13 Sentinels review: PS4’s masterpiece comes to Nintendo Switch

We’ve published thousands of words explaining why you should play 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, a daring video game that combines a century of sci-fi tropes into something new and unpredictable. Its story is universal through 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 get why most readers skipped number 15 on Polygon’s Top 50 Games of 2020 list.

Like the game’s teenage protagonists, always one step behind the kaiju bent on destroying the world, 13 Sentinels suffered from bad timing. The title was released on PlayStation 4 in the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 5, a bad time for a 2D game that probably could have worked on the PlayStation 3. Today, the game finally makes its Nintendo Switch debut. With some major releases over the next month, hopefully, this little masterpiece will finally get the mainstream audience it deserves.

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

Image: Vanillaware/Atlus

Alright, that’s great, but why should anyone actually play this game unrelated to an established franchise, superhero, or general IP? Because you’re unlikely to play anything that’s both as polished as this batshit – in the best possible way.

The story is set in 1984, with a handful of points in the past and future, as early as 1945 and as late as… well, I’m not going to spoil that for you. You play through the adventures of 13 characters in episodic chunks in any order you choose. Gradually, you will learn about their teenage life, including their romances, rivals, motivations, and fantasies. And you’ll find out why they must pilot mechs to fight kaiju in the mysterious far future.

The game doesn’t reference or borrow from science fiction, so much so that it rips entire ideas out of the sci-fi canon, grafting them onto monstrous mega-fiction. If you ever wondered what would happen if you remixed ET, Godzilla, Terminator, Matrix, War of the Worlds, and a few dozen other classics in a text that, against all odds, somehow makes sense, so I’ve got the game for you!

13 Sentinels, which plays much like a point-and-click adventure with branching dialogue options, is only half the game. advent. It’s a whole box of worms that you can check out in our initial review, but a note for the Switch port: the strategy items looked a little funky on a 4K TV, but fit perfectly on the smaller Switch wearable display.

Saying 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 the Switch the perfect home for 13 Sentinels is the ability to switch between handheld and TV modes. When fighting bot battles or revisiting character sequences for clues, the portability is perfect. However, when I start a new story, I prefer TV mode, projecting the game’s beautiful hand-drawn artwork onto a bigger screen. I don’t recommend playing the whole game on a TV like I did with the PS4 version. But I encourage you to take a break from handheld mode once in a while to really appreciate just how beautiful this game can be.

I still have a lot to tell you about this game, like how it stacks twists and turns like a tower of turtles, without ever collapsing under all that narrative weight. Although reading more would spoil the fun – and trust me, you’ll be doing a lot of reading once you start the game anyway. I’ve written so much about why this game means the world to me. Now I let you decide if you want to play it or not.

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, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.