You got a Nintendo gift card for the holiday and don’t know what to do with it? Let’s face it – the Nintendo eShop is a mess, so let someone with a meticulously curated wishlist and an obsessive habit of refreshing the “new releases” list guide you on how to spend that Mario Money.
I’ll be discussing eShop-only games specifically, meaning mostly games by independent designers or small publishers for this article.
Crazy Sneaky FunUntitled Goose Game is a most unusual stealth-based puzzle game. As a horrible goose, you’ll wander into a small English town to harass the people; stealing their garden tools, breaking dishes, and fraying neighborly relationships. Charming art, soothing music, and lots of humorous mischief.
Running, Jumping, Climbing, Fighting
Switch is a great system for 2D and retro-styled platforming games. You’ll find a lot of this in the indie development space. Most are throwbacks not only in design, but in complexity and difficulty as well.Celeste is a game of jumping puzzles. Madeline climbs a mountain of increasingly complicated cliffs, with a surprisingly engaging story behind the test of dexterity. Its accessibility features make it stand out as well, since it allows players to adjust the mechanics, so they don’t have to miss out on new sights and sounds. Shovel Knight is a totally nostalgic game for people who spent hours on the NES with Mega Man. It follows that format with increasingly challenging gameplay as you jump and fight through creepy and colorful stages. The game also offers a lot of bang for your buck, with new quests and character releases. Just this month, a King of Cards expansion added new levels and an in-game card game to play at taverns. Cuphead is the “difficulty king,” a game sold on how tricky it is to beat. The look and sound is a different kind of retro, recalling old 1930’s cartoons in “rubber hose” animated characters and swinging jazz music. Aesthetically fresh. Frustratingly difficult.
Try and Try (and Die) Again
Named for a now antique dungeon crawling game called Rogue, roguelikes are another genre that saw a boost around the time of the Switch’s release. Often difficult games, roguelikes challenge you to make repeated runs at a dungeon, going further and deeper with each attempt as you master the space.Dead Cells looks like a lot of other side-scrolling action games but the real focus is on speeding through stages as fluidly as possible. Runs unlock more gear, which extends your run for better gear, and so on, as your undead knight runs up against greater and greater challenges. The Binding of Isaac was one of the first games to kick off the renewed interest in roguelikes, so it has a cult following but the gross-out humor and dark subject matter isn’t for everyone. Inspired by the top-down dungeon maps of The Legend of Zelda, Isaac travels through increasingly hellish landscapes as he tries to escape his crazed mother’s efforts to kill him in order to satisfy the “voice of God” in her head.
For the General-to-BeInto the Breach is a strategy game with a difference. Your crew of time-traveling giant robot pilots must fight invading monsters, turn by turn. Board control is emphasized so the analogs to chess that are usually hidden in the details of other strategy games are brought to the surface. Maps are randomly generated so tactics need to be made up on-the-fly, testing your understanding of your options and allowing for endless replayability.
Adventures in PsychologyFirewatch is a story with depth. Henry is spending a summer in a ranger’s fire-watch station in the woods to escape his life as it falls apart. Isolation, paranoia, and dementia are all subjects of the story, so don’t take this game lightly. I experienced some graphical hiccups trying to run the game, but it’s worth looking past glitches for the depth and breadth of a very human and moving story.
For the Young’uns
If your kid is the one you’re buying for, it’s sometimes best to go with what everyone already knows and trusts.Minecraft still holds strong. Players begin by struggling to survive in the wilderness. A few hours later they are building palaces from the rare metals they mine. One of the games most kids know, so it can be a social tool as well (if Pokémon isn’t doing the job.) Stardew Valley is a comfortable alternative to Minecraft. Similar play but with a 2D, sprite art style. This one is more about building a community within the game, too. You’ll dig for rare metals and grow crops and fight monsters, but most of it is done in the service of finding a place for your little homesteader among the other people in town. Fortnite is the one that we all know for the dozens of player careers it has launched.. It’s free-to-play the base game, but you’ll be asked to spend some money on cosmetics that will make your battle royale contestant look cool while chopping down trees to build barricades to fire from.