The main allure of owning a Nintendo console is the prospect of Nintendo games; it always has been. Nintendo games sell consoles, define genres, and immortalize childhoods. But at 80 million sales in under four years, the Switch is already one of the most successful gaming systems of all time. And its continued momentum has long since made it a prime destination for many AAA game developers and publishers.
That’s something to keep in mind as we delve into the best of what this unique console has to offer. Because as magical as Nintendo’s Switch exclusives are, the handheld also attracted an enormous crowd of third-party heavyweights. Between them and countless indies, the Switch is arguably the most versatile gaming platform in years – and it’s only getting started. If you’ve recently joined Nintendo’s flock, as well, make sure to check out our Switch owner’s guide for 2021.
And now, before we lose ourselves in Monster Hunter Rise, Pokemon Snap, or some other equally exciting spring release, let’s take a moment to celebrate the absolute best of the best games Nintendo Switch had the honor of hosting to date.
Editor’s Choice: The Best Games on Nintendo Switch
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Almost half a decade after cleaning out every award show under the sun, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt made an unexpected jump to the Switch. In doing so, it delivered quite a blockbuster reminder that graphics aren’t what makes a game good, nor an RPG magical. Even in this portable, aggressively compressed form, the third Witcher game has been mesmerizing countless Switch owners since hitting the Nintendo system in late 2019.
No matter how many polygons you take away from the character models of Geralt, Yen, and co., The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt still features some of the best world-building and most memorable questing in gaming history. That’s in no small part due to the ridiculously talented writing team at CDPR. Not to mention the quality of the original Witcher novels from Andrzej Sapkowski.
And if this wasn’t already obvious, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt definitely isn’t a game you’ll buy for your little nephew’s next birthday party. But it’s near-guaranteed to make you feel like a little kid who’s discovering games for the first time. And its Switch port might actually end up being your favorite version to play. Especially considering how great its quest structure and overall gameplay loop translate to a handheld system.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is an immensely entertaining platformer which also happens to be a rare example of a traditional second-party game. Meaning it came from a technically independent developer – Next Level Games – that only does exclusives for a single platform (owner). Second parties are a dying breed in the gaming industry, and this 2019 Switch exclusive made in Canada illustrates why.
Namely, not only was Luigi’s Mansion 3 met with high praises from audiences and critics alike, but its commercial success actually prompted Nintendo to buy out NLG. Keep in mind that Nintendo’s studio acquisitions are few and far between, kind of like shinies. The last time it made a comparable move was when it acquired Xenosaga developers, Monolith Soft, back in 2007.
By being so good that even Nintendo decided to open its own wallet, Luigi’s Mansion 3 qualifies as one of the most accomplished Switch games, overall. And another thing it’s near-guaranteed to accomplish is keeping players of all ages and skill levels entertained for months.
Cuphead looks and plays like something Walt Disney directed after falling in love with Contra. Besides boasting a unique aesthetic, it deconstructs a range of cartoons from the 1930s, reminding us how twisted and ominous stories they used to tell. For example, the series of unfortunate events serving as the catalyst for the game’s story culminates with your character making a deal with Satan. And that’s, like, two minutes into the game; it gets significantly darker from there.
All of that might make you think Cuphead is geared toward experienced players who have the skills and patience to tackle its brutal boss battles. But it’s way more accessible than that, both in regards to how it teaches its mechanics and how it allows you to tweak its difficulty. Apart from traditional difficulty levels, the game has a range of skills for the titular hero to acquire, all of which will make your life more bearable when push comes to shove. Any Switch owner interested in experiencing something new and rewarding should consider giving Cuphead a chance. Especially since the game’s levels and boss fights are particularly well-suited for tackling its solo campaign in numerous shorter sessions. Apart from that, the game’s local co-op works amazingly on the Switch.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age represents the pinnacle of the classical JRPG genre. And while the Switch port might have been late to the game, it comes with a wide array of quality-of-life improvements that make this installment an even more enjoyable experience.
Mind you, it was a pretty fantastic experience, to begin with. But this final layer of polish laid out on top of the original turns a great game into a generation-defining one. And the final result is undoubtedly even more remarkable than a sum of its parts. Take, for example, the newly added ability to rush mobs and hit them with a preemptive strike from the horseback. It’s a small change but one that really improves your efficiency while cutting down on the “press A to have fun” moments.
