It’s only been out for a little over two years, but the Nintendo Switch has already established itself as one of the best consoles the company has ever produced. While much of that has to to do with the innovative hybrid design of the handheld/home console, it helps that the Switch has one of the most impressive libraries of exclusives, classics, and indies on the market today.
From The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey to Stardew Valley and the re-release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, there are so many games to choose from, both for those who want new experiences as well as for those who want to revisit old favorites. And you can play all of these great games on the go!
These are the 20 games you should absolutely not miss on the Switch:
20. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes
2019 | Grasshopper Manufacture
The first two No More Heroes games were violent hack-and-slash titles for the Wii that pleasantly surprised gamers with new ways to implement the Wii-mote’s motion controls into the gameplay and absolutely bonkers storylines from the mind of eccentric game director Suda51.
Travis Strikes Again ditches the behind-the-shoulder view of the old games for a top-down perspective as Travis is sucked through the “Death Drive MK-II” console to defeat bugs in various different video games. The self-referential humor about the industry is much needed at a time when most games take themselves way too seriously, even if the resulting gameplay is a little more repetitive than its predecessors.
19. Golf Story
2017 | Sidebar Games
One area where the Switch has really hit its stride is indie games. While most of the indie titles on the system have been ported from PC or other consoles, such as the excellent Stardew Valley, Golf Story stands out as a rare must-have exclusive that can only be played on the Switch.
The concept is deceptively simple: take the basics of a 16-bit RPG but replace combat with golf. It might not be the most complex RPG ever made, but the story is quite charming and the golfing gameplay is perfect while playing on-the-go.
18. Dark Souls Remastered
2018 | FromSoftware
There’s not much more that can be said about Dark Souls that hasn’t been said about this revolutionary action RPG title already. Its tough-as-nails difficulty, foreboding atmosphere, and esoteric storytelling have made it a fan-favorite and critical darling.
The Switch port doesn’t change much. It’s actually a visual downgrade from the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions without the benefit of 4K resolution, but being able to play Dark Souls on-the-go more than makes up for that. This may not be the best version of Dark Souls, but the gameplay still stands up, and like a lot of Switch ports, being able to finally play the game on a handheld makes it a worthy pick up.
17. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
2017 | Ubisoft
“What if Mario starred in an XCOM game?” might sound like the basis for some very ambitious fan fiction, but somehow Ubisoft pulled it off with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. The Rabbids actually fit into the Mushroom Kingdom pretty well and the Rabbid impersonations of Mario and company are hilarious.
Even if Mario games aren’t typically your cup of tea, the tactics featured in this turn-based strategy title add a layer of difficulty rarely seen in the plumber’s resume. If you aren’t careful, the corrupted Rabbids will repeatedly hand you your ass on a platter.
16. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
2018 | Nintendo
The Captain Toad levels were the best parts of Super Mario 3D World, one of the few well-reviewed Wii U exclusives that haven’t yet made it to the Switch. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker delivered more of what people loved, this time for the 3DS.
Ignoring traditional Mario-style platforming for isometric puzzles that bar jumping, getting all the stars in every level of Captain Toad is genuinely challenging but rarely frustrating. Captain Toad also stands out as one of the better Wii U ports for the Switch, thanks to a number of new levels, although many of them are only available as paid DLC.
15. Starlink: Battle for Atlas
2018 | Ubisoft
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a fun space shooter bogged down by a confusing and frankly unnecessary toys-to-life gimmick. The basic premise equates to a sort of smaller scale No Man’s Sky, but with highly customizable ships and weapons.
The big draw for the Switch version is exclusive Star Fox content, missions that feel like the animal-themed space combat game people have wanted from Nintendo for years. They’re certainly better than Star Fox Zero. The retail version even comes with awesome Arwing and Fox McCloud toys.
With gamers largely burned out on the toys-to-life phenomenon, Starlink didn’t exactly light up the sales charts, but it did sell best on the Switch and is scratching that Star Fox itch.
14. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
2017 | Monolith Soft
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is not for casual gamers. The main story alone takes more than 60 hours to complete and you’re looking at well over 100 hours of gameplay if you dig into the side content. Its systems, particularly the Pokemon-style Blade system, aren’t very user-friendly and require time to truly understand. But for those who are willing to keep with it, or who enjoy complex stories and mastering all the intricacies of a JRPG, there are few games of this caliber available on the current crop of consoles. And none of them are on the Switch.
13. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
2019 | Nintendo
The Switch’s success has allowed many Wii U games to enjoy a second life. With their brief levels, Mario games have always been perfect for handhelds, and with its pitch-perfect controls and heavy nods to Super Mario Bros. 3, New Super Mario Bros. U is arguably the best side-scrolling Mario game of the last decade. The Switch port even includes all of the New Super Luigi U content previously only available as DLC and a new playable character, Toadette.
12. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
2017 | Bethesda Game Studios
We probably didn’t need another version of Skyrim, and the Switch port doesn’t look that much better than the original 2011 release, but as with other ports of older games, the ability to play one of the greatest RPGs anywhere is a good reason to double (or triple) dip. And there are a few cool unlockables though amiibos, like the Master Sword.
It’s impossible to ignore such a classic RPG on the Switch, especially now that you can play it on your lunch break or on the bus. But seriously, Bethesda, you can stop porting Skyrim now. Get to work on The Elder Scrolls VI and maybe bring that to the Switch.
11. Pokemon Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee
2018 | Game Freak
The Pokemon franchise has been around so long at this point that the Let’s Go games are actually the second remakes of the original 1996 Red and Blue games. That’s okay though, as even the last remakes were released on the Game Boy Advance in 2004. By 2018, it was time for a new coat of paint.
