Game Builder Garage is a creative engine and online platform for sharing fan-made games developed and published by Nintendo. It was released on the Nintendo Switch in June of 2021. MSRB is $30. A demo is available to download as well.
I had asked Nintendo to develop a Super Zelda Dungeon Maker. What I got instead was a much more interesting experience.
Game Builder Garage is another “maker” game, where you create and share your own games as well as play what others have made. It’s a lot like Super Mario Maker 2, only it can make a lot more than just 2D Mario levels. At the same time, it takes a more effort to learn how to use everything. Sony released a similar experience last year for the PS4 called Dreams.
Game Builder Garage is one of those games that you don’t exactly “finish.” The closest the game has to a story mode is a series of tutorials for how to make certain genres of games, such as Racing Games, Puzzle Games, and 3D Platformers. After completing all of the design classes, you have several programming “puzzle challenges” that you can solve using your newly-found skills as an amateur game designer.
In order to make a game, you’ll have to become familiar with various computer programs called Nodons. Each Nodon performs a specific task – whether that’s register a button input, adjust the camera, or many, many other functions. There are over 80 different kinds of them. You program the game by connecting Nodon together as well as adjust the settings of each individual Nodon. So for example, in order to make a character move left and right, you need to connect the “Analog Stick” Nodon to the Move (Left/Right) Joint of the “Person” Nodon. More complex tasks need more complex connections and may require several Nodon working together to make it work properly.
On the surface, it sounds boring. Who would want to sit through lengthy tutorials learning about each Nodon? And yet Game Builder Garage makes these learning sessions fun. The writing is goofy and has an upbeat energy to it, and each Nodon has their own cartoony personality. If you don’t mind a decent amount of reading, the Nodon programming portion isn’t the chore that it initially appears. Game Builder Garage‘s pacing is rather fast, taking you from making simple games to more complex ones, and between each one, you have a sort of “end of chapter recap” to test your recently-learned skills. It’s satisfying to make a game completely from the ground up. Even though the tutorials are entirely scripted, there’s a sense of ownership that comes from knowing how you made the camera move, and knowing that you programmed the enemy’s AI.
As approachable as the game is, what you get out of Game Builder Garage entirely depends on what you put into it. The more you learn the intricacies of how things work, the more complex games you can make. And thankfully the game allows you to draw your own textures, meaning you can make a game that’s entirely unique.
And that’s where the real fun of Game Builder Garage comes in — sharing and playing games online. Obviously, most everyone is an amateur game designer, but there are some gems glistening on the servers. I’ve played original WarioWare-styled microgames, a Crazy Taxi ripoff, a Starfox-themed sandbox, and lots of Sonic fangames. Lots and lots of Sonic fangames. Also, have you ever wished for a remake of Flappy Bird? Don’t worry, your friends on Game Builder Garage have got you covered.
Obviously the experience has its limitations. There’s a hard limit to how many Nodon you can fit into each “game,” meaning that complex games like 3D action games can usually only contain one area or level. Game Builder Garage also doesn’t seem very conducive for building games that feature more than a few lines of text. It would be difficult to make, say, a Turn-Based RPG or a Visual Novel within this engine. Furthermore, most of the people online are learning how to make games, too, so you need to be ready to embrace the jank and the rough edges.
Nintendo is doing a decent job of supporting the community as well. I mean, there hasn’t been any big updates to the game yet with new Nodon, but Nintendo regularly posts on the Switch News feed about how to make a certain mechanic, such as a health bar or adjusting run speed. They even have a “game” available to download that shows you how the Nodon are connected together. Considering that Game Builder Garage will probably never be a best-seller, I’m satisfied with this kind of support for now.
Now I know what you’re thinking — Well? Haven’t you made a game on your own? And the answer is… no. Not yet, at least! The thing is, I have no clue what kind of game I would want to make. No clue whatsoever. And so I’m mostly just fidding around with mechanics. Once I find something I like, I’ll probably release it on the internet. It’s all just sketches and rough drafts — nothing I want the adoring public to see quite yet.
I promise you I will come back with an update post when I’ve finally finished something that I’m proud of. Game Builder Garage will be a testing grounds to see if I enjoy game development enough to actually get a copy of Unity and try making something in my spare time. Seeing as making an Indie Game takes years of time and effort, this garage will be the perfect place to tinker around with prototypes until I get juuuuust the right idea.