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The 30 best Nintendo Switch games to play in 2021

Certified gems for your shiny new Switch

Back when the Nintendo Switch was first released, we didn’t know whether there’d be enough games beyond The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to keep us entertained. Boy were we wrong!

More than 1,000 games later – including many, many gems in the mix – the Switch has proven to be an absolutely essential console. Nintendo has pumped the system full of great exclusives, but it also has many of greatest picks from other platforms including a treasure trove of indie favourites.

Looking for something fresh to play, or just want to make sure you’ve hit all of the essentials? Take your pick from the top Switch games below and you can’t go wrong.

Additional words: Andrew Hayward

1) Luigi’s Mansion 3

Luigi’s Mansion has always been a much-loved franchise with the Nintendo hardcore, but as the biggest Switch launch of 2019 so far, beating out his more famous twin and that Link fella, the series’ third entry sees the green-suited scaredy cat offically go mainstream.

Happily, the game is absolutely worth its success. In our five star review, our reviewer said Luigi’s Mansion 3 feels like a playable cartoon, elevated to greatness by its creative, varied level design and clever puzzles. Then there’s Gooigi, Luigi’s Flubber-like sidekick who can be called upon at any time to help our hero out. Get ghost-hunting.

2) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

No doubt: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate absolutely lives up to its name. It’s both a greatest hits package of the long-running series to date and also a strong step forward in terms of the amount of content available to soak in.

Packed with 74 fighters on in the base game, including every previous brawler and some new ones, you’ll have a blast mashing attack buttons and pummeling the likes of Mario, Link, and the Splatoon kids (among many others). The new Spirit system provides a truly incredible amount of classic gaming references to unlock, and the core hook of pummeling gaming’s greatest heroes still hasn’t faded.

3) Disco Elysium: The Final Cut

We’ve run out of things to say about Disco Elysium, the masterful combat-less RPG that might well be the best-written game ever made. If you’re yet to play through this detective story like no other, you owe it to yourself to do so.

The question is, is the Switch the best place to do it? Honest answer: probably not. The game was designed for PC and still plays best on its native hardware with a mouse and keyboard. However, Disco Elysium is also perfectly suited to portable play, as it’s as much an interactive novel as it is a game. Text is easily readable on the handheld display (which is good as there’s an awful lot of it), particularly if you’re lucky enough to own the Switch OLED, and as this is the “Final Cut” version of the game, you get full voice acting too.

There are admittedly some technical issues at launch relating to frame rate and overall stability, while the load times can be annoyingly lengthy, but Disco Elysium is just that good that we’d still instantly recommend it to Switch owners who have been holding out for the game’s arrival on Nintendo’s hybrid machine.

4) Super Mario Maker 2

Like its Wii U predecessor, Super Mario Maker 2 is an absolute delight. Famously controlling Nintendo hands the reins over to you, letting you build and share your own 2D level masterpieces using tools from Mario games new and old – from the original Super Mario Bros. through Super Mario 3D World.

Being able to download and play a seemingly endless number of levels is the biggest draw, plus there’s a story mode that has some of Nintendo’s own challenges. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, and it’s still brilliant the second time around.

5) Hades

That Supergiant Games’ dungeon-crawling indie masterpiece beat AAA big-hitter The Last of Us Part II to our 2020 game of the year award is a testament to just how brilliant it is. In Hades you play as Zagreus, the rebellious son of the titular god of the dead. Encouraged by the Gods of Olympus, Zagreus is determined to escape the underworld and his fun sponge of a father, but doing so is no easy job.

Hades is a rogue-like dungeon crawler, which means procedurally generated levels that ensure no escape attempt is ever the same as the last. But unlike most rogue-likes, which steal away all your progress every time you die (and you will die, a lot), here you retain much of what you collect in a run, allowing you to upgrade your stats, unlock new weapons and pick up valuable advice from the House of Hades’ colourful residents upon each return. It’s this feeling of constant progress that makes Hades so compelling, and when you add varied combat, superb writing and fantastic art directon to the mix, you have something unmissable.

