The Switch celebrated its fifth anniversary last month, and Nintendo’s little box is thriving. Animal Crossing and the pandemic helped kick it into overdrive, and that momentum has kept up into 2022. Not only does Nintendo continue to pump out some of the best games for its own console, with Metroid Dread landing late last year, but the Switch has become home to some of the best multiplatform games released over the last few years. Like, Disco Elysium, one of our favorites of 2019, and, if anything, a game we actually underrated at the time, recently found what might be its ideal home on the Switch. With a constant stream of great software, and the Switch’s first major hardware revision, with a new OLED screen, just coming out, there’s a lot of juice left in the Switch.
Everybody with a Switch knows about Animal Crossing and Super Mario Odyssey, but there are many great games for the system beyond Nintendo’s core classics. With success comes support, and the Switch has consistently seen far more support from other companies than the Wii U ever saw after its launch. The Switch’s digital eShop is full of games that you can download, and the Switch racks at most retailers easily outnumber the Wii U’s at its peak. If you need help cutting through the clutter, let us point you towards the best of the best. Here are the 30 games you most need to play for the Nintendo Switch.
All entries written by Garrett Martin except where noted.
What originally felt like an ungainly mash-up between two properties that share almost no common ground unexpectedly turned into one of the biggest gaming surprises of the year. The Mario imagery and Rabbid humor is almost beside the point: this game works so well because it’s a smartly built and balanced tactical RPG that innovates on genre convention through its liberal approach to movement. If you like Final Fantasy Tactics and XCOM but wish you could move farther and faster across their grids, with multiple different ways to accomplish that, you should check out Mario + Rabbids. It’s a colorful strategy game that looks and feels like nothing else out there.
Playfulness is the main constant running through the large amount of varied content within Rayman Legends. Critics often try to avoid the word “fun” because it’s so subjective, but the only other game in recent memory that has so thoroughly embodied the most basic, universal and objective meaning of the word is Rayman Origins—much of which returns as unlockable bonuses within the already superior Legends. Revisiting classic gaming concepts with a timeless sense of humor that everybody can enjoy, Rayman Legends is a videogame without pretense, and that might be the most crucial decision its designers made without even realizing it.
Shin Megami Tensei V’s anarchic tone, relatively high difficulty ceiling, and heavy focus on combat might turn away some players, but it has an undeniable gravity and ultimately proves itself as an exceptional RPG. The grind to the top is ascetic and practiced, with grand ambition and keen diligence towards paying the franchise’s history its proper dues. It’s an unquestionably dark game, but quite optimistic in its intentions and eschews edgy clichés. Shin Megami Tensei V is Atlus’s contemporary masterpiece, and one of the finest in years.—Austin Jones
Easily the oldest game on this list, the original Cave Story dates back to 2004. Essentially a homemade tribute to Metroid and Castlevania, that PC version was updated for the Wii and DS in 2010, and then enhanced for the PC and 3DS under the name Cave Story+ a year later. That’s the version that came to the Switch earlier this year. The same traits that made it so great in all its previous incarnations are present in the Switch port, but with the extra benefit of being playable on both a TV and on the go. This is the kind of long, intricate, Metroid-style game that’s incredibly tough to put down, making it a perfect fit on the portable Switch.
Somehow what turned me off of Monster Hunter games a decade ago has turned into a virtue for me today. Monster Hunter Rise is basically the perfect game for me right now, at the end of the pandemic. The quest structure can still be repetitive, but I now greatly appreciate how segmented it is. Most missions have a 50 minute time limit, but take far less time than that to complete; unlike pretty much every other role-playing game ever made, I can pick up Rise, start a quest, and know that I’ll hit a natural stopping point in under an hour (and often in under 20 minutes). Despite being a really long game, Rise doesn’t feel as much like a commitment as games that are more open-ended. That ease of popping in and out makes Rise a perfect fit for my schedule, where I have to juggle my gaming time with my other responsibilities for work and other interests that I try to get to every day. And Rise’s clear-cut, straight-forward approach to progress makes every minute I spend in the game feel important—which can’t always be said about other time-sucking RPGs.
