13 Sentinels is a masterpiece and it’s even better on Switch

We’ve published thousands of words about why you should play 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, an audacious video game that combines a century of science-fiction tropes into something unpredictably new. Its story is universal by multiple definitions of the word, and its structure successfully blurs the line between a visual novel and a master’s thesis in genre fiction. That said, I understand why most readers skipped #15 on Polygon’s Top 50 Games of 2020 list.

Like the game’s teenage protagonists, always a step behind the kaiju hellbent on destroying the world, 13 Sentinels has suffered from bad timing. The title was released on PlayStation 4 in the weeks before the PlayStation 5’s launch, a bad time for a 2D game that probably could have run on the PlayStation 3. Today, the game finally debuts on Nintendo Switch. With few major releases over the next month, hopefully, this little masterpiece will finally get the big audience it deserves.

Two friends ride a motorcycle in 1980s Japan in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on Switch Image: Vanillaware/Atlus

Okay, so it’s great, but why should anyone actually play this game with no connection to an established franchise, superhero, or general intellectual property? Because you’re unlikely to play anything that’s both this polished while being this batshit — in the best possible way.

The story takes place in 1984, along with a handful of points in the past and future, as early as 1945 and as late as … well, I won’t spoil that for you. You play through the adventures of 13 characters in episodic bits in whatever order you choose. Gradually, you’ll learn about their teenage lives, including their romances, rivals, motivations, and fantasies. And you’ll discover why they must pilot mechs to fight kaiju in some mysterious distant future.

The game doesn’t reference or borrow from sci-fi, so much as it rips loose entire ideas from the sci-fi canon, grafting them onto one monstrous mega-fiction. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you remixed E.T., Godzilla, The Terminator, The Matrix, War of the Worlds, and a couple of dozen other classics into one text that somehow, against all odds, kind of, sort of makes sense, then have I got the game for you!

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13 Sentinels, which plays sort of like a point-and-click adventure with branching dialogue options, is only half of the game. The game also features a real-time strategy game and its own wiki, both of which expand upon the advent. They’re an entire can of worms that you can learn about from our original review, but one note for the Switch port: The strategy elements looked a little funky on a 4K TV, but fit perfectly on the smaller portable Switch screen.

Saying that a game is perfect for Switch is a tired phrase, I know, but this game is perfect for Switch in a different way than usual. It’s nice that I can play this text-heavy game on the go, but what makes Switch the perfect home for 13 Sentinels is the option to alternate between portable and TV modes. When I’m grinding through mech battles or revisiting character sequences for clues, the portability is perfect. However, when I start a new story, I prefer the TV mode, projecting the game’s gorgeous hand-drawn art on a larger screen. I don’t recommend playing the entire game on a TV — as I did with the PS4 version. But I encourage you to take breaks from portable mode now and then to really appreciate just how beautiful this game can be.

There’s plenty more for me to tell you about this game, like how it stacks twists atop each other like a tower of turtles, without ever collapsing under all that narrative weight. Though reading more would spoil the fun – and trust me, you’ll be doing plenty of reading once you boot the game up anyway. I’ve written so much about why this game means the world to me. Now I leave y’all to decide whether or not to play it.

13 Sentinels was released on April 12 on Nintendo Switch and is also available on PlayStation 4. The game was reviewed using a download code provided by Atlus. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.