How’s this for a fun fact? In November 2020, the same month Sony and Microsoft released much-anticipated next-gen consoles, the Switch outsold every other console in the United States. Those who’ve recently hopped on board the Nintendo bandwagon might be faced with a question as old as the universe: “What should I play?” We, the writers and editors of Kotaku, can help. Nintendo’s versatile hybrid features one of the most wide-ranging libraries out there. To help narrow things down, we’ve pinpointed the 19 best games to play on the Nintendo Switch in 2021.
There’s a reason why “metroid” is in “metroidvania.” Metroid Dread, the first mainline Metroid game in nearly two decades, is the latest to prove why this series earned its spot in the gaming pantheon. You probably know what the genre usually entails: tight platforming, densely-packed levels, lots of upgrades, lots of backtracking. Dread doesn’t lack any of the genre staples, and in fact packages it all together in a greatest hits of Metroid references. It’s tough but not relentless, confusing but not confounding, and ultimately a satisfying romp through one of Nintendo’s long-untouched series. Metroid’s back, baby, and Switch players are all better for it.
A Good Match For: Fans of platformers, and anyone who missed the heck out of Samus Aran.
Not A Good Match For: Players who aren’t comfortable with the idea of getting lost, and with burning potentially hours on a single conundrum.
Even if you don’t find golf that appealing in the real world, it’s a different story as soon as Mario steps onto the course. Mario Golf: Super Rush is another excellent addition to the plumber’s sports-based excursions, combining the tight, golf-inspired gameplay of its predecessors with the excesses you’d typically expect from a Mario game. Super shots, wacky golf courses, and even running from shot to shot in a mad dash to complete holes faster than your opponents combine for an experience that would make Arnold Palmer roll in his grave. Few moments in gaming feel better than lining up the perfect shot and sinking a hole-in-one, especially when you get to see Waluigi’s celebration afterwards.
A Good Match For: Those who like their golf weird and their family games entertaining.
Not A Good Match For: Players hoping for a bunch of courses (Super Rush has just five).
It’s easy to look at this game and think, oh, an XCOM strategy clone with a cuter skin. But that would be wrong! First off, they gave Mario a freakin’ gun. The game also treats the original genre as a jumping-off point, adding a number of original mechanics that make the game stand apart. You can extend your turns in elaborate ways via dashing, jumping on enemies, and traveling through pipes. If you play your cards right, a single character can take a tour around the entire map in one go, causing havoc everywhere. The game is also a giant love letter to all things Mario, which is why the Rabbids based on the popular Nintendo characters work so well—they’re parodying something that Ubisoft understands deeply. By the end of the game, you might even find yourself kicking out the original Mario characters in exchange for the Rabbids. Coupled with an extensive challenge mode and many a secret hiding about, Rabbids is a surprisingly meaty game. Then, of course, there’s DLC that introduces more characters, like Donkey Kong, more challenging levels, and new mechanics. Have we mentioned that the Luigi Death Stare is an actual move?
A Good Match For: Fans of tactical games like Fire Emblem.
Not A Good Match For: Players looking for a carbon copy of XCOM.
Do you love the Halloween season? Do you love spooky stuff? But are you also maybe a bit of weenie and don’t like all the blood, gore, and fear that comes with popular horror games? If so, you should play Luigi’s Mansion 3, a delightful third-person adventure filled with satisfying combat and fun puzzles. The combat is worth mentioning for its satisfying ghost slamming via Luigi’s vacuum pack. Plus, Luigi doppelganger Gooigi is in this game. Enjoy a perfectly paced adventure set in a gorgeous haunted hotel.
A Good Match For: Fans of cute ghosts, silly and spooky games, fun puzzles, Luigi, and Halloween.
Not A Good Match For: People wanting a big, long 80-hour game, folks who dislike any references to ghosts or death, people who hate Luigi or his gooey-clone, and those looking for online PVP action.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a fantastic platformer that had one major drawback when it was released on Wii U in 2014: true to the series’ tradition, it was very difficult. It could be hard to appreciate the abundance of verve and creativity jammed into each of the game’s levels when you were constantly dying. Tropical Freeze’s Switch port addresses that problem with a new “Funky Mode” that offers several ways to make things easier, all without losing the colorful playfulness that makes it such an unusually appealing game. There are a lot of good platforming series out there but none quite like Donkey Kong Country. Tropical Freeze is a more than worthy entry in the series.
A Good Match For: Fans of the DKC series, people who like a challenge, and those who love really good music.
Not A Good Match For: Those who hate difficult games. Even on its easiest setting, Tropical Freeze can still be challenging. Expect to die a lot.
