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Nintendo’s Switch sales drop as it contends with chip shortage

Nintendo’s Switch sales fell significantly last quarter, dropping to 3.43 million units compared to 4.45 million during the same period last year, according to its earnings report. Software sales also fell to 41.4 million units compared to 45.3 million year over year. All that that resulted in an operating profit of 101.6 billion yen ($763 million), down from last year and short of what was expected. 

The company chalked up the Switch sales issue to a parts shortage, the same thing that bedeviled Sony during the same quarter. “Hardware production was impacted by factors such as the global shortage of semiconductor components, resulting in a decrease of hardware shipments,” the company said. It noted that the OLED model made up a large chunk of Switch sales with 1.52 million units sold, and the lower margins on that model dragged profit down a bit.

While game sales also dropped, Nintendo managed to boost the overall percentage of first-party games sold. In fact, it was the second best first quarter for first-party game sell-through since the Switch launched — second only to Q1 2021, which was fueled by Animal Crossing: New Horizons. All told, however, Nintendo would have to call the quarter a success considering that game buyers spent 13 percent less this year compared to 2021, according to Bloomberg

Some of that was aided by the launch of three key games, the company pointed out, particularly Nintendo Switch Sports which arrived on April 29th. Mario Strikers: Battles League launched on June 10th, while Fire Emblem Warriors arrived on June 24th. “More than 100 million users played Nintendo Switch in the latest 12-month period,” the company added. 

Nintendo is hoping that upcoming games will help out next quarter. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 just launched, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass: Wave 2 arrives on August 4th, Splatoon 3 will be released on September 9th and you’ll see Kirby’s Dream Buffet sometime this summer. The company is also launching an OLED Switch Splatoon 3 Edition on August 26th. 

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Nintendo’s Zelda-themed Game & Watch is a love letter to Link’s 8-bit origins

For the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. last year, Nintendo released a special edition Game & Watch. (If you don’t know, Game & Watch were a line of handheld LCD devices from the ‘80s that could each play one very simple game.) Rather than featuring a single title, the Super Mario anniversary device had a full version of the original adventure as well as its Japan-only sequel, known in the West as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels.

Nintendo’s pulling the same trick this year with a 35th-anniversary Legend of Zelda-themed Game & Watch that just went on sale. And like last year’s model, it includes a color screen and full games, but the selection is more generous. It includes the original The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, both originally released on the NES. It also includes The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which came out on the Game Boy in 1993, making this essentially a collection of Zelda’s early 8-bit adventures.

Gallery: The Legend of Zelda: Game & Watch photos | 11 Photos

I actually have never really played the first two Zelda games, though I do love Link’s Awakening. I played the Switch remaster a few years ago, but I haven’t touched the original game since my childhood — so when we got a chance to check this tiny device out, I was pretty thrilled to give that game a go.

The Game & Watch itself is elegantly designed, but also feels rather cheap. It’s a tiny, palm-sized device with an eye-catching gold front, while the rest of the device is clad in green plastic. The front has a 2.36-inch color LCD screen that is very small but also looks great — and when playing Link’s Awakening, the upgrade from the Game Boy’s screen, which had no backlight, is dramatic. The D-Pad and buttons are nothing to write home about, but they’re good enough.

On the right side of the device is an exceedingly modern USB-C port for charging its battery (which is pretty meager, so you’re going to need to do that a lot) and a power button; the speaker is on the left side. Finally, there’s a great Easter egg on the back: When the screen is on, the Triforce glows subtly through the green plastic. It’s a great little detail.

The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Game & Watch has a few different modes: clock, timer and game. Pressing the “game” button lets you switch between the three Zelda titles, a Link-themed version of Vermin (from a 1980 Game & Watch), and the timer. The clock and timer are fairly self-explanatory, but their use of Zelda action as backgrounds is expertly done.

