The Nintendo Switch is now three years old. I know, three years already? Three years is a short amount of time when you’re having fun. It’s nice to sometimes just kick back and consider how far Nintendo as a company has come from the veritable dumpster fire that was the Wii U. Granted, the Wii U itself wasn’t a dumpster fire of a console by any means. People are still pining for games that came out on that ill-fated piece of hardware to be re-released on its much more well-regarded successor. Unfortunately for us, we have very little insight into how Nintendo works as a company, or even what’s coming down the line for the lovable home-handheld hybrid. Fortunately for you, however, in honour of the Switch’s third birthday, I’ve taken it upon myself to suggest a handful of games that I think every gamer should consider buying or at least taking a look into for the console. If you’ve been feeling Switched out lately and aren’t sure what to play, or even if you’ve just picked one up today and are having a hard time deciding what to buy, you should find something to like in at least one of these titles. And don’t worry, I’ll try to avoid the Breath of The Wilds and Super Smash Bros. Ultimates. We don’t want to be redundant, and those games are expensive. The titles I want to look at while receiving a favorable amount of attention around the times of their releases have unfortunately flown a little under the radar in my eyes. And so since one good turn deserves another, I’ll be doing my best to put these titles back on the map, and in the best-case scenario, on to your Home screen.
Upon booting it up for the first time, Hollow Knight greets the player with a beautifully sinister and haunting piano piece, instantly setting a tone and establishing the atmosphere that is so pervasive throughout the adventure. The world of Hollow Knight is one inhabited by anthropomorphic insects, and in it, you play the role of a mute warrior who, for reasons unknown, has found himself drawn to a long-dead and deserted kingdom. If you’re looking for a deep story with rich lore, Hollow Knight has that, but it definitely doesn’t give the player much to chew on in the beginning as far as narrative goes. Much like the genre-defining Super Metroid, the player is thrust into a world with hardly any narrative cues or tangible goals. Instead, you’ll come across shattered tablets that drip-feed the player interconnected bits of lore and an eclectic cast of characters that speak to you with an almost Shakespearean level of complexity. That’s fine, however, as the gameplay is where the focus lies for this one.
If you know me, you know that I absolutely adore metroidvanias. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction one gets from methodically peeling back the veil on an entire labyrinthine world; discovering its secrets, and slowly getting stronger. As you become more powerful, you become more versatile and can explore more effectively. Eventually, one falls into a comfortable loop of exploring, get lost, find an upgrade, repeat. If done well, it can be straight-up addictive, and in the case of Hollow Knight, it is done extremely well.
The spirit of exploration permeates every fibre of Hollow Knight’s being, and the atmosphere built into each. Every screen does a fine job at immersing the player in the slightly spooky, bug-infested world. Combat is equally important; bosses range from crazed mages that test the player’s endurance with bullet-hell attacks, to sword fights against singular foes that test patience and pattern recognition. Players will be switching back and forth between increasingly intricate levels of exploration and dynamic combat situations that require quick reflexes and cautious use of your various power-ups. Like many Metroidvania games, presentation is key. For me, the presentation determines whether or not I get hooked to uncovering the secrets of these worlds. In Hollow Knight, the sombre lore and presentation only add to the immersion. I totally recommend picking this one up if you’re the type of player that loves getting lost in vibrant, expressive, expertly crafted worlds with interesting characters, lore, and combat situations.
The clear inspiration that developer Chucklefish took from Nintendo’s dormant Advance Wars series is what drew me to WarGroove. This game is a strategic affair, wherein matches take place over a series of turns. Although very similar to Fire Emblem at a glance, the fundamental gameplay loop is very different. Rather than using a cast of super-powered anime heroes, players choose a singular commander from five different factions to start. Standard matches consist of managing your large army full of expendable units whilst constantly contesting the enemy for the properties that yield gold and, thus, allow for the production of even more units. The match ends when a player’s commander or home base is destroyed. Besides the careful management of resources against unit production, there are many other factors to consider in a given match. These factors include the terrain and how it affects unit movement, random weather conditions, the fog of war, and the tactical implementation of Grooves. These are a sort of super move that each commander has access to, which can change the tide of battle if used correctly. With all of these features combined, it is supremely satisfying when your plans to outmaneuver an equally skilled foe come to fruition.
The turn-based strategy game is everything fans could have wanted in a successor to Nintendo’s overlooked series. A gameplay loop that revolves around capturing property from your rivals as a means to fund the production of troops? Check. An eclectic cast of characters who all have their own superpowers that can change the flow of battle? Check. A diverse number of land, sea, and aerial units that allow players to approach combat situations from a variety of angles? Check. A charming 16-bit retro art style? Also, check. Developer Chucklefish pulled out all the stops when building a game that stayed true to the Advance Wars formula. However, the game sets itself apart when it deviates from that formula and adds its own features to the mix.
First, there is frankly, a staggering amount of content packed into this one little game. Several single-player modes and a robust multiplayer eco-system that revolves around creating, sharing, and playing against friends on user-created content, all blend into a package that is an absolute steal for the standard price. And it doesn’t hurt that Chucklefish is constantly listening to fan feedback and providing constant updates in the form of free DLC and content additions, even a year after release. If you find yourself unable to pull away from games like Into the Breach or Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I definitely recommend introducing WarGroove to round out your addiction.
The Messenger from developer Sabotage Studio is many things. Criminally overlooked is one of those things. It shares a lot of the elements that pushed titles like Shovel Knight into the limelight. The game features charming 8-bit graphics, tight and responsive gameplay, and an infectiously cool soundtrack. On the surface, The Messenger is just another homage to the game that inspired the punishing 8-bit trend, Ninja Gaiden. Beneath that veneer, however, is so much more.
For one, there is an actual narrative of which I won’t give too much away. You play as “The Messenger,” a ninja from an unknown village, tasked with delivering a scroll to the highest peak. That’s all it is on the surface, but the plot ends up taking some sick twists and turns; by the time I reached the final level, I was totally invested. This is, of course, in addition to being absolutely enraptured by the superb gameplay.
The Messenger pulls its formula straight out of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Throughout the different stages, players will use their arsenal of ninja tools and raw platforming skills to navigate the complex and fun level design, dispatching enemies, and bosses along the way. Death-defying is the word that I would use to describe platforming in The Messenger. Entire screens are dedicated to the player using everything in their arsenal to descend safely into spike-rimmed pits and navigate across seemingly endless ravines. The game teaches you about each and every movement and combat option available, so combat and platforming feel appropriately challenging, but never unfair. Encountering these areas will have you saying, “How the hell am I gonna do that?” When you actually do figure the trick out, you’ll say to yourself, “I can’t believe I did that; I am a platforming god.” It’s just really exhilarating. Around the halfway point, the game also throws you a curveball in the form of an incredibly awesome and fun time travelling mechanic. Players will need to identify and utilize this new wrinkle to progress through the story and find collectibles and upgrades. The introduction of this mechanic changes the gameplay up in a way that I won’t spoil, but it’s probably the biggest reason this game made the list. You owe it to yourself to check out The Messenger if you find yourself drawn to classically challenging platformers like Shantae and Shovel Knight.
Try at least one!
There are thousands of games available on the Switch, but these three made the biggest impressions on me. The unique and engaging gameplay of all three titles combined with the staggering amount of value for the price of entry (all three games have a substantial amount of free DLC) contributed to me sinking hundreds of hours into each. I definitely recommend trying one of these out if you’re at a loss for where to go next in your Switch journey.
What are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below!