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The 12 Best Games For The Nintendo Switch

the best games for the nintendo switch
Illustration: Sam Woolley

Right now, everyone’s talking about the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X and S, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on the Nintendo Switch. Sure, save for a certain placid life sim, Nintendo didn’t release many major games in 2020. Still, the Switch is good as ever, featuring one of the most robust, wide-ranging game libraries around. For every essential (Mario, Zelda) there’s an unsung hero equally deserving of your time and energy. We, the writers and editors of Kotaku, pinpointed all of them. So, without further ado, here are the best games for the Nintendo Switch.

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zagreus and demeter in hades on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Supergiant Games
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Hades

There are roguelikes, and then there’s Hades. The latest from Supergiant Games has many of the trappings of a traditional roguelike—tight action, randomized battles, a never-ending cycle of failure and incremental progress—but distinguishes itself by being a narrative tour de force. Set in the underworld of ancient Greece, you play as Zagreus, the obstinate son of Hades. All of your favorites, from all-powerful Olympians like Zeus and Athena to human legends like Achilles and Eurydice, show up in some way or another. Supergiant cleverly reimagined these millenia-old characters in modern fashion, fully fleshing out dozens of characters as if they existed in an extremely dark rom-com. Every death pushes the story forward, but not linearly. The story is told in how you slowly get to know members of the Greek mytheme a bit more with every bloody, brutal Sisyphean failure. Also, everyone’s hot as hell.

A Good Fit For: People who love roguelikes. Fans of Supergiant’s previous hits (Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre)

Not A Good Fit For: People who love roguelikes, because Hades will tarnish the rest of the genre for you. Anyone who needs their narratives ordered in a neat, three-act structure. The easily frustrated (Hades will kill you a lot).

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Read our review.

Study our tips for the game, and for the post-game.

Learn what your favorite weapon says about you.

Purchase From: Nintendo eShop


link gliding in the legend of zelda breath of the wild on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Nintendo
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a monumental artistic achievement, a video game so creative and full of surprises that we’ll be talking about it for years to come. It’s also unlike any Zelda game before it. For years, Zelda games were defined by “no.” You can’t reach this place until later; you can’t solve this puzzle until you get the right item. Breath of the Wild is the best Zelda game to date, and it accomplishes that simply by saying yes. You can climb any tree, cliff, or dungeon wall you see. You’re let loose in an open world and issued four main objectives, which you can tackle in any order you see fit. Or, if it pleases you, you can just beeline for the final boss. You’ll probably lose, but the game won’t stop you from trying.

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A Good Match For: Anyone who likes games that let you explore and make your own fun. Horse lovers.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who preferred the strict structure of other recent Zelda games.

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Read our review.

Study our tips for the game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Walmart | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop


a screenshot of stardew valley on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: 505 Games
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Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is an already-great game made indispensable by the Switch. The 2016 farming/dating/life sim lets you forget your worries and embrace a soothingly banal life in the countryside. You water your crops in the morning, and think about how you’re going to improve your farm. You head in to town and stop by the general store to get seeds and chat up the cute boy you’ve had your eye on. And if you want, you explore the mysterious mine, gather magical materials, and uncover the deeper secrets of the valley. It’s a game with a seemingly endless amount to do, and it fits perfectly onto a handheld.

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A Good Match For: Fans of games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or Minecraft. Anyone looking for a relaxing but terrifyingly addictive game.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a straightforward game. Stardew Valley is calming and low-key, but it’s also extremely complex and doesn’t alway explain itself that well.

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Read our impressions of the Switch version.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Best Buy | GameStop | Target | Nintendo eShop.


mario link daisy pikachu pit ridley inkling and cloud fighting in super smash brothers ultimate on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Nintendo
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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate perfects the long-beloved Super Smash Bros. formula for both the button-mashing seven-year-old and the single-minded competitive gamer. It’s the old platform fighter we’ve been obsessed with since 1999, but this time, with a leviathan roster of 76 fighters. Mastering one could eat up a year, but it’s more fun to sample them all. Smash Ultimate is a museum of Nintendo celebrities, a gaming fandom WrestleMania. Everything is customizable: the rulesets, fighter balancing, stage hazards. With all that stuff, and so many ways to manipulate it, Smash Ultimate is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t discriminate between a middle school birthday party and a stadium of screaming pros.

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A Good Match For: Anyone with a competitive bone in their body. People who have at any point loved Nintendo. Anyone who hosts parties or fans of any of the previous Smash games.