On the clock, you’ll see the original Legend of Zelda, and the CPU-controlled Link essentially battles his way through the game over the course of the next 12 hours, defeating Ganon and rescuing Zelda at 11:59. If you’re so inclined, you can pick up the console and control the action from the clock screen at any time. Likewise, the timer features a handful of different scenes from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link that you can either watch or play yourself. The device’s packaging even converts into a little stand so you can use the Game & Watch as a desk clock.

If you’re interested in this Game & Watch, though, you’re not in it for playing the clock: you want to relive Link’s earliest adventures on the smallest portable device you can find. Sure, you can play the NES Zelda collection on the Switch (or many other old Nintendo devices), but the Game & Watch’s miniature screen and old-school controls feel just right for these adventures. That’s doubly true with Link’s Awakening, since it was originally designed for portable systems.

The games themselves are exactly as you remember them, with no quality of life enhancements or graphics updates; Link’s Awakening is in black and white, rather than the later “DX” version released for the Game Boy color. I’m not complaining, though, as these original versions seem right for the Game & Watch as a celebration of the series’ 8-bit origins.

The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

How you feel about these games will depend on your history with the series. Like I said, I’ve never played the original NES Zelda adventures; I got on board with A Link to the Past in 1992. As such, I don’t have a lot of nostalgic love for the original pair, and playing the first game was an exercise in frustration. There’s barely a map, Link is slow while enemies are fast, and aiming is imprecise at best. I definitely died more than my fair share of times, which was rather humbling for this self-described Zelda expert. But hey, I shouldn’t have expected anything different from a 1986 game, and I started to get the hang of it soon enough.

Link’s Awakening, on the other hand, was like visiting an old friend. Muscle and brain memory combined to have me slashing my way through it in no time at all, and it controlled just like I remembered. The A and B buttons may have felt rather squishy, but the D-pad was close enough to the one on my old Game Boy that I felt right at home. I don’t know if I’ll finish the NES Zelda games, but I’ll definitely play through Link’s Awakening.

So who exactly is this $50 device for? The Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch was really only meant for people who loved that first Mario game, not necessarily people who love the Mario franchise in general. Likewise, The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch is best for someone who loved these original games growing up. It doesn’t even have to be all three, though — if one of them was a formative gaming experience, you’ll delight in getting a chance to play it on a cute little handheld. But someone raised on Twilight Princess or Breath of the Wild probably will find these a lot less essential.

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Nintendo’s Switch Online ‘Expansion Pack’ costs $50 a year, launches October 25th

Nintendo held a Direct video presentation this morning, announcing two major updates for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. One is a free bit of DLC, and the other is a paid, $25 expansion called Happy Home Paradise. Unexpectedly, Nintendo used this announcement to reveal the price of the upcoming Switch Online “expansion pack.” The service, which adds classic N64 and Sega Genesis games to the existing Switch Online offerings, will cost $50 per year or $80 for a family plan. This expansion will include access to the $25 Happy Home Paradise DLC — so if you’re an Animal Crossing: New Horizons player, it’s like getting the rest of the Expansion Pack benefits for $5.

Shortly after this story was published, Nintendo released more details about the expansion pack, including its October 25th launch date. If you already have a Switch Online subscription, you’ll be able to upgrade at a pro-rated cost depending on how much time was left on your original plan.There are more details about the expansion pack in the video above as well as on Nintendo’s site.

Finally, you can now pre-order the N64 and Sega Genesis controllers that are compatible with the Switch. A single controller will cost $50, and there doesn’t appear to be any discount for pairs. Given how good Nintendo’s previous classic controllers have been, we expect these should feel like authentic reproductions.

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Nintendo’s sales can’t keep up with last year’s lockdown boom

If there’s one downside to an unexpected and massive spike in success, it’s that when things go back to normal, it can look worse by comparison. This is the “problem” that Nintendo is currently dealing with as it publishes its most recent quarterly report, reflecting the fact that the world has changed once again. In the three months to June 30th, the company posted an operating profit of 119 billion yen, which works out to roughly $1.1 billion. That is, however, a 17.3 percent drop compared to the 144 billion yen ($1.3 billion) posted this time last year, when people were mandated to spend much more time indoors.

