Top 13 Nostalgic Nindies on the Nintendo Switch
It’s no secret that independent studios have drawn inspiration from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras when developing games. The Nintendo Switch is chalked full of “Nindies” gems that elicit nostalgia from generations past. Below is a Baker’s Dozen of our favorite Nintendo Switch Nindies along with a comparison of their spiritual predecessors. Enjoy!
1. Stardew Valley – Harvest Moon (SNES)
Harvest Moon was a phenomenon on the SNES in that the game traded traditional RPG elements, such as turned-based battle systems and random encounters, in favor of resource allocation and relationship building constrained by a unique time element. Daily activities include watering and tilling crops, building relationships with townsfolk, and attending festivals. On the surface, Stardew Valley might appear to be a Harvest Moon Nindies clone, but there is more than meets the eye. While the game is built upon core concepts from Harvest Moon, gameplay is taken to the next level:
- Each day is approximately 12.6mins – 28 days comprise a “season” – 4 seasons equal one year.
- Crops can be grown according to their season and Year 2 introduces new varieties
- Cattle can be raised to produce milk, wool, eggs, etc… Cattle products along with crops can be used to cook meals with stat boosts
- Crops and cattle production can be converted into a variety of artisan goods, which offer stat boosts in combat, fishing, relationships, etc…
- NPCs have unique likes/dislikes, backstories, and cutscenes that can only be viewed after spending adequate time
- The Mine incorporates Legend of Zelda battle mechanics to earn crafting materials
- Rebuilding the Community Center can unlock new areas, crafting recipes, etc…
Stardew Valley is by far one of the best Nindies on the Switch, and the new multiplayer option is a must.
2. The Messenger — Ninja Gaiden (NES)
Fans of the original NES likely have Ninja Gaiden in their list of top games for the platform. Simple battle mechanics coupled with platforming elements (wall-jumping) and classic boss battles created an epic experience for players. To top it all off — Ninja Gaiden was one of the first NES games to integrate nuanced story elements using text-based cutscenes. To say that The Messenger pays homage to this NES classic is an understatement. The Messenger’s story is built upon text-based cutscenes, combat is simple and includes katana attacks and consumable ranged attacks, and platforming is the core element. But The Messenger expounds upon these elements:
- Difficulty is curbed through well-placed checkpoints and a skill-tree that offers players optional abilities and life-upgrades to make playthroughs easier
- Story dialogue is exceptionally witty and based upon interactions with the game’s shop keeper (don’t forget to ask the keep to tell a story!)
- Platforming still includes wall-jumping; however, the player can learn new abilities like gliding, swimming, and even walking on water
Midway through the game, the Messenger surprises fans with a twist – the game changes from an 8-bit Ninja Gaiden hack & slash to a 16-bit Metroidvania! To defeat the final boss, the Messenger must traverse back through the original levels and use time portals to alter the landscape between 8-bit and 16-bit designs to find keys to unlock a magical music box. Using the time portals also opens new areas of the map so there is a high level of strategy involved. Overall, this Nindies game is full of surprises and replay-ability
3. Shovel Knight – Mega Man (NES Series)
While comparisons of Shovel Knight to the NES game Ducktales are familiar due to the “pogo” mechanic, Shovel Knight could also be compared to the NES Mega Man series. Platforming and boss battles are both based on pattern memorization with the player finding new abilities and upgrades after progressing through various levels. What makes Shovel Knight so much better is the forgiving progression system and in-town dialogue. While Shovel Knight is a classic reminder of Mega Man that feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch, the SK gameplay builds upon the Mega Man formula for a truly unique experience:
- Each SK level has a series of checkpoints that can be activated or ignored. Activating these checkpoints allows the player to return to the checkpoint upon death, which results in losing approximately ½ of the player’s gold. Ignoring the checkpoints by destroying them allows the player to earn more health at the risk of having to complete large sections of map upon death. This risk-reward system adds to the accessibility of the game, which was a detriment for the Mega Man series.