Not A Good Match For: People who hate conflict or primarily enjoy gaming alone.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Purchase From: Amazon | Walmart | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop


a boss fight in hollow knight on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Team Cherry
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Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight is a tiny epic that jams an extraordinary amount of secrets, challenges, and rewards into its sprawling subterranean kingdom. It’s a little bit Castlevania and a little bit Metroid, with a roomy map and remote regions you can only access after unlocking one of many character upgrades. It’s a little bit Dark Souls, with its forsaken kingdom, tough bosses, shortcut-strewn maps, and threat of losing progress upon death. And it shares platforming DNA with games like Ori and the Blind Forest and Super Meat Boy, all wall-slides and air-dashes. It bakes up those ingredients before frosting on a layer of its own distinct vibe, and those who choose to brave the buried insect realm of Hallownest will be rewarded with one of gaming’s great spelunking expeditions. Surprising, challenging, rewarding, and unexpectedly funny, Hollow Knight is absolutely worth your time, and works particularly well on the Switch.

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A Good Match For: Those who like a challenge. Metroidvania fans. Anyone looking for a deep, rewarding game to really sink their teeth into.

Not A Good Match For: The easily frustrated; Hollow Knight can be a brutal, unforgiving game, and it throws players into the deep end early. It contains bosses and platforming challenges that may have you tearing your hair out.

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Read our review.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop.


a bunch of yoshis driving motorcycles in mario kart 8 deluxe on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Nintendo
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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Ah, the blue shell. There may be no better metaphor for the bleakness of life. One minute you’re cruising along, on top of the world, and then bam, you’re totally hosed. Just when you thought you had it in the bag, life throws a blue shell.

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Mario Kart 8 isn’t really all that philosophical, of course. It’s the same Mario Kart formula re-tuned and polished to an absurd degree, easily one of the most fun party games you can play on the Switch or any other console. Best of all, the Deluxe version on Switch includes all the DLC maps and characters from the Wii U game and also completely overhauls that version’s woebegone battle mode. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of an already great game.

A Good Match For: People who like moving really fast. People who like seeing Luigi look really mean.

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Not a Good Match For: People who don’t like Mario Kart? Do those people exist?

Read our review of the Wii U version, and of the Deluxe Switch version.

Watch a tournament that we staged at company HQ. 

Purchase From: Amazon | Walmart | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop


villagers sitting around a table in animal crossing new horizons on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Nintendo
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Animal Crossing: New Horizons

You might think that Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t for everyone, but Nintendo’s adorable life sim apparently is for everyone. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that this game launched in the midst of a global pandemic. As citizens around the world ramped up social distancing measures, New Horizons provided a pastel-colored paradise for gamers of all skill levels to collectively get lost in. The gameplay is simple enough: Pick fruit, catch bugs, and hunt for expensive seashells, all in the interest of earning enough dough to build up an idyllic island community. Everything progresses in real time, so there’s impetus to play a little (or a lot) every day. Oh, and did we mention that all the characters are talking animals?

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A Good Fit For: Anyone seeking a digital hangout. People who like peace, placidity, or cute things. Travel influencers.

Not A Good Fit For: Anyone with burning impatience, commitment issues, or a need for games to offer stern direction.

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Read our review.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Walmart | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop


claude in fire emblem three houses on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Nintendo
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Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a tactical role-playing game by way of Dawson’s Creek, as much a challenging game of chess as a matchmaking service for a camp of teenaged anime screw-ups. As much as Three Houses hews to Fire Emblem traditions (spear-sword-axe, anyone?) and plays tropes of Japanese role-playing games straight, it also takes necessary departures in its plot and mechanics. By the end of the game you’ll want to play it again immediately—not just to replay the puzzling tactical battles, but to see the narrative and characters from a new perspective. There are multiple outcomes, each of which ends up at a completely different place. Completionists, eat your heart out.

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A Good Match For: Anyone who loves romance and brain-tingling logic puzzles.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who hates anime, heartbreak, and playing a game three times (or more).

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Read our review.

Study our tips for the game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Walmart | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop


two characters talking in undertale on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: 8-4, Ltd.
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Undertale

Undertale might look like a retro-style JRPG, but it’s unusually forward-thinking. As a human stuck in a world of monsters, you decide whether you want to win encounters with wanton violence or clever context-based interactions (talking, joking, petting, etc). Undertale keeps track of everything you do; it’s paying very close attention, and will often express that attention in surprising ways. Every life you take ultimately has consequences. Despite those grim trappings, Undertale can be an incredibly warm, fuzzy, and funny game. Whether you slaughter or befriend everyone (or walk a middle path), the writing in this game is top-tier, the soundtrack is second-to-none, and the plot hides a treasure trove of secrets that players still haven’t fully uncovered.

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A Good Match For: Lovers of smart video game stories, fans of games that subvert expectations, people who’ve ever felt even a single pang of loneliness.

Not A Good Match For: People who hate shoot-’em-ups and tough boss battles (Undertale’s combat system has elements of both), those who aren’t fond of reading dialogue, haters of lo-fi pixel art.