The other difference compared to last year is a lack of a brand-name Nintendo title to draw in users like it had in 2020. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was (according to some analysts) the third-biggest selling game of the year, which also drove sales of new Switch consoles to buyers looking to get in on the action. In fact, New Horizons is still a big selling title, with 1.26 million units sold in this quarter, a year after it was originally launched. And Nintendo’s software sales in total were only 10.2 percent smaller than the trade it did across the same period last year.

Rather amusingly, Nintendo broke out a graph in its financial report showing that, if you remove the Animal Crossing spike, its software sales have constantly increased since at least 2018. The fact that investors are still apparently nervous about Nintendo’s future — to the point where Bloomberg is reporting that the company will issue stock buybacks to cover the gap in fallen sales — shows the disconnect between Wall Street and the world the rest of us are living in. But the company hasn’t altered its sales forecast or plans for the rest of the year, such is its confidence about its business.

Nintendo’s financial health is going to look a lot rosier in the back half of 2021 anyway, with a number of big titles out, and soon to be released. The HD remake of Zelda: Skyward Sword isn’t covered in this report, and WarioWare: Get It Together drops in September. October sees the launch of Metroid Dread and Mario Party Superstars, while November sees the launch of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Plus, you know, there’s the OLED Switch and Zelda Game and Watch coming to boost hardware sales.

Not to mention that next year is likely to feature a third Splatoon game, a sequel to Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a new entry in the Mario+Rabbids series. And what investors are forgetting, it seems, is that if we’re all asked to start traveling to work again, it’s more likely that we’ll be tempted to bring along those Switch consoles some folks panic-bought at the start of last year. Which will require a steady stream of new games to keep their fingers entertained while sat on the bus or subway.

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Nintendo’s ‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ is on sale for $75 right now

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Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a good way to spice up your regular racing competitions. It brings the virtual-racing action into the real world with tiny karts that zoom around your home on tracks you create yourself. A single set is fairly expensive at $100 — especially considering you need a Nintendo Switch to use it at all — but now you can grab either than Mario or Luigi set from Amazon for only $75. That’s a return to the game’s all-time-low price, so now’s the time to grab it if you’ve had your eye on it for a while.

Buy Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit at Amazon – $100

Both Home Circuit sets come gates that you set up around your home to build your own racetrack, plus a camera-equipped kart operated by either Mario or Luigi. However, one set only comes with one car, so you will need to sets if you want to race IRL with your friend or family member (a single-player mode is supported as well). You will need a bit of space to set up your track — approximately a 10 x 12 foot area — but once the track is place, you can use the Joy-Cons of your Switch to control the kart.

You can switch up your track simply by moving the gates around, but the game will make things more challenging by making you race underwater, in an 8-bit world and more. The in-game obstacles will affect your very real kart by making it slow down or speed up, so you’ll likely run into new challenges very time you race even if your IRL track stays the same. And like in traditional Mario Kart, you’ll collect items as you zip around the track. Home Circuit is a compelling add-on for diehard Mario Kart fans, but also those that want a new way to experience the game.

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Nintendo’s OLED Switch isn’t the Switch Pro, and that’s okay

The long-rumored OLED-equipped Nintendo Switch is finally real! But it’s not quite the upgrade we were expecting. For months, reports claimed a “Switch Pro” would also deliver some sort of 4K upscaling capability and faster performance. But this new model, which will sell for $350 when it’s released on October 8th, doesn’t go nearly that far. Instead, it’s more of a minor step forward that fixes a few of the Switch’s original design flaws, but doesn’t dramatically change the system. And you know what? That’s fine.

If you’ve been following Nintendo for any amount of time, it shouldn’t be surprising that the company isn’t really interested in joining a spcs race. Let Sony and Microsoft duke it out for 4K dominance — Nintendo can show there’s still plenty to love about games in 1080p and below. Sticking with the same hardware also means developers don’t have to worry about splitting the Switch user base, an issue that’s plagued Nintendo systems over the last few decades. (Was the New 3DS actually worth it?)

