This article was last updated by Digital Trends’ contributor Cody Perez on 5/7/2020.
The Nintendo Switch is having a good year. 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 Christmas 2019 adopters a healthy diet of new titles to enjoy.
Ports of already existing gems like Doom cover the first-person shooter genre, whereas the newly completed Kentucky Route Zero has something for those who like to settle down with a classic point-and-click adventure.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The long-awaited Animal Crossing: New Horizons is finally here, 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.
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 like the art museum upgrade, New Horizons is certain to stick around for a while.
Read our full Animal Crossing: New Horizons review
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.
My Friend Pedro
What do you get when you combine the precision-shot action of Hotline Miami, the acrobatics of Trials, and the slow-motion bullet time effect from the Max Payne series? If that formula also includes one sentient banana, then you are either tripping on acid or playing My Friend Pedro. Split across several creative and perplexing levels, your goal is simple: kill everyone and reach the exit. That’s easier said than done, of course, especially when turrets are locking onto your position to deliver a torrential downpour of bullets.
My Friend Pedro is the perfect game to play in the Switch’s handheld mode, too, because a level typically only takes a few minutes to complete. A surreal story gradually unravels as you progress, and special vehicular sections offer a nice burst of all-out action that differs from the methodical play of the rest of the game.
Exit the Gungeon
Developed by the action masters at Dodge Roll, Exit the Gungeon is a full sequel to Enter the Gungeon, but it doesn’t merely add more levels to the existing game structure. Instead, it’s a “dungeon climber” that tasks players with escaping and moving upward as they blast away at enemies in shifting rooms and find a variety of unique weapons.
The new format hasn’t changed the difficulty or bullet hell inspiration in tricky shooting segments, nor has it changed the game’s goofy characters and sense of humor. It may not be exactly what Enter the Gungeon players expected, but being surprised isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to sequels.
Another Devolver Digital title, Katana Zero, translates Hotline Miami‘s one-hit pace to a side-scrolling plane, while implementing time mechanics that feel like an extension of Superhot. Playing as a samurai in a layered neo-noir storyline, you go on missions to hunt down high-value targets. Levels are split into rooms of varying sizes, with each one feeling like an action-oriented puzzle. Swift and incredibly stylish combat make each room completion feel like a wondrous feat.
In addition to addictive gameplay, Katana Zero has a well-written story, complete with a bevy of twists that are as brilliantly played as entertaining.
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
Ape Out is a top-down kill fest starring an ape that makes humans explode into a pile of blood-soaked limbs. The latest game from Devolver Digital is simplistic but delightful. In each of the game’s four chapters, you’re tasked with navigating an ape from captivity to freedom. The road to freedom is paved with gun-wielding guards that will shoot rather than ask questions. Thankfully, you can turn every guard into mush by shoving them, or you can use them as body shields before tossing them aside.
Ape Out maintains an addictive rhythm thanks to its jazzy soundtrack that interacts with what is happening on screen. Snare drums beat continuously, picking up the pace when in danger, and cymbals crash to mark the deaths of enemies. Ape Out is challenging but never feels unfair. Randomization keeps each successive retry feel as intense as the last.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
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 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.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Phoenix Wright is a beloved series of visual novel adventures that found a dedicated following on Nintendo handhelds. Now the Ace Attorney Trilogy has found new life on consoles, including the Nintendo Switch. The Ace Attorney Trilogy is one of the best visual novel series’ of all time and arguably one of the best video game trilogies period.
Playing as the titular defense attorney, you work your way through a series of courtroom cases. Gameplay revolves largely around narrative choices that come from collecting and examining evidence and interviewing witnesses. Thanks to great writing, a cast of interesting characters, and a well-made anime art style, Phoenix Wright is consistently gripping.
To the Moon
A difficult one to place, To the Moon is a hallmark in interactive storytelling. It’s equal parts a 16-bit walking simulator, puzzle, and adventure game. Initially built in the classic RPG Maker engine and released in 2011, To the Moon has been rebuilt in Unity to make the jump to the Nintendo Switch.
Without battles or a party system, To the Moon takes you on a journey that is peaceful yet reflective. It’s all about absorbing the world around you and letting its small cast of characters push you to its tear-jerking conclusion. It’s difficult to paint the praises of this game without giving too much away, but with a sequel having released in 2017 and an animated film on the horizon, you’ll just have to trust us that To the Moon is worth your attention.
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
The Nintendo Switch game that could become your sole obsession, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a fighter 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. With more fighters to come in the second Fighters Pass, the fun isn’t going to stop anytime soon.