6) Ring Fit Adventure

We know what you’re thinking: fitness and fun don’t go hand in hand. Normally you’d be right, but Ring Fit Adventure manages to marry a genuinely decent RPG adventure – in which your nemesis is a weightlifting dragon – with proper exercise, and it’s one of the best surprises of the year.

Key to the experience is the Ring-Con, an ultra-pliable plastic ring that you squeeze and pull with varying degrees of ferocious enthusiasm to attack enemies in battle. The other Joy-Con goes into a leg strap, which tracks your running on the spot. It all works brilliantly, and while the game isn’t a substitute for outdoor activity (as it’ll regularly remind you), it’s a great way to burn some calories during the winter months.

In case you’d forgotten, the Nintendo Switch launched with a Zelda game that revolutionised the beloved series and shifted all of our expectations about what an open-world game can and should be. As a remake of a 1993 Game Boy game, Link’s Awakening is a bit more traditional.

But that doesn’t make it any less essential than Breath of the Wild for Zelda fans. While remarkably faithful to the original, the game has been rebuilt from the ground up with a gorgeous, toy-like visual style. And Link’s Awakening has always been an intriguing Zelda anomaly. It’s one of the few games in the franchise that doesn’t take place in Hyrule, Zelda is nowhere to be seen and, for some reason (never explained) Koholint Island is inhabited by Chain Chomps and Goombas, usually only found in Nintendo’s other quite popular series.

Unashamedly old-fashioned, but it’s aged like a fine wine.

8) Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

Yet another game from the ill-fated Wii U’s library has made its way to Switch, and Super Mario 3D World remains one of the best plumber’s best, expertly bridging the gap between 2D and 3D Mario platforming. It was also the first three-dimensional Mario game to feature four-player co-op, which is just as bonkers and brilliant now as it was back in 2013.

But the resurrection of 3D World isn’t the only talking point here. You’re also getting an entirely new game in Bowser’s Fury, a fascinating open-world experiment that sees Nintendo’s mascot trying to take down a kaiju-like Bowser while dressed as a cat. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds, and a must-play for Mario completionists.

9) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

What, the three mentions in the intro weren’t enough of a giveaway? It’s true: not only is Breath of the Wild a previous pick for the best game in the world right now, but it’s also the most essential game on the Switch – one that’s singlehandedly worth buying a console for.

The latest and perhaps greatest-ever Zelda is a sprawling affair set in an open Hyrule not bound by the familiar progression structure of past games: you can freely explore the land, take on challenges in any order you choose, and craft, survive, and experiment in the wilds. Kicking the tried-and-true format to the curb has revitalised the franchise, and the result is absolutely brilliant.

10) Super Mario Odyssey

Got a Switch? If so, you’ll need Super Mario Odyssey stat. Alongside Zelda, it’s one of the absolute best reasons to have the handheld. In fact, if you don’t have the Switch, we advise running out and buying one with both of those games right now. Go on, we’ll wait.

Odyssey is a phenomenal new 3D entry that builds upon the likes of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy with huge, open environments and loads upon loads of collectable moons to uncover by completing challenges and exploring. And this time around, Mario isn’t alone: his hat is actually an odd creature that can inhabit other living things, letting Mario control and use the myriad abilities of his many iconic enemies. Strange, right? Yes, but it’s a total delight.

11) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

We heaped praise (and then some) on last year’s ground-up remake of the first two Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games, which as it turns out are still pretty much peerless arcade skateboarding titles over 20 years later. And now, thanks to the portability of the Nintendo Switch, we can lose another 30 hours to them anywhere we want.

Now, if you’ve played THPS 1+2 on the PS4, Xbox One, or their PS5 and Series X 4K 60fps updates, then you can naturally expect a pretty sizeable resolution hit on Switch. This is not an ugly port by any means, but it’s noticeable. But what developer Vicarious Visions has ensured is that the two games still run silky smooth on Nintendo’s machine, and we’ll happily sacrifice a bit of visual fidelity for a handheld Pro Skater game that plays as well as this one. And trust us when we say that once you’ve dropped into the legendary Warehouse level from the comfort of your bed, it’s hard to go back.

12) Metroid Dread

As the first brand new 2D Metroid in nearly 20 years and the one supposed to bring a story arc that began all the way back in 1986 to a close, there was a lot riding on Samus Aran’s Switch debut.