- Unlike Mega Man, Shovel Knight’s hub world includes a main town with numerous NPC interactions. These discussions can yield players with more health, magic, items, armor, and abilities while adding charm to the plot.
- While Mega Man provided players with a customized experience by assuming the abilities of defeated bosses, Shovel Knight on the Nintendo Switch allows the player to eventually play through the game as Spector Knight and Plague Knight. Each character controls differently, which further adds to the replay value.
4. Axiom Verge — Super Metroid (SNES)
It’s not often that a particular game spawns an entirely new genre, but Super Metroid did just that. Part exploration platformer and part 2D action-adventure, SM is still a beloved experience today. While the game’s story and progression system can be cryptic and nuanced, Super Metroid rewards players’ curiosity through well-hidden item upgrades. Axiom Verge is more of this same formula in that players begin with a limited set of skills and accessible map areas, and progression is the result of gaining abilities that open new map regions. While Axiom fails to expound upon SM’s weak story elements, gameplay, exploration, and progression are all familiar. Axiom Verge is a solid Nindies experience for fans of Super Metroid. Just don’t expect Axiom to add anything to the experience.
5. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King — The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
While fans of 2D Zelda games anxiously await the Link’s Awakening remaster on the Nintendo Switch, Blossom Tales offers a Nindies experience that mirrors A Link to the Past. While the number of Blossom Tales’ four dungeons pales in comparison to LTTP’s record-setting 13, Blossom Tales’ art-style, boss battles, and puzzle-solving offer a refreshing take on LTTP’s tried-and-true formula. Blossom Tales’ dungeons can be challenging but upgrades and consumable items mitigate the game’s difficulty. Just like A Link to the Past, this Nindies gem rewards player curiosity and exploration with health and item upgrades as well as lore dialogue with NPCs, but there are some key differences:
- The mechanic for consumable items is a key difference in Blossom Tales. Expendable weapons, such as bombs and arrows, deplete a green “magic” bar with each use and replenish after a “cool-down” period. This forces the player to be strategic when battling enemies and bosses.
- Unlike a LTTP, Blossom Tales introduces collectables that reward the player with upgrades and lore dialogue for giving NPCs a set number of items. This element introduces a level of grind into the experience, but the reward is additional story dialogue.
- While a LTTP expounded upon the NPC dialogue of Link’s Adventure, the game was minimalistic in terms of story and lore.
6. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon — Castlevania III (NES)
As with Super Metroid, few games spawn an entire media genre; however, Castlevania III merged with Super Metroid to conquer the now inevitable. Unlike the Super Metroid formula of equipment upgrades to unlock new map areas, Bloodstained utilizes party members’ abilities. Players begin as Zangetsu, the swordsman, and can add three additional characters as the game progresses. Each characters’ abilities can be upgraded and used to unlock new areas of each level. For example, the vampire character grants players the ability to fly, which can be used to scale vertical walls to new locations. This adds replay value to Curse of the Moon; however, all paths eventually funnel to the area boss. The biggest difference between Curse of the Moon and traditional metroidvania titles, such as Super Metroid, is the map system. Unlike Super Metroid, which is played on a connected map, Bloodstained is comprised of independent levels with multiple paths to the final “boss”. As fans anxiously wait for patches to fix the Ritual of the Night’s broken graphics and gameplay, Curse of the Moon is a good Nindies alternative for fans of the Castlevania series.
7. Wargroove — Advance Wars (GBA)
The strategy role-playing game (SRPG) genre has an odd history in gaming. Initially thought to be too difficult for the Western and European markets, SRPGs were exclusively marketed to the Japanese markets during most of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. For this reason, the first several installments of the Fire Emblem series never received localization in the West. That all changed when Nintendo of America fought for the localization of Fire Emblem Sacred Stones on the GBA. The game instantly became a hit and spawned not only numerous sequels but also a second SRPG series release in the West – Advance Wars. While Fire Emblem began to focus on narrative to complement gameplay, Advance Wars instead chose to focus on intense strategy elements with scaling difficulty. Advance Wars saw five additional releases from 2001 to 2008; however, the series came to an abrupt halt with Days of Ruin on the original Nintendo DS in favor of further development of the Fire Emblem series. Since then, fans of the series have been clamoring for another installment.
