The best Nintendo Switch games are memory cards filled with magic, and many of them exhibit a playfulness and sense of joy that’s very, very Nintendo.
Whether you’re playing on the standard Nintendo Switch, the Nintendo Switch Lite or the Nintendo Switch OLED, you can enjoy incredible gaming experiences that simply aren’t available on other consoles – and you can also enjoy many of the big franchises aimed at all console owners, such as NBA2K, Minecraft and FIFA.
In this guide we’ll assume you know about the triple-A cross console blockbusters, so we’ll focus on the Nintendo Switch games that will excite and delight in their uniqueness.
The best Nintendo Switch games to play today
If you only play one of the best Nintendo Switch games in 2021, make it this one. It’s the best in a series of brilliant games, amplifying everything that’s great about the previous games – the scale, the sense of wonder, the exciting adventures – and removing all the stuff that got in the way such as life-sapping tutorials and endless exposition. That means it’s two games in one: if you’re new to Zelda this is a breath-taking introduction to the wonderful world of Hyrule, and if you’ve played previous titles in the series it’s the welcome return of an old friend who’s even better than you remember.
For many of us, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the game that got us through lockdown. What could be better than escaping to your very own safe tropical island when the real world was so frightening? And what an escape it is. AC:NH is a relaxed, warm and welcoming management sim in which you build your very own community from the ground up, mining for resources, building houses, giving gifts to your fellow villagers and creating a happy and friendly community. In the wrong hands such wholesomeness would have been horribly sickening, but here it’s a wonderfully serene and joyful playground.
Mario’s greatest ever 3D adventure doesn’t take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, and by moving it to unfamiliar places Super Mario Odyssey is able to bring the series bang up to date without losing any of that Super Mario magic. Don’t worry, there are still green pipes and ground pounds, but this time you’re travelling around the world in an epic adventure that includes some truly incredible moments. It’s a playable love letter to video games, a wonderful game in its own right and a celebration of everything that’s brilliant about gaming.
You can’t have a Nintendo Switch without Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: it’s not the law but it should be, because Mario Kart is one of the standout games on every Nintendo generation. This one is the best yet, an absolute riot of customisable vehicles, familiar characters and all kinds of power-ups. Some of the level design is absolutely extraordinary – you’ll probably lose a few races at first as you marvel at the sheer imagination on display here – but this isn’t a case of style over substance: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a fast, focused, fun racer and an absolute must-have.
We’re listing these two games together because they’re essentially the same game: in Sword you battle the fighting-type Bea and rock-type Gordie, and in Shield you’re up against ghost-type Allister and ice-type Melony. All the other gym leaders feature in both games, although there are some slightly different selections In the Pokédex.
If that all sounds like gibberish to you, this is a great place to discover the joys of Pokémon adventures. The story is twisty and turny, the characters are immensely likeable and the graphics are gorgeous: the game world, a Pokémon version of Great Britain, is a joy to explore.
This one’s tons of fun. Set in a spooky haunted hotel, Luigi’s latest supernatural adventure is beautifully drawn and also features Gooigi, a Luigi made out of goo that you can use to get through obstacles the flesh and blood Luigi can’t defeat. The ghosts and bosses are inspired – and the latter are often pitched just on the line between “difficult but fun” and “I’m going to rage-quit if I die again” – and the puzzles are delightful to decode. It’s a thrilling mix of action, strategy and puzzle-solving that stands up to repeated replays.
Some of the best video games in history have been based on the simple joy of two characters beating lumps out of one another, and with 74 characters to choose from (and more in the DLC) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate offers great variety and a thrilling battle experience. The stages are brilliantly designed, the choice of characters includes all your Nintendo favourites and the KOs are spectacular. There’s a story mode in there if you want to play solo, but Super Smash Bros. Ultimate really excels when it’s you and a pal whacking each other in increasingly amusing ways.
A third version is imminent but not this year: for now this is the best Splatoon you can buy. The sequel to the Wii U original retains the cool concept – you’re half-squid, half-human inklings trying to paint the arena in your colours – but turns everything up to eleven in a bright, fast and funny take on the typical arena shooter. The use of paint rather than bullets means it’s appropriate for much younger audiences than you’d be comfortable with in a normal shooter, but don’t let its family-friendliness fool you: multiplayer is intense and the Salmon Rush mode gets fiendishly difficult.
Super Mario Maker 2 has been around for a while now, but it remains a firm favourite thanks to the incredible creativity it inspires: in addition to the story mode, which is as entertaining as you’d expect from a Super Mario game, there’s a brilliant level editor you can use to make your own creations. Our young testers, primary school age and teenage respectively, absolutely love it – especially because it includes lots of ways to be really sadistic to the people who play your levels. The level designer is pretty good with the Joy-Cons but it really comes into its own when you use your Switch’s touchscreen.
This cute take on the classic turn-based RPG combines Mario and the ancient Japanese art of paper folding to wonderful effect. The Paper Mario games don’t generally get as much attention as the more mainstream Marios, but they’re gorgeous to look at, incredibly fun to play and full of the joy, playfulness and lightness of touch that distinguishes the very best Nintendo Switch games. In this adventure you’re Paper Mario, fighting with your ally Olive against the wicked Paper King and some incredibly inventive bosses. It’s fun and often very funny.