The global chip shortage may have foiled Nintendo’s plans to stuff better hardware in this Switch, as well. The system currently uses a custom version of NVIDIA’s Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip, which was quietly updated in 2019 to increase the console’s battery life. According to various reports, Nintendo was exploring docked 4K upscaling using NVIDIA’s DLSS technology, which uses AI processing to bump lower-resolution textures up to something that looks far sharper. But that technology would have required an updated Tegra chip that brought over some of the hardware from NVIDIA’s recent RTX GPUs. That’s not an impossible task, but it’s one that may have required more work than NVIDIA was able to accomplish during the hellscape of 2020 (at least, while keeping the final cost reasonable).

Nintendo OLED Switch

Nintendo

That doesn’t mean dreams of a 4K-capable Switch are dead; it’s just something we’ll have to wait a year or two to see. Nintendo would also need to add more RAM to the Switch so it could better handle the 1080p textures required for DLSS upscaling. That’s not easy to do with the system’s meager 4GB of RAM, so a future console would need 6GB or 8GB. And don’t forget, Nintendo also needs to balance delivering solid battery life with the Switch in handheld mode, so it needs to be careful about shoving in demanding new hardware.

For owners of the original Switch, or newcomers to the platform, this OLED model still seems like an enticing upgrade. The larger screen makes the system look more modern, with less of a chunky display bezel. OLED will also make games look dramatically better, especially while playing outside in direct sunlight. There’s also a wider kickstand, similar to the one of the Microsoft Surface tablets, which should make portable play a lot more stable. There’s also 64GB of internal storage, up from 32GB, and “enhanced audio,” which could just refer to better speakers. Nintendo isn’t getting very specific there.

Nintendo OLED Switch

Nintendo

And if you’re really into online multiplayer, you’ll likely appreciate the Ethernet port built into the OLED Switch’s dock. (And if that’s the main draw for you, Nintendo says the dock is also compatible with the old Switch models.) Due to the larger screen, though, Nintendo says the OLED Switch may run into issues with some Labo kits and other games.

I get it, $350 is a lot to shell out for a slightly better Switch. That’s particularly true when you can get the disc-less PlayStation 5 for $399, or the full PS5 and Xbox Series X for $499. But for Nintendo diehards, the improvements are definitely tempting. Just don’t be surprised if the company ends up dropping the 4K-capable Switch during the 2022 holiday season.

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Game Builder Garage Makes Good Use of Nintendo’s Strengths

Last weekend may have been loaded with all the latest info on exciting new games, but it was also one of the busiest launch periods of the year so far. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade both launched on PlayStation 5, while indie title Chicory: A Colorful Tale became a surprise critical darling. Nintendo put its own stamp on the weekend, too, with the delightful Game Builder Garage.

The new Switch release is less of a game and more of a design tool. It allows players to create their own games, while learning the basics of programming. It’s all represented through “nodons,” colorful creatures who put a literal face to tricky concepts like physics and button mapping.

As far as game design projects go, Game Builder Garage is one of the most accessible and easy to understand programs out there. That’s thanks to something that’s long been one of Nintendo’s weakest design strengths: iIs tendency to overexplain things to players.

Hand-holding

When a new first-party Nintendo game comes out, there’s usually a common criticism from fans. The company tends to lean heavy on tutorials in its games. Play an RPG like Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam and you’ll spend what feels like hours getting told how to perform the most basic actions imaginable.

There’s a good reason for that, though. Nintendo games appeal to players of all ages, which includes kids. While adults may not need a tutorial on how to make Mario jump, the company’s youngest players do. That’s always created a tricky tension where older players can end up feeling exhausted by overbearing explainers. Nintendo doesn’t always do a great job of finding a middle ground between all of its players, which can spark frustration in its aging fan base.