Read our full Super Smash Bros. Ultimate review
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the best games based on the phenomenal manga and anime series. Granted, that wasn’t a tough feat for Arc System Works to accomplish given the competition, but FighterZ is genuinely fantastic in both its gameplay and striking art style. Fights are tag-team style, with each player picking three characters to bring to the battlefield.
The fighting gameplay is ridiculously fast, with an emphasis on building combos and strategically knowing when to swap characters. It’s an easy game to jump in and play, and it looks gorgeous in action. You don’t have to be a Dragon Ball Z fan to enjoy this wonderfully made fighter (though it helps for sure). FighterZ is one of the best traditional fighting games on Switch.
Read our full Dragon Ball FighterZ review
The Nintendo Switch is home to great games in a wide variety of genres, but it’s pretty lacking when it comes to first-person shooters. Blizzard helped to address this with its port of Overwatch to the system in late 2019, bringing the game’s entire roster of characters and maps to a portable console for the first time. Classics like McCree and Winston maintain the same moves, and there is even a motion control option for those less accustomed to playing with analog sticks.
Because the Switch is less powerful than other systems, Overwatch doesn’t run quite as smoothly as it does on Xbox One or PS4, but it’s still a perfectly playable version of one of the best shooters ever made. You even get some bonuses for linking your Blizzard account if you had been playing on a different system before.
Read our full Overwatch review
Doom is the greatest portable first-person shooter of all time. No, the bar for that title isn’t too high, but the 2016 Doom reboot that wowed us for its fast-paced action, precise shooting mechanics, and engaging level design. Surprisingly, it didn’t miss a step when ported to the less powerful Nintendo Switch. Doom runs like a charm on Switch, even on the go.
If you haven’t played it, Doom‘s campaign is a chaotic and action-packed romp across the fiery terrain of Mars populated with bloodthirsty enemies. On the Nintendo Switch, the game remains one of the best shooters in years. The fact that the incredibly quick gameplay runs so smoothly in handheld mode makes Doom all the more impressive. Plus, it’s only a matter of time until its highly praised sequel lands on Switch as well.
Read our full Doom review
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, the game 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
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 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 it differs is scope. Each level is longer than the traditional Mario platformer, and the set pieces are adorably crafted out of cardboard and paper. Levels have more depth, too, meaning that Yoshi periodically travels into the backdrop and routinely interacts with objects both far away and close to the player.
It’s a leisurely platforming experience that focuses heavily on uncovering all of the many secrets scattered throughout each level. Cute costumes let Yoshi turn into a cow or truck or even a juice box. Local co-op lets two Yoshis scour the levels together, making it a great choice for parents who want to play with their youngsters.
Super Mario Odyssey
Not since Super Mario 64 came out more than two decades ago have we seen a Mario game as fun and whimsical as Super Mario Odyssey. Taking place across several unique kingdoms, Mario’s adventure to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser and his gang of wedding planners offers something unexpected at practically every turn. From zippers that open up to reveal secrets in walls to retro-style 2D platforming sections, the game is always only a few minutes away from amazing you with something.
Read our full Super Mario Odyssey review
Dragon Quest Builders 2
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is quietly one of the most profound and rewarding games on Switch. Like the quirky original, Builders 2 combines Minecraft-style building with action RPG combat and riveting exploration. The sequel expands on everything the original did right, virtually perfecting the formula. Building your town from scratch is an enthralling experience, but defending that town and venturing out to new areas gives Builders 2 a purpose-driven sense of adventure that not all sandbox games achieve.
Charming and cutesy, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is an approachable RPG that slowly reveals its many layers the more you build and explore.
Octopath Traveler is quite possibly the prettiest game on Switch. The Square Enix-developed retro RPG uses a mix of high definition 2D sprites and 3D polygons to create an aesthetic that honestly looks like it’s jumping off the screen. While Octopath Traveler‘s eight standalone short stories leave much to be desired, the turn-based combat system is exquisite.
During random battles, you’re tasked with finding enemy weaknesses to disable their shields, along with managing your boost points, which allow you to attack multiple times with one character in a single turn. The combat system winds up making strategy more important than grinding, a rarity within the turn-based RPG genre. If you’re even minimally interested in RPGs, Octopath Traveler‘s combat and aesthetic is worth the lengthy 50-plus hour journey.
The Switch has very few quality traditional horror games, but if you want to get spooked out and stressed at the same time, Darkest Dungeon is the perfect dungeon crawler for you. The turn-based dungeon crawler has a unique stress level system that causes afflictions to your party the deeper you wade into each dungeon.
