There's a part of me that greatly appreciates Nintendo's efforts to teach its user base the ins-and-outs of creating a game. As anybody who's ever been deep in game development will testify, making a functional game is intense work. Coding a game can be complicated. The barrier for entry feels high, just because learning programming can be arduous. That's why it's a marvel to see what Nintendo has done with Game Builder Garage, not only going a more educational route, but putting together something that's easy to learn and also something that could be a bottomless source of entertainment.
Baby's first video game
I want to start by noting that Game Builder Garage doesn't feel like a traditional video game. On the surface, it looks like a set of tutorials. However, those tutorials are presented in such a way that Nintendo has "gamified" the idea of creating a video game. Game Builder Garage's single-player component tasks players with creating different kinds of video games by using the tools available to them.
The tools are what make this such a fun package. The tools are mainly comprised of Nodons, each of which serve a different function, have their own personality, and make their own distinct sounds. They're whimsically endearing little creatures and sprinkle life into something that can sometimes feel like a boring process.
The Nodons also make working within Game Builder Garage feel much friendlier. The walkthroughs for each of the tutorials are intrinsically simplified to the point that nearly anybody can grasp it. I was amazed at how easily I was walked through creating a rudimentary auto-runner and a space shooter. These games aren't classics, by any means, but Game Builder Garage offers enough of a starting point that anybody can build off of those templates and make something bigger in scale. For example, that tag game? It's not great on the surface, but the template is solid enough that I could at least build on it and make a slightly better tag game.
Game Builder Garage isn't there to teach C++ or Unreal Engine, but it's a good starting point for young kids or those adults who want at least the slightest idea of what awaits them in game development. Of course, much like Super Mario Maker 2, it's also there to enjoy what more skilled creators can put forward. Unfortunately, Game Builder Garage doesn't take enough lesssons from the Super Mario Maker series.
Look what I made
In my time with Game Builder Garage, I didn't make anything that I felt particularly good about sharing. I put together something that was maybe good enough to show some family members, but nothing I was ever really proud of making. No matter how much this game wants to make me a game developer, I'm aware of my limits. On the other end of the spectrum, I had some high hopes for this game's community and expected to see some great things.
It's just too bad that finding great things takes a lot more work than it should. Game Builder Garage's first problem is that there isn't a dedicated community page for finding user projects. I don't know if it's because of copyright concerns, adult content concerns, or some other reason, but the only way to find other people's creations is through local sharing or through a specific code.
The result feels like a cumbersome annoyance, one that requires jumping on Twitter or Reddit for any hope of finding anything worthwhile. Super Mario Maker 2's presentation wasn't perfect, because it can be tough to wade through piles of junk in search of a gem. Having said that, it would have been preferable to what Game Builder Garage does here. The whole Free Programming presentation comes off empty and lifeless, which is a shame, because there are some cool ideas that the community has put on display. There's nothing truly standout right now, but Game Builder Garage is less than ten days old, as of the time of this post. I'd love to see what skilled creators can put together after weeks and months of playing around with the Nodons and the game's various systems.
More time in the Garage
Game Builder Garage is an admirable effort. Anything aimed at teaching younger people how game creation works is something that should be commended. Anything that can give the current gaming public a greater sense of the work that goes into game development should be applauded. If this was more of a robust package, it could have been something special.
Instead, Game Builder Garage feels like a pedestrian effort. The scope of games across different genres that users can assemble is amazing, but there just isn't enough in terms of assets or customization for users to put a truly unique stamp on their work. Plus, if anybody does manage to create something incredible and worth sharing, actually sharing it is a pain.
Much like most people's first efforts with Game Builder Garage, it's a good first effort. It's just not something people will be revisiting after a few weeks pass.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Game Builder Garage is available on the Nintendo eShop now for $29.99 USD. The game is rated E.
Game Builder Garage
- Game development is made simple
- The Nodons are fun and lovable
- Lessons go quickly
- Final products feel rudimentary
- No community page to spotlight user creations
- Limited assets and customization options
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Game Builder Garage review: Build your own adventure
This review feels very balanced. I think a lot of reviewers went a little too easy on GBG. It needs a lot more built in content.
I'm having a lot of fun with it with my kid, but even as a kids-first coding system, it has a lot of missed opportunities.
I'd love to write something up about what I find frustrating about GBG as a programmer.
I'm optimistic for a GBG2, if this is a financial success, tho
Do it! Write up something and publish it over on Cortex. Will be interesting to see what you think and score it.