Game Builder Garage, on the other hand, makes perfect use of Nintendo’s tendency toward hand-holding. The game is essentially a series of tutorials. Players learn how to build a handful of microgames from scratch. Each game is split up into simple steps that introduce new concepts gradually. Players will start by learning how to make a character move, but within a few hours, they’ll know how to create an end goal that only activates when blowing up the right number of enemies in a level.

Game design is incredibly tricky, but Nintendo makes it somewhat foolproof here. That’s because it overexplains every single concept until it becomes second nature. By the time I got to the third set of tutorials, I had no confusion about how to make sure an enemy could be turned into a destructible object that ticked a score counter up. It’s hard to forget when the game shows you exactly what settings to check every step of the way.

Nintendo’s curse becomes a gift here. Other programming games can often feel next to impossible to parse due to complicated systems that aren’t explained clearly. PlayStation 4 title Dreams is an incredibly powerful tool that lets players create incredible art. It’s also as complicated as an actual game design program. Why spend time learning a program so complex when you could just spend that time learning something like Unity?

A checkpoint screen in Game Builder Garage.

Teaching the fundamentals

Game Builder Garage doesn’t run into that problem. It’s strictly an educational tool that’s designed to teach players the fundamentals of game design. It teaches concepts and gives players an easy way to explore them with tactile controls and cute visuals. It’s unlikely someone is going to make the next great video game in Game Builder Garage, but it offers the kind of thorough lessons that might inspire confidence in someone who wants to get into programming.

As far as left-field Nintendo projects go, Game Builder Garage is a lovely tool for kids and adults alike. It takes a daunting profession and makes it approachable with the playfulness of a Mario game. If even one person feels inspired to create the next great indie game after toying around with it, Nintendo has effectively accomplished its job here.

Game Builder Garage is available now on the Nintendo Switch.

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Missing: Three games we didn’t see during Nintendo’s E3 stream

Nintendo is the proud proprietor of dozens of legendary franchises, so it’s easy for the company to impress its fans — and let them down. Today’s Nintendo Direct live stream, held on the final day of E3 2021, was a classic amalgamation of disappointment and intrigue as only the House of Mario can deliver. 

Here, we’ve transformed our sorrow into content, offering a breakdown of three games that didn’t make an appearance at Nintendo’s E3 show. So, grab your tissues and take a look at what might have been:

Bayonetta 3

It’s been like four years since anyone’s heard anything about Bayonetta 3, and it’s starting to feel as if PlatinumGames is holding her hostage — or worse, as if developers have quietly killed her off, and are hoping no one calls in a wellness check.

In all likelihood, development on Bayonetta 3 is simply chugging along at a steady, yet slow, pace. PlatinumGames is busy: The studio is simultaneously working on Babylon’s Fall, a massive online co-op game with serious Demon’s Souls vibes, and it’s building its first original universe with Project GG. That’s on top of whatever Nier business developers may have, plus the remaster of The Wonderful 101 that’s in progress, backed by fans on Kickstarter. Not to mention their tongue-in-cheek game, Sol Cresta, which was announced on April Fool’s Day and is supposedly coming out this year. 

The last time Bayonetta 3 was even mentioned in a Nintendo Direct, it was 2019 and all we got was a two-second promise of “more news soon.” Clearly, that was a lie. And to really rub it in, this was right after the announcement of PlatinumGames’ Astral Chain, a game that actually hit Switch just six months later.

PlatinumGames received a cash infusion from Chinese technology giant Tencent in January 2020, which should give it plenty of runway to tackle all of these projects. But just like the airport, it’s fair to expect some delays.

But for real, Bayonetta — if you can read this, send us a sign.

Metroid Prime 4

What’s the deal with game announcements in 2017? Much like Bayonetta 3, it’s been four years since Nintendo revealed Metroid Prime 4. But surprisingly, with this title, we have a better idea of what’s happening behind the scenes. 

Nintendo scrapped its progress on Metroid Prime 4 in 2019 and started over from scratch with a new studio, which makes the extended silence on this one easier to swallow. US-based Retro Studios is now working on Metroid Prime 4, and all we know so far is that it’s different than the original version (of which we also knew very little). 

