Bottom line: Game Builder Garage is an impressive and accessible entry into visual programming for those interested in game design, but the archaic online options and game limitations keep Game Builder Garage from reaching its potential.
Intuitive lessons guide you through the basics
The game design tools provided are impressive
Simple and endearing art style
Playing other player creations is a real joy
You can't easily share or find games
The scope and length of games are pretty limited
Not a great choice for non-creatives
The game isn't very helpful outside of lessons
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The idea of making your own games is a herculean task, one that typically requires dizzying amounts of code, hours upon hours of trial and error, and a fair amount of technical know-how to make any idea spring to life. But in the last twenty years or so, with the advent of indie games and more accessible and available software, making a game, no matter how big or small, isn't as out of reach as it maybe once was — at least if you're dedicated enough.
Nintendo has attempted to tap into the edutainment market before with Nintendo Labo, a cardboard contraption that, while innovative, didn't exactly set the world on fire. But the design tools that made up the Labo were sophisticated enough to make cool, albeit simple games. Game Builder Garage takes those tools, drops the cardboard, and strings them all together into straightforward tutorials that teach you the basics of visual programming and design while you build seven different games from scratch.
But how does Game Builder Garage fair as an overall package? While would-be game designers will have a lot to love here, the appeal of a game like Game Builder Garage can be measured by the user's creativity and interest, but if you're not interested in putting in the time that Game Builder Garage requires, you'll quickly put it down.
Game Builder Garage: If you think it, you can build it
Game Builder Garage is almost not really a game per se, but rather tutorials strung together to walk you through a game's creation. There are seven lessons in the game, with the end result of each being your very own game, whether it's a racing game or a simple game of tag. Each block in your game design curriculum takes about 40 to 70 mins to complete, and they're very hands-on. You'll always know what to do next, thanks to a little blue dot named Bob, who explains the ins and outs of just about everything, and the Nodons, the cute little creatures that represent various inputs, outputs, and game logic.
|Title||Game Builder Garage|
|Game Size||1 GB|
|Play Time||8-10 hours|
|Players||Up to 8 players|
|Format||Download and Game Card|
There over 80 Nodons in total, each with their own colorful flair, and the gameplay (if you could call it that) is to simply combine the Nodons into a functioning game. It's overwhelming at first, but the simple tools are quite sophisticated, and whether you're crafting your own ideas or following a lesson, seeing the end product was always satisfying, no matter how simple the end product turned out.
I was also impressed by the types of genres possible in Game Builder Garage. You can utilize gyro control to make a ball roll or make a multiplayer game where each player uses one of the Joy-Cons. You can even make a bonafide 3D platformer. It's only been a few days since release, and I've already come across mind-blowing concepts and ideas come to life in Game Builder Garage.
Between each lesson, you'll be introduced to Checkpoints — essentially puzzles that help reinforce the lesson you just learned. In these short puzzles, you must fix an issue with the game by cracking it open and adjusting the Nodons under the hood, but even in these puzzles, you're guided to the correct answer. While the handholding did help me progress through tutorials at a steady pace, It's a little restrictive.
But that's where Free Programming comes in. Free Programing is unlocked after the first lesson is completed, and that's where you have the freedom to build any game you want, as long as it's within the predetermined scope of the game. You can also upload and share your creations online, as long as you have Nintendo Switch Online. Unfortunately, the online aspect is woefully undercooked.
Game Builder Garage: Lacking online options
In classic Nintendo fashion, they made online sharing as frustrating as possible. You can share your game with friends or just about anyone on the internet by uploading your game and sharing a generated game code, but there's no way to search for game creations in-game. To find other uploads, I had to search online, browse through Twitter, and scour fan-made websites to find a community. It feels like a glaring oversight. I mean, Super Mario Maker 2 has that functionality, so why not Game Builder Garage? What's the point of building these games if it's so hard to share them?
As for the tutorials, they are detailed but don't really flesh out the game's capabilities. Once I was free of the tutorials, building my side-scrolling masterpiece was a matter of trial and error, and if you're going in without a lick of programming knowledge (like I did), you might find yourself getting stumped by what seem like simple tasks. Considering how much Game Builder Garage does tell you, there's an awful lot that's left out. I wish that there were more advanced lessons to partake in if only to continue improving the basics taught by the game.
And while the tools available in Game Builder Garage are impressive, they're not all-encompassing, and you'll quickly realize the limits of the software. For example, you can create 2D textures and insert them into your games, but when it comes to 3D objects, what you see is what you get. Forget about building complex games or even long games with multiple levels. The limits start to become glaring, especially when you think of what's possible in similar games like Dreams on the PS4 or even games like Minecraft.
Game Builder Garage: Should you play it?
All in all, your mileage may vary with Game Builder Garage. It's a great introduction to younger switch owners who might be interested in programming and the creations that have already been posted by much smarter and much more creative users than me are a sight to behold. As for me, once I finished my seven lessons, I was about done with Game Builder Garage, and it was that much easier to put the game down once I difficult it was to share anything.
Game Builder Garage is an experiment that feels quintessentially Nintendo in both the best and worst ways. Its charming music and intuitive tools are impressive, especially to anyone with even a passing interest in programming or game design.
If you're the type of person who can see themselves getting lost in the intricate logic puzzles that come with designing a fully functioning game, then Game Builder Garage is for you. But if all this sounds like an unwanted elective, then you might want to pass on Game Builder Garage.
Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. He likes playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.
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