Making Friends and Frying Foes in The World Next Door

The Switch is becoming the indie platform. It was an honor originally held by Xbox 360, then PlayStation 4 and Vita. But as Microsoft and Sony aim for the higher-volume pastures of AAA gaming (or focus on game streaming and other subscription services), the Nintendo Switch is happy to take up the excellent games left behind. That’s not to say every indie game on the Switch is great — there is a lot of shovelware, and finding your way through it to the good stuff can be daunting. I’m here to help.

This week, I want to take a look at the recently released The World Next Door. It risks falling under most people’s radars for the same reason it almost fell under mine: it’s difficult to portray exactly how fun it gameplay is via screenshots, or how compelling its story is through a few out-of-context dialog boxes. But it should definitely be on your Switch (or PC, if that’s your thing).

Gameplay in The World Next Door is, as best I can describe, an action-puzzler. You view your character, Jun, from above, and you move her around freely. Each battle arena’s floor transforms at the start of the fight into a bunch of different-colored runes. Your job is to run around, grabbing one rune and switching it with another, in an attempt to match at least three runes of the same color. Once you do, you can activate them, which generates a magic attack (or a healing spell, if you’re running low on health). You can group more than three runes together for a more powerful version of the spell, too, if you’re feeling risky.

But the thing is, all the while you’re being attacked by at least one, if not more, enemies. Some of them will relentlessly hunt you down and attack melee style, while others will use runes in the same way you do, casting your own spells back at you. And that’s not even touching on the bosses, which are huge and each employ unique and powerful attacks that can quickly alter the landscape of the battlefield.

Viz is promising a competitive one-on-one local multiplayer mode soon, via a free update. The developers are also actively working on the game still, taking user feedback and tightening things up. Considering it already plays great, this is just an added bonus.

On the other hand, if you’re like me and mostly get involved in games because of their story, The World Next Door has a lot to offer for you, too. The concept is both really out there and surprisingly down to earth. In this alternate version of reality, Earth has a twin planet called Emrys, separated from us by a dimensional barrier. It opens once every twenty years or so. There’s a lot of history there, most of which is only hinted at in the game, but nowadays Earthlings and Emrysians can chat with each other online and learn about each other’s cultures, in the absence of the ability to travel there regularly. However, now that the portal is open, Jun wins a lottery for the chance to spend a day on Emrys. She meets up with her online bestie, Liza, an Emrysian girl attending a boarding school. Jun and Liza spend the day with Liza’s friends, capping it off with a not-quite-legal trip to a secret shrine where the teens practice magic. Of course, everything goes wrong, and Jun finds herself stuck on Emrys, with the portal shut and not opening again for 20 years.

Problem is, Jun can’t just wait around until it does open again, because humans can only survive on Emrys for a matter of days.

The writing on display here is top notch, and while I would have preferred full voice acting to the random nonsense phrases the characters spout (or is it supposed to be Emrysian?), it’s still a very well-told story. Aesthetically, the game is beautiful, with sharp and distinct designs for every character. Particularly noteworthy are the Grievances, the enemies you fight throughout the game. They’re all delightfully bizarre. But even your friends are all unique and incredibly creative looking. The background art is also gorgeous; I’m a sucker for 2D art in games, but this is a far-better-than-average job. The music is catchy and very fitting for the action, as well.

For $14.99, you can’t really do much better. The game’s a little on the short side, but it’s still money well spent. Grab this as soon as you can, and let’s keep supporting the excellent indies on the Switch, so they’ll keep making more of them.