Anyone who seriously wants to become a video game designer studies Nintendo games. Over multiple decades, Nintendo’s titles have massively influenced numerous genres thanks to craft so experienced that the work looks effortless. Still, quality game design requires effort, and that effort requires a stronger teacher. With the $29.99 Game Builder Garage, the same Nintendo that makes many fantastic games now offers top-notch consumer video game development software.

What Kinds of Games Can You Make?

Nintendo has dabbled with game development software before, but those products tended to focus on relatively narrow game genres. Super Mario Maker 2 lets you create wildly imaginative Mario levels, but they still have to be side-scrolling platformers starring the plumber. WarioWare DIY lets you create your own microgames, but those are joke games that only last a few seconds. Labo VR Kit came with a surprisingly capable game editor, but those games were tethered to a cardboard virtual reality headset.

The most impressive thing about Game Builder Garage is how it sheds all these limitations. The full, 3D engine lets you create games in any genre, as long as you can figure out the logic to make it work. The game walks you through making platformers, racers, shooters, puzzlers, and other game types. Your titles can leverage all the Switch’s inputs, such as touch screen controls, motion controls, and IR camera. Even with this breadth of possibilities, Nintendo’s trademark visual polish means that whatever games you dream up won’t look as rough as, say, some games we saw in the similarly powerful Core

Game Builder Garage tag

You can’t make Nintendo-branded games, though. Game Builder Garage builds on some concepts from Labo VR, but is otherwise its own thing. You won’t find Mario, Link, or Samus hiding as Easter eggs. Hopefully, you’ll make games so good you won’t need to rely on those famous faces.

Game Builder Garage’s Price and Platforms

As a self-contained piece of console coding software, Game Builder Garage’s closest competitor is Fuze4, also on Nintendo Switch. Both games cost one flat price: Game Builder Garage costs $29.99, while Fuze4 costs $19.99. Both let you share games within their respective ecosystems, but you can’t export games to PC gaming marketplaces or make money from them.

Prices for other game development software wildly varies, since that software serves other needs. Core, Godot, and the text adventure editor Twine are all free. AppGameKit Studio sells a base product along with additional DLC features. Construct and Stencyl start around $99 per year. GameMaker Studio 2, our other Editors’ Choice pick, can cost more than $1,000, but that’s because it lets you buy pricey, but potentially lucrative, licenses for putting your game on consoles. 

Game Builder Garage racing

Developing With Game Builder Garage

Unlike Fuze4’s professional, but confusing, text-based language, Game Builder Garage uses a wholly visual language. Here, bits of code are cute little creatures called Nodon. You add Nodon to your game world to create objects and write programming. Drop a UFO Nodon for your alien shoot ‘em up. Create a Nodon that senses when people touch apples to receive power-ups. Nodon play music, solve math problems, and display textures you draw yourself. Link Nodon together to create larger shapes, and write more complicated programming strings. 

The Nodon system deftly manages balancing ease of use with impressive power. You can even plug in a USB mouse to your Switch dock for faster editing. However, with all these blocks on screen, your workspace becomes somewhat cluttered, even when using Nodon specifically designed to organize your workflow. GameMaker, Construct, Core, Godot, Stencyl, and other software with visual editors options typically include text-based coding options to help with efficiency. Game Builder Garage requires you to swap between various viewpoints to arrange objects in 3D spaces. Plus, figuring out how objects on the programming grid translate into the actual game can be a bit abstract. 

Game Builder Garage nodon

Fortunately, Game Builder Garage has, straight up, the best tutorials for any game development software I’ve tested. Gamers sometimes criticize Nintendo for tutorials that hold younger players’ hands too much, but that level of care is essential when teaching kids what might as well be a new language. In fact, the way Game Builder Garage breaks down the programming process into a game unto itself reminded me of the best language learning apps. I wish I had this when I taught game design to children at summer camp years ago. 

Game Builder Garage features seven interactive tutorials, each averaging around an hour in length, that walk users step by step through increasingly complex sample games. The first lessons teach you basics, such as adding objects to your game world or making sure buttons perform actions. Later lessons introduce concepts, such as positioning a camera in 3D space or triggering sequences once certain conditions are met. All the while, your helpful, entertaining partner makes sure you never get lost and offers plenty of encouragement.

Once you feel more confident, Game Builder Garage lets you test your skills. Between tutorials, you must pass brief checkpoint tests. These make sure you absorbed the lesson, and didn’t just blindly follow instructions. Not only is this stellar coding education, but the programming tests themselves are fun logic challenges similar to games like Baba Is You or Human Resource Machine.

Game Builder Garage library

From there, you can design whatever game you want in the free programming mode. I felt like an absolute genius when I realized I could make a mermaid statue act as the player character by joining its center to the center of an invisible player character model. And that was only after a few minutes of tinkering. I can’t wait to see what folks can do once they sink serious time into these tools.

However, you can’t easily play those games unless you’re already friends with creators. Another common Nintendo criticism is that the company is overly hesitant to embrace online features, and that’s true here. You can share your ID with friends, so you can all easily see, play, and leave comments for each others’ games. Unfortunately, there’s no overarching community hub where anyone can play games from strangers across the world. That’s a huge missed opportunity, a step back from Super Mario Maker. Games shared between friends already get moderated, so I don’t understand this restriction. I haven’t fully been able to test the game’s online features as of this writing, but I hope communities naturally emerge on outside platforms.

A Master Class for Mario Fans

GameMaker Studio 2 is an Editors’ Choice pick for consumer game development software because it offers approachable tools for making and selling games. Game Builder Garage, meanwhile, serves everyone who isn’t quite ready (or doesn’t have the money) to make that professional leap, whether you’re a kid or a hobbyist. The Nintendo Switch app gives you the power to make nearly any game you can imagine, and the guidance to help you actually pull it off. It’s an outstanding educational tool, and a new Editors’ Choice pick. 

Game Builder Garage (for Nintendo Switch)

Pros

  • Powerful, polished 3D game development engine

  • Easily understandable visual coding language

  • Thorough, friendly tutorials and educational challenges

  • Lets you share games with friends

  • Affordably priced

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The Bottom Line

Game Builder Garage is a tremendously powerful and accessible piece of game development software that gives you the tools and guidance to make video games with ease.

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