Let’s get this out of the way first: I am a big fan of playing games on the Switch. The screen looks good, the joy-cons are surprisingly comfortable for their size, and it’s nice to transition seamlessly from handheld to the television. It’s simply a well-designed system. For Nintendo, one of the major shifts of this generation has been the consolidation of their home console and handheld systems. This is one of the big selling points of the Switch—customers don’t have to purchase two separate systems to play all of their games and Nintendo doesn’t have to split their development resources between developing games for a home console and a handheld. On paper, this sounds like a good thing. However, now that we are over three years into the lifespan of the Switch and this combined system generation, I’ve begun to miss the handheld games Nintendo used to make. I’m not necessarily just talking about games that are playable on a handheld system, technically Switch games meet that requirement. I’m talking about games that are designed and priced to be smaller experiences. I miss the handheld Nintendo games that used to be strange and unique. Sure, some of these were great, some were not-so-great, but the $30-40 asking price for these games meant that I could risk a few duds every now and then. There are a few exceptions to this on the Switch. Snipperclips, Boxboy! + Boxgirl!, and Tetris 99 come to mind, but most of the Nintendo games on the Switch are $60 home console-style games. Even the Wii U re-releases have pretty much all been priced at $60 upon release.
So what’s a person to play in-between the $60 releases? In my opinion, indie games have filled this void quite well. I think this has something to do with why indie games seem to be so successful on the Switch. It’s as if Nintendo has stepped aside and let indie developers take center stage for making these smaller experiences. Some of my favorite Switch memories have not only been finding new shrines in Breath of the Wild or unlocking characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate, but also:
The precise platforming of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Clearing just one more level in Celeste
The aha moment of solving a puzzle in Baba Is You
Ruining Minit by looking up the next step
Attempting to wrap my head around Into the Breach
Taking in the beautiful animation of Cuphead
The perfect pacing of Xeodrifter
Learning new trails and shortcuts in Lonely Mountains Downhill
Getting that futuristic puzzle feel from Crossniq
The quick, arcade-like fun of Downwell
A return to tactical excellence in Wargroove
And the calm exploration in A Short Hike
Although it’s easy to look back and wonder what type of smaller games Nintendo could be making now if they still had a dedicated handheld system, now we have so many more $5-20 games that cover so many genres, Switch owners can almost certainly find a game (or ten) that fits their tastes. One thing hasn’t changed though, you still have to risk a few duds before you find the gems.