Enter Wargroove. Much like its predecessors, Wargroove is a strategy RPG in which players control the moves of characters on a chess board against enemy units. Enemy encounters play out much Advance Wars with the weapons triangle – each character wields one of three potential weapon types. So each weapon will be strong against one type, weak against one type, and neutral against one type. Wargroove and Advance Wars each use a colorful array of 16-bit sprites, but Wargroove takes gameplay to the next level. While the main campaign will take approximately 20hrs to complete, online gameplay is where Wargroove shines. Friends can battle each other via online or local multiplayer, and Wargroove gives players the ability to create maps with branching storylines and dialogue options for a truly immersive experience. The best feature – created maps and campaigns can be posted online and shared with communities and friends. Fans of the Advance Wars series have attempted to recreate the entirety of past games. With loads of replay value, Wargroove is a Nindies game that will scratch that Advance Wars itch.
8. Golf Story — Mario Golf (GBC)
The Gameboy Color remains my favorite Nintendo handheld and for good reason — the console was home to some of the best games of all time. From the Zelda Oracle series to Donkey Kong Country to Wario Land 3, the GBC was a treasure. But I sunk more hours into an addictive sports game that combined RPG elements with traditional sports gameplay mechanics — Mario Golf. All five of the game’s golf courses offered side quests, tournaments, and PvE challenges that increased the player’s level and stats. While I enjoyed Mario Golf for the gameplay, one element was indeed lacking: the story. Enter Golf Story. Instead of setting out on a quest to be the greatest golfer in the Mushroom Kingdom, Golf Story is a touching tale of a troubled golfer who attempts to regain his confidence. Side quests and main story objectives are geared towards helping the player overcome fear and doubt. Golf Story is by far one of our favorite Nindies on the Switch.
9. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom — Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (Sega Master System)
We’d be remised at GROI if we did not include at least one game from the early Sega generation of consoles. Although Sonic the Hedgehog launched the Genesis into mainstream popularity, Sega’s prior generation console, the Sega Master System, was home to many hidden gems. Among our favorites is Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. Released in 1989, Wonder Boy III put a whole new spin on the 2D side-scrolling metroidvania genre. Instead of searching the dark and cryptic pixelated labyrinth of the original NES Metroid title, Wonder Boy III gave players a bright, colorful overworld to explore. While Metroid locked portions of the map behind the discovery of powerups, Wonder Boy III took a different approach by transforming the protagonist into different animals with unique skillsets. For example, the mouse transformation allows players to climb walls and the hawk transformation grants the ability to fly.
Fast forward nearly three decades later. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom has players controlling the protagonist Jin as he battles the chaos his evil uncle Nabu spreads across the kingdom. The bright and colorful artwork returns with 21st century graphics, but Monster Boy truly shines with its gameplay. As Jin discovers more animal transformations, the puzzle-solving becomes more creative, complex, and thrilling. Instead of using just one animal transformation to take out a boss like in Wonder Boy III, Jin often must switch between numerous animals to thwart Nabu’s evil henchmen. Consumable items and armor/weapon upgrades return as well; however, Monster Boy builds upon this proven formula by allowing players to craft customized gear with elemental abilities. From elemental abilities to animal transformations to collectibles, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is not only a great Nindies title but also one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch.
