Hidden gems on the Nintendo Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might last for hundreds of hours, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Splatoon 2 provides near-endless fun, but between Splatfests, it's nice to take a break. Super Mario Odyssey might be the biggest, weirdest 3D platformer since Super Mario 64, but there's only so much Mario most people can take at a time.

While the following games might not come from major publishers or star Nintendo's biggest characters, don't count them out. The Switch is quickly becoming the go-to console for quirky and experimental indie games, and by taking a deep dive into the Switch's quickly growing library, you'll almost certainly find something that you'll love. These games may not have the benefit triple-A budgets or massive multimedia marketing campaigns. That doesn't matter. They're fun, and that's what's really important.

NeuroVoider

NeuroVoider's official description might need some translating. Developer Flying Oak Games describes NeuroVoider as a "twin-stick shooter RPG" with "loot, procedural content and some permadeath." If you're ensconced in the indie gaming community, that says it all. If not, that basically means that NeuroVoider is a game in which you shoot things to get better weapons, which you use to shoot things and get better weapons. Level layouts change every time you play, and when you die, you have to start over from the beginning.

That sounds like many other indie games out there, but don't let NeuroVoider's buzzword-heavy write-up put you off. Lurking beneath the pixel art graphics is a compelling and addictive shooter that ends up being much, much more than the sum of its parts. Experimenting with NeuroVoider's new gear, which you'll earn at a steady pace, is always fun. There's no bigger thrill than discovering that the collection of weapons and upgrades that you cobbled together complement each other perfectly, allowing you to decimate powerful foes with ease.

NeuroVoider is even better with a friend, too, thanks to a robust co-op mode. Destiny 2 probably won't ever make its way to the Switch, so if you're hankering for a loot-driven shooter, NeuroVoider might just scratch that itch.

Thumper

If the words "rhythm game" make you think of dinky drum pads and plastic guitars, calm down. Leave that dusty Guitar Hero gear in the closet. You're not going to need it. While Thumper relies on the same fundamental gameplay loop as Rock Band and its brethren—press buttons in time to music to proceed—this isn't a simple, crowd-pleasing party game. In addition to matching the rhythm, you'll need to guide your spaceship-like "space beetle" around hairpin curves, obstacles, and enemies.

Thumper's action is fast paced and frantic, and its developers call it a "rhythm violence" game for a reason. With its sharply curving tracks, breakneck speed, and pulsing soundtrack, Thumper feels more like musical installment in Nintendo's long-dormant F-Zero series, and less like the peripheral-driven rhythm games that dominated the late '00s. Given that Nintendo's zero gravity racer has been in mothballs for over a decade, Thumper is probably your best bet for recapturing the thrill of a high-speed chase on the company's latest console. Just make sure to pack your headphones when you take your Switch on the go. Thumper's soundtrack isn't just a good listen. You'll need to hear it if you want to get anywhere at all.

VOEZ

If Thumper isn't quite your speed, give VOEZ a shot. Like Guitar Hero, VOEZ drops notes from the top of the screen and asks you to hit them as they cross a bar at the bottom. Unlike Guitar Hero, you won't need anything but your Switch to make your way through VOEZ's musical challenge. The game—which only works when the Switch is in portable mode, making the console's built-in touchscreen visible—plays out using touch controls. Depending on the type of note that appears, you'll need to tap, swipe, or slide your finger across the screen to rack up points and unlock more levels.

You'll want to do as well as you can, too, because completing specific challenges furthers VOEZ's story, which focuses on a group of high school kids starting their very first band—and contains some killer manga-styled artwork. In fact, VOEZ's stunning presentation is what really elevates it above a number of similar titles. Note lanes dance from side-to-side with the music, and the minimalist aesthetic looks great on Nintendo's slimmed-down console.

Crucially, the tunes sound good, too. VOEZ doesn't have a hit-laden soundtrack like some of its peers, but the 300-plus tunes—all of which are written and performed by Asian indie musicians—provide all the variety you need. Even better, unlike VOEZ's mobile editions, the Switch version comes with every single one of 'em. No microtransactions necessary.

