Say what you will about Nintendo’s admittedly hammy naming scheme but the ‘Nindies’ have done far more than just impress.
Take for instance the recent cult hit Voez. Chances are high that you might not have heard of this delightfully original music rhythm game (that we loved), but had it not been re-relased on the Switch this month, there’d probably be even more chance you wouldn’t know of it.
Developed by the Taiwanese studio Rayark Games, Voez originally came out in the summer of 2016 on iOS and Android. It flew under the radar, mostly due to the low visibility of its developers but also because of its platform. As we all know, the mobile market suffers the same woes as any other and is constantly bombarded with new games. It’s difficult for even great games to get any attention, especially against such heavy hitters like Pokemon GO and Clash of Clans that devour so much of the mobile platform’s attention.
I first found out about Voez through my significant other, who pointed the game in my direction after playing it herself on a whim. It immediately got my attention thanks to its slick interface and unique rhythm mechanics. I played it for about ten minutes, taking a moment to try out each free song before quietly putting it back down. I didn’t plan on putting any money into the game – and if I had known of its eventual Switch rerelease I wouldn’t have. Alas, I was hooked and around twenty dollars later I found myself completely obsessed.
The game struck a chord with me mainly because of my avid love for rhythm games. As many others, I began with Dance Dance Revolution. While I was too young to get involved in the early craze, I was addicted to the eighth version of the game: Dance Dance Revolution Extreme. I pumped my local arcade full of quarters one summer as I continued to climb the local leaderboard on songs like “Speedover Beethoven” and “Cartoon Heroes”. For a while those neon-coloured arrows lined my dreams. The game felt truly special; there was no other genre like it. The feeling of mastering a game through constant practice, where your progression is truly tangible is sublime. There aren’t any imaginary stat points or upgrades to be found – it’s just about how fast you can move. I eventually found myself playing high level songs in both Dance Dance Revolution and In the Groove with crowds of arcade-goers at my back. It’s a time I often find myself reminiscing as I continue to play games like the homegrown Stepmania today.
While my love for these games seemed infinite, their staying power was obviously quite the opposite. As trends moved from game to game, slowly the genre fell out of favour entirely until all that remained were a few Hatsune Miku and Bemani titles. While I love plenty of games in both series, it took something like Voez to reignite my excitement.
Voez grabbed my attention but not just because it was another rhythm game, mind you. It did something new within the old framework of what had come before it. Instead of simply tapping along to more and more complicated beat patterns, Voez incorporates almost every type of touch screen gesture interaction possible. You tap, you swipe, you press and hold. The end result is a game that can make you feel like a conductor, feverishly trying to keep pace with the astounding independent Japanese techno tracks of the game. It’s a game that, at first impressions is beguiling and intimidating as you are introduced to yet another rhythm game format to learn, but still somehow continues to excite well after you master all of its intricacies.
From 2016 and the beginning of 2017, I had assumed Voez’s time in the sun had passed. I was lucky that I stumbled onto it but at this point it became even more difficult to find amongst the constantly rotating wheel of games – until it made its way onto the Switch.
The Switch acted like a magnet for the game, drawing attention to it as people searched other titles to play inbetween their longer Breath of the Wild play sessions. Voez was in a particularly unique position as most Nindies were re-releases of more well-known games like Shovel Knight or The Binding of Isaac. It helps that the game makes a really great first impression, wowing you with its alien mechanics and catchy tunes from the first moments of the game. For the more bored Switch owner who’s looking for something quick to play on their commute, Voez seems like the perfect fit.
It helped propel the game back to the surface of the discussion and in the process, has gained an entirely new audience of fans. Yet, for as much as the Switch did for Voez, the same can be said vice versa. The platform has been heavily criticised for its light games lineup at launch. Even worse for the Nintendo fans who bought the Switch after owning a Wii U. Titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2 look great for those unfamiliar with the games but, it feels bit cheap for those who already bought in previously. That’s where the Nindies come in.
A large collection of small quality titles fill the gaps in between the Switch’s bigger releases. It’ll be months before Super Mario Oddyssey comes out and for some Nintendo fans, there might not be many other titles throughout the year to satiate your appetite. So while the Switch momentarily offers a second chance for games like Voez, that offer cannot be extended forever. As the Switch continues throughout its life, things will eventually return to a state of normalcy. The fervour over its launch will dissipate and it will take more than just having a new Switch game to continue peoples’ interest. In the long run, it will be up to Nintendo to prove why Nindies are important.
If history is any indication, it seems they’re up to the task. After all, they saved the industry from the video game crash of 1983 thanks to Nintendo carefully selecting the NES’s games lineup via their seal of quality, throwing out the old method that led to an over-saturation of poor quality titles. If Nintendo can continue using Nindies as a curator service of strong indie games, it just might be able to carry its momentum forward despite the lack of AAA titles.
I’ve already fallen in love with the Switch because of Nintendo’s focus on small, niche titles. Bringing out Suda 51 to announce a game he hasn’t even named yet or showing off a new Shin Megami Tensei that’s still years out showed that Nintendo is putting a big stake on titles that don’t have a broad global appeal. For myself, it’s a breath of fresh air. Add in titles like Voez and it becomes the console I’ve always dreamed of. Yet not everyone is as starry eyed as I am when it comes to titles like this. It’s up to Nintendo to prove that Nindies need the Switch even more than the Switch needs them. Only time will tell if they can pull that magic trick off.