While the terminology around these games might cause some confusion, the (first-person) adventure or narrative-focused 'walking simulator' has made its mark on the gaming landscape over the past decade or so. The 'walking simulator' term, originally a pejorative descriptor of a genre where 'you just walk about', was quickly reclaimed by fans and developers looking to branch out beyond the common verbs of so many video games, especially first-person ones.
When it comes to first-person examples the term can broadly be applied to anything that does't involve shooting stuff and puts a focus on environmental storytelling, although things get a bit muddier in third-person. Regardless, whether you're looking through the eyes of a character or not, these games have a narrative focus where shooting stuff isn't the answer to your problems. Below we've rounded up our picks of the best walking sims on Switch.
Of course, the Venn diagram of video game genres features many crossovers, some of which we've excluded from the selection below. We haven't included proper horror games here (so no Outlast or Layers of Fear), nor explicit puzzlers (so no Talos Principle), and certainly nothing with guns (every other first-person game ever).
So, let's take a look--in no particular order--at the best narrative-focused games on Switch.
Firewatch puts you in the hiking boots of Henry, a man assigned the job of watching for signs of fire in Shoshone National Forest. The narrative unfolds through his conversations with Delilah, a colleague from another watch tower he speaks with via walkie-talkie.
Henry is good company for the duration, but it's the forest itself which is the star of the show here. While the technical performance of the Switch port falls short of the excellent efforts of the two voice actors--with an erratic framerate that may be disappointing if you've enjoyed the game elsewhere--we still heartily recommend giving this a go on Nintendo's system, especially if you've never played it before.
Valley plonks you on an archaeological expedition to discover the secrets of a mythical MacGuffin, the Lifeseed. You soon stumble upon a special exoskeleton suit which grants you super-human movement abilities enabling all sorts of jumping and gallivanting around the game's natural, story-rich environments.
There's some (mostly) low-stakes platforming and even light combat later on, involving shooting life-force projectiles, but no gunplay. Overall, Valley is a short and restorative jaunt through the caves and countryside of the Canadian Rockies that's well worth experiencing if you enjoy connecting with nature.
What Remains of Edith Finch weaves an engrossing, tragic tale that will stick with you long after you've finished it. It's not the longest game in the world, but there's no fat or filler here at all - a genuine treat when so many games are needlessly padded out with repetitive content. At times horrific and uncomfortable, at others near-whimsical, What Remains of Edith Finch is a classic you really need to experience.
Bringing to mind the pixel-heavy PC game Proteus (PC owners will no doubt have that one sitting in a Humble Bundle somewhere), Shape of the World presents artistic, interactive playgrounds to lose yourself in for a couple of hours. The visual and aural landscape changes as you explore and move through triangular gates collecting seeds to plant in your surroundings. It's very short, but if you're after some mindless (or should that be mindful?) distraction--and these days, who isn't?--this is a diverting ambient curio that's worth experiencing.
One of the most famous 'walking sims' of the bunch, Gone Home is an impressive slice of environmental storytelling set in a single, empty residence. Returning to the family home after a backpacking trip, you play as Katie and gradually uncover small details of the apparent disappearance of your younger sister through letters and other items found throughout the house.
On paper, it doesn't sound scintillating, but in practice it's one of the finest games on Switch.
A short, slow-paced experience, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has you playing as detective Paul Prospero investigating the titular mystery in a game that's branded as 'horror', but we'd say is more melancholic and unsettling than horrific. That's not to say there aren't a few jumps, and it's certainly dark, but the twisting tale works beautifully in conjunction with the freedom you're given to explore and feeds into the overall mysterious atmosphere conjured by the developers. Don't expect glowing breadcrumbs or onscreen arrows here; just a tense tale told very effectively.
Melancholic, tragic, knowing and thoroughly relatable, Night In The Woods is the only entry thus far on this list that isn't first-person. A 2D game with some very light platforming elements, it's all about interaction with other characters and the narrative that unfolds as college dropout Mae returns to her backwater hometown. There's really not much else like Night in the Woods, and the Switch version comes highly recommended.
Before I Forget is a short, beautiful experience that nevertheless approaches a challenging and rather sombre subject. It takes creative bravery to share a game that represents the impact of dementia, and to do so sensitively and as accurately as possible; it achieves this goal. We not only suffer the disease with Sunita, but engage with the successes and joys of her life. Before I Forget finds a careful balance that is to be commended.
Return of the Obra Dinn, by Papers, Please creator Lucas Pope, is a piratical masterpiece. Tasked with the rather boring-sounding job of being the insurance adjuster for a marooned ship, and provided with a potentially offputting retro-monochrome aesthetic, you'd be forgiven for thinking Obra Dinn is a bit pants — but you'd be wrong. With the help of a strange, haunted stopwatch, you'll get to go back in time to find out who died, and where, in order to fill out your forms; it doesn't take long before some very spooky goings-on start going on. With more twists than a bowl of fusilli, you'll be hooked from start to finish. Yarrr.
Soooo... is it a walking simulator if you don't actually walk anywhere? We're going to go with yes, because Abzu deserves to be highlighted. Made by the folks behind Journey, Abzu is a swimming simulator, in which you'll frogkick your way around beautiful, serene
landscapes seascapes, with seaweed forests and crumbling ruins playing host to plenty of lovely little fishies. All the narrative is told through its environments, but even if you miss out on the story, you'll have a fantastic time with the visuals, anyway.
Which are your favourites from this list? Think we've missed something vital? Don't agree that these are 'walking sims'? Feel free to let us know down below and we may update it along with new Switch releases in the future. Also, feel free to suggest a shorter, snappier genre title for these - it feels like FPA is never going to catch on.
This article is one of our Switch Essentials guides which cover a wide variety of genres, including the Best Switch FPS Games, the Best Switch RPGs, the Best Switch Games For Kids, the Best Switch Couch Co-Op Games and the Best Switch Fitness and Exercise Games. We can also help out hunting down the Best Switch Horror Games, the Best Switch Racing Games, the Best Switch Action-RPGs, the Best Nintendo Switch Roguelikes, Roguelites and Run-Based Games , the Best Free Switch Games, and even Games to Play After You've Finished Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
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If you're looking for the best Switch games regardless of genre, our reader-voted selection of the Best Nintendo Switch Games should help you out, and you can also find the Best Nintendo Switch Games of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. And finally, if you're interested in other Nintendo consoles and retro games, check out the Best Game Boy Games, Best Nintendo DS Games, Best Nintendo 3DS Games, Best SNES Games, Best N64 Games, Best GameCube Games, and Best Wii Games, as well as Every Nintendo Switch Online NES Game and Every Nintendo Switch Online SNES Game.