Let’s Go freshens things up with modern 3D graphics, wild Pokemon that are now visible in the overworld, and Mega Evolutions from more recent games. The biggest change is the most divisive: motion controls for catching Pokemon. It can be a little silly at first, but it actually adds to the game’s charm.
10. Octopath Traveler
2018 | Square Enix
Square Enix’s love letter to 16-bit RPGs might just be better than the classics. Octopath Traveler boasts an innovative battle system that tweaks the typical turn-based formula and unique “HD-2D” graphics that are unlike anything else in the genre. It’s easy to lose several hours playing in portable mode or at home on a big screen. And while the story drags a little bit at times, it’s still worth playing to the end to see how the tales of all eight protagonists play out.
9. Bayonetta 2
2018 | PlatinumGames
The first Bayonetta was a sexy, stylish take on action-adventure hack and slash games, with some of the smoothest combat around and a badass protagonist. Bayonetta 2 doesn’t mess with the winning formula but adds more combat options and some of the most ridiculous setpieces ever put in a game, like a battle on top of a moving fighter jet. If you’re looking for something a little less family-friendly on the Switch, look no further than this hectic action game.
8. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
2018 | Retro Studios
The original Donkey Kong Country trilogy is a highlight of the 16-bit era, but in hindsight, it was more beloved for its graphics than its gameplay. It was only once Retro Studios took over the series that the franchise began to live up to its potential, with super smooth platforming and levels more creative than even some of Nintendo’s Super Mario games.
While Retro’s first Donkey Kong Country game on the Wii was a little too punishing, Tropical Freeze got the balance between challenging and frustrating just right. The game was originally released on the Wii U, and the Switch port adds Funky Kong as a playable character. This is an excellent platformer to play with a friend, too!
7. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
2018 | Firaxis Games
Despite the Switch’s early success, it’s still home to relatively few third-party console exclusives, but Civilization VI alone almost makes up for that deficit. This is an uncompromising PC port with 24 different civilizations available from the get-go, and all of the features from the original version. It also works great with either a controller or touchscreen controls. If you’re looking for a 4X strategy game on the Switch, Civilization VI is the one.
6. Diablo III: Eternal Collection
2018 | Blizzard Entertainment
Diablo III is one of the best games of the last decade. The Switch port is late to the party, but if you really want to slay demons on the go and don’t have a laptop handy, this is the perfect way to play the classic action RPG.
The Switch version adds a handful of Legend of Zelda items, including a Ganondorf costume. It’s not an earth-shattering exclusive, but it’s an easy excuse to sink a few more hours into this game.
5. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
2017 | Nintendo
Mario Kart 8 is the best kart racing game ever made. That was true with the original Wii U release and it’s true of the Switch port, which includes all previously released DLC and adds a few new characters and a completely reworked battle mode. Each and every track has its own challenges and the addition of anti-gravity racing is a nice update to the formula.
With tracks and characters from F-Zero, The Legend of Zelda, and Animal Crossing, Mario Kart 8 also feels like the most complete Nintendo racing game of all time. There’s really no reason for a Switch owner not to have this one in their collection.
4. Splatoon 2
2017 | Nintendo
Nintendo has never developed a multiplayer shooter like Call of Duty or Halo. Odds are it never will. But the Splatoon series is just as good as those shooters, especially the second installment. Like with the original, the focus of Splatoon 2 is to use a variety of paint-spraying weapons to cover as much of each level as possible. It’s actually a lot more fun and creative than most of the high-profile shooters out there.
Splatoon 2 adds quite a few new levels, weapons, and unlockables. There’s also a sizable single-player mode, and a ridiculously fun cooperative mode called Salmon Run. If that’s not enough content, Nintendo released the lengthy Octo Expansion DLC in 2018. A copy of Splatoon 2 could occupy a Switch gamer for months.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
2017 | Nintendo
Is Super Mario Odyssey the best 3D Mario game? It’s hard to argue otherwise. Odyssey borrows its level structure and progression system from the beloved Super Mario 64, which Nintendo had largely ignored for the last two decades. Several new twists on the traditional 3D platforming formula, like the ability to throw your new hat buddy Cappy at enemies to take control of them, make Super Mario Odyssey feel incredibly fresh. There probably won’t be another platformer this good on the Switch.
2. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
2018 | Nintendo
Super Smash Bros. has remained wildly popular since it debuted in 1999, and there’s always been a lively debate about which title is the best in the series. Melee arguably has the best mechanics, while Brawl’s Subspace Emissary boasts the most complete story mode. The Wii U game looks fantastic, but the Ice Climbers and Snake were sorely missed.
Ultimate tries to satisfy the fans of each game by including every character who’s ever appeared in the series (plus a few new ones), more than 100 stages from throughout the Nintendo universe, a deep adventure mode called World of Light, and interesting tweaks to even the oldest characters in the roster. If Ultimate isn’t the perfect installment of Smash Bros., we don’t know what is.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
2017 | Nintendo
Breath of the Wild is the perfect marriage of traditional Legend of Zelda 3D gameplay and innovative new systems. The world and story are unmistakably Hylian, yet the game puts a major focus on exploration and experimentation to an extent never before seen in the series.
Yes, the number of weapons have been cut down drastically, but the handful of abilities — like freezing time and creating ice blocks — create even more ways to complete the game’s challenges and traverse its world. And you will want to explore every last inch of Hyrule’s beautifully realized world.
For almost two decades, Zelda games closely following the formula established by Ocarina of Time, one of the greatest games ever made. Breath of the Wild throws out almost all of the concepts that Ocarina pioneered and redefines Zelda as something more open-ended and exciting that will hopefully continue to evolve over the next few years.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.