In the end, the worst thing we can say about Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is that it’s an unfortunately titled game. Mechanically, it’s a must-play for anyone who enjoys open-world epics or is in the mood for some cozy adventuring. It’s also surprisingly replayable for a JRPG, assuming you ever manage to get to the end for the first time.
If you have enjoyed Astral Chain, this is the game to pick up next. If you’re craving some Devil May Cry on your Switch, this is the game to pick up next. If you like fun at all, this is the game you should be considering as your next purchase from now until the moment you’re done playing it. And you won’t be done for a long time.
In more straightforward terms, Bayonetta 2 is one of the best 3D action games ever made, and its Switch version is easily superior to the Wii U one. Even disregarding any technical differences between them, the Switch port of Bayonetta 2 has portability on its side. This might not seem important now, but just wait until you have experienced this silky-smooth action in 60fps. You won’t be willing to let it leave your side for a long time afterward.
You might already have some experience with Rocket League on other platforms, especially since its new owner, Epic Games, transformed it into a free-to-play service. But the portable version will make you adore this wacky combination of rocket-propelled vehicles and soccer even more. Because at around 6 minutes per match (queue times included), Rocket League and portable gaming have always been perfect for each other.
From a technical standpoint, studio Panic Button did a thoroughly fabulous job porting Psyonix’s game. In effect, and despite being relatively underpowered, the Switch is still capable of handling high-level play. As evidenced by the fact that there’s a steady influx of new Grand Champion-level players on Nintendo’s handheld.
That’s not to say you need to be a GC to enjoy Rocket League. On the contrary, you don’t even need to be any good at all. The fact that even the most tragicomically inept matches are loads of fun is what made it so successful in the first place. Even getting stomped by an occasional GC smurf in the lower ranks can be just as entertaining as grabbing a late winner against an opponent of a similar skill level.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
The Legend of Zelda has been a medium-defining series since its earliest days. Every new installment tends to be among the most critically acclaimed on its respective console. Not much has changed in that regard. Well, apart from the fact that we’re now guaranteed to get multiple mind-blowingly fantastic sequels per console generation. And occasionally, a reimagining of a classic like Link’s Awakening.
It doesn’t matter if you have played the Game Boy original, the Game Boy Color remaster, both, or neither. So long as you enjoy exploration, you’re going to love Link’s Awakening. This remake might also be called Feeling of Discovery: The Game because that’s precisely how it plays. It’s like peeling a gigantic magical onion whose interconnected layers don’t produce eye-irritating gas but a feeling of genuine wonder, again and again, for 15-20 hours.
WHAT THE GOLF?
You might not think much of golf. You might not even think of it at all. But there’s little chance you’ll be indifferent to WHAT THE GOLF? This accurately titled game tasks you with playing the most bizarre edition of the sport to date. Players start on a typical minigolf course, but things escalate rather quickly from there. By the time their first strike connects and launches not the ball but their golfer character in the air, everyone will understand they’re in for a wild ride.
WHAT THE GOLF? successfully builds on this premise for far longer than it has any business to. And again, these slapstick situations escalate rapidly. How the concept of flinging around aerodynamically handicapped stuff like houses and small children manages to stay funny for so long is difficult to pinpoint. But it definitely has something to do with the sheer level of variety introduced through this mechanic.
The Switch version of WHAT THE GOLF? is also the most complete edition of the game for several reasons. Most importantly, it features a hilarious multiplayer mode that pits two people against each other in a series of gags culminating in a hilarious direct confrontation. Secondly, playing WHAT THE GOLF? in handheld mode lets you take advantage of touch screen controls. This otherwise severely underutilized Switch feature is definitely the most intuitive way to experience the game.
Like Cuphead, Darkest Dungeon has a rep for being a brutally punishing game. Likewise, that label is only accurate if you actively ignore the information provided by the game. This dungeon-crawling RPG is definitely challenging, but your success hinges solely on your planning and risk management skills. As is customary of roguelikes, a genre forming the core of Darkest Dungeon.
