With lockdown keeping people inside, many have recently invested in Nintendo Switches to fill the empty hours and keep themselves occupied. Especially with the good old, wholesome world of Animal Crossing returning, and the availability of the more affordable Switch Lite range in their stunning colours, let’s face it: who can blame them?
Gaming is a wonderful distraction and can be a blessing for your mental health. Not to mention, the Switch is a lovely little console. But for the new and uninitiated, straying from the path of Nintendo blockbuster IPs like Animal Crossing, Super Smash Brothers and other Mario games can be daunting – how do you know you’ll get a good game for your money? The hit blockbusters can also be super expensive. So, with this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of affordable and interesting indie games to play during lockdown.
Here’s your warning that these small reviews do contain some spoilers!
Let’s begin with a classic. Stardew Valley has been such a hit that you might forget it’s an indie game, made by one (one!) extremely talented person going by the name of ConcernedApe. Yet Stardew Valley is consistently in the top charting Switch games on the Nintendo store. It also received a long-awaited update not long ago, and it’s an absolute steal for its price; personally I’ve sunk nearly 100 hours into it with absolutely zero regrets. This game is so addictive.
The game’s basic premise is that your character finds themselves sick of busy inner-city life, and decides to take a break from the hustle and bustle to work on an old farm left by their grandfather. The game might find fans among Animal Crossing lovers, being a similarly sweet and wholesome game. The objectives are simple: grow crops, care for animals, dress up your little farmhouse, make friends with the villagers and even get married if that’s what you want.
The music is charming, as are gorgeous, colorful pixel art visuals, and the changing of the seasons brings new and exciting events. The characters are each unique, with their own attitudes, interests and routines, and as your friendship with them grows you’ll find out more about them in cut scenes. But the most incredible thing about this game is a true testament to the wonders of indie games: that it was made entirely by one talented person. Stardew Valley is bound to keep you entertained for many hours during lockdown.
Behind the Screen
If you’re looking for a short, weird, wonderful, but ultimately profound escape from the world, Behind the Screen, made by Taiwanese developer 18 Light Game, might just be what you’re looking for. Everything about it is a little ‘different’. It’s a simple puzzle game, but it’s also a story about how the media can distort people’s stories and ruin lives, an important message in this day and age where the media holds such immense power.
The music and visuals are odd but charming, and the gameplay combines a number of different puzzle elements to create a unique, and ultimately quite dark experience that tackles such big topics as abuse, parental responsibility and media assassination. Even though it is quite short, it certainly kept me intrigued throughout, and it’s a game I’ll remember very fondly for a while.
Similarly quite dark and heavy in subject matter is Lydia, a game by Finnish team Platonic Partnership. It’s a game that offers an optional donation to charity Fragile Childhood, which aims to protect children from the harms of substance abuse by parents. Lydia is the story of a neglected and abused little girl navigating a complicated world and later coming to terms with the reality of her upbringing.
The sound and visuals are haunting, and the gameplay elements are fairly minimalistic; in this way it tends towards the visual novel side. It also only takes around half an hour to play through. But it leaves a profound impact and supports a very important message and cause, and is well worth a purchase, particularly with the donation. It opens your mind to the true emotional and social potential of video games and will stay with you long after finishing.
What Remains of Edith Finch?
Another emotional, story driven experience: What Remains of Edith Finch is another testament to the storytelling capacity of video games, produced by Giant Sparrow who are based in California. The story follows the fate of the Finch family, believed to be the subject of a deadly curse, with the player acting out each of tragic story in succession, from the fate of a child star to a mentally ill factory worker.
The player explores the Finch household looking for clues and unraveling the family’s history, learning more and more with every step. The house is a gorgeous and haunting environment to explore. Another short and sweet experience that will stay with you for a long time.
To The Moon
I was so pleasantly surprised by To The Moon, made by Canadian team Freebird Games. It’s pixel art style, just like Stardew Valley, but it’s the story behind this cute RPG that really wins you over here. You follow a team of scientists tasked with fulfilling the last wishes of a dying man who dreams of going to the moon, and who do this by jumping into his memories.
The story that Freebird manages to construct around the dying man in a relatively short time is heartfelt and yet heartbreaking. Another narrative driven experience paired with beautiful instrumental soundtrack and some lovable characters that you’ll really come to care for, To The Moon is a truly memorable experience.
Coffee Talk is another narrative driven experience by Indonesian developer Toge Productions. The characters in this game are so lovable and defined, and you’ll become attached to their stories quickly and root for them and their dreams. Set in an alternate world where supernatural creatures live among humans, it’s an interesting and pleasant take on fantasy worlds.
The pixel art is really cute, and the coffee shop in which the story takes place is so warm and inviting that you’ll wish you were actually there. This is mainly a story interrupted by intervals where you’ll be tasked with making different drinks for customers, but it also boasts alternate storylines that are hinted at when you finish the game.
Last but not by no means least, Cuphead. Cuphead is now a classic, with its titular character even making its way into the hall of fame that is Super Smash Bros Ultimate. It is a wonderful run-‘n’-gun platformer with an amusing story, but more than anything it is a true work of art, produced by StudioMDHR, made up of brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. Produced in the style of 1930s rubber hose style animation favoured by Disney in the early days, the game is breathtakingly beautiful, with jazz, big band and ragtime music created by live musicians to fill each unique level. The downside: it is hard. I’m not going to talk about how many times I died finishing this game. But with each level and boss defeated, you feel more and more accomplished. And it’s difficult to get mad sinking hours into being beaten when it’s just so darn pretty.
Of course, these are just a few examples of the amazing indie games that are available on the Switch – but these are a great start. These seven games are each a testament to the wonders of indie games, from the effective storytelling, to intriguing characters, to jaw dropping visuals and audio.
And of course – any reader recommendations are most welcome!