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The best Nintendo Switch games for 2021

An updated list of the absolute best Nintendo Switch titles you can play in 2021

The Nintendo Switch has had a lot of mixed success in its short lifetime. The console-handheld hybrid has been on the market for over three years now, but a slew of promising ports in the first few months of the year gave early adopters a healthy diet of new titles to enjoy. Big first-party exclusives helped build the system’s success early on, though that momentum slowed in 2020 with a lighter release schedule. Things are picking up again though, with games like Metroid Dread on the horizon. Plus, there’s an all-new Switch model coming this year, which features a better OLED screen.

Until those drop, there’s plenty to enjoy on the Switch right now. Some recent highlights include Paper Mario: The Origami King, which retains the original look of Paper Mario and the quest to free Princess Peach’s castle, as well as the newly completed Kentucky Route Zero, which has something for those who like to settle down with a classic point-and-click adventure. This list of the best Nintendo Switch games also includes the best free Switch games if you’re on a budget.

New Pokémon Snap

New Pokémon Snap Illumina Pokemon Close up

For over two decades, Nintendo fans begged the company to make a sequel to Pokémon Snap. The N64 classic was a beloved hit thanks to its intuitive photography gameplay and charming use of the franchise. It was a long wait, but it was worth it in the end. New Pokémon Snap is a delightful follow-up that feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch. For fans of the original, it doesn’t stray from what made that version work. It features relaxing, on-rails gameplay that lets players lay back and take some cute snaps.

The sequel really shines when it comes to content. The original game was extremely short, making it a perfect Blockbuster rental. This new version is much more robust. There are over 210 Pokémon to snap, each of which has four distinct poses. There are way more courses to explore, which have several variants. Side requests give players around 200 bonus goals to complete on top of the already beefy 12-hour story. To top it all off, the game has a photo editor and an online social component where players can share their best snaps. For those who just want to live in the world of Pokémon, it’s a much more fully realized version of Snap that’s perfect for lazy Sundays on the couch.

Read our full Pokémon Snap review

Monster Hunter Rise

Monster Hunter Rise DLC

Pardon the pun, but the Monster Hunter franchise is on the rise. Go back just a few years ago and Capcom’s action RPG franchise was a bit of a niche experience. It was wildly popular in certain parts of the world, but the west simply hadn’t caught on. The tides started changing in 2018 with the release of Monster Hunter World. The game was a wider hit that started piquing more people’s interest. Now Capcom has capitalized on that success with Monster Hunter Rise, bringing the franchise to the Nintendo Switch.

The latest installment is one of the best entries yet. New features like the wirebug and Rampage quest types bring fresh content for fans who have already played hundreds of hours of World. The real key to the game’s success is that it’s a little friendlier for newcomers. The main problem with the series has always been its complex RPG systems that can totally alienate anyone who’s never played a Monster Hunter game before. Rise is a better entry point, making it one of the best games in the series for both old and new players.

Read our full Monster Hunters Rise review

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Two riders face a giant dragon in Monster Hunter Stories 2.

We can’t talk about Monster Hunter Rise without discussing its foil, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. While the former is a big-action RPG full of hacking and slashing, the latter is more tactical. It’s a turn-based RPG where players befriend monsters instead of slicing them up. That makes it more akin to something like Pokémon, as players collect and train monsters. For those who wish the Pokémon series would offer up some difficulty alongside its creature collecting, Monster Hunter Stories 2 might scratch that itch.

The game is most notable for its excellent combat system, which builds on Fire Emblem’s “rock, paper, scissors” mechanics. Players can counter an incoming hit by picking the right attack. It’s a game that rewards observation, as studying monsters can help prepare players for any combat encounter. The action goes even deeper than that too, as players can raise their kinship with their monster companions to unleash combo attacks. Whether you’re a fan of Monster Hunter, Pokémon, or Fire Emblem, Monster Hunter Stories 2 covers a lot of bases.

