Game Builder Garage
Genre(s): Education, Training
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: 7+
Release Date: 11.06.21
A code was provided for review purposes
Game Builder Garage is signature Nintendo. For better and for worse, GBG exemplifies the Japanese company’s commitment to innovation, and it’s a real compliment to the already brimming back catalogue of titles. What GBG represents is a company dedicated to game development, to young and aspiring programmers, and to the future of video game design. Naturally, anything ‘signature Nintendo’ does come with a few concessions that hold it back from being everything it could be, but that shouldn’t deter anyone even remotely interested in this games’ offering.
Advertising GBG as software where “anyone can learn the basics of game design and visual programming” is bold. Traditionally, programming has had a reputation for requiring several pre-requisites and that only those dedicated to the craft can succeed. The development team behind GBG have excelled in making it possible, even if the notion that Nintendo believes this can now be achieved by ‘anyone’ is challenging to comprehend.
At the forefront of this are interactive lessons. These are a series of self-contained learning experiences where, step by step, the player (or learner) develops their understanding of this visual programming space so that they can subsequently make use of the second mode: free programming.
Building on good practice
Lessons are detailed, informative and humorous. They model good practice, they showcase the steps needed to succeed, and they highlight potential missteps and how to overcome them. The characterisation of nodons (the nodes that provide inputs and outputs to the different elements of the game) have made this possible. The nodons speak to the player, informing them of instructions, reasons for decision-making, and celebrating their achievements every step of the way. It’s all very funny too which is brilliant.
As you progress through the lessons, you are introduced to a wealth of different programming inputs, outputs, and commands. Carefully structured instructions help to build upon prior knowledge obtained from the lessons that have come before it, and it does a fantastic job of making the complex seem simple.
Trial and error
The development team have also produced puzzle-based check-ins that occur after every main lesson is complete. Each of these offers a chance for an independent application of learning. On occasion, these can be a bit obtuse – especially as they limit the amount of interactivity with the source code to point you in the right direction. Whilst it is clear to see the merit in this, it means that those who will learn through experimentation and by doing will resort to trial and error of the simplest kind: whatever variables I can find that it allows me to change, must be the ones I need to focus on.
As limited as your ideas, or your time…
After completing the first lesson in the game, of which there are eight, it then unlocks free play. Here you can code whatever your creative mind and conjure up. Social media is now awash with innovative attempts to create new or remake old games. This mode is only as limited as your ideas are, or as limited as your time is. Video game development is a slow and challenging process, and there’s only so much that GBG can do to change that.
GBG does a brilliant job of developing a creative spark for future game development. The lessons don’t introduce you to every possible concept in the software package, however. It also makes it a challenge to develop and learn from others due to its cumbersome and lacklustre sharing offer. Signature Nintendo, anyone? You need to have the download code to play another person’s game. This is only available by someone sharing it with you. There’s no option to browse through a catalogue of games, nor search for any. As a developer focused on keeping children safe online, the concept is a wholesome one. However, it does limit the game’s scope somewhat.
Introducing people of all ages to the concepts of code and making success accessible to most is what has GBG on the brink of being the complete package. Touch screen controls work well, as does the use of a USB mouse to take control of the pointer. What would be worth introducing is the use of voiceovers for the onscreen text as this would ensure instructions were made available to the masses. I’d have also liked to see an option made available to turn the visual programming into programming code, offering the chance to develop and apply these coding concepts outside of GBG. I still debate Nintendo’s claim that anyone could learn the basics of visual programming, however, this is a very good start!
Rapid Reviews Rating
Game Builder Garage made me fall in love with Nintendo all over again. It’s a cracking bit of kit that makes so much possible for so many. A few minor tweaks would have made this something for players to invest in for years to come. As it currently stands, enthusiasm could wane once the interactive lessons are completed. Post-launch content and updates would be massive for the Game Builder community. Hopefully, Nintendo realises its potential.
You can buy Game Builder Garage for the Nintendo Switch here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.