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2018: The Year Indies Defined Switch

As part of GameSpot’s year-end coverage, we’re looking at different aspects of the game industry and pointing out any significant changes we noticed in 2018, such as the effect of microtransactions in video games. One of the more interesting changes we noticed this year is Nintendo Switch’s game library, which looks a lot different in 2018 than it did in 2017.

In 2018, Switch delivered the same type of bite-sized experiences that 3DS used to, but it also still has those major first-party titles that Nintendo fans crave. As 2018 comes to a close, the console feels like a haven for top-tier indies. We saw a bit of this in 2017 with Golf Story and Battle Chef Brigade, but the Switch really seemed to embrace this identity in 2018.

A look back at 2017 shows Nintendo Switch coming out strong with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild–a game that we gave a 10/10 to in our review and also awarded our Game of the Year. The console saw plenty of other sequels to other major first-party triple-A franchises in the months that followed, including Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, as well as HD remasters of beloved Wii U games. 2017 even saw a new third-party title, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, which was very popular.

In comparison, 2018 hasn’t seen nearly as many of Nintendo’s noteworthy franchises get releases. Kirby Star Allies released in March, but Switch saw no more major properties get a sequel until June with Mario Tennis Aces. Switch got a new RPG though–Octopath Traveler–and more Wii U games were remastered for Switch. Most of these games were fairly well received, but none of them matched the popularity of what came out in 2017. Switch had to wait until the end of the year for its biggest hitters–Super Mario Party, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! / Let’s Go, Eevee!, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate–to release.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review In Progress

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None of this is to say that the Switch had a bad year, or that people turned to this year’s indies because they had nothing better to do. Quite the opposite in fact. 2018 saw dozens of indie titles release on Switch, and plenty of them are really good. Most are ports of games that released in 2017 or earlier, but there were some new ones too–11 of which stand out and are listed below.

Not every one of these 10 games started on Switch either. Several launched in the first half of the year on Xbox One, PS4, PC, or mobile and then were ported to Switch at a later date, and they found a better home. For games that were already popular and critically acclaimed, like Iconoclasts and Into the Breach, porting to Switch allowed them to reach a brand new audience of players. However, this move mostly seemed to help games that didn’t garner much traction upon their original release, like Full Metal Furies and Forgotton Anne, find new life on a system that is increasingly becoming the best way to play smaller games. It certainly seems like developers are beginning to notice that indie games tend to have a much better track record on Switch than Xbox One and PS4, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the number of indies on Nintendo’s console in 2019 be even higher than this year.

As 2018 comes to a close, the Switch feels even less like a direct competitor to the powerhouse Xbox One X and first-party-exclusive-heavy PS4 Pro, and more like what the PlayStation Vita strove to be. We didn’t see many grand adventures, like Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, this year. Instead, the strongest stories told on Switch were small and personal, or experimental in how their gameplay directly related to the plot of the story.

Into the Breach, a turn-based strategy game that released on PC in February and ported to Switch in August, best exemplifies this. The mechanics for Into the Breach are very simple and easy to learn, but they’re used to make one of the most complex and challenging games of 2018. Into the Breach packs a fairly heavy emotional punch too, relying on small text bubbles to convey the fears and doubts of the mech pilots you command and citizens you’re responsible for protecting.

As the game relies on tiny pixelated sprites that are more difficult to discern at a distance, it works on Switch because you can play the console in handheld mode close to your face. It’s possible Into the Breach could work on Xbox One or PS4, but considering the game feels better suited in the Switch’s handheld mode as opposed to docked, those versions may require further tweaking, if they materialize.

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Nintendo Switch: This Year’s Indie Game Changer – PAX Aus 2018

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There have been some emotionally powerful indie games this year too–Celeste uses the act of climbing a mountain to metaphorically describe the hardships of living with depression and The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories uses body horror to convey the struggles of growing up both gay and transgender–these two, and many others, found their way onto Nintendo Switch. These games aren’t very long, making them ideal for playing in 20- to 30-minute chunks, which you can do almost anywhere with Switch.

The promise of a system geared specifically for indie games has been realized in the Switch. Going into 2018, it would have been fair to have been worried about Nintendo’s console, what with so many major first-party titles scheduled for October or later. Yet the Switch didn’t falter, even surpassing Nintendo’s popular Wii console in sales this year. People are looking for a way to play games in small chunks throughout their day or between larger triple-A releases, and Switch’s indie-filled 2018 has proven that it’s the console best suited to fill that void. Nintendo will undoubtedly continue to produce sequels for franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Super Mario, and Pokemon, but 2018 has proven that players are content with using the Switch solely for indie games–both old and new–for extended periods of time.