Read our Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin review

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

Super Mario 3D World was already an excellent game before its Switch rerelease. The Wii U platformer was among the best games the system, and the franchise itself, had to offer. It features creative level design, chaotic multiplayer fun, and some of the best power-ups Mario has ever gotten his hands on. The downside was always that it was stuck on a console that few players bought. Nintendo could have simply ported this game onto Switch without making any tweaks and fans still would have been happy. On its own, it would have been one of the best games on the console.

Nintendo upped the ante, though, by bundling it with Bowser’s Fury. The pack-in game is a brand new adventure that’s a mini open-world game. Think Super Mario Odyssey on a smaller scale. Bowser’s Fury is a fantastic entry in the franchise that goes well above and beyond its freebie status. That makes Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury one of the absolute best values money can buy on Switch. Players are getting two excellent Mario games in one that bring over 50-hours of content between them. The package is every bit of a must-own as Breath of the Wild for Switch owners.

Read our full Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury review 

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

When the first Hyrule Warriors game originally released on the Wii U, it didn’t seem like much more than a niche spinoff. The hack-and-slash game turned Zelda into Dynasty Warriors with larger-than-life battles. It wasn’t a replacement for mainline Zelda adventures, but it showed that the franchise had some untapped potential when it came to side games. Nintendo capitalized on that promise with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, a more fully realized entry that opens the doors wide open for the series’ future.

Unlike the first game, Age of Calamity is part of the actual Zelda cannon. It acts as a pseudo-prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and tells the story of the Great Calamity. While the game presents itself as a Zelda version of Rogue One where you know that Hyrule is doomed, the story takes some unexpected twists that make for an exciting Zelda side story. With more characters, weapons, and secrets to uncover, Age of Calamity is a high-quality action game that sets a new bar for Nintendo spinoffs.

Read our full Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity review

Ring Fit Adventure

Ring Fit Adventure

When Ring Fit Adventure launched in 2019, Nintendo’s quirky fitness RPG was more of an oddity than anything. Critics praised it for its creative approach to exercise, but the peripheral-based game felt niche in comparison to holiday Switch releases like Pokémon Sword and Shield.

The perception of the game quickly changed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world into lockdown. It suddenly became a hot commodity, providing players a fun way to work out at home while gyms were closed down. Fortunately, it’s not just a game that’s popular because of circumstances. Ring Fit Adventure is a genuinely enjoyable spin on the fitness genre that makes clever use of its RPG components.

Read our full Ring Fit Adventure review

Hades

The latest from indie hit factory Supergiant Games, Hades is a rogue-lite action RPG that puts players in the shoes of the prince of Hades. As it turns out, you’re not so keen on the place. It’s dark, cramped, depressing, and your dad is a real peach. So, naturally, you want to do the impossible — escape.

Hades feels positively electric to play. You’ll often die, but you’ll also often feel like an absolute rock star. Even when you die, you’re swiftly returned to the start, giving you a chance to try again after only a brief pause to check out any upgrades you might’ve unlocked.

It doesn’t hurt that Hades, like past Supergiant Games efforts, has stellar production values. The art, voice acting, and music are without peer, and they give Hades a blinding sheen of polish that even big-budget AAA games often lack. That fact is especially apparent in Hades taking home the Game Award for Best Action game, beating out massive titles like Doom Eternal.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

The second game in the Ori franchise, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is a real stand-out platformer. It combines tough-but-fair difficulty with outstanding level design that will satisfy platformer fans who want real depth to their gameplay. Ori and the Will of the Wisps has plenty of competition on Switch, given the wide range of platformers on the console, but it manages to stand out.

Ori is also well-known for its incredible art direction, and the second title doubles down on that. It takes the painterly, ethereal look of the original game and turns it up to 11. There’s a lot going on here, and while Switch owners won’t be able to enjoy the 4K HDR found on other versions (the Switch doesn’t support either), the game still looks great on the Switch’s built-in LCD.