The gothic aesthetic, ominous characters, and a profoundly unsettling story are just part of this game’s DNA. There’s also a decent variety of levels, each with its own types of enemies, traps, hidden treasures, and other kinds of challenges. That’s of paramount importance for a roguelike as it guarantees things won’t get boring anytime soon. Another motivation to keep going are lore tidbits. You’ll keep uncovering those as you progress through the scary surroundings of the worst inheritance gift since the ’08 financial crisis – real estate.
The roguelike format is genuinely conducive to gaming on the go, which is why Darkest Dungeon goes from excellent to outstanding on the Switch. It also looks and performs identically on all available systems, so this is definitely the version anyone with a Switch should get.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Looking at the top ten best-selling Nintendo Switch games, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the only entry that hasn’t even been out for a full year. But it’s way more than just a product of its circumstances, even though the stay-at-home imperative certainly boosted its success. But what makes that success sustainable is that at its core, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a super chill game about nothing in particular. That makes it a rare experience, particularly so if you prefer the polish of AAA games.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers plenty of activities to partake in. Not to mention a whole lot of cuteness to take in. Cuteness might actually be the key to why its formula works so well. Why people who don’t play games will love it just as much as those who do. Combined with a laid-back atmosphere, you’ll keep returning to it for a long time to come. A guaranteed daily dose of living out a tropical paradise fantasy? No wonder tens of millions of other people have already signed up.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Let’s for a second forget about the Nintendo Switch. Best games of all time – go. And if you did, chances are your top-whatever list includes more than one 3D Mario game. See, this compilation has three. All critically acclaimed, cleverly designed, and globally iconic. Oh, and only available until March 31st, 2021. Nintendo’s stopping production because it sees Super Mario 3D All-Stars as a one-time celebration of the series’ 35th anniversary. Nintendo’s also stopping digital sales because – Nintendo.
This isn’t to say physical copies of Super Mario 3D All-Stars won’t be available to buy afterward. But expect inflation to do its magic if you search for a mint-condition version of the game in, say, 2024. The distribution shenanigans don’t change the fact that this bundle offers tremendous value for money. There’s a good reason why Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy are all regarded as seminal platformers. And that’s because Shigeru Miyamoto, Yoshiaki Koizumi, and many other Nintendo creatives are really, really good at what they do.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars thus definitely belongs on this list. Even though someone reading this a few years down the line will likely find the bundle frustrating to acquire. Fingers crossed that Nintendo at least gives us an opening to buy it in 2025, for the series’ 40th anniversary.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim ports might be a meme, but there’s a reason Bethesda keeps re-releasing its 2011 hit. And, you know, why people keep buying it: it’s really, really good. Good at making you feel like you’re part of a living, breathing world, good at rewarding curiosity, and good at supporting the largest modding community in the history of gaming.
Two of those three things also apply to the Switch version of TES V: Skyrim. So, if you still haven’t played it, now would be the time to find out why it’s considered a classic. Plus, given its performance in handheld mode, dare we say this might be the most polished version of Skyrim to date? Because its frame rate is rock-solid, much like its texturing consistency. Moreover, the Switch undoubtedly makes this the most accessible version of Skyrim, given its portability. And even vanilla Skyrim offers endless role-playing potential, which is what the genre is all about.
Speaking of, Skyrim on the Switch also allows you to find and wield Master Sword, Hylian Shield, and Champion’s Tunic from The Legend of Zelda. That’s even if you don’t own any Amiibo that such cross-promotions tend to be tied to.
Super Mario Maker 2
Beyond its value as a creator’s toolset, Super Mario Maker 2 introduced numerous generations to the wonders of 2D platforming, reinvigorating the genre many years past its point of trendiness. And the sheer scope of tools and options it provided to creators kickstarted a vibrant, unique community of genre enthusiasts and Mario fans, in general.
Contrary to its name, you don’t need to be inclined toward making stuff to enjoy Super Mario Maker 2. You could do nothing else but play through its player-made levels from today until the end of time. But you might be surprised at how creative you actually are once its tools are all at your fingertips.
The ingenuity of Super Mario Maker 2 is that it takes an enormous bunch of assets and mechanics, then bundles them beneath a brilliant interface that makes the whole process of designing levels feel entirely natural. This is a “by designers, for designers” level of intuitiveness, particularly significant when the former group is already the best in business. The original Super Mario Maker actually started out as an internal tool for Nintendo’s level designers.