Forgotten Land is approachable for less experienced players, and yet stuffed with reasons for veteran gamers to stay both interested and invested. It’s adorable at basically all moments, and it’s lovely to just look at the way Kirby moves around and interacts with his environment. It manages to straddle the line between valuing and carefully adapting the Kirby that was, while completely revamping what you thought Kirby could even be. Maybe it won’t sell you on the franchise if you aren’t already buying, but if any of the available titles were going to change your mind on that score, it’s this one, and well worth finding out if it will do the trick for you. After all, who doesn’t want to feel joy?—Marc Normandin
Does this sound familiar? A city’s in lockdown after a crisis, its citizens wearing face masks for their own health. Heavily armed cops patrol streets rife with anti-cop graffiti. Institutions have violated their compact with the people, and those in power came down hard on those who rose up against them. It’s real life around the world right now, but it’s also the setting for Umurangi Generation, a beautiful photo game that contrasts the peacefulness of taking photos and making art with the fear and violence of a police state, and which came out a week before the protests inspired by George Floyd’s murder went global. The societal issues that people are protesting are timeless, sadly, and embedded at the very foundation of our culture, which means a game like Umurangi will always be timely—at least until society is transformed to the point of being unrecognizable. Playing Umurangi over the last few days can be taxing, especially if you turn to games simply to shut out the world around you and ignore what’s happening. The added context of the last week also makes it exhilarating, though, and in a way that leaves me feeling a bit guilty and shameful—like a tourist who, instead of documenting real life oppression, is living in a fictionalized version of it. The events that inspired Umurangi’s crisis are environmental—designer Naphtali Faulkner’s mother’s house was destroyed during the bush fires that raged through Australia last year, and the game’s dark red skies hint at a different kind of trauma than the one currently happening in America and elsewhere. It’s one that still looms above all of society, though; if we don’t tear our own cities down first, the worsening climate problem inevitably will. Despite the different disasters, and even with its futuristic, sci-fi trappings, Umurangi Generation is a vital, current, powerful game that uncannily captures the mood of its time.
For all the nostalgia-driven indie gaming experiences we’ve had over the past decade, the long-running and much-loved world of Harvest Moon had gone curiously neglected until more recently. Stardew Valley is easily the best of these virtual farming love-letters, making vast improvements on core mechanics while adding its own unique flavor. It’s faithful enough that devoted Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons fans fell in love with it, but approachable enough that it introduced an entirely new group of gamers to the joys of a pixellated country life.—Janine Hawkins
As a “match-three” game, Battle Chef Brigade goes above and beyond the call. Anime characters are superimposed on soft backgrounds featuring wet washes of paint pooled over textured paper, set to a lilting orchestral soundtrack not unlike a Miyazaki score. The combat segments, which from a distance may seem tacked-on, are not only well-incorporated mechanically, but also provide immense satisfaction with the fluidity and power of Mina’s attacks. Despite the time limit on each battle, the back and forth between two sources of panic—quickly cooking a dish to the judge’s specifications versus killing monsters for key ingredients—is actually pretty fun. The complexity of solving puzzles contrasts the no-brain hacking and slashing for a very welcome change of pace.—Holly Green
Super Mario Maker 2 has the same impact as the original, only with an updated set of options. It still leaves Mario exposed, not just giving you the tools to design your own levels but walking you through the process step by step. Sure, it’s not how these games are really made—you won’t be doing any coding or creating any art assets—but you can still learn some of the basics of level design, and have the freedom to follow or flout those rules as you see fit.
Freedom is the foundation of Super Mario Maker 2, and that freedom is a big reason why it’ll be hard to go backwards to a traditional side-scrolling Mario game after this. It lets us break the game apart and put it back however we see fit, and no matter how seamlessly Nintendo glues it all back together in the future, we’ll still see those cracks and see how everything fits into place. Even if Nintendo was still designing side-scrolling Mario levels as ingeniously as they were in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we would simply know too much to once again feel the way we used to feel about them.