Ironcast

Years before Candy Crush Saga conquered mobile devices worldwide, Puzzle Quest proved that a match-three puzzle game could be much more than a simple timewaster (or, worse, a microtransaction-filled money sink). A decade later, Ironcast builds on Puzzle Quest's foundation and delivers a puzzle game that's deeper, more strategic, and generally more satisfying than its largely disposable peers.

Yes, in Ironcast, the missions take the form of the color-matching puzzles you've grown to love (or hate). But there's so much more going on. As the pilot of a steam-powered mech called, naturally, an Ironcast, you need to gather resources by manipulating puzzle pieces that represent ammo, energy, coolant, gold, and "repair," and harvest them by making lines of three or more of the same element. Of course, there's a battle between mechs happening on at the same time, and making sure that your Ironcast is well-stocked is the key to victory.

That's only part of it. Every mech comes equipped with two weapons, which you can use to target specific points on the enemy machine. You'll want to be careful, too, because if you die you need to start Ironcast over (although you'll carry some Commendation Points, which you can use to buy upgrades, into later levels). Ironcast requires a lot more attention than a regular match-three puzzler, but once it clicks, you'll never want to put it down—and thanks to the Switch's portability, you'll never have to.

GoNNER

Like many other indie platformers, GoNNER is hard. Really, really hard. It's not the controls, of course. Those are just as responsive and slick as they need to be. It's not the unique premise, either, which focuses on a character named Ikk, who can swap out his body parts and accessories in order to gain (or lose) abilities. It's not even the procedurally-generated levels, which change every time you enter a new room, although those don't exactly help. It's hard to prepare when you don't know what's coming.

No, GoNNER is hard because the game never tells you what to do. You'll unlock upgrades, like new heads that Ikk can wear, but the game won't tell you what they do. You need to figure that out by equipping and playing. The strategies that you need to use to defeat various enemies isn't clear, either. GoNNER thrives on experimentation. Try, fail, and adapt. That's the only way that you're going to win.

It sounds brutal, but if you're the type of player who loves exploring and figuring things out for yourself, GoNNER's going to get its hooks into you right away. The game's charming aesthetic helps smooth out some of the its difficulty spikes, too. Platforms appear and disappear with distance, and colors shift during play. GoNNER might be difficult and intentionally obtuse, but at least it's never ugly.

Graceful Explosion Machine

Kill anything and everything. That's the basic philosophy behind Graceful Explosion Machine which, like other shoot-'em-ups (or shumps), puts you in a spaceship's cockpit and charges you with blowing up whatever you see in hopes of achieving a high score. If you've played a shump before, you know how this one works.

But Graceful Explosion Machine has a few tricks up its sleeve to make it stand out from the competition. While the basic gameplay isn't any different from classics like Einhänder or R-Type, Graceful Explosion Machine's arsenal adds a uniquely strategic element to the oddly colorful carnage. Every weapon comes with certain strengths, but also certain weaknesses. The Sniper Beam can hit ships from far away, but reduces your ship's speed. The Energy Sword can slice through incoming bullets, but sucks away your ship's energy. Deciding on the right weapon for the situation—and switching to that weapon before it's too late—adds some fresh wrinkles to the established shoot-'em-up formula, and Graceful Explosion Machine is all the better for it.  

Graceful Explosion Machine also takes advantage of one of the Switch's most unique features. The console's "HD Rumble" capabilities ensure that every weapon, explosion, and feature on your ship feel unique—literally—in your hands. Graceful Explosion Machine has plenty of personality on its own, of course, and the rumble isn't necessary. It's a nice touch all the same.  

Death Squared

If you like to whip out your Switch at parties to impress and/or play with your friends, Death Squared is a must-buy. It's got a simple premise—move colored robots around levels, pushing buttons until each one of them successfully crosses the finish line—that's easy to explain to casual players. It encourages teamwork: every robot is immune to obstacles that match its own color, and can only flip specific color-coded switches.

Most importantly, Death Squared strikes that perfect balance between something that's fun with other people, and something that's maddening because of other people. In Death Squared, you will fail, and you'll probably blame your friends when you do. Sometimes, that happens on purpose. Death Squared's puzzles move from simple to mind-numbing very quickly. The game even keeps track of how many times you and your cohorts fail. It's that kind of game.