Sometimes these afflictions can be good, but in most cases, the more you push your explorers, the more they begin to lose their grip on reality. It’s a thoroughly enthralling mechanic made even better by the dreary Lovecraftian aesthetic.
It’s available on just about everything at this point, but if you haven’t picked it up yet, Darkest Dungeon is one of the best Nintendo Switch games to play in handheld mode.
Undertale is not what it seems. The heralded and emotional indie looks like an old school JRPG with blocky visuals, minimalist character models, and a rudimentary combat system. Then you start talking to the monsters in the world, and everything changes. You begin to see the strange underworld you’re trapped in a bit differently, and you begin to wonder what Undertale is all about.
The beauty of Undertale is in its writing. Often funny with undertones of solemn sadness, the conversations you have with the monsters around you will stick with you. As with other indie games on this list, Undertale‘s top-down look makes it a perfect game to play in handheld mode on Switch.
Pokémon Sword and Shield
The Nintendo Switch got the Pokémon: Let’s Go games in 2018, which remade Pokémon Yellow in a modern engine and with streamlined gameplay that would be familiar to Pokémon Go players. It wasn’t a full-fledged role-playing game, however, and it would be another year before Game Freak deliver that in the form of Pokémon Sword and Shield.
The two games include hundreds of monsters, gorgeous environments, the new Dynamax transformation type, and plenty of options for playing with your friends. It’s also the first mainline Pokémon role-playing game to release only for a home console and looks just as gorgeous on a television as it does in handheld mode.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 – Definitive Edition
With Dungeons & Dragons suddenly feeling more popular than ever before, having a solid RPG in your pocket for long commutes and lazy days on the sofa is pure bliss. Technically a couple of years old now, 2019 saw Larian Studio’s utterly humongous role-playing game leap to the small screen. The power of the Nintendo Switch doesn’t leave it looking quite so beautiful as the other platforms you’ll find this game on, but you’ll be spinning its tall tales all the same.
At its core, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a vast and varied RPG. Just as you’re free to play as one of its many preset characters in the main story, you’re free to make your own if you’re OK missing out on some of the character-specific fables the developers wove deep into the lore. That means current or past tabletop RPG original characters can come for the ride, or you can make something entirely new for the journey. Once you’re off, you’re free to explore its deep world of rich, overarching lore, recruit new characters, and utilize their skills in turn-based tactical battles along the way.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled
You can only play Mario Kart games on Nintendo systems, but after you’ve looped around Rainbow Road about 364 times, you might be looking to play a different take on the genre. That’s where Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled comes in. A remade version of the original PlayStation game, it includes bonus content from Crash Nitro Kart as well as online multiplayer for the most skilled players.
Better yet, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled has added additional content via post-launch updates, and you can make your kart and racer your own with skins and other items.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
The original Wii U version of Mario Kart 8 is one of the best games in the entire series, with inventive, gravity-defying courses, beautiful graphics, and a surprisingly competent online multiplayer mode. The game also launched with a Battle mode that did away with open-ended maps in favor of more race-oriented ones, rendering the style significantly less fun than it was in games like Mario Kart 64.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings with it not only a revamped Battle mode but also every single character and map released as downloadable content — for the Wii U version. A few new characters, like the Inkling Boy and Inkling Girl from Splatoon, also join the fun this time around. In addition to using the Joy-Con Grip and Switch Pro Controller to race, each player can also use one Joy-Con, and up to eight Switch owners can connect their systems for a local multiplayer party, even if they’re on the go.
Read our full Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review
No one could’ve predicted Rocket League‘s runaway success. After all, its premise — soccer with cars — seemed like an odd experiment that would be cool to try out, but would likely fizzle shortly thereafter. Instead, Rocket League became an instant success when it launched in 2015. It has remained popular ever since, and the Switch version offers perhaps the greatest asset of all: Portability.
Though you need to be connected to Wi-Fi to experience Rocket League how it’s meant to be played, with broadband access popping up on transits, in businesses, and elsewhere, it’s not so much of a problem to find a place to get an exciting match in on Switch. Couple that with the fact that Switch users are playing with both Xbox One and PC user bases, and you’re unlikely ever to have a hard time finding a game. Plus, the Switch version has Nintendo-themed vehicles and decorations. Pretty cool, right?
- The best Nintendo Switch exclusives (August 2020)
- Best role-playing games for the Switch
- The best Nintendo Switch games for kids
- The best video games for kids
- The best multiplayer games on Nintendo Switch (August 2020)