11 Games That Launched In 2018 And Helped Define Switch As A Haven For Indies

Celeste

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Celeste Switch Gameplay – First 9 Minutes

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In our Celeste review, Oscar Dayus gave the game a 9/10, writing, “It’s a testament to convincing writing and ingenious design that after playing Celeste I felt like I’d been on the same journey as Madeline. Her struggle is one made easy to empathize with, her low points painful to watch, and her high notes exhilarating to experience. Her tale is delicately told and beautifully illustrated, confidently coalescing with the satisfying, empowering game it lies within. Not bad for a game about climbing a mountain.”

Chasm

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Chasm Gameplay – First 13 Minutes

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In our Chasm review, Tom Mc Shea gave the game an 8/10, writing, “…Chasm is a well-crafted adventure, and during the more than 12 hours I spent playing through my first time, I got lost only once. That’s a huge bonus in a genre where getting lost is often the most frustrating aspect. Even after I finished, I was eager to venture forth on a new adventure, to test my combat mettle against harder foes and find the one secret that eluded me the first time through.”

Dead Cells

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Dead Cells Switch Pre-Launch Gameplay Live

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In our Dead Cells review, Daniel Starkey gave the game a 9/10, writing, “Dead Cells is a phenomenal effort to blend together some very disparate genres into a tight, cohesive whole. It’s one of the better examples of how to remix ideas without losing their individual strengths.”

Forgotton Anne

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Beautifully animated and featuring an incredible musical score, Forgotton Anne is an emotional tale about a young woman learning that her world is not as black and white as she was led to believe. You’ll have to navigate tough dialogue choices if you want the best possible ending for Anne and the characters she encounters, but you can also be merciless if you prefer and end the lives of all who oppose you. Regardless of how the story plays out for you, the ending’s gut-wrenching impact will stick with you long after you’ve seen the credits roll.

Full Metal Furies

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Full Metal Furies Boss Fight On Nintendo Switch

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In our Full Metal Furies review, I gave the game an 8/10, writing, “So yes, Full Metal Furies is primarily a brawler, and a good one that promotes teamwork instead of button-mashing. But it’s also a very hard puzzle game, one that challenges you to perceive each level, as well as the game’s mechanics and characters, in new ways.”

The Gardens Between

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The Gardens Between – Switch Gameplay

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In our The Gardens Between review, Peter Brown gave the game an 8/10, writing, “It may only take two to three hours to see everything The Gardens Between has to offer, but the warm and fuzzy feelings from start to finish ensure that your memories of playing it will live on. The expressive faces of the two teens and the relatable memories they share will speak to anyone who’s ever had a close childhood friend, and while the puzzles won’t go down as the most ingenious or demanding, they nevertheless give you more time to spend frolicking in a nostalgic and heartwarming world where friendship is all that matters.”

Iconoclasts

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Iconoclasts PS4 Gameplay – First 10 Minutes

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In our Iconoclasts review, Matt Espineli gave the game a 9/10, writing, “After solving every puzzle and witnessing the finale of its poignant narrative, you can’t help but reflect on the growth of [Iconoclasts’] characters and your impact onto the world. The game will shock and surprise you with how gripping its story is, and it’s likely to do so again in subsequent playthroughs of New Game+ with your expanded knowledge of character histories and events.”

Into the Breach

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Defending Earth From a Kaiju Army In Into The Breach

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In our Into the Breach review, Edmond Tran gave the game a 9/10, writing, “Into The Breach’s focus on foresight makes its turn-based encounters an action-packed, risk-free puzzle, and the remarkable diversity of playstyles afforded by unique units keeps each new run interesting. It’s a pleasure to see what kind of life-threatening predicaments await for you to creatively resolve in every new turn, every new battle, and every new campaign.”

The Messenger

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The Messenger Gameplay: 8- And 16-Bit Platforming Glory

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In our The Messenger review, Alexander Pan gave the game an 8/10, writing, “The Messenger takes the best parts of the action-platformers it takes influence from and reinterprets them well. With clever writing, well-designed levels, and balanced difficulty curve, the game continuously hooks you with enticing skill-based challenges and satisfying payoffs.

Minit

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Minit Gameplay – The Adventure Begins

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In our Minit review, Alessandro Barbosa gave the game an 8/10, writing, “[Minit is] a slickly presented adventure that continually manages to surprise you with every new area you uncover or item you procure, pushing you to pick away at its seams to uncover every drop of what it has to offer. With a delightful ending and more promised after its first run of credits, Minit is far more than just a collection of seconds.”

The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

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The MISSING: J.J. Macfield And The Island of Memories – Official Launch Trailer | Gamescom 2018

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In our The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories review, David Wildgoose gave the game an 8/10, writing, “The Missing is smaller and more mechanically conventional than Deadly Premonition or D4, but its components remain focused on distinctly a Swery game: a dark, idiosyncratic experience that tells a deeply personal story that’s as confronting as it is sincere.”

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