Sometimes, however, you'll mess up because one friend decided to go rogue and cause havoc, ruining things for everyone else. It's that kind of game, too. If you want to succeed in Death Squared, you'll need to move carefully and stay in constant communication. If you want to cause your friends a lot of needless, hilarious heartache, well, that's a whole lot easier.

Slime-San

Red is bad. Green is good. That's all you really need to know to understand Slime-San, a platformer with low-resolution graphics that uses basic colors to make sure that you grasp its fast and punishing platforming challenges as quickly as possible.

In Slime-San, players will tackle about 100 small stages, each one of which fits almost entirely on the Switch's built-in screen. A white object is something you can stand on, or an obstacle that blocks your path. Red marks hazards, which kill you instantly. Green objects can be phased through with a button press, which also slows down time. You have to make sure that your timing is just right when trying, however. It's harder than it sounds.

There's more to Slime-San than just that, but those are the basics. If you're a platformer junkie you'll want to keep the surprises fresh, because Slime-San twists its mechanics in ways that'll surprise even veteran players. If you liked Super Meat Boy, which moves at a similar speed (both games have a low threshold for failure, but restart levels so quickly that you'll barely even notice dying), Slime-San will serve as a worthy follow-up. Just be warned: Slime-San isn't for the faint of heart. Only accomplished platformer players need apply.

Bulb Boy

When you've got a lightbulb for a head, you have a few advantages over everyone else—mainly, it's a heck of a lot easier to see in the dark. That's good news for Bulb Boy's titular protagonist, because over the course of his point-and-click adventure, he'll need to explore the pitch-black rooms of his house in order to clear out all of the invading monsters.

Bulb Boy has all of the hallmarks of a typical horror game. Thee puzzle-filled rooms are bursting with creepy crawlies. Bulb Boy's unique physiology (he can take off his lightbulb head, for example) threatens to veer into David Cronenberg-like body horror. Bulb Boy's family, including his grandfather (an oil lamp) and his pet (a cross between a dog and a moth), are made up of twisted and weird creatures. But Bulb Boy isn't scary, and its unsettling motifs are played for laughs, not horror. As you round up objects and try to find new, weird uses for household items, you'll be treated to a number of jokes, both scatalogical and otherwise, that bring some much needed levity to Bulb Boy's surreal world.

Touch screen support would've been nice—Bulb Boy started as a PC game, but the Switch port only supports gamepad controls—but Bulb Boy has enough personality to coast by on what's there. If you miss old cartoons like Ren and Stimpy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Bulb Boy won't disappoint. The puzzles will keep you busy, but Bulb Boy's unique world and subversive sense of humor are where the game really shines.

Golf Story

If you played Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, or Undertale and thought they could use a little more time out on the links, you're in luck. Ostensibly, Golf Story is a sports game, but that's kind of like calling Super Mario Brothers a game about harvesting mushrooms. Yeah, the golf is there, but it's just one small part of a much bigger experience.

Golf Story works like a normal role-playing game. There's a plot—you play as a young, aspiring professional golfer—complete with a full cast of secondary characters, side challenges, and quests. It's got an overworld that recalls Secret of Mana and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. When you're not actually taking to the course for some actual golf, you'll help out others by completing small, golf-related challenges. Along the way, you'll upgrade your gear—or clubs, in this case—and your character. When you chat with other country club members, they reveal their unique backstories and humorous quirks.

Golf Story does have a complete 2D golf mode, of course, but if you've never held a driver or putter in your life, don't worry. Clear tutorials outline the basics, and everything is simple and easy to follow even if you're not familiar with the sport yourself. PGA Tour, this ain't. If you have tried golf and didn't find it all that fun—it's a fairly, ahem, relaxed sport—you'll be taken care of here, too. Matches move much faster than the real thing, with enough depth to make things challenging, but not enough to bog things down. If you're looking for a detailed golf simulation on the Switch, you're out of luck. If you're looking for the next cult-classic RPG, then look no further. Golf Story is here.