Truly this Christmas is the season of the Switch, with the system both readily available and, according to Nintendo’s recent sales report, well received by the buying public. Many of us early adopters are quick to recommend the console alongside its big name, first-party games, and an unfortunate side effect of this is that titles without words like Mario or Zelda (or, in my case, Splatoon) in them tend to be instantly relegated to the second tier.
With that in mind, I thought I’d spotlight a trio of new Switch experiences that might not exactly find their way into most holiday gift guides or year-end best-of lists. Each offers a genuine sense of adventure, though their exact scopes are rather different. So whether you’re looking for a tight, intimate tale, a sizable whirlwind world tour, or a grand and sweeping epic, you can surely find it on the Nintendo Switch.
Small: RiME Is an Intimate Adventure
Release Date: November 14, 2017
Category: Puzzle, Platformer, Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10
The Good: RiME is a callback to the heavy-hitting puzzlers of old—imagine a modern, third-person Myst or a one-man Ico. You start with nothing, no direction, no instruction, no real clues, and you, as the game’s young protagonist, must intuitively use the most rudimentary actions (run, swim, jump, and shout) to find both solutions and meaning on a seemingly abandoned island. With a number of narrative twists, delicate watercolor visuals, and a stirringly emotional ending, it’s a true minimalist masterpiece.
The Bad: On the Switch hardware, RiME is a bit of a damned if you do/damned if you don’t affair. In TV mode, its high-concept art direction often seems flat and washed out, a far cry from that of Breath of the Wild, to which it’s sure to be compared. In Handheld mode, however, the graphics noticeably benefit from the smaller screen, but the game seems to chug along, with the processing just barely keeping up with the admittedly limited action.
Best For: the motivated mystery-solver – While it’s sometimes plagued by performance issues, RiME‘s beautiful visual style and old-school approach to adventuring still shine through on the Switch. Fans of puzzle-solving, the simple joy of discovery, and quality storytelling shouldn’t discount this one—especially those who have yet to explore RiME‘s world on other systems.
Medium: Master Your Environment in LEGO Worlds
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Category: Puzzle, Adventure, Construction
ESRB Rating: E10
The Good: Though LEGO video game releases of late have become nigh synonymous with licensed properties—from the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and Star Wars titles to the dearly departed LEGO Dimensions—LEGO Worlds strips things back to basics: knights and astronauts, pirates and cavemen, and simple, glorious bricks. Build your way through a series of procedurally generated levels, solving environmental puzzles and scanning new objects to add them to your growing arsenal. And if adventuring’s not your thing, you can simply choose to play in the game’s deep sandbox mode, making and manipulating your own world rather than those of the pre-generated biomes.
The Bad: LEGO Worlds offers an impressive selection of pre-built environments in which to find adventure. It also allows you to build a world of your very own. Sadly, these individual modes of play seem like unconnected, disparate offerings. The adventure mode offers little—save some sparks of inspiration and a handful of vague how-tos—to the build-it-yourself sandbox, where you’re pretty much allowed free rein from the get-go. Coupled with some occasionally flaky controls and camera movement, it makes for an ambitious game tempered with a handful of frustrating shortcomings.
Best For: the hungry young builder – While my first impression of LEGO Worlds—particularly its whimsical spoken-word intro—was more strongly tied to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet series, my kids saw it as an analog to another blocky adventure title: Minecraft. Whether your young gamer is a real-world builder or prefers to do their construction digitally, LEGO Worlds‘ expansive suite of puzzle-solving and construction tools will certainly scratch that creative itch.
Large: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Is an Epic Experience
Release Date: December 1, 2017
Category: Action RPG
ESRB Rating: T
The Good: In a sea of clouds, upon the very backs of gods, Rex and Pyra search for Elysium, a paradise atop the World Tree. From the grandest Titan to the lowliest Nopon, every inch of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 oozes atmosphere. Sure, most JRPGs offer the same trappings—warring factions, sinister forces, mysterious heroes, frantic combat complete with massively damaging combos—but somehow XC2 feels fresh and exciting. The game looks amazing and sounds even better, which makes its enormous open-world environments seem that much more lifelike and, despite the title’s obvious thematic hyperbole, oddly realistic.
The Bad: If you’ve never played a Xenoblade game (and, honestly, even if you have), prepare to be overwhelmed. Some characters, like Rex, are Drivers, powerful warriors with specific classes like Healer and Cavalier. Other characters, like Pyra, are Blades, living weapons that provide their Drivers with elemental powers and actual, physical weapons. Combat consists of standard auto-attacks and Arts, special attacks and buffs that take time to power up and cool down. There are also subdivisions like Blade and Driver Arts, not to mention the devastating Blade Specials. Each of these can be used as components in Combos, which can be built on to fill your Party Gauge and unleash punishing Chain Attacks. All this is to say that the battle screen is a mess of text, meters, button call-outs, and, oh yeah, your party and its enemies too. For me, the whole things smacks of overcomplication, and I still struggle with it even hours in and after referencing multiple online guides. It’s exactly the kind of thing that scares off newcomers, and, just as tragically, rather detracts from an otherwise sparkling story of a struggling world where monstrous, civilization-toting Titans occasionally plummet to their doom.
Best For: the JRPG enthusiast – Xenoblade Chronicles 2 epitomizes the action RPG, offering all the combat and suspense and over-the-top storytelling you’d expect in a perfectly portable package. Will it challenge you? Yes. Yes, it will. But if you’re looking for a challenging RPG experience in a gorgeous world with a unique take on the classic searching-for-paradise plot, then look no further.