Happily, then, Metroid Dread is an absolutely fantastic Metroid game that comfortably sits alongside the many critically adored Metroidvanias that the series has inspired. Samus has never felt this good to control, and while the game follows a similar template to the one made famous by the entries before it, there are enough additions to make it feel fresh.

You can’t talk about Metroid Dread without mentioning the EMMI, the terrifying unit of robots-gone-rogue that hunt Samus as she explores the Planet ZDR. No matter how many suit power-ups the bounty hunter recovers throughout the game, most of the time she’ll be defenceless against the EMMI, which leads to some thrilling chase sequences.

Intricately designed and boasting some of the best boss fights in the series, Dread is a must-play for Metroid fans old and new.

13) Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing has always been a relaxing escape from reality, but New Horizons couldn’t have come along at a better time.

In this, the first entry on Switch, you find yourself volunteering to be part of a desert island relocation, lead as you’d expect by the ever-resourceful property tycoon Tom Nook. It’s up to you and your swelling anthropomorphic animal posse to turn the island into a paradise, but the game asks very little of you.

Spend the day fishing or collecting fossils, chat to the locals or just spend hours designing outfits. It’s really up to you, and you won’t find a more pleasant gaming experience on any system.

14) A Short Hike

There’s nothing like a good aimless walk to nourish the soul, and A Short Hike understands this as well as any game we’ve played. As

Claire, an anthropomorphic bird, your loose goal is to reach the summit of Hawk Peak Provincial Park, a wonderfully dense little island resort, in a quest to receive a phone signal.

But if you’re playing the game properly, Claire is in absolutely no hurry, because while you can feasibly finish A Short Hike in an hour or two, doing so means you’ll miss out on a host of quirky side quests offered up by the island’s various animal residents. From fishing to cross-country foot races and volleyball, A Short Hike rewards easily distracted players who explore, and when you do finally get to the highest point, trust us when we say it’s worth it.

15) Fire Emblem: Three Houses

The Fire Emblem series has always been known for its dauntingly deep, but incredibly rewarding turn-based battles. And Three Houses is every bit as strategy-heavy as its predecessors.

But the other side of the game is equally memorable. As a teacher of one of the three houses at the Hogwarts-esque Garreg Mach Monastery, you roam fully 3D environments for the first time in the franchise, chatting to your students and preparing them for the big battle that takes place at the end of every in-game month. Like in previous entries, death in the game is permanent, and the more you get to know the members of your chosen house, the more gut-punching it is to lose one of them in combat. The best tactical game on Switch by some distance.

16) Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

While it might just seem like a mere port on the surface, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes the excellent Wii U edition and patches its one big deficiency, all while adding the excellent DLC as standard – and then does more.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe packs in a staggering 48 courses and 42 playable drivers, along with an array of vehicles and equipment, and the gravity-defying tracks are some of the series’ most dazzling creations to date. Better yet, it now has a proper Battle mode like the games of old, and the entire experience is playable anywhere. It’s tremendously fun.

17) Ori and the Will of the Wisps

The stunning Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of the best-looking games ever made, for our money rivalling even some of the greatest animated movies for imagination and wonder, and it’s a minor miracle that it runs as well as it does on Switch, maintaining a silky smooth 60fps throughout.

In this brilliant Metroidvania, you play an acrobatic spirit creature called Ori, who adventures into a mysterious forest to search for a lost owlet. Like its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps is deceptively difficult, but never feels unfair, and its emphasis on slowly uncovering its many secrets makes it a perfect portable game. If you haven’t already played it on Xbox One, this one’s unmissable.

18) Alien: Isolation

There’s something quite amusing about playing one of the most pants-soilingly terrifying stealth horror games ever made on the adorable turquoise Switch Lite, but that’s not the only reason that you should add the port of this 2014 classic to your library.

The game runs silky smooth on Nintendo’s console, especially in handheld mode, comfortably standing claw-to-claw with the PS4 version that came before it. Totally serviceable motion controls and HD Rumble complete the package.