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition

If you’re in the mood for a new role-playing game that combines human and machine elements, Xenoblade Chronics Definitive Edition might be a good place to start. The game puts players in the position of Shulk, who attempts to understand his place in the world as he battles with others in his party against machine enemies.

The game, which is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, has an open-world feel but generally follows a traditional role-playing game feel with a variety of battle maneuvers, health points that grow with XP boosts, and more. Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition also features more than 90 music tracks.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The long-awaited Animal Crossing: New Horizons is now one year old, and it just might be the series’ best game yet. Set on a deserted island that players must develop from scratch as part of a vacation getaway package, New Horizons gives unprecedented freedom and customization options. Furniture and decorations can be placed anywhere on the island, and custom patterns can be created for flags and even face paint. It’s one of the best multiplayer games on the Switch and has already moved over 31 million units, making it one of the Switch’s top sellers.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons continues the series’ online multiplayer tradition with support for up to eight players, and players can still trade items such as fruit back and forth to help each other build up their homes. Tom Nook remains in charge and wants mortgage payments, but the joy of New Horizons gameplay means it won’t even seem like a big deal. With regular updates on the way and seasonal fish to catch, New Horizons is certain to stick around for a while.

Read our full Animal Crossing: New Horizons review

Astral Chain

Platinum Games has established itself as one of the best action game studios in the world, with critical darlings like Bayonetta 2 and the existential Nier: Automata. Automata lead designer Takahisa Taura got his first chance to direct with the Switch-exclusive Astral Chain, which doubles down on the insane action that Platinum Games has prided itself on for the last decade. Rather than the post-apocalypse, though, you’re in a bustling stylized sci-fi city that is under attack by mysterious interdimensional forces, and it’s up to you to stop it.

Astral Chain gives you simultaneous control of the protagonist and several Legion characters. This mix of direct and indirect combat is at the heart of the game, but you will also investigate mysteries and solve puzzles along the way. And you can pet the game’s dog-like Legion, so you know it’s good.

Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2 Splatfest

The original Splatoon reinvented the multiplayer shooter by taking the emphasis off of simply eliminating enemies, and its unique ink-spraying online matches were unlike anything we had ever seen before. The Switch sequel, Splatoon 2, largely sticks to the formula we saw previously, but its inventive new multiplayer maps and weapons make the game even more engaging. The game’s humor is also back in full force, with puns galore and user-created artwork that is both hilarious and terrifying.

For those more interested in playing cooperatively, the Salmon Run mode is an excellent addition to Splatoon 2. Groups of four players must collect golden eggs while fending off waves of evil Salmonids, and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Just make sure all your friends have their own systems, as the game doesn’t support split-screen multiplayer.

Read our full Splatoon 2 review

Overcooked 2

Overcooked 2 is the sequel to the hectic cooking co-op game, Overcooked. It doesn’t change much of the stress-inducing yet deeply satisfying formula we saw in the first game, but it does refine it. Added features include a new throwing ability, more chefs, different recipes, and online multiplayer. If you enjoyed the first game, then you’ll likely love Overcooked 2. If you didn’t play the original game, then starting with Overcooked 2 will ease you into what you missed since it’s not as frustratingly difficult and has less wonky controls.

This time around, you’ll be facing a new foe called the “Unbread” (zombie bread — get it?), and the only way to save the Onion Kingdom is to don your tallest chef hat, travel to crazy locations, and cook up complex recipes in really impractical kitchens. Overall, we’d say Overcooked 2 is one of the best Nintendo Switch games to bring to a party. The kind that will bring you closer to your friends or have you hurling insults at each other.

Dead Cells

Taking a look at the sidescrolling gameplay and dark 2D art style of Dead Cells may stir up some memories of times spent playing Metroid or Castlevania. Motion Twin, the developers of this highly rated indie game on the Switch, call it a Roguevania due to the inspiration it takes from those games. For a clearer picture of what to expect, add in a Dark Souls-level of combat difficulty, roguelike castle setting, and unforgiving permadeath (short for permanent death), and you get Dead Cells.

