Game Builder Garage Review
With Nintendo’s Labo experiment gone silent since the VR Kit, where does it leave all the cool coding stuff that was tucked away in Toy-Con Garage? It was a shame the garage was hindered essentially by requiring you to buy space-consuming Labo kits to get it. Game Builder Garage is stepping up to fill that Labo sized hole in our hearts, only without all the cardboard.
Game Builder Garage feels like the next step from the Labo software, with the light-hearted humour from the Labo and Super Mario Maker 2 combined with the coding of the Toy-Con Garage. Where to even start describing what kind of game this is?
Yes, there are games, but you have to make them first. So really, this is any game you want it to be. Within reason, of course, Game Builder will show you how to do it. With several hours worth of tutorials, you’ll learn how to program a game using Nodons.
To help get across this visual language for coding, Nintendo gave us the Nodons. Within the programming mode, these are boxes that all have their own personalities and different symbols to indicate which is which. Everything is a Nodon, all serving different purposes and actions, and you connect them all up. There are sections for the different kinds of Nodons – Input, Middle, Output and Objects. Simple connections would be creating button inputs to move a person around. You would need to make a button Nodon and link it to the person Nodon’s movement input. If you want them to move up and down and left and right, you’ll need two different button Nodons to link them to. You’ll need another if you want a button to make them jump, so as you can see, even the simple actions we take for granted involve more work than you’d think. With the press of a button, you can switch to playing the game so you can see all your hard work in action.
To begin with, you can only enter the tutorial section, with Bob the dot as your charming and sometimes witty guide. Bob takes you step-by-step through each of the games you’ll learn to build. More importantly, you’ll be learning what each relevant Nodon does and how it applies to each game.
After you complete your first game, the free programming mode opens up, which is when you find out just how many Nodons there are. It’s recommended you complete all the tutorial games, and it’s good advice. You could take your chances and work it out through trial and error, but the tutorials are the best way at understanding the game building naming logic. Already you don’t have to look far to see what people have come up with, and if you download their game you can pop open the hood and see what they did to make it all work.
Making full use of the different forms of controls on the Switch, Game Builder takes advantage of these. You can have button controls, touch screen or motion controls added as inputs for your game. If you have a PC mouse, you can connect it through the USB for the programming mode. It’s not often you have a game that makes such full use of all of Nintendo’s console inputs outside of the Warioware series.
You can send and receive games locally, but if you want to receive games from anywhere else, you’re going to need an NSO subscription. There’s no way in-game to look for user-made games; you need a code from the person. This is frustrating if you want to easily browse through games within the game and not have to look to websites to collect people’s codes. It’s the way Nintendo continues to operate with user-made content, everyone voices their frustrations, and this time will be no different. I get that it’s not easy moderating a community like this, and this is not the game they’d feel comfortable sinking that time and money into either. It’s still a shame regardless, and chances are it will shorten the time the game community stays active, building games for one another to enjoy.
The community has made a site to share games, in lieu of a directory in the game – here
The promotional videos for Garage, leading up to the game’s release, hinted at all kinds of games you could make. The tutorials only guide you into making a few possible games, ideally giving you enough of a start to explore the other kinds of games Nintendo hinted at. It would have been pushing it to include more tutorials, provided a few are already at the 80min mark. But it wouldn’t have hurt to have optional tutorials covering the basics to nudge you in the right direction for some of the game types not covered in the lessons. It’s also disappointing the different game tutorials have to be done in order; no skipping to the game you’re the most interested in. It’s possible it’s like this to slowly ease you into how Nodons work before making more complex games. The further into the tutorials you go, the more they begin to assume you’re familiar with the Nodons you’ve been putting to use and why. While the tutorials will tell you exactly what to do, it doesn’t help much if you don’t properly understand, so it is worth going through all of the games to learn.
One last thing I found hard to ignore was the pacing of the tutorials could be so slow. You very quickly get used to what Bob will tell you to do next, but you can’t do it until the game is ready to tell you and allow you to. Sometimes, it makes you wait for the effect to demonstrate when something isn’t doing what it needs to do. While it isn’t really that long, it feels like an eternity when you know your game will take over an hour to build.
While Bob the dot is in charge of the game building, Alice the dot provides a more thorough look at what and why certain Nodons are used. These tips/lessons don’t take long, and while you don’t have to take them, they can help. Alice will also show up to provide checkpoint tests between tutorials to see if you’re ready to get to the more complicated stuff. The checkpoints will give you short scenarios to indicate what you need to alter to meet the objective, but you need to work out the right changes. There is also the Nodopedia, providing you with more detailed information on the function of each Nodon without having to sit through a presentation by Bob or Alice. Hidden away in there is also information to help you maintain Game Builder’s smooth 60fps within your game.
Unlike Mario Maker, there isn’t any actual game component here if you’re less interested in building. This is where it becomes a more difficult sell to people who aren’t already all-in on that aspect. If you’re coming to Garage looking for Nintendo’s answer to PlayStation’s Dreams, they aren’t the same game or with the same purpose. Garage wants to teach you and help you to make your own games but within limits. It’s more of an educational tool for programming with a charming Nintendo wrapper. Regardless, you can still achieve so much, and as we know, when people get their hands on tools like this, they find ways to push what was intended and make some really creative works.
Like Toy-Con Garage, Game Builder feels like it was made to be used by schools IT departments to help younger audiences learn how to program in a way which is easy to understand. It’s encouraging to see Nintendo is sticking with finding ways to make programming accessible, hopefully even inspiring future game makers. Game Builder Garage makes programming more understandable as well as enjoyable. It can still be overwhelming, but they put the tools in your hands to try it out. I’ll still miss Labo and its creative builds, but Game Builder Garage is an excellent follow-up.
+ A Great way to learn how to program and build your own games
+ So many potential games you can make
+ The tutorials make learning about Nodons entertaining
- The tutorial pacing can drag in places
- Nintendo Switch Online required to receive online games
- No way to share your creations in game