When HD Rumble was revealed as a mechanic for the Switch, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Its functionality simply wasn’t clear during its introduction and to many it just seemed like the Switch was going to be mainly aiming at motion controls similarly to the Wii. Fortunately that wasn’t the case and HD Rumble was mostly overlooked aside from 1-2 Switch where it played its most important role. While Nintendo has tried to implement HD Rumble in many of their first-party titles for Switch, including Mario Kart and Splatoon, the most pleasant surprise for the functionality has been in the variety of indie titles that use it.
HD Rumble wasn’t a function that many imagined to be used much outside of Nintendo’s own IPs, but it is one of the most wonderful additions that is often overlooked. One of the first notably popular indies to utilize this was Golf Story which made very good use of it. Golf Story is, as one might imagine, a slower paced game due to the nature of golf. One of the best ways the HD Rumble is used while playing is actually just when characters are talking. The speech bubbles above a characters head will react to the conversation, causing a rumble with their movement. While startling at first due to it simply being unexpected, it adds a wonderful level of immersion to the overall experience.
While few titles have managed to make use of HD Rumble being a key factor to gameplay, likely due to it requiring the separation of Joy-Cons in most cases, immersion has become the main defining feature for it at this time. Take a game like tumbleseed for example, where depending on how close the player’s seed is, that side of the controller will rumble to warn them. This isn’t entirely necessary and can be played without it, but it makes sense and works in a wonderful way. Another instance is Shantae, specifically Half-Genie Hero, which makes great use of the rumble in a ton of different ways. A gentle drift while Shantae is swimming, whipping with her hair or getting hit causes a rumble. The smallest of rumbles are as simple as when Shantae steps off a ledge and there’s a soft tingle in the Joy-Cons to indicate her landing on solid ground. It’s this kind of amazing attention to detail in indie titles that truly makes them shine above all else on Switch.
Not every indie needs to go this route of course, but even just adding HD Rumble to one key part could make a splash in the long run. For combat-oriented games, letting players know physically when they’re taking damage is a big plus. Puzzle-oriented titles could make use of rumble when things are being moved or set in place, especially if it’s an object-based puzzle with different weights for surrounding items. Some can just make use of regular rumble functions, where the intensity doesn’t fluctuate, but the difference between a light and massive rumble is noticeable and leaves a long lasting impression making it worth the time to implement in the smallest of ways.
It’s easy to see how both big first and third-party developers are hopping aboard the HD Rumble train, but it’s the indies including HD Rumble that has really become noticeable. Not only does it tend to make experiences more immersive, but also more memorable due to the impact they can create for players. Indies have become a big part of Nintendo, especially on Switch, and seeing more of them take part in the HD Rumble functionality should be the norm. While it may have been a function that many immediately brushed off or one that a variety of players still don’t use, it’s one of the most unique aspects to the Switch that should always be taken advantage of given that no other console offers the same HD Rumble feature. Nintendo found a way to make something that had been done since the N64 and Playstation era even better, and seeing indies hop on board with it just shows how strong the function will continue to be moving forward.