Nintendo Game Builder Garage teaches kids game design

Geometry Dash 10-Year Anniversary
Geometry Dash 10-Year Anniversary

Nintendo Game Builder Garage teaches kids game design

This combo of Super Mario Maker and Labo arrives June 11. We got a demo to see how it works


Game Builder Garage is a coding kit and game construction set timed for kids with summer time on their hands.

Nintendo is a hard company to predict. Sometimes it announces games at streaming events. Sometimes it just launches games out of nowhere. Game Builder Garage, a new surprise title arriving in just a month for the Nintendo Switch, looks like a summer camp in a game cartridge — it’s a game design instruction course and programming kit for making games, aimed at kids around middle-school age and older. I’m pretty intrigued by it, too. It looks, in some ways, almost like Nintendo’s version of the PlayStation game Dreams.

The idea of game design isn’t new to Nintendo. The weird and often brilliant cardboard-folding Labo kits for the Nintendo Switch had elements of programming built into a mode called Toy-Con Garage. The Super Mario Maker games have creative game design tools and tips, and resulted in a ton of uploaded games that bent the rules in crazy ways. Game Builder Garage looks like it utilizes a similar type of programming to what the Labo games did, but with an ability to create racing games, platformers, side-scrolling shooters or even puzzle escape room-type games. Or who knows what else is possible?

The brief preview I saw over Zoom showed one of the seven included game-instruction kits, which teaches how to make a game where two block-headed figures battle each other and avoid balls that fall from the sky. Here’s how it works.

The game lesson plans included, which could be doorways to making other games.

There are seven game-making tutorials included. Kind of like Nintendo Labo, there are multistep programming guides (Lesson Mode) to make seven games. They span genres from racing to escape rooms to platformers: On a Roll (a Labyrinth-like ball-rolling game that uses the Joy-Con tilt to roll the ball), Alien Blaster (a side-scrolling shooter), Risky Run (a platformer), Mystery Room (an escape room/puzzle game), Thrill Racer (racing), Tag Showdown (a battle game) and Super Person World (a 3D platformer kind of like a pixelated Super Mario 3D World).

It works with a mouse! If you have a dockable Switch (not the Lite), a USB mouse plugged into the dock can be used with the game. Clearly, Nintendo’s going for an almost-PC feel here. It also works with Joy-Cons or the touchscreen. (The Switch doesn’t allow Bluetooth mouse support.)

Nodons (or, block-based programming)

It’s all about Nodons. The game’s full of modules called “Nodons” that look like sets of instructions or block-based programming. According to Nintendo, there are dozens of Nodons that can be further customized into a seemingly limitless number of possibilities: timers, score-keeping counters, background music or even ways to knit together multiple game levels.

There’s a blue dot named Bob who helps you. The game design instructions and general guidance from this little bobbing blue dot-ball. It sounds a bit like Yamamura, the pigeon in Super Mario Maker. (Later on, apparently, there is another designer adviser called Alice, so who knows how deep this goes?)

Thrill Racer is a racing game you can make.

You can share games, somewhat. The games are stored on the Switch (up to 64 at a time), or uploaded to Nintendo’s servers to a creator profile, which can be shared as a 10-digit code for downloading games or looking for someone’s latest work. Game Builder Garage doesn’t look like it will have a general discovery area for everyone’s games like Dreams and Super Mario Maker do, however.

Mystery Room: An escape room-type game (I’ll be aiming to make one of these).

It’s notable that the game’s $30 price is considerably lower than most new Switch games. I’m extremely curious to know how deep and flexible Game Builder Garage can be, and whether its game design instructions can really feel like they transfer to other programming languages. That’s Nintendo’s goal. Unfortunately, the games can’t be exported elsewhere, so you’ll need to have other friends with the game to share it with them.

As to what sorts of things this game can make, I guess we’ll find out once June gets here. I’m curious to see how much it can teach me.

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