10. Fast RMX — F-Zero GX (GameCube)
Mario Kart remains the staple racer on Nintendo platforms, but the F-Zero series has an emphatic cult following of players clamoring for a new entry on a modern console. While the likelihood of a new release on a Nintendo system is highly unlikely, F-Zero fans can take solace in a hidden indie title that released on the same day as the Nintendo Switch launch. Fast RMX is a high-speed, futuristic racer that provides players with the same adrenaline-pumping action as F-Zero titles in the past but with modern graphics and gameplay. The game runs at a stable 60fps on the Nintendo Switch and offers a serviceable online multiplayer experience. Fast RMX begins with three vehicles to choose from, and more are unlocked as races are won. While each ride has its own unique set of stats, players must master Fast RMX’s gameplay to have any chance at successfully conquering the game’s tracks. Blue and orange orbs are scattered across the tracks, and racers collect these orbs to fill a boost meter. Also, on the tracks are long narrow strips of the same two color schemes. Players must use the same boost color on the same track color to gain an extra boost. Pick the wrong color, and the vehicle is slowed down. This unique approach to the boost meter forces players to learn each track in addition to selecting vehicles with the proper stats. While Fast RMX is infinitely more challenging than Mario Kart, die-hard racing fans will enjoy overcoming the complexity. If you are looking for a fast-paced, online multiplayer racer, Fast RMX is a must play Nindies game on the Nintendo Switch.
11. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero — Rayman (GBC)
Fans often forget that Ubisoft’s Rayman series began on the Gameboy Color. At the time, most 2D side-scrolling platformers tried to mimic the popular Super Mario Bros series. Not Rayman. Instead of relying upon temporary powerups to get through levels, Rayman offered players a permanent set of skills to go along with challenging platforming sections. The original Rayman offered players the iconic hover and power fist abilities that became staples in the series. While Shantae: Half-Genie Hero mimics this setup with the initial climbing and hair-attacks to go along with colorful sprite work, the game takes Rayman’s platforming to the next level with its transformation system. As Shantae progresses through the various stages, she can transform into four different animals. Each transformation provides Shantae with a new set of unique abilities that are required to progress throughout various levels and boss challenges. This system adds a puzzle element to platforming, which provides for deeper gameplay that the original Rayman. Also, unlike the temporary powerups in the Super Mario Bros series, Shantae’s transformation abilities are permanent. Shantae: Half Genie Hero combines the best of Rayman and Super Mario Bros to provide a truly unique Nindies experience on the Nintendo Switch.
12. Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack — Mega Man Zero (Series)
The Mega Man Zero series was a revolution for the Mega Man franchise that began on the Gameboy Advance. Instead of adding powers after defeating bosses, Mega Man Zero implemented a level up system for weapons and abilities. This change of adding light RPG elements introduced customization for the player. Azure Striker Gunvolt keeps the same tried and true mechanics but offers two major deviations – the energy bar and offensive skills systems. When Gunvolt performs certain moves, an energy bar is depleted, which forces players to manage skills like air dodge and double jumps. By far the biggest deviation from Mega Man Zero is offensive skills. These skills are limited abilities that allow Gunvolt to dish out large amounts of damage, especially for the level bosses. But there’s a catch — the level bosses have their own set of offensive skills that are unleashed after their health bar is depleted past ½. If you love the Mega Man Zero series, you won’t want to miss out on this Nindies experience.
13. Master Blaster Zero — Master Blaster (NES)
Our Baker’s Dozen pick for best nostalgic indie title is perhaps our favorite. When Master Blaster released on the original NES, it combined two popular genres of gameplay into a single experience. Part 2D metroidvania and part top-down shooter, Master Blaster was a challenging action-adventure platformer that altered between these two game styles. A quarter of a century later, Master Blaster Zero offered a more accessible experience with modern-day pixelated graphics. Puzzle elements replaced the punishing gameplay of the original, and weapon upgrades remain correlated to the player’s health bar. Different powerups are scattered across the vast and interconnected map but primarily are used to gain access to new areas. For example, the hover ability adds verticality and the light function grants the ability to see in the dark. The best part of Master Blaster Zero — Inti Creates was so thrilled with the sales figures of this first release that they created Master Blaster Zero 2. Fans of the NES classic can indulge in not just one but two modern Master Blaster games on the Nintendo Switch.
And there you have it: our list of the Top 13 Nostaglic Nindies on the Nintendo Switch. But we want to know what you think. Have you played any of these Nindies gems? Which are your favorite? Let us know in the comments below or the social media links on the right.
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