Hello, gentle readers, and welcome to a special SwitchArcade. I’m not actually here today. Yes, I’m probably opening presents or eating too many calories or engaging in other such holiday frivolities. But through the power of time travel and/or automated scheduling, my voice from the past is reaching you right now. Anyway, on to today’s business. Given the occasion, it’s possible that you have found yourself with some extra Nintendo Shop credit and are wondering just what you should spend it on.
Well, I’ve got two lists for you. Today is the first one, presenting what I believe are the best games currently available. Note that I’m trying to stick to games that aren’t generally thought of as packaged releases. Some of these games have been released physically in limited quantities or otherwise, but I believe we can all appreciate the difference between, say, Undertale and Super Smash Bros Ultimate. The games on this list aren’t just my personal favorites, but are also highly acclaimed by critics and players alike. Tomorrow’s list will have some of my more quirky choices. Let’s make a list, and check it twice!
Like many of the games on this list, Undertale is available on other platforms. Unlike many of the games on this list, Undertale is even available on another portable platform. Nevertheless, it’s possible that you haven’t played this yet, and if you haven’t, you really ought to. Unfortunately, it’s hard to talk about everything that makes this game so memorable without spoiling the experience, but unless you completely hate RPGs, take a bite on Undertale. It’s extremely likely that you won’t regret it.
A game about climbing a mountain, Celeste checks off both the “hardcore gameplay mechanics" and “amazing experience" boxes with ease. You’re going to have to exercise some proper skill to see the game through to its end, but Celeste guides you as best as it can in the way classic games used to: through excellent level design. And just when you think it’s all finished, even more challenges await you should you desire them. There’s a reason why Celeste got bandied about as the best game of 2018 on any platform, and I highly recommend you dive in and find out just what makes it so great.
Into the Breach ($14.99)
Into the Breach comes from the same developer that brought us FTL, and if you loved that game’s brand of cruel strategy, you need to prescribe yourself a big heaping dose of this, right away. It’s a turn-based strategy game where you control mechs in order to defend the planet against aliens that are breeding beneath the earth. In terms of mechanics, it’s quite different from FTL, but the feeling it evokes is eerily familiar. You have to have a good plan, yes, but you also need to be able to deal with all kinds of wild things that can and will disturb those plans. I can’t say for sure if this is as endlessly replayable as FTL, but it’s holding out pretty well so far.
Stardew Valley ($14.99)
If you’ve ever played a Harvest Moon game and loved it, get Stardew Valley. If you’ve played a few Harvest Moon games and find yourself a little disappointed by how little they’ve changed over the course of a couple of decades, get Stardew Valley. If you want something that scratches an RPG itch while also being kind of relaxing and extremely engaging, get… well, you get it by now, surely? The Switch version of the game isn’t quite as good as the PC original in a few ways, but the fact that you can just pull your Switch from the dock and keep playing as you bum around the house makes it the Stardew Valley experience to beat.
Hollow Knight ($15.00)
I’ll acknowledge that this one isn’t going to be for everyone. Hollow Knight is tough as nails, and if you don’t like to be frustrated, you are really going to have a rough time with a lot of this game. But if it clicks with you, good gracious, are you in for it. Absolutely sublime 2D action, intriguing areas to explore, cool upgrades to seek out and use, and the presentation is excellent. Some elements seem clearly inspired by that game about souls that I dare not mention for feat of flogging a dead horse, but the homage doesn’t feel tacked-on or thoughtless. Rather, this is a game that has a lot of working parts that fit well together to create an excellent experience that feels familiar and fresh at the same time.
Dead Cells ($24.99)
Dead Cells is another game that a lot of people are talking about as their favorite game of 2018, and it’s not hard to see its appeal. It’s a little Metroidvania and a little roguelite, creating an enjoyable combination in the vein of titles like Rogue Legacy. The action is fast and fun, the secrets are dense and always a joy to uncover, and no playthrough comes out quite like the last. It’s really tough to make an exploratory platformer work well with randomized elements, but Dead Cells pulls it off with nary a hitch to be found.
Is it cheating if we pick a game that has been released as a full-priced retail title in previous generations? I hope not, because this isn’t the only one on the list. Anyway, Ikaruga is a stunning shoot-em-up from Treasure, once known as some of the finest purveyors of 2D action and currently known for… what are they up to these days, anyway? Ikaruga‘s chief gimmick is in its polarity system. You can switch between black and white, and are able to absorb the bullets of the same polarity to charge up a super attack. You are vulnerable to the opposite polarity, of course, but your shots will also do double damage against the opposite type. There’s more to it than that, but if you’re looking for a great shoot-em-up on the Switch, this is an astounding place to start.
Lumines Remastered ($14.99)
Strip away the excellent presentation of Lumines and you’re still left with an enjoyable falling-block puzzle game, and I think that’s part of the key to its success. But you can’t really strip that stuff away, because music and rhythm is at the very core of how Lumines works. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears, of course, but the very tempo of the game is subject to whatever tune is playing in the background. You might think speedy songs would be the most dangerous, but it’s really in the change-up between dramatically different tempos that the true elegance of the game’s design shines through. Every handheld needs at least one great puzzle game like Lumines, and while the Switch certainly has more than just this, it’s a great place to start from and come back to on a regular basis.
The spiritual successor to Limbo does just what a follow-up should. It takes all of the good things about the original and expands on them in interesting ways. While this game leans more generally towards being an experience, the gameplay is engaging enough that you probably won’t be bored while soaking in the atmosphere. While I personally wish there was a little bit more to chew on in terms of mechanics, INSIDE is certainly worth going through for the sights and sounds alone. What is going on in this oppressive world? Even if you manage to satisfy the requirements to see the game’s additional ending, you’re still going to have to come up with theories yourself. Vague, sure. But very interesting.
Okami HD ($19.99)
Yes, this certainly feels like cheating. Oh well. Okami is an awesome, artful Zelda-like experience whose worst crime is that fact that it’s probably three times longer than it needs to be. With its Switch version, Okami finally feels like it has become everything it could be. A treat whether playing on your TV or the small screen, this game offers serious bang for your gaming buck. I feel like it’s a hard sell if you’ve somehow not played it before now, since the original game is more than a decade old and has seen numerous re-releases, but seriously, if you haven’t played this game and have any love in your heart whatsoever for Zelda‘s brand of action-adventure, you need to play Okami.
That’s all for the first list, but make sure to check back in tomorrow. I’ll be venturing outside of the most popular choices to present you with ten more games to spend your holiday haul on. So yes, please beat all ten of the aforementioned games in the next 24 hours. Homework on Christmas, what a world! Thanks for reading, and have a nice holiday!