Back in 2019, producer Kensuke Tanabe explained the decision to start over on Metroid Prime 4, saying, “It will be a long road until the next time we will be able to update you on the development progress, and development time will be extensive.”

At least we can’t say they didn’t warn us.

As it stands, Metroid Prime 4 has been in development for two and a half years, rather than four, but that’s still plenty of time to leave fans hanging. It’s still slated to launch exclusively on Nintendo Switch. Eventually.

Splatoon 3

This one is perhaps the most forgivable on the list, since Nintendo only announced Splatoon 3 this year — but maybe that’s what makes it the least forgivable. Splatoon represents Nintendo’s future, offering a shiny competitive universe with colorful shooting mechanics and a reliance on online play, and it’s one of the most in-demand franchises on the Switch.

Splatoon 3 is set to launch in 2022, and Nintendo’s E3 show was the ideal opportunity to answer fan questions and get the game in front of some fresh eyeballs. However, there were no splats to be had.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Nintendo

And hey, while we’re here, Pokemon Legends Arceus deserves a special shout out. Sure, it already has a release date, but that’s coming up soon and Pokemon is always a showstopper. And of course, there’s the elephant in the live stream — Nintendo failed to even hint at new Switch hardware, a rumor that set the mill ablaze ahead of E3. The company did reveal a new Game & Watch, at least.

Don’t call us bitter, but these were just a few of the things that we were particularly excited to see at Nintendo’s E3 2021 showcase, and it’s a bummer to still be in the dark on these details. 

At least Bayonetta is here to keep us company.

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Watch Nintendo’s E3 2021 Direct in 12 minutes

Earlier today, Nintendo was one of the last major publishers to host an E3 2021-related event, and the company did not disappoint. After seemingly trolling its fans with a lengthy look at the expansion pass for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the company delivered the goods. 

We got a brief but tantalizing look at the sequel to Breath of the Wild, and it was glorious. Nintendo showed off the game’s expanded open world, which includes the skies above Hyrule, and said it hopes to release the title sometime in 2022. The Legend of Zelda wasn’t the only highlight from the presentation, however. 

The company also showed off Advance Wars remakes, a new WarioWare game and a rebooted version of Metroid Dread. We also got confirmation of a Guardians of the Galaxy release, the next Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fighter and a street date for Shin Megami Tensei V. In all, it was a fast-moving 45-minute presentation that saw the company cover a lot of ground, but if you missed any part of it, we got your covered with an even faster paced 12-minute cut of all the good parts.        

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Nintendo’s ‘Game Builder Garage’ taught this comp sci dropout how to make games

Like a lot of gamers, I would love to be able to make a game of my own someday. And it’s not as simple as “learn to code” — for one thing, I actually did learn coding in junior high and high school, and even took a college course which resulted in the hardest C- I’ve ever worked for. I have the basics down, but my skills aren’t up to the task of doing it for a living… or making the game of my dreams. Lots of STEM programs and products have been released to try to make the process a little bit easier and I’ve tried quite a few of them during my time at Engadget. Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage might be the one I finally stick with.

Nintendo / Engadget

Some coding kits are very dry, walking users through the basics of putting together text strings to do specific things. Others jazz it up a bit by making each function into a colorful block, instructing users to stack them together like LEGO. Garage is even further along the playfulness spectrum, making each function, called a Nodon, into a living block with a personality — there’s even a small storyline buried into them, as they greet you like an old friend after you’ve already used them a few times and they’ll have friendly chats with each other. It’s half ReBoot, and half Adventure Time in style.

Nintendo / Engadget

That candy-coding extends to the lessons themselves, which are friendly, encouraging and even a bit patronizing. Game Builder Garage is a tool that will hold your hand every step of the way, even telling you when it’s time to close a window. People with any kind of game making experience will probably hate how much the Interactive Lessons babysit you, but the good news is that you can skip them completely. The game has a Free Programming mode available from the start, you don’t have to unlock anything, as all the different functions are there to experiment with to your heart’s content.

