The Nintendo Switch is a sort of inverted version of the Wii or Wii U. While those consoles all but demanded that games had to be redesigned to make the most of their strange features, the Switch manages to make old ideas new again simply by allowing you to take them out into the wild. Dark Souls on the tube! Mario at the beach! Tetris everywhere!
While Nintendo's had a thing for portability since the days of the Game Boy, the Switch is also defined by its excellent multiplayer accessibility, and was sold on the unlikely promise of friends gathered together in public spaces crowded around a single screen. While that might be on hold for the moment, one day it'll return, and so whether you're looking for a game for the TV, the commute (remember those?), one of those improbably stylish rooftop parties from the launch ads, or just for laying in bed at the weekend, hopefully there's something for you here in our list of the 20 best Nintendo Switch games.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
To make a game about nature, Zelda's creators had to change the way they created. The precision tooling of every part of the environment had to be hidden, with intricate dungeons that clip together across the landscape replaced with massive vistas that at first appear thrillingly empty.
Do not be fooled. Breath of the Wild is as obsessively designed and crafted as any Zelda game before it, but everything in this huge, seemingly untamable game is put in place to make you feel lost and small and at the mercy of the elements. Pick a direction and explore: an adventure of genuine beauty and revelation awaits.
Super Mario Odyssey
Odyssey is a wonderfully, purposefully incoherent Mario game in which each world has its own costumes and gimmicks, but also its own defining aesthetic. After the rolling majesty of Breath of the Wild's Hyrule, it's a bit like diving into a jumble sale. But like all jumble sales there are brilliant things to discover: strange worlds that glitter with unusual textures and seem to be driven by alien rules.
And at the heart of it all, that brilliant sense of weight and momentum and pace that makes Mario the platformer than nobody else can touch. So Odyssey is a game of moments, in other words - and what could be more like Mario than that?
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Countless others have taken on the Mario Kart formula since its inception in 1992, not least of which is Nintendo itself, delivering various mutations, variations and iterations over the years. It wasn't until Mario Kart 8, however, that it matched the brilliance of the SNES original, with a work of stunning imagination and impeccable craft.
It wasn't until the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe a few years after, however, that Nintendo delivered what's inarguably the best in the series to date; bundling together all of the DLC that came to the Wii U version post-release, most importantly it also added a brilliant Battle Mode that completed the package. It's thrillingly close to perfection.
Splatoon 2 is a glorious team-based shooter with a unique territory capturing mechanic, but that's only half of the appeal. The arenas are great and the weapons are a pleasure to use, and there is a simple playgroup joy to chucking that much ink around, but Splatoon's Switch instalment lingers in the mind because of its placefulness.
Much has been written about the Switch's bare-bones front-end. For the first days of the console's lifespan, Inkopolis Square felt like it was the heart not just of this wonderful game but of the charming, personable, colourful and surprising console that runs it. What a thing!
Super Smash Bros Ultimate
It doesn't even matter if you like fighting games or not: Smash Bros is for anyone who's ever fallen for video games full stop, a mad, impossibly expansive and expertly engineered celebration not just of Nintendo's rich past but that of the entire medium.
The cast is outrageously vast, taking in all-comers from Mario to Metal Gear, the options are plentiful and the soundtrack is just to die for. Oh, and the game underneath all that is alright too, a wilfully chaotic dust-up that's best enjoyed shoulder to shoulder with friends. You'll find a little of all video games here in Smash Bros. Ultimate, a breathless celebration of the medium in all its mad, incoherent and joyous whole.
How's this for a pitch: the Mario Kart team does for fighting games what it once did for driving games in a ludicrously colourful, energetic and original Switch exclusive. Yet despite delivering so well on that promise, Arms has never found the audience it deserves. For shame, though that shouldn't stop you picking up what remains one of the highlights of the Switch's line-up.
Here's a fighter that's instantly accessible, offers boundless depth and does all this with one hell of a spring in its step. Oh, and springs in its arms too, as your fighters reach into the screen in an enjoyably pliable brand of pugilism. The chances of a sequel now seem slim, so make the most of a game that's truly one of a kind.
Battle Royale Tetris sounds like a joke, but it turns out to be the basis for one of the most energising console exclusives in years. It's Tetris, a game you've been playing forever, but now you're up against an entire gameshow board of rivals.
There's two kinds of beauty here: the beauty of a game you know innately being twisted into a new form, and then the buried beauty of the hidden rules and synergies that will see you racing up the leaderboard. Tetris isn't just the eternal game, it's an eternally surprising one.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (2019)
Link's strangest adventure has long been marooned on the original GameBoy, with only a timely port to the 3DS reminding us of the weird island where the Wind Fish sleeps. For Switch the whole thing has been reimagined as a tactile children's animation, but the puzzles and overworld are as precision-tooled as ever. This is a slight Zelda as they go, but it's still rich in adventure and heart.
Want to read more? See our full The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Switch review and buy now from Amazon.
Cadence of Hyrule
It still feels wrong for anyone other than Nintendo to handle a Zelda game, but the highest praise you can give Cadence of Hyrule is that it doesn't feel wrong for very much time. This is a beautiful reimagining of the flip-screen Zeldas of the 8- and 16-bit generations, shot through with a rhythm-action conceit so beautifully executed it feels like it's always been a part of Hyrule. Unmissable.
