Nintendo’s Game Builder garage is a cardboard-free lab
While the star attractions of Nintendo’s Labo kits were the DIY peripherals you had to make out of cardboard, the most intriguing aspect of the software was the Toy-Con Garage. This auxiliary mode allowed you to tinker with the programming that underlies each mini-game and even allowed you to create your own little games. Although Nintendo seems to have quietly retired the Labo line, the company is expanding the Toy-Con Garage into a standalone title called Game Builder Garage. We recently got the chance to see more of the game ahead of its release next month via a virtual preview event, and it seems like a pretty flexible game creation tool.
Like the aforementioned Toy-Con Garage mode, Game Builder Garage lets you “program” your own games by chaining together various input and output nodes. These nodes are personified by colorful and original characters called Nodon, and each type corresponds to a different aspect of the game; one Nodon represents button B, for example, while another controls the timer. By chaining these Nodons together, you can program different elements of your game. Connect a Stick Nodon to a Person Nodon, for example, and the character will move when the control stick is tilted.
While the Toy-Con Garage was a free-form parallel mode, Game Builder Garage includes guided lessons designed by Nintendo developers that illustrate what each Nodon does and how to string them together. These lessons effectively serve as Game Builder Garage’s “story” mode. Each is broken up into bite-sized step-by-step tutorials led by a blue dot named Bob, and they’ll ultimately teach you how to create one of the seven pre-made games included in the software.
Nintendo demonstrated the creative process with Alien Blaster, one of the aforementioned seven games. In this mini shoot-’em-up, you must guide a UFO through an auto-scrolling course, blasting as many aliens as possible along the way. Each step in this lesson shows how to put together a different aspect of the game; the part we attended learned how to manually program the scene for auto-scrolling. According to Nintendo, you can’t deviate from these lessons; you’ll need to follow the instructions exactly as presented to complete the lessons, but you’ll have the ability to add your own twist to the games elsewhere in the software.
The goal of Guided Lessons is ultimately to inspire you to take the knowledge you’ve learned and put it to use in the game’s Free Programming mode. As the name suggests, this mode gives you free rein to program your own creations. Not only can you experiment with the lineup, but you can also customize other aspects of the game, such as instrumentation and background music tempo. However, you’ll largely rely on a pool of predefined assets for the games you create, which makes Game Builder Garage more limited than something like, say, PS4’s Dreams. Even so, the software still offers an impressive degree of flexibility and freedom in the kinds of small creations you can make. You can even use the software to create things beyond traditional games; the Nintendo representative came up with the idea of programming a digital rattle that will make noise when you shake the Switch Joy-Con.
Once your creation is complete, you will be able to share it with other players either locally or by uploading them online, which will generate a code. To enjoy the latter, however, you’ll need a Nintendo Switch Online membership, and unlike Super Mario Maker 2, there won’t be an in-game hub (at Course World) where you can browse all the games that other players have downloaded; you will need to know a code beforehand to be able to download it. Nintendo says it makes sharing creations more personal and encourages gamers to spread fun games they’ve tried by word of mouth. Not only can you play the games you’ve received from other players, but you can also watch and tinker with their lineup, letting you see how the game was made and even add your own twist to it.
Although we only got a glimpse of Game Builder Garage, we can’t wait to try our hand at creating our own games with it. Game Builder Garage will be released for Nintendo Switch on June 11. The title retails for $30 and is available for pre-order on the eShop and various other retailers.