Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Switch) Review

There are some occupations in life people only dream of pursuing. Being an astronaut. Playing in the NBA. Penning a best-selling novel. Your usual suspects. Then there are the careers that—for one reason or another—probably aren't at the top of everyone's wish lists. Enlisting in the army. Performing life-or-death heart surgeries. Patrolling a max-security prison.

And then, of course, there's defusing deadly bombs.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes caters to those who are intrigued by that last scenario, yet certainly have no plans to make it a career choice. Developed and published by Steel Crate Games, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes tasks players with taking on the role of a bomb defusal squad. A purely social experience, Keep Talking eschews scripted single-player moments in favor of dynamic role-playing between two or more players: one takes the role of the bomb "Defuser," while the others assume the role of "Experts" who give defusal instructions to the Defuser.

While Keep Talking has been a hit among PC owners since it came out on Steam in October 2015, the game recently released on the Nintendo Switch, bringing a new window of accessibility to an equally new audience. Despite being a three-year-old game, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes seems as fresh as ever on Nintendo's portable console.

With its tense atmosphere, challenging puzzles, and highly replayable scenarios, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes makes for a great addition to the Switch library of digital titles. The scope of the game is limited, and the lack of a single-player mode leaves it purely in the sphere of "entertaining party game," but oh, what a fun party game it is. At fifteen dollars, there really is no reason why you shouldn't have Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes in your Switch arsenal.

Keep Talking keeps things simple with its features. The game has no story mode, nor cut-scenes or characters. Instead, upon booting up the game, players are asked to view or download a PDF from BombManual.com. As unorthodox as it might seem to require a separate document to play a game... well, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes isn't exactly orthodox itself. (I'm also a bit surprised no one had taken that domain name before.)

The Bomb Defusal Manual is the heart of the Keep Talking experience. Within the PDF, the Experts can verse themselves in detailed explanations of the various puzzles that are found within the game itself. From cutting colored wires to translating Morse code, the Manual contains a myriad of tricky walkthroughs—"If the last wire is black and the last digit of the serial number is odd, cut the fourth wire," to give just one—that are bound to feel overwhelming to the reader at first. However, once an Expert becomes familiar with the different pages of the PDF, he or she becomes an instrumental tool in helping the Defuser disarm any given bomb.

After confirming receipt of the Manual—done very neatly by entering a code from the PDF onto the Switch—players receive a brief in-game tutorial that explains the basic roles of the Defuser and the Expert (or Experts), along with the game's controls. Players pick up the bomb from an in-game table with the press of the A button. Once the bomb is held up, players then select from different "Modules," with each providing a different puzzle for the Defuser to solve. The Defuser can cut wires and push various buttons with the tap of the A button; he or she can also rotate the bomb with the right stick, which may reveal additional information, such as a serial number or the presence of a parallel port.

After completing the tutorial, players are prompted to hop into one of two modes. The first, tersely labeled "Bombs" and represented by a folder on an in-game desk, tasks players with tackling various preset bomb defusal scenarios. These different levels serve to introduce players to Keep Talking's various puzzles and mechanics. Initial levels generally have the Defuser take on three or fewer Modules, while later levels can ratchet up the action to include up to eleven. Early levels also tend to start players off with more forgiving times—such as 5:00 minutes—while later levels pick up the pace—2:30 minutes to disarm five modules, for instance. Finally, levels either allow for three "strikes," or mistakes, before triggering a game over state, or just one—you cut a wrong wire, you lose.

The second mode that Keep Talking offers is a "Free Play" option, which allows players to set their own rules and fine tune a scenario to their liking. Players can set easier timers and give themselves fewer Modules to complete, or they can do the opposite and crank the difficulty level up to eleven (literally, in this case, by selecting eleven Modules). The game also cleverly includes an accessibility option, tucked within a side menu, which lets players "veto" up to three different types of puzzles from showing up as Modules in Free Play. So if Morse code is causing you and your friends pain and suffering (I know it caused me and mine a lot), simply turn it off. Accessibility is the name of the game with Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and the wealth of options in Free Play is but one example.

Levels themselves are a chaotic mix of tense, anxious puzzle solving and laughter-filled fun. (The latter is especially true when you and your friends know time's running out and you're about to eat the dust.) Navigating from Module to Module as the Defuser is intuitive thanks to the game's simple controls, and the handheld nature of the Switch makes it easier than ever for players to hand off the role of the Defuser to anyone who wants to give it a go. Meanwhile, reading instructions as the Expert is extremely straightforward, in large part because anybody can pull the PDF up for themselves on a smartphone. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is, at its core, a party game, and the Switch version of the title does a great job of being available whenever, and wherever, players want to show it off. Once again, accessibility is front and center with the Switch port.

The game's puzzles, meanwhile, are challenging, yet fair. The preset Bombs scenarios do an excellent job of layering on harder puzzles as you progress, making sure not to drop a "Complicated Wire" puzzle on the Defuser and Experts before they are even introduced to the simpler "Wire" one. At the same time, easier puzzles can still provide adequate challenge, even later on, as the number of Modules increases and Experts are forced to talk the Defuser through these simpler puzzles at a much quicker pace. It's brilliant design, really, and the challenge of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes ensures that players will always be on their toes while playing. Victory is never assured, and it'll take quick hands and even quicker brainpower to see some of the hardest levels through to the end.

A large part of the Keep Talking's challenge also comes from the game's procedurally generated puzzles. Each new round of the game has randomized puzzles—even the preset Bomb levels—which ensures that no two playthroughs are alike. It is impossible to predict the solution to any given level ahead of time, no matter how many times you've failed it before. While this might frustrate those who are stuck on a particular level and its selection of Modules, it makes the eventual victory when successfully disarming a tough bomb all the more satisfying.

As strong as Keep Talking and Nobody Explode's core gameplay experience may be, its scope is somewhat limited. Despite there being both the Bombs and Free Play modes, the game essentially offers a single "gimmick." And though the game iterates on this hook in creative ways, it still would have been nice to see more built around the formula. A single-player mode with a loose story could have provided some context to the bomb defusing, while some alternative modes could have extended the life of the game, especially for more dedicated players.

The lack of any online functionality is also a bummer, though the decision to keep it an offline affair is understandable, given the lack of voice chat on Switch. Plus, if players really want to play long-distance, one can just read the PDF over a third-party app like Skype or Discord while the other plays on the Switch.

At the end of the day, these complaints are mere nitpicks when the action is as frenetic and satisfying as it is here. As I said before, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes may ultimately be a party game, but it's one heck of a good one, and easily the best I've seen on the Switch to date.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a great fit on the Nintendo Switch. The portable nature of the game makes it easy to use at a party or game night, while the game's tense nature and challenging, randomized puzzles offers plenty of exciting fun for those willing to learn the game's ins and outs. At 15 bucks, there aren't much better party games you can get than Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.