Hands-on with a selection of sweet-ass Nintendo Switch games

Merry Switchmas, everyone! If you've already picked up a Nintendo Switch (or plan to soon), you're probably about to dive headfirst into the sweeping majesty of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But after a few weeks of marathon Zelda sessions, you might be hungry for a palate cleanser - something light, fluffy, and fun to show off on your new Switch. Fortunately, you've got plenty of excellent games to look forward to in the near future.

At GDC this week, I got to spend some quality time with a boatload of standout Switch titles, many of which got some love in the recent "Nindies" showcase highlighting some of the upcoming Nintendo Switch games. We already played (and loved) a few of these games at last year's PlayStation Experience, like Celeste, Snake Pass, and Shakedown: Hawaii. But you might not be familiar with these other incoming gems, and you really should be - so hopefully my hands-on impressions will help you build up deserved hype.

Blaster Master Zero 

Release date: March 9, 2017

Just like it did with Mega Man 9, developer Inti Creates has captured the look and feel of another NES classic to act as the foundation for an entirely new adventure. Blaster Master Zero stars the same two heroes from the original game - the plucky pilot Jason and his sentient tank Sophia the 3rd (a persona that was completely cut from the Western version, for some dumb reason) - dropping onto another humongous planet and letting you explore as you see fit, be it on foot or futuristic tank wheels. The spritework is crisp and colorful, and the run-'n'-gun action feels great whether you're jumping around 2D caves in your tank, or blasting robots and aliens from the top-down perspective in compact dungeons. There's also a two-player mode that evokes memories of Super Mario Galaxy, where a would-be onlooker can actually assist the main player by blasting enemies from anywhere and dropping helpful items after they've accrued enough power.

Pocket Rumble 

Release date: March 2017

That $40 redux of Street Fighter 2 be damned - Pocket Rumble looks like the Switch's best Joy-Con-friendly fighter, for just a quarter of USF2's cost. It flawlessly mimics the charming, chibi graphical style of fighting games that graced the short-lived Neo-Geo Pocket, and delivers the speed, combos, and mind game setups of any great fighter using a mere two buttons. All of the special moves are performed by holding a diagonal-down direction plus a button tap, so you never have to worry about trying to bust out fireball motions on the dinky Joy-Con sticks. Online play utilizes the gold standard GGPO netcode, and the eight fighters planned for launch are all impressively unique designs, where no two play alike.

Mr. Shifty 

Release date: April 2017

Imagine playing a mostly kid-friendly version of Hotline Miami starring X-Men's Nightcrawler. That pretty much sums up Mr. Shifty, a top-down action game that has you teleport-punching hundreds of corporate goons as you ascend up a gigantic tower. The fast-paced action has the same pulse-quickening speed and intensity of Hotline Miami's one-against-many brawls, and you've got plenty of options for eliminating guards. Maybe you'll wallop their face, smack them down with a wooden beam you picked up from the smashed remnants of a desk, or simply kick them out a window to a presumably horrible death. My favorite elimination method is knocking someone out by kicking a door clean off its hinges and directly into my target, with some satisfying tactile feedback courtesy of the Joy-Cons' HD Rumble.

TumbleSeed 

Release date: Spring 2017

TumbleSeed harks back to an oft-forgotten 1983 arcade game from Taito: Ice Cold Beer, where you guide a tiny ball as it ascends up a wall full of failstate holes, sheerly through delicate adjustments of the bar which the ball rests and rolls on. That unique premise is turned into a constantly shifting challenge in TumbleSeed, where you have to guide your eyeballed seed past a procedurally generated series of precarious obstacles. The aesthetic evokes the same simple wonder as Hohokum, with its vivid colors and abstract creatures, as well as the need to wordlessly figure out what you should do to progress. There's an extra layer of strategy, too: you can swap between a variety of seeds, each with their own powers that can help facilitate your rise to the top.

Graceful Explosion Machine 

Release date: Spring 2017

Sometimes you just want a simple arcade-style shooter that strips away all the complications and just focuses on the score. At least, that's how the colorful, side-scrolling shmup Graceful Explosion Machine starts - but as the levels ramp up, you'll find yourself steering, dashing, and deploying missile barrages for dear life as the screen fills with a wide variety of hostile aliens. Like Sega's classic shmup Fantasy Zone, Graceful Explosion Machine's bright visuals, simple shapes, and upbeat mood are all just a cover-up for a surprisingly intense spaceship ballet, and a chase for increasingly higher combos and their bigger point payoffs (if you can survive, that is).

Steamworld Dig 2 

Release date: Summer 2017

The original Steamworld Dig is a criminally underplayed 2D platformer for the ages, so it's delightful to see it getting a sequel that greatly expands the size and scope of the original's downwards dig. You play as Dorothy, a steambot merchant turned miner who must pickaxe her way through an ever-expanding, Metroidvania-style underground. The gameplay is tight, the cartoony visuals are charming, and for whatever reason, it's deeply satisfying just digging precious gems and minerals out of square clumps of dirt as you make your way towards the next obstacle.

Dandara 

Release date: TBC

This topsy-turvy Metroidvania has it all - pristine pixel art, a unique control scheme, and a heroine sporting a giant afro. In Dandara, you guide a magically gifted woman through a labyrinthine world not by running or jumping, but by bouncing between points on the floor, walls, and ceilings. Like VVVVVV, the unfamiliar method of control forces you to think and move in new ways - and while you may start out slowly making a way down a corridor, it won't be long before you're zipping around the screen while shooting off fireballs like some kind of spell-casting Brazilian ninja.

Flipping Death 

Release date: TBC

If you've ever played any of the Monkey Island games, you probably have fond memories of taking in their gorgeous sights, chuckling or flat-out guffawing at their idiosyncratic sense of humor, and experiencing the glorious 'Aha!' moment of finally figuring out a tricky puzzle. Flipping Death hits all those same high notes, starring a recently deceased gal named Penny who unexpectedly finds herself filling in for the Grim Reaper. This is the spiritual successor to the inventive Stick It to the Man!, also from developer Zoink, and has an equally clever twist: the entire world has two mirrored sides, a bustling city for the living and a twisted abyss for the dead. You need to seek out ghosts and solve their afterlife problems by possessing still-living saps and flailing around in their physics-driven bodies, solving puzzles in a variety of lovably goofy ways.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucas likes his games like he likes his music: eclectic. With all the weird and wonderful stuff he's played over the years, the two of you are bound to feel the same way about something!
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