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The Nintendo Switch has an eclectic summer lineup to keep you busy until Super Smash Bros.

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Mario Tennis Aces, Octopath Traveler, and the Splatoon 2 expansion is a perfect slate of weird, diverse Switch experiences

Image: Nintendo

The Nintendo Switch is experiencing a bit of a lull at the moment. Following the console’s inaugural year, which included the huge hits Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, fans have had to settle for only a handful of new games. Those have included a few fresh releases, like Mario + Rabbids and Kirby Star Allies, and some welcome enhanced Wii U games and indie ports like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Stardew Valley. But it’s clear Nintendo fans are waiting for the next big thing, and that next big thing happens to be a Switch version of brawler Super Smash Bros. that’s slated for release later this year.

Nintendo knows the new Smash is what Switch owners are hungry for, and the company has organized its upcoming presence at the E3 convention in Los Angeles next month around a big reveal of the title and plentiful hands-on demos for attendees. (You can even reserve your spot to play it now.) But the game is likely coming out in the fall, and that means there’s even more waiting to do.

Thankfully, Nintendo has a summer lineup that’s shaping up to be a highly eclectic array of genres and play styles, and at least one of the upcoming releases should resonate with Switch owners who are looking for a reason to pick up the device. Last week, the company organized some hands-on demo time with Mario Tennis Aces, Octopath Traveler, and Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion. Together, the titles make a strong case for the Switch’s well-rounded offerings, from sports to hardcore Japanese role-playing games to hybrid platformer-shooter combos.

Image: Nintendo

MARIO TENNIS ACES — June 22nd

The first to come out this summer will be Mario Tennis Aces, the next installment in Nintendo’s long-running Mario-themed sports series. The game is pretty much what fans of the series should expect: Mario characters playing tennis in increasingly elaborate fashions. Yet this entry adds some interesting depth to the formula, including a new energy meter players can charge up by using various shot styles that require different amounts of precision and skill to pull off, culminating with each character’s unique automated special shot that can be activated with a full meter.

Playing as Wario, I activated my special and watched the mustached villain eat an entire head of garlic before sending out a powerful, racket-breaking return. Racket-breaking is another interesting layer of depth the game adds, as it forces players to think about relinquishing points or risking a game-losing racket break. (You’ll be able to replace a racket with one from your inventory. But if you run out of equipment, you lose.)

One last addition new to Mario Tennis Aces is the story mode, similar to one you’d find in a fighting game, featuring cutscenes, boss battles, and an overworld map-style layout for progressing through chapters. While it won’t be the focus of Mario Tennis Aces, which is centered around tournament play and competing against others in local and online multiplayer, the short demo I had of the story mode makes it clear that it’s a polished and enjoyable way to play solo, perhaps on a commute when you don’t have internet connectivity.

Image: Nintendo

OCTOPATH TRAVELER — July 13th

Octopath Traveler is a Japanese role-playing game in the vein of PlayStation classics like SaGa: Frontier and Final Fantasy but with dashes of modern RPG game design courtesy of Bravely Default producer Tomoya Asano. The result is an experience understandably serving up nostalgia, but one that doesn’t feel bogged down by the sometimes tiresome conventions of the PS1-era games it’s based on.

Octopath Traveler achieves this mostly through its novel approach to storytelling and through its punishing and complex combat. In ways similar to SaGa: Frontier, Octopath lets players control the various heroes in the party while exploring the world, which results in different exchanges with non-playable characters, depending on who you’re controlling. Throughout the game, it seems like you’ll progress through each of the eight heroes’ own personal narratives, depending on where you are in the world and what the overarching plot calls for. In my demo, I was controlling the scholar Cyrus, who was tasked with finding kidnapped villagers in town using his scholarly investigative abilities, including finding clues and interviewing bystanders.

Image: Nintendo

Eventually, I found myself in the underground sewers facing off against a grueling boss that was among one of the hardest RPG fights I’ve encountered in quite some time. Even when slightly over-leveled for the area, I was killed numerous times and couldn’t take down the boss during the time allotted for my demo, despite some serious effort on my part. (Even the normal random encounter enemies posed a serious threat, I found.)

Like Bravely Default, Octopath demands that players think strategically about the turn order of their characters and use “boosts” to grant your team limited extra turns to try and capitalize on the opponent’s weaknesses. For those looking for a demanding throwback RPG, Octopath Traveler will certainly deliver. Plus, the game’s mix of 2D and 3D animation and its use of a tilt shift-style visual effect makes it one of the more aesthetically interesting RPGs to grace a Nintendo handheld.

Image: Nintendo

SPLATOON 2 OCTO EXPANSION — July 31st

One of the final summer titles for the Switch is the first paid add-on for Splatoon 2, called the Octo Expansion. Unlike your standard multiplayer game DLC, the Octo Expansion adds 80 new single-player campaign missions that rethink how you make use of the game’s abilities and shooting mechanics. Effectively, these missions turn Splatoon 2 into a platforming game asking players to traverse complex environments under strict time limits and with little margin for error. It’s an interesting approach, and it gives players a more challenging arcade-style experience to break the monotony of online multiplayer matches.

As for how it fits into the story, players are controlling an Octoling character named Agent 8, as opposed to the game’s Inkling protagonists, who is trying to escape a test facility. Completing all 80 missions will let you play as an Octoling in competitive multiplayer. In my time with just a few of the modes, I was shocked at the level of difficulty. One stage involved using the blaster to maneuver a ball along tracks while also using the Inkjet to get from one platform to the next. Another involved combating enemies on a destructible platform, meaning a missed shot took out a portion of the floor I was standing on.

Both modes were formidable, and I died multiple times, using up the in-game credits I was given to access the challenges. Trying new challenges involves redoing previous ones with higher proficiency and unlocking more credits. So I can see how completing all 80 levels might take some serious time and effort for the more dedicated Splatoon 2 fans. For only $20, the Octo Expansion adds something new to the Splatoon formula while offering up some tangible rewards for players who are invested in the game’s multiplayer and expanding Inkling-Octoling narrative.