Over the last 25 years, Nintendo consoles have traditionally been powered by their excellent catalog of first-party games, developed by the company’s in-house geniuses. But with the launch of the Nintendo Switch in 2017, the console became a must-have product for another reason: The Nintendo Switch has all of the best indie games, and it gets many of them first.
Part of the reason the Switch is such a great console for indie titles is that many of these games are equally suited for using the Switch in handheld or TV mode, which is why most people choose to buy them on the Switch over the PlayStation or Xbox consoles. This in turn has attracted all the hottest up and coming developers whose games are often bursting with original ideas and experiences which are belied by their somewhat lo-fi presentation.
But the best Nintendo Switch indie games absolutely stand up to their AAA counterparts, and a quick glance at any year-end list over the last decade will reveal these indies being held in the same high regard as big-budget games. Best of all, they’re way more affordable than games such as, say, Cyberpunk 2077 (which in its current state does not hold a flame to these titles). So even though we loved Breath of the Wild and other popular Nintendo Switch games as much as everyone else, we can’t resist the charms of indie titles like Untitled Goose Game.
With that in mind, we’ve put together our list of the top 10 indie games for the Nintendo Switch right now, and with so many excellent indies to choose from, narrowing this list down to 10 was a hand-wringing experience.
10. Untitled Goose Game
With a name that started as a joke and then stuck once fans latched onto it, Untitled Goose Game is one of the most unexpected successes Nintendo Switch indie games. Like the name suggests, you play as what the developers describe as a “horrible goose” whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc on the local townfolk. A sandbox puzzler of sorts, your ultimate goal is to make your way through the entire town by completing a checklist of tasks in each area to unlock the next one. But completing a task (which is always mischievous) generally requires you to strategically plan out a series of events that will lead to whatever outcome you desire. This game might be short and sweet, but it’s worthy of all the praise it receives.
9. Dead Cells
If you take one part Dark Souls, one part Castlevania and one part The Binding of Isaac, you will end up with Dead Cells, a 2D action-adventure platformer that features exploration, permadeath and a combat system with a combat system bordering on extreme. While there are other games before and after which have attempted to mix the metroidvania, roguelike, and soulslike genres together, few have done it as well as Dead Cells, and it’s the reason why it’s still one of the best indie games on the Nintendo Switch.
8. Hyper Light Drifter
If you ever wanted to play a 2D Zelda game with a little more edge and difficulty to it, Hyper Light Drifter is right up your alley. With a dark and pixelated style, you must work your way through dungeons and solve puzzles, much like you would in a Zelda game like A Link to the Past. But the speed of the gameplay is much faster and the enemies are much more difficult, with the combat sharing more similarities with Breath of the Wild. But this is no derivative work, and all of the different elements come together to give Hyper Light Drifter its own fresh feel.
Heavily inspired by the ‘90s SNES RPG Earthbound, Undertale is a gem of a game where you play as a kid who (somehow???) falls into the underworld and must find his way back to the surface. Aided by the infinitely meme-able Sans Undertale, players can complete the entire game without having to kill a single enemy, although the choice is always left up to the player and will affect the way the narrative unfolds. It’s this recurring decision that gives the game its unique flair, and one that spawned an entire internet culture war that is almost more memorable than the game itself. But despite Tumblr kids nearly ruining the game for everyone after prolonged drama over the “right way” and “wrong way” to play the game, the reputation of Undertale is still intact and it’s still one of the most beloved indie RPGs around.
6. Baba Is You
Stripped down to its most basic essence, Baba Is You is the act of computer programming turned into a video game. Sure you control an ambiguous, rabbit-like creature and push blocks around a dreary landscape, but if you’re at all familiar with any programming language, the rules and mechanics of this game will make sense right away. In any given puzzle there are words and objects fashioned as movable blocks, and when you combine them together into simple statements, it changes the rules and parameters you’re given to work with. For example, forming the statement “Baba Is Key” with the onscreen elements will allow you move as the key and unlock a door to complete the puzzle. As you move through the dozens and dozens of puzzles, they grow increasingly complex and challenging to the point where you find yourself overthinking the solution and realizing how simple the path to victory is. It’s a brilliant concept turned into a brilliant game and it’s easily the best indie puzzler available on the Switch.
