Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch Edition

Our In-Depth Review of Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch Edition

Prison Architect is an M-rated simulation game centered on the micromanagement, design, and construction of private prisons. Originally released for Mac, Linux, and Windows in October 2015, it’s now available on Switch for $29.99. Design and run your own custom prison, or choose from a number of pre-built prisons to play with. Every single aspect of your prison is under your control, from the finances to the plumbing network to the prisoners’ regime to the guards’ patrol routes. Run a tight ship, or chaos will ensue. Here’s what you’ll find in Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch edition.

Prison Architect lets you design and run your own prison.
Prison Architect lets you design and run your own prison.

PRISON STORIES

If you’ve never played Prison Architect, you should start with Prison Stories, the 5 optional tutorials that constitute the game’s story mode. The tutorials increase sharply in difficulty as you progress, and by the end of the fifth tutorial, you should have a solid understanding of the basic gameplay. Topics covered range from death row to gang activity to prisoners’ quality of life. Each Prison Story features charming comic-book-style cutscenes that bring their respective stories to life.

Prison Stories' cutscenes feature comic-book-like graphics to bring stories to life.
Prison Stories’ cutscenes feature comic-book-like graphics to bring stories to life.

PRISON ARCHITECT

Design and run your own prison. When you open a new file, you can customize more than a dozen preferences. Should prisoners arrive with gang allegiances? How often do you want break-outs to happen? You can also choose your warden (with 16 to choose from), select the size of your prison’s lot, and set your starting funds. (And yes, there is an option for unlimited funds!) When you start building, pay special attention to Quick Rooms, which come with everything a room needs. Not every room can be built this way, but the really important ones can, including cells, canteens, and showers.

Installing the electrical grid is a major part of prison-building.
Installing the electrical grid is a major part of prison-building.

PRISON WARDEN

Run a pre-built prison with the warden of your choice. There are 30 pre-built prisons to choose from, 20 of them from Double Eleven and 10 from guest creators. On the selection screen, you can view prison size (ranging from small to massive) and capacity along with a quick backstory. These pre-built prisons showcase a wide range of design possibilities, and they’re especially handy for players who don’t want to bother with building a prison from scratch.

Each pre-built prison features a unique and inspiring design.
Each pre-built prison features a unique and inspiring design. This one’s called The Penaldome.

WORLD OF WARDENS

Download and play the shared prisons of other players from across the globe. Search for a prison by name, or browse to view each prison’s name, creator, capacity, download count, and average “Architect” and “Escape” ratings. You can also upload your own prisons for others to play by signing up for a free DoubleID account through your Switch. Signing up also earns you 2 more wardens, bringing the total number of warden options to 18.

World of Wardens lets you play prisons from around the world.
World of Wardens lets you play prisons from around the world.

ESCAPE MODE (PAID DLC)

For $8.99, you can download Escape Mode, which allows you to play as a prisoner and try to escape from a pre-built prison or one of your own creations. Choose a pre-set difficulty level, or select your own preferences. You can customize your health level (including the option of immortality), starting funds (including unlimited), and movement speed. Then, design your inmate. Pick a name, hairstyle, uniform color, and skill set. Finally, you’ll be escorted to your cell as your quest to escape begins.

Escape Mode has you control a prisoner and try to break out.
Escape Mode has you control a prisoner and try to break out.

OUR VERDICT

Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch Edition is packed with content, and those willing to spend a total of $38.98 get the added bonus of Escape Mode. But all this content comes with some headaches, at least in our experience. This is because Prison Architect often fails to offer adequate guidance, especially for new players. The Prison Stories tutorials provide a general overview, but they don’t cover everything, so players are left to figure a lot of things out on their own. This wouldn’t be so bad if Prison Architect were a highly intuitive game, but that’s not the case.

It’s easy for players to make mistakes in Prison Architect, and not always easy to fix them. For example, when the game indicates that a design flaw needs correcting, it doesn’t always clarify exactly what needs to be done to fix it. (This would be fine if Prison Architect were a highly intuitive game, but…it’s not.) We encountered this issue multiple times and had to reach out to the Double Eleven team for guidance more than once. They were extremely helpful, but we don’t think their help should have been necessary. It’s possible that we’re the outliers, and most players don’t have such a hard time with this game. But we’re worried that this might not be the case.

New players will likely see these red triangles a lot, and they might not always know how to make them go away.
This symbol means a design error needs correcting.

Another con? The text is too small, even in handheld mode. Sarah sometimes played with her face a few feet from the TV so that she could read without squinting. She also worked to memorize most of the option symbols so that she could look out for those instead of words while browsing menu options. We know there are limitations to text size in a game of this scope, so perhaps Prison Architect is simply better-suited for a desktop computer platform, since players are more likely to sit closely to their screens.

The text is too small to read comfortably, unless your face is right next to the screen.
The text is too small to read comfortably, unless your face is right next to the screen.

We’re also disappointed that the game is incompatible with touch screen controls. This feels like a missed opportunity. Building with Joy-Con or the Pro Controller can be tricky and confusing. The controls are complex, but not impossible to master. We suspect this game may control better on a computer. (We’ve only ever played it on Switch, and we’re hesitant to try it all over again on a different platform.)

When a pipe bursts, guess who fixes it? Your workers...if you've hired them. But you also have to tell them to do it. And make sure nothing is in their way! And try to contain the leak if you can.
When a pipe bursts, guess who fixes it? Your workers…if you’ve hired them. If they’re not doing their jobs, there’s probably something blocking their way. Good luck figuring that out.

And we think the micromanagement goes too far. Building a prison involves installing plumbing systems, laying electrical grids, and avoiding construction techniques that make it easier for prisoners to escape, among countless other things. Then you need to address the bureaucratic side of prison-running, like lawyers, accountants, and a foreman. You also need to hire guards and set their patrol routes. Then there’s prison policy to deal with, ranging from the logistics of food and laundry service to the prisoners’ daily schedules. All the while, you must tend to your prisoners’ needs—like food and sleep—and pay attention to their wants, like drugs and alcohol. And don’t let the prisoners start rioting, unless you want fatalities and scandal on your hands. This is a lot for players to handle, and it can produce a stressful experience.

Run a tight ship, or else chaos will ensue.
Run a tight ship, or else chaos will ensue.

CONCLUSION

We have mixed feelings about Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch Edition. In many ways, it’s a great game with tons of content. It’s also a frustrating game, at least in our experience. But Sarah kept going back to it, and with more than 90 hours invested, Prison Architect has become one of her most-played Switch games. It’s an addicting experience, especially for perfectionists and control freaks who like a good challenge. And the graphics are fantastic, from the detailed environments to the adorable character designs. Escape mode adds a fun twist to traditional gameplay, but adds an extra $8.99 to the price tag. Ultimately, Prison Architect might not be the best fit for Nintendo Switch, and you might want to check it out on a computer platform before committing to this version.

We've got mixed feelings about this game, but overall, we enjoyed our experience with it.
We’ve got mixed feelings about this game. But just look at those adorable graphics! Uh oh…we’re being pulled back in.

Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Double Eleven
Developer – Introversion Software / Double Eleven Limited
Price – $29.99 ( Escape Mode DLC – $7.99)
Genre – Strategy, Action, Adventure
Size – 553 MB

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