With four years under its belt, the Switch has grown out into a truly versatile console whose vast library still manages to impress quite regularly. And while there’s no way you’ll ever get to experience the entirety – or even just the majority – of its library, the number one reason to buy a Nintendo console is for its exclusives. With that in mind, following below is our comprehensive list of the best Switch-only games as of 2021.
Actual exclusives, mind you: cross-gen titles such as Breath of the Wild or Bayonetta 2 are nowhere to be seen here. You should obviously play those as well, but their omissions are pretty low on the list of things to hold against the Wii U. Let’s just focus on the vastly more successful console at hand, in no particular-well, in not too particular of an order:
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is what happens when you pair low expectations with world-class development talent. Because a turn-based strategy that’s both newbie-friendly and deep enough to intrigue seasoned players is always a difficult ask. And that’s before you decide to make it about neurotic Lemmings joining forces with Princess Peach.
Nintendo and Ubisoft were up to the challenge, however. To the point that nowadays, there’s a legitimate argument to be made about their bizarre crossover being overrated. Yet that in no way means it’s still not among the very best of what the Switch has to offer.
Of course, it’s hard to say why so many critics expected this to be a cash grab, knowing how stingy Nintendo gets with licensing out its IP. Well, in the world of video game development, at least. But Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a joyful experience from start to finish. Not to mention the most polished Ubisoft release since the original Splinter Cell went gold.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!
There’s a lot to be said about the latest Pokemon games, and almost none of it is too kind. Especially since the 2018 remakes of Pokemon Yellow reminded us how amazing this series used to be.
But it might be unfair to compare Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee! to the Sword and Shield generation of these games. Because never before has Game Freak revisited a particular design document thrice. And as rose-tinted as a millennial’s perception of pocket monsters is, the fact remains that the original Pokemon game is an excellent example of a classical JRPG.
This modernization retained most of the game’s ’99 magic and even added to it in many respects. As an added bonus, Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee! even found a way to reward dedicated Pokemon: Go players in meaningful ways. Meaningful meaning Melmetan, of course. But even without the tanky Steel-type Pokemon, these remakes are all but guaranteed to remind you what made you adore the series in the first place. And it’s arguably thanks to them that the Switch is raising a whole new generation of Pokemon fans.
Mario Kart 8: Deluxe
In a way, Mario Kart 8: Deluxe could be seen as the least-deserving entry on this list. As it’s a Switch exclusive only on a technicality. Nintendo does love its enhanced editions, though. Perhaps even more than its remakes. In the end, we simply had too much fun blasting our way through Dry Dry Desert and Rainbow Road to see this addition as too controversial.
Even the acclaimed Crash Team Racing remake from 2019 eventually made us return to Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, as excellent as it was. And while this might not be the golden age of karting games, it’s pretty much impossible to view the enhanced version of the eighth Mario Kart installment as anything but the absolute pinnacle of the genre.
As per usual for a Nintendo property, accessibility is the central ingredient to this game’s success. It turns out that a pair of Joy-Cons is all you need to keep the magic of split-screen multiplayer alive, even this far into the Switch life cycle.
Ring Fit Adventure
There might never be another Wii Sports, and that thought terrifies us. But after the launch day disaster that 1-2-Switch was, Ring Fit Adventure could not have arrived in a timelier fashion. Simply speaking, this gamified collection of fitness routines inspires confidence in Nintendo’s ability to continue blurring the lines between lifestyle apps and entertainment. So long as you’re ready to accept it as its own thing, you’ll find plenty of content to love here.
The titular wheel-like Joy-Con holster isn’t as intuitive as swinging a remote, but most people should still find it easy to get used to. Ring Fit Adventure is also one of the most polished takes on service gamification across the entire software industry. Its casual RPG elements might seem arbitrary at first, but they make it easier to stay motivated and – ultimately – fit.
From a mileage perspective, the Ring Fit Adventure bundle is one of the best accessory investments a Switch owner can currently make, right after buying the Pro Controller. At least in theory. Good luck actually buying it, as it remains in short supply even today, a year and a half from its release.