Slaughtering tons of dudes has never felt so morally appropriate before. Ape Out makes a statement about animal abuse by focusing on a gorilla lab subject’s violent escape from captivity. It has the mechanical precision and deceptively deep game loop of a classic arcade game, but with a gorgeous aesthetic based on Saul Bass art and jazz percussion. Levels are packaged as if they’re tracks on old LPs, and the whole game looks like the cover to Miles Davis’s greatest hits come to life. It looks and sounds amazing, feels good to play, and has a just and socially relevant message, to boot.
If Found isn’t a happy story. It’s an honest one. There’s a good chance you will cry, perhaps more than once, but there are also moments of joy, love and triumph. Despite the artistry of its presentation, and despite a recurring sci-fi metaphor that adds a bit of depth to the story but never quite fully connects, this is a low-key, modest, human affair. Its observations about family and relationships are touching, grounded and real, avoiding melodrama or outsized pronouncements about human nature. Much of it is universal, sure, but the focus remains on its lead character Kasio and how her merely being who she is can disrupt her relationships with her family and the world around her. It’s a character study of a specific person in a specific time and place, but whose pains and struggle ring true throughout the ages.
Any game can be hard. That’s not what makes Hollow Knight so great, at least not alone. Team Cherry’s first game is a charming Metroid-style game full of warmth, humor, precise platforming, and, yes, brutal, forbidding difficulty that’ll make you think of a Souls game. (Look, I know that’s a cliche, but writers wouldn’t make that reference so often if it wasn’t so often true.) Hollow Knight is a great example of how to reference the past without dwelling on it—of how to churn ideas and mechanics and aesthetics from previous generations of videogames into something new and original.
Maddy Thorson’s follow-up to Towerfall employs a familiar aesthetic and language from videogames past to tell a story about mental health and self-actualization, using the mountain the game is named after as a representation of a young woman’s struggles with depression and self-doubt. Celeste is an inspired triumph, with art that recalls the early ‘90s, and requiring a precision to navigate its levels that comes straight out of the heyday of platforming. The vibrant use of color and warm, stylistically varied score elevate the retro aesthetic beyond mere homage. It’s a touching and occasionally insightful depiction of what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression.
Into The Breach is interested in you, as a player, gaining skills and developing new ways of thinking about the puzzle-like battles it puts in front of you. The island regions threatened by the Vek are small tactical boards, and you control a small cohort of giant, Pacific Rim-style robots who are there to smash and push their enemies around. Critically, these giant robots have mass, and Breach is very much committed to showing that big stuff smacking into other things has real effects. The idea is to prevent the Vek from attacking civilian buildings, prevent them from killing your mechs, and to kill them. Importantly, the game’s concerns are in that order.
That’s the puzzle-y part of the game. Each map has a turn counter that’s slowly ticking down, and at the end of it the remaining Vek will disappear. Into The Breach’s most interesting qualities come from the fact that you do not have to kill your enemies to win the game. You don’t have to annihilate each and every Vek on a time limit, and you don’t ever have to put your mechs in too much danger. You just need to be able to use your punching, shooting, artillery-firing robots to keep scooching enemy Vek around until the game is over.—Cameron Kunzelman
This special enhanced edition of the Wii U smash was one of the first big tests for the Switch. How would a game initially built to be played exclusively on a console strapped to a TV translate to a system made to be taken anywhere? The answer: about as well as anybody could expect. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe collected every scrap of bonus content for one of the best games of the decade, added a nostalgic return to a classic battle mode, and made all of it perfectly portable thanks to the Switch’s unique capabilities. If anybody was worried that Breath of the Wild would be a one-hit wonder for the Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gave them hope.
Nintendo’s latest violent ode to nostalgia might have more pure content than any other game we’ve seen this decade. It’s got this many characters, and that many stages, and all those other characters who pop up as trophies and spirits (whatever those are). Music? This baby’s got every song you’ve ever heard in a videogame squeezed up inside of it. If you get stressed out when faced with a decision, a fully unlocked Smash Bros. Ultimate character selection screen will probably turn your hair white. Of course a game isn’t good because there’s a lot of it—it’s good because it’s, you know, good. And as a casual Smash player since the very first game came out, I have definitely enjoyed my time inflicting brutal punishment upon some of the most lovable videogame characters ever devised. Ultimate is about as replayable as videogames get.
Undertale is a special game, the likes of which come along only once in a great while. It’s a look into a parallel universe—one where videogames have realized a bit more of their potential than, say, the AAA industry has in our world. It’s a game that can make you laugh while teary-eyed, where both competing emotions are natural and genuine. It’s fun, it’s sweet; it’s an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve put the game away.—Bryce Duzan
Arvi Teikari’s ingenious puzzler churns spatial awareness and the building blocks of communication together to form one of the most difficult yet enriching games of the year. It might have Sokoban at its core—yes, you push and slide objects across the screen—but instead of moving boxes around to find an exit, you’re moving words and symbols that can redefine the nature and behavior of everything else on the screen. The title might make no sense before you play it, but it’s actually the equation that drives the heart of the game: Baba is you, as long as the words “Baba,” “is” and “you” are arranged in the right order. From that basic premise it explodes out into a series of widely varied, almost never simple brainteasers that will keep you engrossed for days, if not weeks.
Some have dinged this one a bit (including our own review) for sticking too closely to the formula established by the Wii U original. It’s true that, at first, it can feel more like a remake than a sequel. In time though its unique attributes become more apparent, from the variety of weapons, to the new maps, to the various multiplayer modes that supplement the standard Turf War. Splatoon 2 might not break a lot of ground but it’s one of the most purely fun games to come out for any system in years.
This might be the best game I know I’ll never actually finish. The latest Fire Emblem game is massive. That’s no surprise—Fire Emblem games always eat up a lot of time—but Three Houses has fully established the relatively new social aspects of the series as a true equal to the tactical battles that have always been the main draw. I’ve spent at least as much time teaching my students, learning about their lives and personalities, and trying to make them happy as I have on the battlefield—and no, that is not in any way a problem. With class consciousness as a narrative backdrop, Three Houses is less of a straight-forward story than an impressionistic look at a large crew of characters united by tradition, obligation, and the need to save society as they know it—maybe while reforming it. It’s a smart, charming, sometimes brutal experience, and one whose 80 hours length per house guarantees I’ll never fully experience it. One house is good enough for me—unless every publisher in the business wants to take pity on us and not release any other games until, let’s say, December.
Blood doesn’t fade that easily. Obra Dinn might be rendered in the stark monochrome of an early Macintosh game, but that blood still jumps out at you. And not just the blood of the sailors and passengers whose murders you try to solve aboard the empty ship they perished on, but the blood of all the people and cultures cut down and ground into profits by the force that sent that East India Company ship on its journey in the first place: colonialism. Lucas Pope’s follow-up to Papers, Please might feel like a game of deduction at first, an especially complex game of Clue, but it unmistakably grows into a critique of Europe’s exploitation of native populations without ever becoming too obvious or heavy-handed about it. It’s an inherently political game that never becomes didactic or boring, and more proof that interactive media like games can be persuasive and educational without feeling like a lecture.
Disco Elysium is a gloriously complex isometric RPG, starring a drug-addicted detective with memory issues in a town that has seen better days, that takes its cues from classics like Fallout or Wasteland. Stressing out about every last detail distracts from the tremendous depth built into the world of Disco Elysium, and I’m ready to stop over-preparing and otherwise manifesting my anxiety in videogames. If anything, it will make additional playthroughs, customized by the game’s peculiar set of character skills, an appealing possibility. I look forward to all the secrets that will soon unravel about Disco Elysium. But even better, I’m feeling comfortable with the mystery.—Holly Green
Samus’ return to two dimensions restores something essential to the appeal of the original Metroid, and it’s right there in the title: yep, we’re talking about dread. And not just the claustrophobia or paranoia you expect when you’re the only living thing not trying to kill you on the whole damn planet, but legitimate terror as you’re being hunted by an unbeatable foe that will immediately kill you once caught. Being stalked by an E.M.M.I. is almost as frightening as your first encounter with a Metroid in Tourian back on the NES, injecting true horror into a game that ably captures the magic at the heart of this series. Metroid Dread gives the people what they want, resulting in the best Metroid game since the Prime series.
Originally Animal Crossing applied almost no pressure to the player. You could pay off your house, or not, and that was pretty much it. Much has changed since 2002, though. Almost everything you do in New Horizons has the residue of productivity on it, even if you’re trying to be as aimless as possible. Instead of playing games within this game, the only way to not accidentally be productive is to literally do nothing—to sit in a chair, or lay on a hammock, and put the controller down. To sit quietly with your own thoughts—thoughts that exist fully outside of your Nintendo Switch.
The fact that you can do that, though, is an example of the confidence within Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Nintendo might have ramped up the numbers and the to-do lists, all the tasks and chores that make New Horizons feel like one of the last outposts of whatever notions of normalcy we might’ve once had, but you can still tune that out and live within your own head for a spell. That head might naturally drift towards the hellishly contorted world we live in, and not the delightfully cartoonish one of Animal Crossing, but escapism is overrated anyway. I’d rather worry about every aspect of modern living while quietly reflecting on the rhythmic roar of a videogame ocean than while sitting slackjawed in a living room I won’t ever be able to leave again. Give me these New Horizons—rigid, commercial, and staid—over the chaos of the last decade.
Bicker about what makes up a “core” Mario game all you want. All I know is that Super Mario Odyssey is one of the two or three best games to ever have that lovable little guy’s name in the title. It is every bit as powerful as Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Bros. 3, the previous high-water marks for Nintendo’s mascot, and for the platformer genre in general. Odyssey is an overwhelming cornucopia of pure joy, full of the kind of freedom typically found in open world games but with a constant chain of clear objectives and attainable goals pulling you ever deeper into its roster of candy-colored kingdoms. It’s a perfect bookmark to Nintendo’s other major Switch game of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: both recraft a classic cornerstone of the entire medium into an effortlessly enjoyable and crucially contemporary masterpiece that unites all eras of gaming history.
What makes Hades so great—and what elevates it above other roguelikes—is how it creates a consistent sense of progress even as you keep dying and restarting. Part of that is mechanical—although you lose all the boons bestowed upon you by the Greek gods after a run ends, along with other power-ups acquired during your journeys through the underworld, there are a few things you do hang on to when you return to the game’s hub world. More important than that, though, is how the game’s narrative unfolds between runs, driving you to keep playing through whatever frustration you might feel in hopes of learning more about the game’s story and characters.
Between every run in Hades your character, Zagreus, returns to his home—the palace of his father, Hades, the God of the Dead. Yep, he’s another rich kid who feels his first bit of angst and immediately starts slumming it. Here you can interact with various characters, upgrade the decor, unlock new permanent perks, and practice with the game’s small arsenal of weapons. Every time you return the characters who live here have new things to say, slowly unraveling their own storylines and deepening their relationships with Zagreus. And given that the writing in Hades is as consistently sharp and human as it’s been in all of Supergiant’s games, getting to talk to these characters alone is a reason to actually look forward to dying in this game.
Cardboard Computer’s exploration into the mysteries of the mundane finally came to an end in early 2020, making its Switch debut at the same time. This magical realist adventure combines the mythological folkways of “old weird America”—here personified by a stretch of rural Kentucky that regularly phases between the familiar and unearthly—with a pointed critique of how capitalism reduces everybody to interchangeable commodities. Workers grind themselves to bones to pay off their “debt” to their employers, pharmaceutical companies basically own the doctors who prescribe their medicine, and an amiable truck driver gets lost on a routine delivery with no end in sight. It’s a beautiful bit of inspired genius that’s perfect on the Switch.
Thumper’s difficulty is suffocating. Along with the oppressive music and the stark graphics, it turns the game into a claustrophobic, stressful, frightening experience. It rattles around inside my brain when I’m not playing it, its velocity and brutality careening throughout as I try to unwind after playing. Thumper taps into art’s ability to alter our consciousness, introducing a new reality for us to get lost in, and it’s not afraid to let this dream world look and feel like a nightmare. Most rhythm games want to replicate the best time you could possibly have at a rave; Thumper wants you to feel like you’re shaking on the floor of a bathroom stall, praying for those weird shapes and sounds that surround you to go away. It is an essentially perfect realization of its own unique goals and concerns, and a game we’ll be playing and celebrating for decades.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.