And the game? Well, that it can even be mentioned in the same breath as Ridley’s 1979 big-screen franchise debut should tell you everything you need to know. Rather than stalking you via pre-programmed patrol patterns, Alien: Isolation’s Xenomorph was brought to life by unpredictable AI, meaning an encounter could happen at any time, and you never felt in control of the environment. Play it on a busy train at your peril.

19) Celeste

A tough as nails 2D platformer about living with anxiety, Celeste might not scream ‘fun’ in the same way Super Mario Odyssey does but this charming tale about climbing a mountain absolutely ranks as a Nintendo Switch essential. The key is in its simplicity with each level being divided into bite-sized chunks that you’ll fail at over and over until finding your way across a seemingly insurmountable crevasse. The further towards the summit, the more challenging things get and the more powers you’ll amass to help you achieve the seemingly impossible.

Combined with a charming 16-bit art style and some exhilarating level design, Celeste adds up to an absolute gem of a game. And if things get too tough? There are some genius features you can turn on to make your journey easier.

20) Rocket League

Rocket-powered cars playing football? Yeah, we’re into that. Rocket League has provided us oodles of fun on other systems, and now that it’s on Switch, we can hop online for some 3-on-3 action whether we’re on the couch, in bed, or in the loo (sorry).

It’s a blast to drive along the walls, vault up into the air, smash opponents, and slam an enormous football into the goal in fast-paced, five-minute matches, plus Rocket League offers hockey and basketball variations as well as other unique play modes. The Switch version has the scads of customisation items from the other editions, too, along with some fresh Nintendo elements (like a Mario car). It’s not the best-looking version, but the fun remains well intact.

21) Undertale

Haven’t heard of Undertale? Fair enough – this retro-style role-player definitely looks like a niche game. However, after ravenous word of mouth, glowing critical reviews, and now millions of copies sold, it’s fair to say that Toby Fox’s little game is a pretty serious sensation.

Dubbed “the friendly RPG where nobody has to die,” Undertale looks like an 8-bit NES game but has a style and personality all its own, including the ability to skip fights and spare your enemies. Despite the lo-fi aesthetic, the hilarious and affecting narrative makes it a must-play.

22) Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition

When Netflix and boxset binges are the norm, it’s easy to forget the pleasure of taking your time to appreciate a good story. That said, where the instalments of an episodic game can be months apart, fans of Kentucky Route Zero have been the most patient – this indie has taken seven years for its five-act tale to be told.

To say much about Kentucky Route Zero‘s story would be to spoil it, although there is little in the way of plot beyond a truck driver called Conway who’s trying to make his last delivery by crossing the eponymous highway. Much like any good road trip, it’s less about the destination but more about the friends you make along the way.

As an indie game, it seems ideal to play on Switch in handheld mode, especially as it also supports touchscreen controls. Yet when almost every scene is framed like an exquisite piece of art, it simply begs to be experienced on the biggest screen.

23) Pokemon Legends: Arceus

A lot of us have been dutifully trying to catch ‘em all for more than 20 years, but while Pokemon games seem to have enduring appeal, it’s hard to argue against accusations of the series playing it safe for too long. Pokemon Legends: Arceus, then, couldn’t be more welcome. 

The latest entry in the long-running series ditches the traditional Pokemon game setup and plonks the player into an open-world for the first time. Set in the past when humans knew very little about the Pokemon roaming the wild countryside beyond their towns and villages, there are no gym leaders to fight here. Instead, your only job is to head out there and catch Pokemon for the first time, filling in the Hisui Region’s first Pokedex as you go. While battles are still turn-based, there’s less of an emphasis on combat in Arceus, and while this bold new direction for the series is a bit rough around the edges technically, it’s the most exciting Pokemon has been for at least a decade. 

24) Eastward

Eastward isn’t a Nintendo game, but there’s no doubt this stunning, gloriously old-fashioned action-RPG is heavily influenced by the pre-3D Zelda era and cult SNES classic EarthBound, so while the game is on PC too, we think it belongs on the Switch.

In Eastward, set in the near-future with society on the brink of collapse, you play as two characters exploring this increasingly strange world by train. There’s combat, puzzles and a whole lot of chatting to eccentric townspeople. And although everything is falling apart around you, your adventure is soundtracked by some exceptionally catchy music worthy of the era it’s inspired by. An indie gem.