In the early throes of the pandemic, Ring Fit Adventure took the world by storm—and for good reason. Not only did it offer an alternative to IRL exercise (particularly when gyms from coast to coast shuttered their doors), but it also happened to be a genuinely fun game. You perform exercises shown on the screen while wearing a Switch accessory known as a Ring-Con. Doing so allows you to progress along the map, take down enemies, and collect coins. Throw in some role-playing elements and a story that was more compelling than necessary, in which you take down a muscle-bound dragon creature, and you can understand why it was impossible to get a copy of the game for months on end. Though Ring Fit remained sold out for much of the pandemic, the exercise game is more attainable these days. It’s well worth checking out, even if your gym has reopened.
A Good Match For: Time-crunched folks looking for a fun and easy way to get a workout in.
Not A Good Match For: Bodybuilders (the Ring-Con is, like, less than a pound).
Grindstone previously found love and success on iOS, but last year saw a Switch release, which made the perfect home, especially thanks to the touchscreen. Grindstone is all about drawing chains of similarly-colored monsters—Creeps—through a 7x7 grid, which makes it sound like any number of generic mobile puzzle games. But this is so much more. The game offers an intricate set of challenges to clear enemies from the screen through meticulously decided routes, tackling boss characters, and then obsessively returning to previous levels to open every chest, grab the crown from the royal Creep corpse, and gather resources. It has that Puzzle Quest magic about it, and every aspect is so finely tuned and delicately balanced. It’s a game that makes you feel like you’re really, really good and finally gives you a reason to remember that the Switch has a touchscreen.
A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a puzzle game you can play in either quick-bite bursts or for an entire afternoon.
Not A Good Match For: Those who like their puzzle games with a heady twist; The Witness, this is not.
At first glance, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury might look like something you’ve played a thousand times, and you may have even played this 2.5D Mario platformer when it first came out on the WiiU. It’s fun enough alone, but the main draw is the local co-op, which allows up to four people to play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, or Toad, each of whom have different advantages (Peach can float, Toad’s fast as hell, Luigi isn’t Mario, etc.). And then there’s Bowser’s Fury. Unlike Super Mario 3D World, Bowser’s Fury is entirely new. You’re dropped in a small open world neatly divided into regions (the ice area, the invisible walls area, and so on) and tasked with completing platforming puzzles to collect golden whatsits called Cat Shines. In the center, you’ll see a Kaiju-sized Bowser. Collect enough Cat Shines, and you’ll be able so supersize yourself to take on Bowser in increasingly challenging boss fights. It’s not as long as a “full” Mario game—like Super Mario Odyssey—but it’s an effective showcase for what an open-world Mario game might look like.
A Good Fit For: Mario fans. Anyone hungry for an engaging, accessible local co-op game.
Not A Good Fit For: People who played Super Mario 3D World to death when it first came out. Bowser’s Fury, while terrific, isn’t a full-sized game.
Purchase From: Nintendo eShop
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).
Purchase From: Nintendo eShop
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.
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.
Stardew Valley has been a standout among the Switch’s lineup, especially as Nintendo embraces indie titles. But Stardew Valley benefits just as much. The farm-based life simulator is platform-agnostic, available pretty much everywhere, butthe Switch is where it feels best. The default controls are a breeze to learn, and the portability is a dream. It’s the exact type of relaxing game you’ll want to play on the couch or in bed, or you can take it along to play local co-op with a friend. But years on, Stardew Valley remains one of the best games to pick up for the Switch for its ability to reinvent itself. The 1.5 update, which came to consoles in February, adds a massive amount of gameplay, including the Fern Islands locations, new NPCs, a beach farm map, more challenges, and an entire second beachfront farm. Stardew Valley already has deep gameplay, as evidenced by the massive fan-kept wiki, but the 1.5 update will keep even longtime fans engaged.
A Good Match For: Fans of games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or Minecraft. Anyone looking for a relaxing but terrifyingly compulsive 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not a Good Match For: People who don’t like Mario Kart? Do those people exist?
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:
7/26/2021: Why cap things at 12? We’ve expanded the list to 18, adding Mario Golf: Super Rush, Ring Fit Adventure, Grindstone, and Luigi’s Mansion 3. Also, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are back on the menu.
3/22/2021: Celeste, an airtight platformer you can get on a whole bunch of platforms, jumps off the list to clear room for the two-in-one Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury.
10/2/2020: We gave Super Mario Maker 2 the boot to make room for Supergiant’s Hades.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Games • The Best PS5 Games • The Best PS4 Games • The Best Games On PlayStation Now • The Best Xbox Series X/S Games • The Best Xbox One Games • The Best Games On Xbox Game Pass • The Best Wii U Games • The Best PC Virtual Reality Games • The Best 3DS Games • The Best PS Vita Games • The Best Xbox 360 Games • The Best PS3 Games • The Best Wii Games • The Best iPhone Games • The Best iPad Games • The Best Android Games • The Best Mac Games • The Best Browser Games • The Best PC Mods
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