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Read our review, and our thoughts on the Switch version.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Best Buy | GameStop | Target | Nintendo eShop.


baba in baba is you on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Hempuli
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Baba Is You

You’ve never played anything like Baba Is You. You might never play anything like it again. It’s a simple block-pushing puzzle game, except the blocks you’re pushing are actually the rules of the game themselves. Push blocks reading “Door,” “Is,” and “Open” together, and all the doors in the level open up. The puzzles quickly scale up in difficulty, and you have to wrap your brain around the concept that everything, including you, can be redefined on the fly. A triumphant puzzle masterpiece.

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A Good Match For: People who, in the words of Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder, “solve puzzles because they like pain, and they like being released from pain, and they like most of all that they find within themselves the power to release themselves from their own pain.”

Not A Good Match For: People who immediately run to GameFAQs every time Nathan Drake has to align three spinning wheels or whatever.

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Read our impressions.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Best Buy | GameStop | Target | Nintendo eShop.


celeste in celeste on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Matt Makes Games
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Celeste

Celeste is a difficult game, but it’s just so gentle about it. As you help your character mantle and warp-jump her way to the top of the eponymous mountain, you’ll find that no matter how complex a room looks, the underlying solution is simple: jump. That purity of design combines with fine-tuned controls and a charming story to make Celeste into a winning, joyful experience. The music is fantastic, too.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | Target | Nintendo eShop


mario in super mario odyssey on the nintendo switch
Screenshot: Nintendo
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Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is all about freedom, and it is glorious. Unlike recent Mario games, the red-hatted plumber no longer must move forward in a straight line. The timer is gone, and each level—from the glorious wilderness of Fossil Falls to the bustling metropolis of New Donk City—is a toy box filled with platforming challenges, surprising secrets, and all kinds of goofy fun. You can also dress Mario up as a pirate, a cowboy, a clown, or a ‘20s-era mafia enforcer. When you beat the game, there’s still no shortage of Moons to collect and things to jump on (or off of). It’s one of the best-feeling, most charming games we’ve played in ages.

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A Good Match For: Platforming fans, Mario 64 and Sunshine fans, and people who like hats.

Not A Good Match For: People who hate 3D platforming. People who hate hats.

Read our review.

Study our tips for how to jump really, really far.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Walmart | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop


How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

10/2/2020: We gave Super Mario Maker 2 the boot to make room for Supergiant’s Hades.

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4/2/2020: We’ve removed Platinum Games’ Astral Chain and swapped in the biggest—or at least cutest—launch of early 2020: Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

12/9/2019: Switch had a huge 2019, which means it’s time for a huge update. We’ve added Super Mario Maker 2, Baba Is You, Astral Chain, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and removed Splatoon 2, Into the Breach, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Bayonetta 2.

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1/14/2019: We’ve added Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and taken off Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

11/7/2018: We’ve added Into the Breach and Undertale and taken off Dragon Quest Builders and Darkest Dungeon.

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6/28/2018: We’ve added Hollow Knight and taken off Steamworld Dig 2.

5/17/2018: We’ve added Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and removed Golf Story.

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3/1/2018: We’ve added Celeste, Dragon Quest: Builders, Darkest Dungeon and Bayonetta 2 while removing Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, Overcooked, Skyrim, and Arms.  

12/6/2017: We’ve added Super Mario Odyssey, Overcooked, and Skyrim and taken off The Binding of Isaac, Puyo Puyo Tetris, and Thumper.

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10/12/2017: We’ve added Golf Story, SteamWorld Dig 2 and Stardew Valley and taken off Jackbox Party Pack 3, Minecraft, and Snipperclips.

9/14/2017: We’ve added Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and removed Cave Story +.

8/9/2017: We’ve added Splatoon 2 and bumped off Disgaea 5.

6/28/2017: Time for our first update, and it’s a big one. We’ve added Minecraft, Arms, Cave Story+, Disgaea 5, Jackbox Party Pack 3 and Thumper, and removed I Am Setsuna and Mr. Shifty. The list will remain capped at 12 games from here on out.

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5/3/2017: And lo, the Switch Bests list was created! No updates yet. Expect more in the near future as we add more games, eventually capping the list at 12.


Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Games On PlayStation NowThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Games On Xbox Game PassThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best PC Virtual Reality GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods

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Note: If you buy any of these games through the retail links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers’ affiliates program.

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DISCUSSION

alexstanfeld
alexstanfeld

I hate that you don’t make these new articles with each update. It renders commenting useless. Looking still comments from may when it’s an August update is blah. It only gets worse as time goes on. How about “best 8 games as of may 2017.... best 12 games as of August 2017" and so on and so forth. Will anyone ever even see this comment?