25) Monster Hunter Rise

Monster Hunter is back on a Nintendo handheld (of sorts), where some would say it belongs, and what we’ve been given is not only the best-looking game on the Switch, but quite possibly the best game in the series to date. Which, given the praise we showered on its predecessor, is no mean feat.

Monster Hunter Rise builds on World‘s streamlining for an even more accessible entry that somehow manages to both entice newcomers to this often baffling series, and keep the hardcore players happy. From the Wirebugs, insects whose silk supplies can be used to acrobatically traverse the environment, to the Palamutes (DOGS) that you can ride in pursuit of your next target, everything added to Rise improves the experience.

Like the games before it, Monster Hunter Rise is at its very best with friends, particularly later on, but even strictly solo hunters should play this game.

26) Mario Golf: Super Rush

As with all Mario-featuring sports games, Mario Golf: Super Rush attempts to grab you with alternative, cartoonish takes on the sport it portrays. Speed Golf, for example, reinvents the traditionally relaxed pace of a round by instructing you to run between holes, bashing opponents as you go. Then there’s Battle Golf, which swaps lush green courses for a strobe-littered stadium with nine open holes, crowning the first participant to get three flags the champion. There’s even an RPG-lite story mode, in which a Mii of your creation rises through the golfing ranks battling bosses and hunting for treasure.

All of these are fun ways to kill time, but Super Rush is still at its best as a straight-up, gimmickless golf game. Whether you’re playing with buttons or motion controls on the TV with the Joy-Cons, Nintendo finds the sweet spot between arcade and simulation golf, and hitting a hole in one is always going to be more satisfying as Luigi.

27) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong is a legend in the same way that most people regard Stan Lee and Paul McCartney. There’s no doubting he changed popular culture in a massive way, but that doesn’t mean you’re all that bothered about his new stuff. With the arrival of Tropical Freeze on Switch from its original home of the ill-fated Wii U, you should make an exception.

Rather than reinvent the platforming formula a la Super Mario Odyssey, this outing from Nintendo’s most famous simian polishes its frenetic 2D combination of jumping and climbing to a dazzling sheen.

What it lacks in originality is made up for in variety and charm, so that each of this game’s 60-odd levels bristles with an irresistible joi de vivre. So long as you’re OK with falling down potholes, being crushed by giant boulders and generally dying a whole lot. Tropical Freeze is not a game that you could describe as ‘easy’.

28) Stardew Valley

A farming simulator might sound awfully dull – and truly, the actual Farming Simulator series is – but anyone who fell in love with Harvest Moon ages ago knows otherwise. And those folks and plenty more will probably adore Stardew Valley, as well, as the indie phenomenon builds from the same kind of core formula.

Stardew Valley is about managing crops and animals and living off of the land, sure, but it’s also about living a virtual life in a compelling, retro-fied world. You’ll build skills over time, enter the local community and help it thrive and expand, and search for treasure in an enormous cave. You can even find love… or just go fishing. It’s your time, after all.

29) Astral Chain

In Astral Chain you play as a futuristic police detective who can hop between dimensions and has a living weapon tethered to him/her (you choose) by a chain. With humanity on the brink of extinction and the world under attack by interdimensional invaders called Chimeras, it’s up to you and your Legion to save the day. So yes, it’s very much a Platinum game.

We were wowed by the game’s fusion of a fantastical post-apocalyptic environment, enjoyable puzzling and, if you’ll forgive the expression, truly off the chain combat. It’s one of the best action games you can play right now – on any console.

30) OlliOlli World

It’s a good time to be a fan of skateboarding games, and OlliOlli World is right up there with the very best of them. Unlike the (also excellent) OlliOlli games before it, World looks like a Saturday morning cartoon, but it feels just as great to play as its predecessors while being a lot more welcoming to newcomers.

As you skate through the five pastel-coloured biomes of Radlandia in your quest to become a Skate Wizard (just go with it) you’ll master challenging (but always fair) 2.5D levels, meet quirky characters and dress your skater in whatever ridiculous outfits you so choose. And while the game’s control system takes plenty of practice to master, failure is rarely frustrating in a game as joyful and upbeat as this one. It makes nice use of HD Rumble on the Switch, too. 

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