When the Nintendo Switch was first announced, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect: family-friendly adventures featuring Mario and his pals. And yeah, we got that. But we also got something else. Something darker.
The Switch has become a perfect platform for masocore games. These are the games that kill the player again and again and again, sometimes for making even small errors. The first surprising hint that this was the way things were going: The Binding of Isaac dropped within the first two weeks of the console’s launch.
Since then, we’ve seen a wave of indies that lean on similarly punishing formats. In fact, just this month, three games were released that reward inexperience with swift annihilation.
N++ is a re-release of a Steam/PS4 2D platformer that utilizes death as a teaching tool across a few thousand levels, each of which will probably kill the player a handful of times.
Wizard of Legend is a top-down spellcasting game where you clear randomly generated rooms with an array of magical powers. Following in the footsteps of The Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon, it’s not for the tender-hearted.
Death Road to Canada is The Oregon Trail meets FTL, requiring that you recruit a gang of hopeful expats to survive a randomly generated adventure through zombie hordes.
Those are just the new masocore games; the genre has a lot of titles on the Switch. Some more of my favorites are:
- Enter the Gungeon
- The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth+
- The Darkest Dungeon
- The End Is Nigh
But all of these games are available on other platforms, so what is it about the Switch that makes them sing? It’s the lack of commitment required to playing them on a portable device.
There’s something exhausting about playing a tough game on a big TV or a computer. You’re locked into what you’re doing, and that’s draining. You’re invested in playing a longer session, which is perfect for an atmospheric game like God of War but wearying for masocore titles. The Switch lets you kick back on the couch, throw on a nature documentary and try to power your way through a tough series of levels. Your progress will always be saved, and you can just turn off the system if you get frustrated. Picking up where you left off is as easy as powering the Switch back on.
In the past, I had leaned on the Vita for these sorts of games, but there were drawbacks. The game library was limited, and the Vita’s performance really struggled with certain games. Spelunky, for example, never quite ran perfectly, and performance equals life when you’re playing games in which every frame matters. The Switch has more than enough power to do these games justice, and a library the Vita will never match in this genre.
The Switch is no graphical powerhouse, granted, but masocore games rarely push the hardware that much. N++ and Celeste, two platformers that demand perfection, run at a glossy 60 frames per second on the Switch. Every death is my fault alone — the way it should be.
When the Switch was first announced, I had expectations. This was a Nintendo console, after all. I’d take my four family-friendly first-party games a year and be happy about it.
Turns out I got a lot more. And it’s just killing me.