Nintendo / Engadget

I love how easy it is in both the Interactive Lessons and Free Programming to switch between the game and coding screens — just a press of the “+” button will toggle between the two, letting you see how it’s laid out under the hood or what the game currently looks and plays like with the existing coding. I’m a hands-on learner, so being able to experiment helps me understand how something works better than simply being told — though the game will do plenty of that. 

Game Builder Garage knows you aren’t going to get everything right away, so it repeats itself a lot, telling you exactly what to do even when it’s already told you before. Maybe you forgot, or maybe you just weren’t paying attention the first time. It’s okay, you got this.

Nintendo / Engadget

After an initial tutorial there are seven titles that Game Builder Garage will walk you through, in different genres and with mechanics that build on what you’ve learned before. But it doesn’t really expect you to remember everything until around lesson four, so don’t worry about being thrown into the pool without a life ring. Each lesson consists of a number of smaller steps, so you can start a project and finish it later if you choose. One nice touch is that the game tells you how many minutes each lesson will take — completing all of the lessons will take about eight hours in total, not counting the mandatory checkpoints, which are puzzles that you might figure out right away or struggle with for a while.

Checkpoint 1 - All Clear!

Nintendo / Engadget

As a Duolingo user, the checkpoint system in Game Builder Garage made me nervous at first, but it’s designed to be really hard to fail. You’re given a board with a person and an apple, and you must “grab” the apple to proceed. There’s always something in your way or something that doesn’t work right, forcing you to delve into the code screen and “fix” the problem. There might be multiple solutions, but Game Builder Garage has one right answer it wants you to use. 

To guide you, all the functions you don’t need will be locked down and the Nodons you do need will have little thought bubbles above their heads to hint at what you should be doing. Sometimes all it takes is a little trial and error and, once I figured that out, the checkpoints became incredibly easy. I don’t dread the checkpoints in Garage the way I dread them in Duolingo. But the two educational programs have a lot of other things in common, like the use of repetition and of course, the cute, colorful characters.

Input - Middle - Output - Obects menu

Nintendo / Engadget

As a game engine, Game Builder Garage can be pretty robust. All of your functions are broken up by type: input, middle, output and objects. Each Nodon has a settings window which is where a lot of the magic happens… and the math. I’ve been told repeatedly that you don’t need to be good at math to code, but I found myself drawing on a lot of the lessons I learned my first year of high school-level mathematics, including logic (like AND, OR and NOT functions) and Cartesian coordinates (X, Y and Z). Maybe you don’t need full-on calculus, but having these basics down will be a big help in mastering the game engine.

Settings - World

Nintendo / Engadget

If you want to put together a platformer or racing game, Game Builder Garage can manage that just fine — and with some creativity you can even dabble in genres like hidden object games. But you’ll find that it’s best suited for action titles, and players who prefer something more cerebral would be better off with an engine like RPG Maker. As would anyone who wants a game they can actually sell in a store, as Game Builder Garage is a sealed ecosystem and people who want to play your creations must own their own copy of the Switch title. 

To share games players must exchange codes, as there is no central repository for user-generated content. For this reason Nintendo isn’t particularly worried about copyright infringement, since it means people are still buying its product. But it also means the company has no control over any communities that may arise.

Lesson 3 - Game Complete!

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And hopefully plenty will, unlike previous efforts like the Labo Toy-Con Garage. The big advantage here is that the Game Builder Garage is so much cheaper than any Labo at $30. (You may still be able to find select Labo kits for as little as $25 — I personally recommend the VR Blaster set.) Sure, there are plenty of cheap programming tools available that will help you make and publish a full game to put on Steam or itch.io, but none of them will be as patient or forgiving as Game Builder Garage — or let you play around with the full Swiss Army knife selection of features on the Switch. Which might be Nintendo’s real endgame here; not to just create more potential game designers, but ones who are used to working with Nintendo’s unique hardware.

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