Stardew Valley is the best Harvest Moon-like game in five, maybe even ten years. Even though we’ve seen at least five actual Harvest Moon sequels over that same period. It’s getting difficult to keep up with them, apart from a singular point of view: whether they can hold a candle or a pitchfork to Stardew Valley. They can’t, and it’s not even close – especially not on the Switch. Nintendo’s console is pretty much the perfect platform for any time management.
The old-school pixel graphics might mislead you into thinking this is a more one-dimensional experience—ditto for the game’s total developer count of one. And yet, in reality, you’ll be discovering entirely new gameplay mechanics 40 hours into your first playthrough.
What’s even more astonishing is that the game achieves that without overwhelming the player at any point. Plenty of mediocre games of this sort can feel like jobs to play. Stardew Valley is, at worst, a dream job. At best, it’s pure, unadulterated escapism. And it’s usually at its best. Be it as an exercise in farm management, monster-bashing ARPG, sci-fi comedy, dating simulator, or something in between. Topping it all off is excellent writing responsible for some of the most memorable characters in the genre. Not to mention that Stardew Valley costs only a fraction of a typical Switch game.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
This might be a slightly controversial opinion among the Xenoblade Chronicles fandom, but the original 2010 game was better than the 2017 sequel in nearly every respect. Not by a considerable margin, mind you. And this is in no way meant as a slight on Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a massive and captivating game in its own right.
It’s just that the first Xenoblade Chronicles is a rare example of a JRPG epic that successfully avoids virtually every common pitfall of the genre. More specifically, it’s well-paced, skillfully written, and positively unassuming in its design. To the point that it’s accessible to anyone while completely subverting expectations surrounding the JRPG genre, on the whole. Monolith truly captured lightning in a 3DS-shaped bottle with this one. That’s why we don’t just rate Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition as one of the best games for the Nintendo Switch, but one of the most impressive JRPGs in recent memory. It’s also an incredibly refreshing, palate-cleansing experience for anyone burned out on hit-and-miss Final Fantasy games.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate doesn’t take that title lightly. It really is the ultimate edition of a globally popular series. One that also happens to have quite a healthy competitive community, which is all the more reason for praise. The game is just as easy to pick up and equally hard to put down as the past installments were. And that’s while also surpassing its predecessors in terms of content by quite a margin.
Of course, the key to its success is the same thing that makes Rocket League so amazing – you don’t need to be good to have fun. You don’t need to be anything to have fun, in fact. Just boot up the game and start enjoying yourself, whether by unlocking and trying out new characters in single-player mode or taking on similarly skilled players in multiplayer.
You always have an incentive and ways to get better. But you’re never punished for lacking an ultra-competitive mentality. And with 70+ characters to unlock, you’ll get months out of this game by simply trying out everything it has to offer. Afterward is when you can decide whether you want to try playing more seriously or just as casually. Either way, you’ll want to keep playing, guaranteed.
Hades is by far the youngest IP on this list, though it’s hardly underappreciated. On the contrary, it’s the latest third-party release for the Switch that received innumerable accolades. Meaning it won four GOTY awards whose organizers had large enough budgets to enjoy a Wikipedia footnote-level of relevance. But additionally, many other publications proclaimed it to be one of the best games to come out in 2020.
The secret to its success is that there is no secret, not unless you count literally every element of modern game development as one big mystery. It turns out that people who know how to make games and have been making games for a long time will – given enough resources – make a pretty good game. A giant of a game, if you will, as that’s what Supergiant delivered on this occasion.
Hades is, first and foremost, a highly replayable, Diablo-style roguelike. Secondly, it has an unmistakable identity, owing to its beautifully hand-drawn visuals, innovative writing, and an immensely composed original soundtrack. Nothing elaborates that point better than expanding on “Mediterranean Prog-Rock Halloween.” As that’s how the composer, Darren Korb, describes the OST of Hades.
If those four words, some of which I can even spell, don’t exude confidence, I don’t know what does. Because I took them to mean “we know what we’re doing.” And having played Hades and many other ARPGs over the years, I can attest that they indeed knew what they were doing. And by now, so should any Switch owner who has yet to play Hades. But just in case, step one is “play Hades.” Step two is finding a way to sidestep playing Hades, which I’m yet to do.
