I’ve been having a lot of fun with a game called Shovel Knight on the Nintendo Switch this week. You might have heard of it — it’s an NES-style action game that came out all the way back in 2014. I even bought it on PC back then. But I never really got into it, because for whatever reason it’s not the kind of thing I tend to feel like playing when I sit down at my desk.
That’s exactly why, three years after its release, I’m finally making progress in Shovel Knight — it’s all thanks to the Switch. Shovel Knight works equally well as a portable game and as a sofa-bound TV experience; it’s the kind of thing perfectly suited to Nintendo’s pitch of a console that slots into your life no matter the situation.
And I’m hoping Shovel Knight is a sign of things to come, because it’s just one example of a huge variety of indie games for which the Switch might prove a perfect home. Nintendo seems to be into the idea, too, having already announced more than 60 indie titles for the platform, pledged to release some every week, and dubbed them “Nindies.” Which, no. But it’s a statement of intent from a company who’s been slower than most to the indie movement, and it may prove crucial given the otherwise barren slate of upcoming Switch releases.
"The way we're looking at Switch is this is a complementary platform,” Nintendo of America’s head of publisher and developer relations Damon Baker told Gamesindustry.biz. “If it's on Steam, then there's no reason why it shouldn't be on Nintendo Switch as well.” Baker is probably not talking about something like The Witcher 3 when he says this, but most PC indie games should be able to run on the Switch hardware without too much trouble, and it’s a hugely encouraging thing to hear from Nintendo.
Graphical capability obviously isn’t an issue for the 8-bit-style Shovel Knight, although that game does make me wish the Switch had a proper D-pad when used in portable mode. Still, the Joy-Con buttons are at least better than the D-pad that millions of people used to play breakout indie hits like Braid and Super Meat Boy on the Xbox 360, and maybe there’ll be a Joy-Con with a D-pad released somewhere down the line.
In a sign that Nintendo might actually see indie games as a selling point for the Switch, the company has also signed several timed exclusive deals with developers that will see their games hit the platform first. Shovel Knight’s new prequel chapter is exclusive to Switch for a month, and upcoming titles like Steamworld Dig 2, Graceful Explosion Machine, Runner3, and Retro City Rampage follow-up Shakedown Hawaii will all launch on Nintendo’s console before anywhere else.
Many of the 60 upcoming Switch indie games will be available on other platforms or already have been for a while, of course. But my experience with Shovel Knight suggests that might not be an issue. The Switch’s inherent flexibility means that it could be the best way to play a lot of games that might otherwise languish in my Steam library. I keep meaning to fire up Stardew Valley, for instance, but now I think I’ll just wait for the Switch version later this year.
It’s tempting to draw a comparison to the PlayStation Vita, the ill-fated portable console that similarly carved a niche as a handheld indie machine. There are a few crucial differences, however, that make that omen less foreboding. Nintendo itself is guaranteed to provide the Switch with software support in a way that Sony never really did with the Vita. The Switch’s TV functionality means that you won’t feel like you’re compromising by buying the “portable” version of a game. And the built-in capability for local multiplayer is unlike anything we’ve ever seen from a handheld system, with endless potential that games like Nidhogg and Towerfall could exploit.
"People say they want Nintendo to have third-party support. Third-party support nowadays is all indie,” developer Matt Thorson told Eurogamer; he’s bringing Towerfall Ascension and new game Celeste to Switch this year. “I think this is them getting third-party support."