When you combine themes like roguelike and permadeath, you’ll know that every playthrough of Dead Cells is different. But that doesn’t mean you have to die to have some fun. There’s an endless amount of weapons, hidden rooms, and passageways that will require a bit of work and skill to find. Did we forget to mention the punishing boss battles that will have you searching for the closest save point? Spoiler alert — there are none!

Read our full Dead Cells review

Cuphead

Cuphead Bosses Ranked

Cuphead‘s 1930s cartoon visuals dazzled Xbox One and PC players when it launched in 2017. Amazingly, StudioMDHR produced a flawless port for Switch, allowing gamers to take the adventures of Cuphead and Mugman on the go as well.

Cuphead is an immaculately designed action game that focuses heavily on boss battles. Though six run-and-gun platforming levels exist, the brunt of your time with Cuphead is spent squaring off in grand battles against wondrously designed and challenging bosses.

Cuphead is punishing but fair, and the art and sound design help to keep you engaged even when you’ve been fighting the same boss for hours on end. There is nothing quite like Cuphead. If you own a Switch, you shouldn’t miss out on this ambitious and sublime experience.

Luigi’s Mansion 3

Luigi's Mansion 3 Door

The original Luigi’s Mansion for GameCube didn’t seem to understand what its best ideas were but by the time Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was released more than a decade later, new developer Next Level Games had a firm grasp on what made the spooky adventure so charming. In Luigi’s Mansion 3, our titular anxious hero must rescue his brother and friends from a haunted hotel, using his trusty Poltergust G-00 vacuum and new viscous pal Gooigi.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 mixes environmental puzzles with creative combat against several different types of ghosts, and the themed floors vary from a botany-themed area to a medieval arena. All of them are hilarious, and the game’s self-referential jokes and zany animations only make it more entertaining.

Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky Route Zero

In a similar vein to the game above, Kentucky Route Zero is another legendary title that focuses more on story than gameplay. Also originally released in 2011, Kentucky Route Zero finally reached its conclusion in January 2020 when the last of its promised five acts arrived alongside a complete edition port to other machines.

Through a traditional point-and-click adventure game style, Kentucky Route Zero follows truck driver Conway as he attempts to make one final trip for his antique company. Losing his way while traversing the fictitious highway running through the mountains of Kentucky, Conway befriends a gaggle of eccentric characters who accompany him on this weird and wonderful journey.

Eight years of development across sporadically released acts means there’s a good chance player reception ultimately played a part in the conclusion of the story. So if you’re sick of a game’s ending going against the grain, know that Kentucky Route Zero‘s parting gift likely took many years of feedback into account.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Nintendo

The Nintendo Switch game that could become your sole obsession, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is one of those fighting games so comprehensive that it’s worth buying a Switch for it alone. The latest universe-melding fighting game features every character ever included in the series’ nearly 20-year history, and more than 100 stages are available as soon as you boot it up for the first time.

Nostalgic for Nintendo of the past without seeming dated, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate plays with the speed of a competitive fighting game, but it is easy enough for less-experienced players to enjoy, as well. The character roster has something for everyone, and newcomers like Incineroar and Simon Belmont feel perfect alongside classics like Mario and Jigglypuff. A hefty single-player campaign mode and new local multiplayer options are just icing on the cake.

Read our full Super Smash Bros. Ultimate review

Fortnite

Fortnite is one of the biggest games in the world. The full battle royale game is available on the console, and it supports cross-play with PC, PS4, Xbox One, Mac, Android, and iOS.

Unlike the virtual analog sticks on the mobile version, however, you’ll be able to play it on the Switch with a traditional control scheme and compete against skilled players, and if you want to pop it on the big screen, you’re free to do so like you can with almost every Switch game.

Read our full Fortnite: Battle Royale review

Nintendo

Minecraft

One of the most influential and culturally significant games ever made, Mojang’s Minecraft is a perfect fit for Nintendo’s console. The Switch version contains both the building-focused Creative mode as well as the traditional Survival mode, which tasks you with building shelter to survive nature’s most dangerous elements, all while digging deeper into the planet’s surface.

The Bedrock Edition update lets Switch players connect to friends on Xbox, PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and even VR platforms. You’ll also be able to earn Xbox Gamerscore for any achievements you earn in Minecraft on Switch, and you can purchase additional skins or maps from the game’s marketplace.

Stardew Valley

Few indie games have ever been as successful as Eric Barone’s Stardew Valley. The first-time developer spent five years creating a spiritual successor to the farming RPG Harvest Moon, and when he finally completed the game, what he had made was even more impressive than its influences. Mixing classic farming mechanics with exploration, relationships, and even some combat, Stardew Valley is much more ambitious than its 16-bit visuals indicate.

It also happens to be one of the best Nintendo Switch games to play in handheld mode during commutes, as there is always something you can do to pass the time. Whether you’re interested in fishing, finding a husband or wife, or mining for minerals, it’s possible in Stardew Valley, and you can just feel the love that went into the game’s development.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

The first traditional entry in the series to hit Nintendo Switch, Fire Emblem: Three Houses manages to improve just about every element, ranging from combat to character development. Taking a page out of the Path of Radiance playbook, the game stars a mercenary-turned-professor rather than the endless number of princes we’ve seen in other games. It’s your responsibility to pick one of the titular three houses and train them, building relationships and learning about the situations that brought them to the game’s central monastery.

When things pop off, however, the Three Houses is classic Fire Emblem game goodness. Turn-based strategy combat has rarely been this polished, providing you with numerous options in how you approach any scenario based on the way you have developed your roster. Special “Combat Arts” and the new Battalion system are two more tools in your chest, and the normal difficulty strikes a balance between challenging and accessible.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

When you think of Mario and his pals, the first thought that comes to your mind probably isn’t likely “XCOM.” It’s even less likely that you’ll want to add Ubisoft’s crazy Rabbids into the mix — but that’s exactly what the French company did with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

Combining the fun of exploring different Mushroom Kingdom levels with the tactical combat of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the game is unlike anything else on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s genuinely challenging without ever becoming stressful.

In 2018, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle received a Donkey Kong-themed DLC that adds Nintendo’s giant gorilla as a playable character, along with a new set of campaign levels.

 Read our full Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle review

Into the Breach

Into the Breach Review

Into the Breach is a Pacific Rim-themed turn-based tactics game played on an eight-by-eight grid with changing environments. It comes from the same developer who brought us FTL: Faster Than Light, a roguelike spaceship sim that’s a critical hit in the gaming community.

You’ll spearhead a three-person mech squad and save cities from inbound groups of monsters. The Into the Breach‘s gameplay doesn’t center around walking up and directly attacking your opponents. On the contrary, you’ll have to be creative in your strategy if you want to walk away from levels still alive (though you will die… a lot.)

Read our full Into The Breach review

Super Mario Maker 2

The original Super Mario Maker was one of the best games on the Wii U and practically defined the system before also making its move to the 3DS. With Super Mario Maker 2, Nintendo has improved the level-creating formula with new items and tricks like sloping platforms. Players have quickly embraced the game and have created some truly dastardly and innovative courses.

Though the Switch doesn’t include a stylus, you can purchase capacitive styluses for very little cash to make designing easier in handheld mode. If you’re more in the mood to play levels than make them, the new story mode is perfect. Filled with Nintendo-designed courses that are far weirder and more puzzle-based than traditional Mario levels, it’s the ideal opportunity to learn just what is possible in Super Mario Maker 2.

Read our full Super Mario Maker 2 review

Yoshi’s Crafted World

Yoshi's Crafted World review

Yoshi’s Crafted World follows in the tradition of previous Yoshi platformers. Yoshi can swallow enemies, turn them into eggs, and use said eggs to capture collectibles and take out other enemies. Where i