Game Builder Garage turns Nintendo’s greatest weakness into a strength

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.

Nodons form a game in Game Builder Garage.

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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