How the Nintendo Switch is helping burn through the indie backlog

Re-releases on the Switch mean the best games aren’t as easily missed.

I’d been wanting to play Hyper Light Drifter for ages. With its Zelda-like gameplay and twisted, disturbing aesthetic, I just knew the 2016 release was a game I was destined to like. Yet, stuck with a seemingly endless list of games to get through, it slipped further and further down the priority list.

That all changed with its recent re-release on the Nintendo Switch.

Presented with another opportunity to play a game I had so rashly overlooked, I soon found myself lost in a strange world right beneath my fingertips, with the added ability to play it any time at my own convenience. Hyper Light Drifter had found its perfect home, and I’d found the perfect excuse to play catch-up.

This may sound familiar. With so many games released each week, we all have a backlog of titles leering at us until we hit ‘start’: the pile of discs gathering dust in some dark corner, the phantoms nestled digitally in a forgotten folder. ‘I’ll get round to that next,’ you promise yourself. That is, until the next exciting release proves bigger and better, a game everyone else is playing together online, a game you definitely don’t want to be spoiled.

But the Switch is fast becoming a solution to this problem – especially where indie games are concerned.

The Nintendo eShop is bursting at the seams with downloadable goodies. Of course, plenty of these are brand new releases, but numerous indie developers are re-releasing their games on the Switch years later to find a brand new audience. With the console’s popularity, it just makes sense.

The result is an eShop that’s something of a who’s who of classic indie games from the last few years. Missed out on Gone Home? Did Undertale slip through the net? Never owned the PSP classics Lumines or Velocity 2X? Perhaps you want the opportunity to play all three Banner Saga games in quick succession? Or you want to spend hours tending your farm in Stardew Valley on the go? Well, finally, now’s your chance. The phrase “but is it on Switch?” hasn’t entered gaming vernacular for no reason.

Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Hollow Knight. Team Cherry’s Metroidvania was first released back in February 2017, but the original PC release didn’t make too big a splash (despite appearing at #36 in our ‘Top 100 Indie Games’ feature). It wasn’t until the Switch release in June this year that the game found the attention it deserved. No longer swept aside in a tide of Steam releases, on Switch, Hollow Knight was newly positioned among the crème de la crème of indie games, its new prominence allowing us all a second bite of such a delicious cherry. 

The eShop also makes finding these games a breeze. It might not have the delightful music of the Wii version, but flicking through its pages with the touchscreen is a joy. Sure, it didn’t start out with the easiest of interfaces, but things are improving dramatically. Clear sections now delineate recent releases, the charts and more, while the discover section has proven itself as a brilliant highlight of special picks. The number of releases is overwhelming, but these sections – together with the customisable news module on the Switch homepage – make it easy to choose the best games. It’s certainly more reliable and easily searchable than the PlayStation Store, and more manageable than the vastness of Steam.

So, at the very least, the Switch gives us access to the best games we missed the first time around. But more than that, the very nature of the console makes playing these games a pleasure. Perhaps one reason we skip over games is that, when locked to a console or PC screen, we’re forced to sit at home; life gets in the way of the backlog. With the Switch, we can not only play at home but on the train to work, on the beach on holiday, or even – of course – on the toilet. Backlog and new releases alike can slot into our lives, rather than existing as a derailment of our precious evening time.

And indie games are ideally suited to this gaming on the go. They’re mostly shorter and simpler than their triple-A cousins, meaning they’re much easier to dip in and out of amidst our messy lives. The play-anywhere concept of the Switch means there’s now the perfect platform to make that happen.

Not only that, games just seem to feel better on the Switch. Whether using the pro-controller or holding the console in your sweaty palms, there’s something tangibly exciting about its tactile nature. Need to leave the house? Just pick up the console and go. The sharpness of the screen, the power in your hands, the multiple ways to play – the Switch just feels… exciting. And if this hybrid console is the way gaming is going, you can now play the best games of the past few years on the console of the future.

The dreaded backlog is a gamer’s perpetual nightmare, but with the Switch, playing catch-up has become a perpetual activity. Older indie games fit neatly into Nintendo’s ecosystem, not just filling gaps between the next Mario and Zelda games, but taking centre stage on a platform perfectly designed to show them at their best.