Super Mario Odyssey
The only reason people aren’t rioting over Nintendo’s decision to arbitrarily limit Super Mario 3D All-Stars’ sales is that *the* star isn’t going anywhere. Super Mario Odyssey is still on the Switch. In fact, it’s only on the Switch, and it already staked a serious claim to the title of the best 3D platformer of all time. That says a lot about how terrific it is, given Nintendo’s legendary consistency warranting all-stars compilations every couple of years.
Super Mario Odyssey is a game that will make kids fall in love with games. It will also remind adults what made them fall in love with games. And it will make everyone fall in love with the Switch, assuming that hasn’t already happened. Super Mario Odyssey can be enjoyed solo, in local co-op, or together with tens of millions of others via an infinitely replayable multiplayer mode that’s essentially asynchronous hide-and-seek.
Its levels are numerous and as brilliantly designed as any mainline Mario game. The game always rewards exploration but never demands it, which is what makes its semi-open world shine even brighter every time you revisit a level. Just as importantly, Super Mario Odyssey understands visual comedy at an almost-atomic level. But instead of completely indulging it, the game balances its humor with other gameplay incentives. The result is something between an engaging game and interactive vaudeville. Either is entertainment, but together, they’re art.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
With Three Houses, Fire Emblem finally went from being “that weird turn-based strategy RPG where you can marry people” to a mainstream franchise with millions of fans who accept its quirkiness to the point of enjoyment. Some even demand it, and it’s hard to blame them, seeing how no other series does even half the things Fire Emblem does, let alone does them well.
How’s this sequel different than its predecessors, though? For starters, the turn-based strategy gameplay now only constitutes about half of the actual game, maybe three-quarters if you’re really rushing things. Don’t let that fool you: Three Houses is by far the most content-packed installment in over three decades’ worth of Fire Emblem games. So much that it would be more accurate to call this entry Fire Emblem: Three Games.
On top of turn-based battles, you now have a full-fledged simulation game with time management and incentives to build social links. You can ignore those to work on improving your character’s attributes by playing mini-games, or even do nothing but battle if you feel indifferent about the characters as the game has an autopilot of sorts for those social parts. In other words, the key for Fire Emblem to break into the mainstream was to become Persona. Except that you’re commanding an army here, not just a bunch of high schoolers with superpowers. An army of high-schoolers with superpowers to whom you’re the headroom teacher.
On a more serious note, Nintendo already did Fire Emblem: Persona with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, which is also available on the Switch as of 2020. And that game is charming but amazingly simplistic compared to Three Houses. The latter delivers more complex systems to interact with or ignore, at will, plus a setting that’s grounded in grit. It’s a turn-based strategy disguised as an asynchronous dating sim disguised as a serious war story with legitimate choices and consequences. What isn’t concealed is how entertaining Fire Emblem: Three Houses is, from start to finish, across three, technically even four unique playthroughs.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It’s been four years since its release, and every list of best games on Nintendo Switch still either begins or ends with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You might be sick and tired of hearing about it at this point, but that only goes to show you’re yet to play it. You might even hold an unpopular opinion about how some other Switch game is more deserving of the title of the system’s best. That doesn’t change the sheer level of reverence for the latest 3D Zelda game, which is neither accidental nor matched by any other Switch release to date.
In a next-to-impossible case that you never find another game for Nintendo’s handheld that interests you, we’d argue Breath of the Wild would still make buying a Switch worth it. It’s a system-seller in every sense of that term. If you want to get technical, Animal Crossing and Mario Kart might have sold more consoles, but Breath of the Wild blew more minds. Way more. Take everything written about the remake of Link’s Awakening above, add another dimension into the mix, multiply the amount of content by a factor of twenty, and you have just described Breath of the Wild.
This take on the neverending fight against Ganon is so good that there are already concerns about how the series will move on from here without endlessly recycling its formula. Some of those are valid, others less so, but all help illustrate how unique Breath of the Wild truly is. So, play it, love it, think about it at work, finish the shift in a hurry to continue playing it, start bringing your Switch to lunch breaks; you know, the usual.
Community Choice: What are your Best Games for the Nintendo Switch?
We’re currently working on a voting system, but we’re up for hearing your thoughts in the comments below, once a game gets enough comments, we’ll upload it here bla bla.