Paper Mario: The Origami King
Paper Mario might just be the most polarizing game series Nintendo ever conceived. Mainly because it just keeps defying expectations. While that doesn’t make it as universally appealing as your average Nintendo property, it’s an astonishing thing to witness, given how consistently entertaining these games remained over the years.
Paper Mario: The Origami King doesn’t just continue with that rebellious tradition but leans into it more than ever. It effectively switches genres in the process, delivering something much closer to a classical adventure game than an RPG. In that regard, the 20-year-old franchise basically came full circle and now serves as the latest reminder of Nintendo’s inventiveness, not to mention how much it boosts the Switch catalog in terms of diversity.
Astral Chain might not seem like your typical GOTY material at first. But that’s before you realize that this hack-and-slasher comes from the key people behind Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Nier: Automata, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Naturally, this doesn’t diminish the mind-boggling technical achievement that Astral Chain ended up being. It just makes it somewhat believable.
Several things elevate Astral Chain above so many capable but homogenous titles: a flair for drama, a distinct take on a cyberpunk setting, and the fact that Platinum Games managed to polish it to near-perfection, given what they’ve been working with. 30 frames per second have never looked so smooth, which is a testament to everything from brilliant animations and responsive controls to consistent hitboxes and heroic optimizations that went into making this Switch exclusive a reality.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing games have always been kind of their own thing; a compelling experience that was pretty much autonomous from the actual gaming industry. But never before has this series resulted in something so content-packed, polished, and all-around adorable as Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Conveniently, that was just what the doctor ordered in early 2020. Well, that and for everyone to stay at home. The unusual circumstances turned New Horizons into a global phenomenon and an instant classic. And we haven’t stopped turning our tropical islands upside-down ever since.
The long-awaited transition to FullHD greatly benefitted the Animal Crossing formula. Because playing these games was always an almost meditative experience. Ergo, having *that* many more polygons to marvel at goes a long way. Nearly as far as Nintendo’s plans to support New Horizons with regular post-launch content updates. Not to mention that we were promised all of that DLC for free. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is thus on its way to becoming the best-ever Switch exclusive, based on the highly coveted dollar-to-hours-of-entertainment ratio.
Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker 2 is part game, part tool, and part design course. But wholly a confirmation that Nintendo’s mastery of 2D platformers can still be matched – so long as you crowdsource the actual undertaking. It’s a struggle to think of a more fitting illustration of how out-of-the-box Nintendo’s game development tends to get. Like, we haven’t even seen any boxes since the ’90s, just pipes and Goombas. Case in point: Super Mario Maker 2.
It expands on the Wii U and 3DS original in a plethora of directions and offers what’s essentially an infinite volume of high-quality content for all ages and skill levels. That’s quite a proposition, at $60. Super Mario Maker 2 retains one’s interest similarly to how Minecraft does, which is by seemingly freeing its audience of most mechanical constraints – only to capture it in an endless loop alternating between creation and discovery.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Luigi’s spooky adventures truly evolved into legitimate heavy hitters over the years. All the while still championing accessibility and world-class, extremely replayable level design.
And so, Luigi’s Mansion somehow manages to be a stellar platformer, a genuinely funny animated feature, and a meaningful counterpart to the last 3D Mario game, all at once. Yes, the one that was pretty universally labeled a masterpiece. Those were some seriously massive shoes to fill, but fortunately, Nintendo’s Canadian arm, Next Level Games, was up to the task.
The result is yet another fantastic Switch exclusive with enough content and variety to keep you entertained for months. Afterward, there’s still a surprisingly well-rounded and hilariously chaotic multiplayer mode for you to jump into along with up to seven other players – either locally or online.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
A low barrier to entry and a near-infinite skill ceiling are the key ingredients for long-term eSports success, no matter the genre. And nothing exemplifies that better than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Even though Nintendo seriously spoiled us with its user-friendly game design, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate takes things even further by fully embracing its competitive potential. The first Switch installment in the series is just as easy to get into as the older games. But it also offers an even more extensive roster of meticulously calibrated fighters to master and an absolute level of control scheme customizability.
