Game Builder Garage makes good use of Nintendo’s strengths


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The past weekend may have been loaded with all the latest information on some exciting new games, but it was also one of the busiest launch times of the year so far. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade both launched on PlayStation 5, while the independent title Chicory: a colorful tale has become a surprise critical darling. Nintendo has also put its own mark on the weekend, with the delicious Play builder garage.

The new version of Switch 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. Everything is represented by “nodons,” colorful creatures that literally put a face to tricky concepts like physics and button mapping.

When it comes to game design projects, Play builder garage is one of the most accessible and easy to understand programs. That’s thanks to something that has long been one of Nintendo’s weakest design strengths: its tendency to over-explain things to gamers.

To hold hands

When a new proprietary Nintendo game comes out, there is usually a common criticism from fans. The company tends to rely heavily on tutorials in its games. Play an RPG like Mario & Luigi: paper jam and you’ll spend what seem like hours learning how to perform the most basic actions imaginable.

There is a good reason for this, however. Nintendo games appeal to gamers of all ages, including children. While adults might not need a tutorial on how to blast Mario, the younger players in the business do. This has always created a delicate tension where older players can end up feeling exhausted from overbearing explanations. Nintendo doesn’t always do a great job of finding common ground among all of its players, which can cause the frustration of its aging fan base.

Play builder garage, on the other hand, makes perfect use of Nintendo’s tendency to hold hands. The game is basically a series of tutorials. Players learn to create a handful of microgames from scratch. Each game is divided into simple stages which gradually introduce new concepts. Players will start by learning how to move a character, but within hours, they’ll know how to create an end goal that only activates when it blows up the right number of enemies in a level.

The game’s design is incredibly delicate, but Nintendo is making it somewhat foolproof here. This is because he over-explains every concept until it becomes second nature. By the time I got to the third tutorial set, I had no confusion about how to ensure that an enemy could be transformed into a destructible object that displayed a score counter. It’s hard to forget when the game shows you exactly which settings to check every step of the way.

Nintendo’s curse becomes a giveaway here. Other programming games can often seem almost impossible to analyze due to complicated systems that are not clearly explained. PlayStation 4 Title Dreams is a incredibly powerful tool that allows gamers to create amazing works of art. It’s as complicated as a real game design program. Why spend time learning such a complex program when you could just spend that time learning something like Unity?

A checkpoint screen in Game Builder Garage.

Teach the fundamentals

Play builder garage does not encounter this problem. It is strictly an educational tool designed to teach players the basics of game design. It teaches concepts and gives players an easy way to explore them with touch controls and cute visuals. Someone is unlikely to make the next big video game in Play builder garage, but it offers the kind of in-depth lessons that might instill confidence in someone who wants to get into programming.

As for left-wing Nintendo projects, Play builder garage is a nice tool for kids and adults. It takes a daunting craft and makes it accessible with the playfulness of a Mario game. If even a person feels inspired to make the next great indie game after playing with it, Nintendo has indeed done their job here.

Play builder garage is available now on Nintendo Switch.

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