Picross has become such an embedded part of Nintendo's handheld portfolio that it's easy to forget it's there. It's easy, in fact, to think these aren't video games at all - they're close relatives to sudoku, living alongside them in some publications as nonograms, and they offer the simple thrill of logic and deduction.
For all that, it's easy to forget just how good the formula is, and see that you've clocked up *checks play time* 150 hours across the three instalments released to date on the Nintendo Switch. If it's a commute-eating puzzler you're after, they really don't come much better than this.
Lumines started life on the PSP, and despite the transition from Sony to Nintendo, Remastered feels like a homecoming. The only puzzler to truly challenge Tetris in terms of universality or brilliance - okay, maybe Drop7 comes close - is built for a screen like this, bright and luxuriously wide and yet held, somehow, in your hands. The levels have never looked better and the use of vibration is sublime.
Mostly, though, it's Lumines back where it belongs, inches from your eyeballs, the timeline racing through again and again and leaving the glinting landscape behind it transformed once again. Jeepers this is good!
Want to read more? See our full Lumines Remastered review.
Once upon a time, there was nothing more exotic, nothing more nineties than the Neo Geo, and one game on that most exquisite and powerful of machines was more exotic and nineties than them all. From the chromed lettering of developer Data East to the wraparound mirrored sunglasses of Hiromi Mita, Windjammers is arcade perfection, serving up a delicious alchemy of Street Fighter and Pong.
It's one of the very best local multiplayer games available, which makes it an absolute essential for the Switch. Now it's not a case of hoping the pub you're heading off to has a well-stocked Neo Geo cabinet propping up the corner - thanks to the marvels of modern technology, you can challenge someone to a game of Windjammers wherever you may be.
Want to read more? See our full Windjammers review.
Puyo Puyo Tetris
The blending of two puzzling greats, one austere and angular, one squishy and sugary, makes for an absolute classic in its own right. But there's more to Puyo Puyo Tetris than the ingenious nature of its design.
In the early days of the Switch, this game above all others delivered on the console's dream: a bunch of friends, loose in the world, all crowded round a tiny screen propped up on the table in front of them while four-player chaos unfolded. If you've ever wondered what that stand on the back of the Switch is really for, wonder no longer. It's for Puyo Puyo Tetris.
Darius Cozmic Collection
The Switch isn't short of shmups. Pick up Konami's Anniversary Arcade Collection and you can play Gradius 2, one of the greatest of them all, or maybe you want to sample the classic Thunder Force 4 via M2's impressive Sega Ages port. Or you could go through a large chunk of Psikyo's back catalogue, or get an impeccable introduction to the genre with the smart, accessible Danmaku Unlimited 3.
Or, if it's just one game you're after, you could turn to Devil Engine - an all-new effort that's studied the classics and added its own unique flavour. It's an incredibly enjoyable game, and one that looks - and sounds - the part too. Devil Engine just goes to show that, sometimes, they really do make them like they used to.
Want to read more? See our full Darius Cozmic Collection review.
Into the Breach
A tactics game concerned with the world's dinkiest invasion, Into the Breach is a study in economy. From the game's tiny play areas and short match times to the sparse animation and simple rules that govern a unit, everything here is bright and glinting and wonderfully fit for purpose.
Such basic elements lead to rich surprises, however, and this is one of those games that you can play for days and weeks and months without ever feeling that you've ceased to learn.
Here's a tip to start you off: don't just think about what a unit can accomplish on a turn, but also think about where it ends up once the turn is finished. If you've never played this, I envy you. Tactical perfection awaits.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo's legendary take on bucolic living has never been more sharply arranged than here, where a trip to an untouched island quickly expands to involve town infrastructure meetings and the search for the perfect bed-side table. Min-max this and it's a game filled with depth and secrets. Play it for a lazy hour every day and it's slow gaming at its most comforting. An unusual and distinct world-beater.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
And there was us thinking Awakening was Fire Emblem's big push for the mainstream… With Three Houses, Intelligent Systems handed the reins over to Koei Tecmo, for the most part, who then delivered an absolute epic of a strategy RPG. Its scale is at once personal and vast, its characters winningly human and the best bit, for older players of the series, is that the strategy is as satisfying as it's ever been. An absolute triumph.
Is this Platinum's most loveable game? It's a pocket-sized masterpiece, anyway, offering skipping-rope combat and a police procedural-world in which you hunt for clues but also put away litter and help out a mascot dog bag at the station. Effortlessly quirky and filled with delights, this is an action game with endless charm, and it feels perfect on Nintendo's oddball console.
Supergiant only ever makes games that resound with class and thought, style and intelligence. But Hades, the studio's first early access title, has something more. It's vicious, bloodthirsty and delighted by its own horrors. It's the perfect game about the ancient gods, in other words.
Zagreus wants to escape from Hell, and Hell wants to stop him. As set-ups go, it's winningly direct, but what makes this game a true classic are two elements converging.The first is a combat system that encourages you to experiment with weapons and randomised perks as well as the environment itself, which may offer anything from lakes of fire and pits of spikes given the moment. The other is art design that lends the whole thing the lurid colours and vivid designs of an 80s underground comic. Underground is the word for it, really. Hades is seismic.
Ring Fit Adventure
Nintendo turns exercise into an RPG and creates a game that can be merrily binged while you slowly tone yourself up. Beautiful peripherals and a wonderful fantasy setting are backed up with lovely, witty writing and a thoughtful spin on home work-outs. Just remember to stock up on smoothies.
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