A game whose eSports scene is as hardcore as they come while also championing player inclusivity is truly a sight to behold. And more than deserving of the title of some of the best Switch exclusives that money can buy.
The setting of Splatoon 2 probably isn’t too appealing to the average gamer, which is why many will easily overlook this early Switch exclusive. And they’ll be worse off for doing so, mind you. For one, Splatoon 2 figured out how to do a balanced multiplayer shooter with satisfying progression mechanics – you rethink the shooting until you have something special on your hands. And not the IAP-infused looting.
Furthermore, Splatoon 2 single-handedly transformed our perception of gyro aiming, convincing us of its viability in competitive shooters. Sure, BOTW had comparably intuitive archery mechanics four months prior. But its slow pace made that mostly irrelevant. Splatoon 2, though? A cartoonish exaggeration of paintball was undoubtedly way more difficult of a scenario for gyro implementation. Be that as it may, Splatoon 2 truly pushed the envelope of what was generally thought possible with gamepad controls, both in terms of precision and intuitiveness.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Portable consoles and JRPGs have been a brilliant combination for decades, and the Switch is no exception to that trend. But let’s assume you’re only interested in the most exquisite experiences that combine old-school mechanics with 21st-century AAA budgets.
In that case, look no further than Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for all your leveling needs… though, perhaps you ought to glance at just a few more paragraphs. Because there’s actually one more Switch exclusive that many JRPG fans might find even more compelling.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let it just be known that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 offers a marvelous variety of questing, exploration, and combat. So much that we suspect the titular chronicles are a cheeky developer reference to the size of our New Game Plus save files.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
The 2019 remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the first real Switch exclusive from the beloved franchise. And while it won’t make you forget about Breath of the Wild, don’t be fooled by the less technically demanding visuals: this game is every bit as modern and exploration-driven as the last.
Link’s Awakening even resembles the Pokemon: Let’s Go games regarding the circumstances that launched it to greatness. Except that Pokemon Yellow was “only” ever a cult classic. Whereas Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy was already touted as a masterpiece back in ’93. This was pretty much the consensus by ’98 when Link’s Awakening DX released for the Game Boy Color.
A new engine and a fresh coat of paint make the game hold up remarkably well even today. Well, that and the fact Nintendo completely rethought some aspects of the original. As an added bonus, your levels of hype for BOTW2 will be off the charts after experiencing how well Nintendo’s mojo still functions even in 2D.
Super Mario Odyssey
The level of expectations surrounding every new 3D Mario game has gotten to be pretty ridiculous these days. Making Super Mario Odyssey all the more impressive of an achievement. Miyamoto memes aside, the 2017 release was the umpteenth occurrence of Nintendo raising the bar for 3D platformers.
Innovative gameplay mechanics, perfectly responsive controls, intelligent level design, and a fantastic grasp of visual humor are just some of the things that make Super Mario Odyssey stand out over so many other titles demanding your time. Interactive entertainment doesn’t really get any more interactive or entertaining than this—neither on the Switch nor beyond.
This infinitely replayable but utterly unassuming platformer is a must-have for Switch owners of all ages. It boasts a rare combination of self-awareness and confidence to do its own thing, which is just quintessential Nintendo. Plus, a photogenic Mario was the best thing to have happened to social media since funny cat videos.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
No worries, this overview won’t end with some outlandish claim about how Fire Emblem: Three Houses is inarguably the best Switch exclusive to date (as if anyone would object). But out of all the first-party releases for the system, it’s definitely among the most easily missable ones. Mostly depending on how recently you became a Switch owner.
Content-wise, there’s no way that so many seemingly random elements should make for a cohesive experience. Think XCOM meets Persona, with a dash of Biblical fantasy, Harry Potter vibes, and… as things tend to go with big-budget JRPGs, words just cannot do this curious genre hybrid justice.
Nor injustice, to be fair; you really ought to see for yourself whether it hooks you or crooks your gaze. You won’t be indifferent to it; at least that much is guaranteed. Which is true of all great art. But doubly so when you realize that your first 50-hour playthrough will require three additional, distinct campaigns before the story is completely wrapped up.