A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
Kids can learn the basics and intermediate steps of game programming with this suite of programming lessons designed to help players understand what goes into making video games. Players are walked through the basics of seven pre-planned games, slowly building them over time by lessons until they have a fully working title. There are additional lessons and quizzes included to make sure that players fully understand the steps and how to use the tools, and players can access an additional encyclopedia that explains what each tool does and how it can be used. While sharing and accessing created games should be easier to do, this also provides a way for creators to share their projects with friends or nearby classmates, making it a good supplemental tool for a computer class curriculum.
The biggest, and most important message that's provided, is that anyone can learn to be a game programmer with a little work and attention paid to understanding how game elements come together. Budding programmers are walked through the basics of how to create titles, with enthusiastic characters pushing and cheering them on along the way. It also promotes how with some creativity and some hard work, you'll be able to make your own games, while also appreciating the work put into creating bigger game experiences.
Positive Role Models
Technically, there aren't really specific characters as there are personas behind pixels that instruct players in how to program elements, and the programmable objects called Nodons each have distinctive personalities. But all of them are supportive and helpful of the player, cheering them on when a lesson is completed and expressing how they want to help accomplish any task presented to them.
Ease of Play
For anyone that's never created anything before, lessons and programming elements are easy to understand and interact with. Players can use the touchscreen, controller, or a mouse plugged into the USB port on the switch dock to control Nodon placement, and there's plenty of documentation if there are any questions. The biggest issue, aside from personal creativity and time taken to create complex or simple games, is the lack of a "store" or in-game site to discover new games from other players from around the world.
Violence & Scariness
The seven created games may involve shooting at ships or having players fall to pieces in games of tag, but the violence is cartoonish, unrealistic, and without blood or gore shown. While players could plausibly spend time creating complicated games that focus on violence exclusively, the game still won't have realistic or highly detailed visuals.
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While there's no inappropriate language included in the game, players could technically write in anything they wanted with the in-game text fields in their own games.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Game Builder Garage is a game design suite exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. Unlike games that come packed with editors to design levels for games, Garage's sole purpose is to help players create their own games and learn the concepts of programming. There's no expectation of knowing anything about programming to start, and users are walked through the building of play experiences in chapter styled play, with supplemental lessons and quizzes to answer any questions that might arise. Players have the option to use the touchscreen, controllers, or even a mouse plugged into the USB dock of the Switch, to build their games, and there's documentation available if they get stuck or have a problem with their creations. Sharing your own programmed games requires a friend to be nearby, or sending out a design code to other players. While there's extremely mild violence included in the game, such as shooting ships or watching figures fall apart from playing tag or getting hit by a ball, there's no blood or gore, and the figures don't look realistic. They actually look closer to blocky mannequins than people. There's nothing inappropriate included in the gameplay. Arguably, players could choose to create something with that content, but that would be their decision.
Is It Any Good?
If you ever wondered what it would be like to be a game designer, but you didn't know how to start, this programming suite can help make your wildest dreams or ideas come true. Game Builder Garage doesn't require any experience with typing a single line of code or debugging a program. Instead, it takes many of the complex programming functions and commands that you would spend months or years learning about in a computer science class, and simplifies them into an easy to grasp visual object system. It further gives these objects personalities, calling them Nodons, while allowing them to explain their function to players as they create the seven sample games that come with Garage. It's a clever process that helps players learn to do the programming by doing it themselves, and these skills are reinforced simply and easily with small, digestible chapters that are well designed, along with basic quizzes and problem solving tests to make sure that you remember what you've been shown. What's more, not only do you have these sample games that you can play through when you're done, you're then given the freedom and space to create your own titles based off your imagination and the vast number of assets provided. That's where the game truly comes alive, because whether you're trying to program a pinball table, building a simple soccer match, or anything else, the sky's the limit based on your imagination. What's also very cool is that you'll have the option to export your creation via code so your friends can check out what you've made, or possibly collaborate with you on building a game. In a classroom setting, this would be a great way to assign and collaborate with other students on a project for class.
While it's great that you can share or team up with others to work on titles, this highlights one of Game Builder Garage's biggest flaws, which is its limited share functionality. To share your creations, you have to get the code from another player sent to you to access that game. There's no community of published works that's set up for other gamers to download titles from, which is a shame, especially for budding programmers. Unlike Super Mario Maker 2, which fostered a community around the many levels uploaded to the game servers, Garage builders will have to hope a website will be created where they can submit their game codes for players to check out. Similar to this, there's no downloadable packs or extra content available for the game, so if you were hoping to see Nintendo branded characters or new Nodons and items to expand your created titles, you're out of luck. These are minor flaws, though, and while the games that you'll create are basic compared to the massive top charting titles that are released by major publishers, overall, this is a well-designed introduction to programming. It pulls back the curtain on how titles are made, which makes Game Builder Garage a perfect way to engage and interact with the next generation of designers.
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