A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What 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 is exclusively made 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.
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What's it about?
GAME BUILDER GARAGE is unlike other titles you've seen on the Nintendo Switch, because it's not so much a game or collection of games as it is a suite of tools to help you learn how to build, design, and understand how games are made. This is done by creating seven different pre-made games, ranging from a racing game to a game of tag and even a title that takes advantage of the motion sensing feature of the switch to collect apples. Players are instructed by friendly pixels named Bob and Alice on how to build these games from scratch over the course of several chapters. Here, budding designers are introduced to characters called Nodons, which are visual representations of programming functions. Each one has a personality that helps remind players of what their purpose is, such as firing spheres onscreen or calculating a number of seconds before restarting the game, and all of these functions can be adjusted through in-game menus. Players will also have access to an encyclopedia that explains what each Nodon can do and how they can be adjusted as well. To ensure that you fully grasp the functions that you've learned, quizzes and additional chapters reinforce the segments that you've previously worked on. Once you've fully completed building each game, you can play the titles as much as you want, and fully completing all seven also gives you space to create your own games as well. These creations can also be shared with friends, who can further work on your games or download them to their systems to check out.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the work involved in creating games. Since you can make games as complex or easy as you want, does Game Builder Garage give you a deeper insight into what the job of being a game designer would be? Is it something that you might like to do or learn more about as a possible career?
Do you want to work with others to create games in Game Builder Garage, or is this a platform that you want to produce games on your own and share them with others?
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
- Subjects: Language & Reading: following directions, reading comprehension
Math: addition, arithmetic, counting, functions, measurement, numbers, sequences
Science: measurement, motion
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: applying information, collecting data, deduction, defining problems, hypothesis-testing, logic, problem solving, solving puzzles, thinking critically
Creativity: brainstorming, combining knowledge, developing novel solutions, imagination, innovation, making new creations, producing new content
Self-Direction: achieving goals, effort, goal-setting, identifying strengths and weaknesses, initiative, personal growth, set objectives, work to achieve goals
Collaboration: cooperation, group projects, teamwork
Tech Skills: coding, digital creation, using and applying technology
- Price: $29.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release date: June 11, 2021
- Genre: Educational
- Topics: STEM, Robots
- ESRB rating: E for No Descriptions
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: June 11, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.