As a kid and through my teens it was always a dream of mine to be the one who made the very video games, I loved playing so much. Of course, back then my understanding of how a video game was actually made was about as strong as my knowledge of quantum mechanics. Fast forward to 2021 and while that childhood dream has yet to be ticked off, a game like Game Builder Garage might at the very least pull back that curtain a little and offer me a chance to go beyond and experiment with some video game building.
As the game’s title suggests, this is a game building tool offering users the chance to build their very own games whether that be a platformer, racer, shooter or most anything else your imagination can muster. In typical Nintendo fashion though, everything is presented in a friendly and accessible manner, making what might initially feel scarily intimidating surprisingly easy to follow and best of all great fun to do.
Instead of long strings of code, you’ll build using cute little characters called Nodons. Each one is responsible for a different element of your game whether that’s a physical item like a box or car as well as controller inputs like a button press or movement of the Joy-Con. By joining Nodons together they will then be able to affect one another. For example, you might want to connect a Button Nodon to a Person Nodon in order to allow the player to jump. Or perhaps you might want to add motion controls to a sphere so you can create your own knock-off Super Monkey Ball. It’s surprisingly intuitive for the most part and hugely rewarding as you slowly create a web of connecting Nodons that make up your masterpiece.
Before you’re given free rein to dive into the game’s toolset, you’ll be required to complete the first of seven interactive lessons. Now the idea of Nintendo forcing players through tutorials before getting the keys to the park so to speak is nothing new (and sometimes annoying frustrating), but here it feels absolutely necessary. In fact, despite being allowed to venture off on my own after the first lesson I found myself working through all of them before even touching the toolset unaided. Each lesson clearly guides you through the building of a different genre of game introducing new Nodons at a rate that’s digestible rather than overwhelming. Sprinkled in are also short puzzles tasking you with recalling what you’ve learned from the lesson.
With seven lessons under my belt, I was excited to go about experimenting for myself and while my initial attempts were far from triumphant, even during those failures of logic or misremembering of what a Nodon did, I was having a great time. Some Nodons did leave me scratching my head however due to not all being explained to the player and as a result, I was forced to ignore them unsure of what their potential might be.
Of course, Game Builder Garage is fairly limited in freedom compared to the likes of Dreams, and for some, that may disappoint. Without a model editor, for example, everyone will wind up using the same handful of spheres, cars and characters while environments too are equally limiting. Still, for someone like myself who hasn’t the patience nor time to dedicate to learning something as complex as that of PlayStation’s sensation, Nintendo’s effort makes for an excellent alternative and one that made me feel capable of building something fun and interesting in a decent time.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with the game however is in the sharing options. While you are able to share your creations with the rest of the world or sample the work of others, the way in which you have to go about this is nowhere near as efficient and simple as it should be. Say, for example, I wanted to share my ‘amazing’ platformer with someone else, I can do so locally or online via a code however the latter must be done externally from the game. Similarly, if I want to download someone else’s effort, I’ll need to find their code outside the game in order to search for it or the person in-game. It works don’t get me wrong, and already I’ve discovered some amazing work through the likes of Twitter or other sites, but it’s annoyingly cumbersome. I’d much rather prefer to search for popular games or top-rated ones in Game Builder Garage itself.
A special mention has to go to the game’s overall presentation, everything delivered and displayed in a clear manner. Game Builder Garage also sports a surprising amount of character too, each Nodon with their own personality while Bob and Alice also make for cute and delightful guides through the game’s lessons. It’s weird to think that a building tool could have so much charm radiating from it but leave it to Nintendo to find a way.
Game Builder Garage is an excellent introduction to the world of game programming. While it might not be the most comprehensive example out there, it’s certainly the most accessible and charming one I’ve had the joys of experiencing.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo