It’s the Nintendo Switch’s 5th Birthday!
It’s so strange that the Switch is not the newest system on the market now. I mean, this is literally how time works, but I swear the console’s launch wasn’t that long ago. It’s apparent that the Switch is showing its age, especially when comparing to next-gen consoles and PC games, but with age comes wealth. Lots of it. It has outsold the Wii and PS1 for goodness sakes, and soon it’ll outsell the PS4 and Game Boy. Games released on it are consistently becoming the best-sellers in their respective series, and while 3rd Party Support is patchy, it’s the best Nintendo has had in decades.
I thought about doing another check-up post like I did last year. But as I started writing, I ended up more or less with the same post. All of my praises and critiques remain unchanged. I still like the concept of the Switch, I play it every week, but I’m frustrated by all of the anti-consumer business decisions Nintendo makes. Joy-Con drift is still an issue. Their pricing model is terribly expensive (we’re 5 years in without any “Nintendo Selects” price drops). Nintendo Switch Online is a bad deal, and the Expansion Pass is even worse. All of that being said, though, I still can’t get enough of the Switch’s massive library. I have plenty of gripes, but the console has what matters most: the games.
So instead, let’s do a list of my Top 20 Nintendo Switch Games!
But before we do, here are the rules:
- Nintendo exclusives only, no multiplatform games (PC, PS4, etc.) allowed.
- Wii U ports are allowed, as well as remakes and enhanced remasters. I know that for Wii U owners they aren’t new games, but for me, they are new.
- Competition is steep on this list. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of Switch games that are worth your time. Many games that I like (Yoshi’s Crafted World, for example) didn’t make the cut.
- I’m only one person, so of course this list is limited to the games I’ve played so far. It will definitely change as time goes on and I play more Switch games.
- All of these games have flaws, obviously. I may get a bit hyperbolic in my praise (especially near the top), but I’ve thought long and hard about all of the flaws present in this list of games as well and not just their good qualities.
Now with that said, let’s get started!
20. Ring Fit Adventure
Wii Fit wishes it could be as cool as Ring Fit Adventure. I found the original attempt on the Wii frustrating due to the relatively small size of the balance board; and to make matters worse, I quickly lost interest in the game’s repetitive activities. Ring Fit Adventure fixes both of these issues. Its ring-con controller is a fascinating piece of technology, allowing for the speed, resistance, and range of movement that you need for all kinds of exercises. The game is also an actual adventure, with levels and enemies and boss fights. The RPG skill tree offers a decent amount of ways to customize your character. If I don’t exercise for a while, I feel like I can just jump back in and the game won’t judge me. Nintendo actually made a well-designed, fully-featured journey that you complete by exercising. This kind of a game is the perfect fit for me (pun intended).
19. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the backbone of the Nintendo Switch. I know it’s easy to put a Mario Kart game on a Top Rated list for any Nintendo console (I mean, come on, everyone likes Mario Kart), but this game genuinely earns its spot. The controls, physics, item balance, battle modes, and track design are the best in the series since Double Dash (yes I’m a Double Dash snob). The Battle Mode game Renegade Roudup is especially fun — it’s basically Cops and Robbers with cars. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is by far the most accessible game on the Switch. I can play it with my adult friends as well as with my nieces and nephews, and we all have fun. While I wish there was more single-player content, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has provided some of the best local multiplayer I’ve had in recent years.
18. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the awkward middle school kid that grows up to be an attractive, professional person. It leaves an iffy first impression with its embarrassing character design, meandering plot, and poorly-explained drip-feed of game mechanics. The first half of the game is this frustrating cha-cha of one step forward, one step back. Eventually, though, the game stops taking that step back. Everything about Xenoblade Chronicles 2 just gets better and better until by the end it shines brilliantly. The combat has layers of nuance that are satisfying to master. The plot interweaves personal and political twists. Its world is full of breathtaking views. Despite its flaws I still think about its poignant, melancholic themes; and I still listen to its sweeping orchestral soundtrack. The lows are low, but the highs definitely soar high.
17. Shin Megami Tensei V
Shin Megami Tensei V is a JRPG that skipped leg day. Its upper body is robust with exploration, combat, character building, and demon customization. Its lower body, however, is quite anemic with its lack of meaningful character interactions and minimalist plot. Its saving grace is the worldbuilding and the way it challenges the player to actually think about cosmic morals that they may have taken for granted. It’s only been a month since I beat it, but I already know that this is going to be another game I’m going to mull over for a long, long time. I cannot ignore how much this game stands out after playing it.
16. Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Pokemon Legends: Arceus isn’t without its flaws. As much glowing praise as I gave it a few weeks ago, that doesn’t mean Game Freak is completely let off the hook. The controls are a bit unintuitive, the graphics are embarrassingly low for a Switch game, and the main story struggled to keep my attention. Still, even as I weigh all of those flaws, the scales tip in the game’s favor thanks to that compelling open-world gameplay loop. I love the way the world slowly unlocks, piece by piece. I love luring and catching wild Pokemon, as well as challenging Alpha Pokemon. There are several secrets and rare Pokemon to find. And finally, the side quests where people befriend Pokemon were just too cute to ignore. I’ve finally completed the post-game quests, putting in over 70 hours, and I’m just so happy with this game. Game Freak still has a way to go, but they are finally beginning to tap into Pokemon’s hidden potential. If they take their time and polish up the next experience, the next game in this style may crack into my Top 5.
15. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is the Girl Scout Cookie of the Nintendo Switch — it’s simple, wholesome, and sweet. The mainline Super Mario developers made this game as a spinoff, and you can tell that right away. The story is bare-bones, but the gameplay is polished and charming. The levels are designed perfectly; each mechanic develops and expands its concepts the way a good Mario game should. I love exploring the dioramas, uncovering every last bit of treasure and solving the environmental puzzles. It’s like a micro-sized Zelda dungeon blended with a Mario level. The game’s cute as heck, too. I can’t help but grin when I see Toad or Toadette waddle around saying, “Ready for adventure!” My biggest complaint is that we haven’t gotten a sequel yet.
14. Astral Chain
Astral Chain is all about being a cyberpunk cop taking out interdimentional alien invaders. It sounds dumb, but it’s such a stylish game. Astral Chain metaphorically rolls up to the club on its motorbike and struts on in, leaving all the other action games speechless. The way that you control two characters simultaneously in this game without losing your mind is a feat of game design. Every strike and dodge has weight. Every fight is tense. The action combat is so viscerally fun I just want to keep getting better and better at it. There were a few oddly-placed stealth sections, but thankfully they were short and didn’t try my patience too much. The story started out promising but left me with too many unanswered questions. Because of these flaws, I can’t rank this game any higher; however, because of its unique ideas and compelling action, I can’t rank this game any lower.
13. Splatoon 2
Splatoon 2 is a blast. For three minutes at a time, two opposing squads of squid kids engage in Turf War. It’s a paintball match gone wild. Bright contrasting colors are flung everywhere – blue and yellow, purple and teal, orange and green — it’s a wonderful in-your-face mess. Thankfully, the game has substance to back up all of that style. The maps leave plenty of places to hide and surprise opponents. The movement is so tight and fluid, it’s almost a platformer-shooter hybrid. The terrain in each arena has plenty of verticality and moving parts to make use of that moveset, too. Splatfests are the best online multiplayer events I’ve ever participated in. And the single-player campaign is substantial as well. Unfortunately the co-op mode, Salmon Run, is a repetitive chore to play, but hopefully the sequel can improve upon it. I’ve never seen a multiplayer game this unique. It’s a reminder that the AAA gaming industry can, in fact, still come up with new ideas and have them succeed.
12. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
While Splatoon 2 may have pioneered a new kind of video game, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze proves that even old genres like 2D Platformers still have plenty of room for new ideas. You don’t need to reinvent the pencil if you know how to write a good story. And that’s exactly what this game does: every level tells a miniature story. As you move from left to right, utilizing the excellent momentum and level design, a small narrative will begin to take shape. For example, one level may begin as a small brush fire only to escalate into an all-out inferno. It’s a perfect blend of form and function. And once I saw the well-designed secrets and collectibles, I realized this was one of the best 2D Platformers I’d ever played.
11. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing is like a warm hug. The routine is comforting, the animals are silly, and the item / bug collecting is nigh addicting. The series has always kept its loving arms open for me ever since the first one released on the GameCube; I can briefly escape to a happy little town whenever real life gets stressful. And in 2020, this little game became even more important than any previous entry has ever been. I loved building the town from the ground up and customizing every square inch however I wanted. That being said, parts of the game disappointed me, more than just the slow-paced nature of crafting. The villagers’ dialogue is quite repetitive, and the game lacks a layer of interactivity. Sometimes the game feels like an “empty doll house,” where I can decorate it, customize it, and look at it, but I can’t interact with these items. Thankfully there are a ton of things to collect, and that became my primary motivation to keep playing. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is definitely more about the journey than the destination. And of course, I can’t talk about this game without mentioning how important its online connectivity was to me. Being able to visit my friends and family when I couldn’t see these people in person was a vital part of my quarantine social life. Overall the game has some parts that annoy me, but it also introduced so many new mechanics that my opinion shifts far onto the positive side. I’ve clocked over 350 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons, if that’s any indication of how I feel about this game.
10. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
We’ll likely never get a game like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate ever again. I have to crane my neck to take in its skyscraper-sized amount of characters, stages, and spirit battles. Only an insane developer like Masahiro Sakurai would 1) create such an endeavor and 2) polish every square foot of it. Every character controls slightly differently, yet they all feel good to move around. Every character is a miniature history lesson, with their attacks and costumes referring to parts of their games. Every character has strengths and weaknesses, creating a game balance that must have been a nightmare to playtest. Admittedly, the choppy online is still a large blemish on this building, but in my experience it has performed better over the years — likely due to people with bad internet connection dropping out. This game’s roster dished out plenty of surprises: from old characters returning like Roy and Solid Snake, to impossible fan favorites joining in like Banjo & Kazooie. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best celebration of video games ever made.
9. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
At first glance Super Mario 3D World doesn’t look like anything special — it’s exactly the kind of 3D Platformer you’d expect Nintendo to put out. And yet, the more I played it, the more it grew on me. The controls are polished to a mirror level of shine. The level design is nearly flawless. The game is full of ideas, and they all just flow from one to the next. It’s Platformer poetry. I was constantly finding new ways to beat, then complete, then speedrun the levels. And Bowser’s Fury is a delightful sandbox that was hopefully a sneak peek into what the next 3D Mario will be.
8. Pikmin 3 Deluxe
My brain simply forgets that time exists when I start playing Pikmin 3 Deluxe. I booted up the game to get new screenshots for this blog, but I ended up playing for several more hours than I intended to. The world slowly unlocks like a Zelda game. The environments are beautiful. There are trinkets littered everywhere for you to find. The multiple leaders make multitasking even easier than before. It’s so satisfying to plan out your day, manage your pikmin, and bring all of your spoils back to base before the day ends. It sounds silly say that a Real-Time Strategy game is “thrilling,” but Pikmin 3 Deluxe truly is.
7. Super Mario Maker 2
I’ve wanted to make my own Mario game for a long, long time. And I was finally able to do exactly that with Super Mario Maker 2. I love making a part of a level, then testing it out immediately. It satisfies both the creative and the consumer sides of my brain, not unlike this blog. And there are so many items that work in combination with each other that there are nearly infinite ways to make a level. The online multiplayer is unfortunately a sad and confusing mess. I mean, how can everyone connect fine in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but struggle in a 16-bit 2D Mario level? Thankfully nothing else about this game disappoints me. The story mode is a surprising and delightful addition, and showcases what kinds of levels you might be able to make. And the community has made some excellent levels that I would’ve never thought up. This game offers literally an endless amount of Mario platforming, both from others and from my own hands. I’ve made over 50 levels in this game, played hundreds of others, and I’m planning on making at least 50 more.
6. Luigi’s Mansion 3
A 30 second clip of Luigi’s Mansion 3 is all the evidence I need to support my claim that Next Level Games should make the Mario animated movie and not Illumination. I cannot fathom how this studio managed to make animation this charming and this detailed running on the Nintendo Switch. Every floor, boss, and room has a distinct identity, both visually and mechanically. The puzzles are as satisfying as any Zelda dungeon, especially the ones that use Gooigi. There’s always a secret to look for, a stash of money to collect, or a pile of junk to clean up. I wish there was a bit of progression to Luigi’s gadgets like in Dark Moon, and a bit more Metroidvania elements like in the first game, but overall the entire experience is a happy concoction of everything I liked about the past two Luigi’s Mansion games, along with some new features of its own. It’s the best Action/Adventure game on the Switch that’s not Zelda.
5. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Now we’re getting to the games that are special to me, games that engaged me entirely — story, gameplay; heart, mind, and soul — they are holistic masterpieces. And Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition definitely fits that caliber. The image of the characters living on the body of a continent-sized Titan lingers in my mind, as does the story’s theme of Shulk growing out of black-and-white, “us-versus-them” thinking. The combat is one of the best ways to balance action and traditional turn-based RPG elements. The more you invest in this combat system, the more you can get out of it. The entire experience is simultaneously epic and personal. I can feel the passion in this work, and it makes me passionate to write about it.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a grand opera of a video game. Its cast of characters come onto the stage and steal your heart. They all start out as a kind of archetype that you can readily recognize, but they all develop into their own people with their own unique motivations and developments. The beginning part of the game is particularly adept at making every route feel morally compelling without making any one faction 100% in the right. Everyone works in a shade of grey. Some of that nuance is lost with the time-skip, but it still brings out strong emotions as characters that were once schoolmates now face off against each other. The map design is strong, though admittedly not the best in the series. But the game makes up for that with the dozens of ways you can customize each character — not only in their stats and classes, but also in their interaction with other students. It’s a level of detail I rarely see in other RPGs. Each route contributes something valuable to the overall narrative, whether that’s learning more about a key character, or about the fascinating lore of the whole continent. Combine all of these factors together, and you have a role-playing game that convinced me to play through all four routes, along with an additional DLC route, and I never got tired of it. This game is the best JRPG on the Switch.
3. Metroid Dread
The 2D Metroid series has the pedigree of a dog show contestant. It’s immaculate. It’s almost impossible to match. And yet MercurySteam met all of my unrealistic expectations for Metroid Dread, and in some ways they exceeded them. It’s a joy to explore, it’s a joy to move, it’s a joy to defeat bosses, and it’s a joy to slowly become that powerhouse bounty hunter. It’s a joy to replay as well — I’ve already finished several runs on the different difficulty settings, as well as a poor attempt at a speedrun. Now I’m just going through a victory lap, taking in the world and mechanics. Metroid Dread is one of the best 2D games I’ve ever played, and definitely the best 2D game released after the year 2000.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is, to me, the video game embodiment of the classic photograph V-J Day in Times Square. You know the one: two people spontaneously kissing in New York on the triumphant day that World War II ended. Everyone is parading in the streets, confetti is falling, and everyone’s smiling. I cannot play Super Mario Odyssey and have a bad time. It’s just impossible. The moveset with Cappy is the most intricate I’ve ever seen in a 3D platformer. And the worlds are colorful playgrounds tailor-made for that moveset. While the story begins formulaic, the ending genuinely surprised me. And it’s so refreshing to see new characters added to the Mario universe. It’s nearly impossible to pick a best Mario game, but this one is a formidable contender.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Zelda games always follow a predictable pattern with their critical reception: first a game launches with universal praise, followed by a backlash of people claiming it’s overrated. It’s been that way since Ocarina of Time. Now, not every game is for everyone, and that rule still applies for Breath of the Wild. However, I’ve played this game four different times throughout the years, and every time I saw the credits roll, it once again earned its #1 spot for me. The atmosphere is calming yet mysterious. The runes, weapons, physics, and items create a sandbox that’s ripe for experimentation. You solve problems your own way. You craft your own story of Link’s survival and return to glory. The map design is some of the best I’ve ever seen, filled with breathtaking views, landmarks, secrets, puzzles, and enemy camps, and yet it still has enough downtime for you to just breathe in the world. While I’m not a fan of how its story is presented, Zelda’s struggle of not knowing where she belongs touched me deeply. I know some people might be tired of hearing about this game — I too roll my eyes every time a game journalist compares every other open world game to Breath of the Wild. As terribly unoriginal as it is to put this game in my #1 spot, I gotta be honest with myself. Breath of the Wild a masterpiece. It has defined my experience of owning a Nintendo Switch, and it has redefined my entire relationship with video games.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! Making this list was actually a lot of fun. Maybe I should make this kind of thing for indie games and 3rd Party games. Do let me know what your top 10 or 20 are in the comments.