5. Into The Breach
Into The Breach is a love letter to the turn-based strategy games of the ‘90s and ‘00s, such as Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics and Advance Wars, but it adds a twist by mashing it up with a roguelike and puzzle systems to create a tactics game that plays like nothing before it. The goal for each bite-sized map is not to defeat all the enemies, but outlast them for a set number of turns as you defend cities against their attacks. Enemies will telegraph their moves one turn ahead, and if the cities take too much damage, it’s a wrap for your run, and you’ll be forced to start from the very beginning. What makes this so addicting is that each map is meant to be cleared in a matter of minutes, and you can “beat” the game in 30 minutes if you’ve really mastered the gameplay. But you will die so much before you ever get to that point that you’ll easily spend 15 hours muttering “one more try” to yourself after you fall victim to the enemy Vek who are trying to take over the world.
If there is a recurring theme with many of the best indie games on the Nintendo Switch, it’s that they have an extremely high difficulty curve. Celeste is no different, but instead of having to defeat swarms of enemies or develop big brain strategies to succeed, your main objective with Celeste is to jump and dash your way to the next screen. It may sound simple in concept, but doing so requires so much skill, precision and ingenuity that you may find yourself wanting to chuck your switch against the wall after your 50th attempt to clear the screen. But mechanics aside, what really makes Celeste special is its story which tells the story of a girl attempting to climb a mystical mountain as she strives to overcome her feelings of anxiety, self-loathing and self-doubt. Combined with a lush soundtrack from composer Lena Raine, this is a game that is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.
3. Stardew Valley
If there’s a single game on this list that encapsulates the spirit of an indie game to the fullest extent, it’s Stardew Valley. Every single aspect of the game, from the art to the music to the gameplay to the story, was conceived of, designed, programmed and packaged together by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone over a period of four years. It has since gone on to become one of the biggest indie successes, selling millions of copies, releasing on virtually every major gaming platform and expanding on itself through a handful of major updates.
Taking heavy inspiration from the Harvest Moon farming RPGs from the 90s, Stardew Valley sees you playing as a burned-out city dweller who has moved to a small town where they’ve inherited their grandfather’s farm. Once you arrive, you must live off the land, which involves farming, fishing, ranching, mining and foraging, while forging platonic and romantic relationships with your fellow townsfolk. The twist is that you only have so much time and energy per day to complete your tasks, and only so many days in a season to harvest certain crops, so time management is as big a part of this game as resource management. But once you get a hang of the mechanics, it’s a chill and charming game that will linger in the back of your mind well after you’ve stopped playing it.
2. Hollow Knight
Don’t let the twee art style or $15 price tag fool you: Hollow Knight is an expertly designed masterpiece and tops many people’s lists when it comes to the best indie games on the Switch. Full of action-packed gameplay, captivating exploration and a moody, atmospheric world that sucks you in from the get go, this game combines elements from the metroidvania and soulslike genres. That’s all to say that you play as the bug skeleton attempting to restore the once great kingdom of Hallownest to its former glory by criss-crossing along the map, unlocking new areas as you defeat hard-as-nails bosses and gain new powerups in your quest to rid this once-great kingdom of “The Infection.”
One of the standout aspects of this game is its loadout system, which adds a layer of strategy and adaptation by letting you mix and match a finite number of the charm powerups you collect. Finding the right combination of charms can be the difference between victory and defeat during a boss fight. Furthermore, the storytelling is minimal but engrossing as the lore of Hallownest is slowly revealed to you by both the supporting characters and the environment itself. There are even multiple endings based on what you collect and accomplish before the final battle. If you decide to complete the game and its multiple expansion packs, there is well over 100 hours of gameplay to be had here which makes it an incredible value. But even if this were a 20-hour game, it would still be high up on this list. That’s how good it is.
From the second Hades landed on the Switch in October it was instantly pegged as everyone’s favorite game of the year. After essentially spending the last few years in early-access beta on the PC, developers Supergiant used that time to refine the game to near perfection, blending the fluid hack-and-slash dungeon crawling of Diablo with the roguelite structure of Enter the Gungeon. All of that is set up against the backdrop of Greek mythology, specifically the underworld.
In Hades, you play as Zagreus, son of the game’s namesake, and you are tasked with escaping the underworld against your father’s wishes. But doing so is anything but easy and you’ll have to hack and slash your way through dungeons full of ferocious enemies again and again…and again (because every time you die, you go back to the start). Fortunately, you’ll receive temporary powerups from the Greek Gods (who are also your relatives) and you can also buy permanent powerups with currency you earn during your runs, so the more you play, the better equipped you are to survive the grueling boss battles and make it out of the underworld. When combined with the witty dialogue, excellent voice acting and stylish art direction, it’s not hard to understand why everyone has fallen in love with this game and why it is currently the single best indie game available on the Nintendo Switch.
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