant part of the Switch’s great library of games, as evidenced by yesterday’s Nindies showcase. At the Game Developers Conference event today, Nintendo shared which indie games have sold best on Switch up until now. While many of them are familiar faces, like Stardew Valley, a few new games have crept onto the list, including Overcooked 2.
Here, in no particular order, are the Switch’s current all-time best selling indie games:
Enter the Gungeon
Graceful Explosion Machine
We don’t know how many units each sold, or how they rank relative to one another, but we can compare it to last year’s list and see what changed. In addition to Hollow Knight joining the list, Dead Cells, Graceful Explosion Machine, Overcooked 2, and Undertale also made the cut.
Meanwhile, games that have fallen off the list include Kamiko, Fast RMX, NBA Playgrounds, SteamWorld Dig 2, and Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Yacht Club Games announced last April that Shovel Knight had at that point sold 370,000 copies on Switch. In light of that, it’s impressive that Undertale was able to overtake it, making it the oldest game on the list, having first released on PC back in 2015.
It’s also impressive to see indie studio Ghost Town Games snag not just one but two separate spots with its Overcooked series, which, according to Switch owners, is pretty well-done.
At the beginning of the year, GDC released the results of its 2018 survey, part of which showed that over half of respondents who released games on multiple platforms saw those games sell as well or better on Switch as on other platforms. Even if the Switch’s eShop is still a bit of a mess, it’s clear that hasn’t stopped a number of indie games from being able to find a lot of success there.
JumpGrid is a mix of bullet-hell dodging, Pac-Man and teleportation. Which might sound like a weird combo, but the mix of fast muscle memory gameplay, puzzle solving and colorful art is really fun and unlike any game I’ve played in recent memory.
In JumpGrid, players control a small ship that can teleport to different fixed points. Each level challenges the player to collect tokens that are spread across some of these fixed points, while dodging different shapes that inhabit these colorful levels.
These shapes are deadly. Touch one of them, even slightly and you instantly pop out of existence. Luckily, the little ship you control can teleport through these shapes and other obstacles. Screw up the timing of when to move and you could teleport into one of these deadly shapes, which kills your little playable object.
It’s a simple setup that takes only a few minutes to fully understand. JumpGrid is one those games where you’ll have a few “Ohhh” epiphany moments.
A good example of this is found in one of the early levels. The level looked impossible. I was entirely surrounded by shapes. How was I supposed to beat this level? In desperation, I moved into a direction and to my surprise I was alive. I had learned I could teleport through objects and without a tutorial pop up. Instead, JumpGrid uses smart level design to help teach the player how to play and what to do next.
“I was interested in exploring teleportation as the primary movement in an action game,” said Ian MacLarty. “It seemed like something that hadn’t been explored all that much and had potential.”
An early prototype of JumpGrid was a more traditional top-down shooter with the ability to teleport your ship wherever your cursor was. Managing a ship’s location, enemies, shooting and dodging proved to be a bit too tricky for players to wrap their head around
“Jumpgrid evolved out of the idea to instead have multiple dash points at fixed offsets from the player ship,” explained MacLarty. This meant players would have less to worry about and could focus more on moving and dodging.
The fixed points help make moving less about small and intricate movements, instead I was focused on timing and dodging. You can even get so comfortable with a level and its obstacles that you stop always looking where your ship is and blindly hit your fixed points based on timing of obstacles.
One other wrinkle that JumpGrid has is that players can dart off screen and end up on the opposite side, like in Pac-Man. This becomes a key part of solving later puzzles and would often break my brain a bit. Having to go left to go right isn’t something I’m used to doing at high speed. Eventually I got the hang of it, after dying a lot.
JumpGrid is a fast little game with some gorgeous visuals and a snappy movement mechanic. At times playing JumpGrid felt like it was melting my brain, but in a good way.
Just a heads up: Some of the levels have bright flashing colors that cover the entire screen.
JumpGrid is coming out Febuary 12 on Steam, Itch.io and the Mac App Store. It will cost $5.
Bad Vibes is a colorful first person shooter that is a feast for the senses. Sometimes all you want to do is shoot some baddies and work through some negative feelings. What better way to do that then with some magic orbs and trippy sights?
Bad Vibes, created by pfail, has been out since 2017 and has received a few updates since then. The concept is simple: you’re in a maze and need to survive. That means avoiding aliens and acid pits while looking for a few colorful stickers that will chase away your bad vibes. Bad Vibes describes itself as “pure shooter madness, the way it was intended to be,” and it does a good job capturing the straightforward experience of early first person games. Why are there monsters? Why am I so engrossed in this? All I know is, I really want to have a high score.
Shooters are a dime a dozen these days, so Bad Vibes compensates for that with a bright style that is somewhere between MS-DOS and someone’s nightmare scribblings. The result is that Bad Vibes works incredibly well as a sensory experience. Its mixture of chirpy bloops and techno beats with its alternative hot and cold colors makes it easy to immerse yourself in the raw experience. I recommend booting Bad Vibes up for a ten minute shootfest to let off some steam.