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Published Oct. 9, 2021

The Nintendo Switch is undoubtedly a less powerful games machine than the PS5, Xbox Series S/X, or a top-of-the-line gaming PC. But for Nintendo, power has never really been the point. The Switch does not lack visual innovation or artistic flourishes necessary to create inarguably beautiful games whose visuals fully justify playing them on a really big-screen TV. From 2.5D to watercolors, living animation to sci-fi worlds, the Nintendo Switch can easily be a feast for the eyes. While the recently previewed Nintendo Switch OLED is upping the aesthetics ante for handheld gaming, here are the best Nintendo Switch games that justify playing on your big screen to show off what creativity can do.

How we selected the best Nintendo Switch games

We scoured expert opinions and user experiences, asked friends and family, and weighed our own play and aesthetic senses to bring you a list of games that really showcase what the Switch can do in terms of graphics and gameplay. On top of that, they’re all extremely fun. We intentionally showcased as wide a breadth of genres as possible and included both AAA big-budget titles and some smaller more indie fare.

What to consider when picking Switch games for graphics

Graphics are inherently subjective. While technical shortcomings such as broken polygons or low-resolution textures are clear indicators of “poor graphics,” ultimately what is “good” comes down to taste. You won’t find the same kind of photorealistic visuals you’ll get from next-gen consoles like the PS5 or the Xbox Series X. Rather, the best Nintendo Switch games embrace innovative visual styles to showcase beauty that can’t be measured in polygon counts or resolution. 

What world do you want to visit? 

Very few games take place in “our reality,” so the world you want to visit in a game will determine the style you encounter. Classic Nintendo mascot Mario has a bright, colorful, cartoony world that defined gaming for an entire generation of ’80s and ’90s kids. Those worlds absolutely still are present on the Nintendo Switch, but gaming has matured with its audience, and dark sci-fi worlds, swirling vortexes of abstract color, classic fantasy touchstones, and high-detail pixel art coexist alongside Nintendo’s signature aesthetic.

But aren’t they just as nice-looking in handheld mode? 

Nintendo Switch’s portability is one of its main selling points. The ability to game at home or on the go is a bonus that simply can’t be matched by competitors. However, some games are, frankly, not designed for the relatively puny 6.2-inch 720p LCD screen. Text-heavy games or ports of existing PC/console games can often squish HUDs and text into nearly indecipherably small spaces when played in handheld mode. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, for example, is a much less pleasant experience on the go if you’re interested in reading all the text and learning the world’s lore. 

What are the additional benefits of playing on the television? 

In addition to sometimes having clearer text and displays, the Switch charges in docked mode when attached to a TV. Even newer-generation Switches rarely last more than a half-dozen hours before requiring a charge. Additionally, some games drain the Switch’s battery more than others and are best played in docked mode for that reason. The other solution, one which smartphone users long embraced, is a portable battery pack. 

The best Nintendo Switch games for graphics: Reviews & Recommendations

The Switch offers something for everyone. The selection below includes some of its stand-out offerings but is far from an exhaustive list. The best Nintendo Switch games will be made with a particular player in mind. However, these games have certainly impressed a large swath of gamers already. 

Best Zelda game for Switch: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Standard-Bearer

Breath of the Wild launched with the Switch and nearly four years later is still lauded for its beauty. Amazon

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Why it made the cut: Zelda games are simply some of the greatest gaming experiences available and have been for the last 35 years. The most recent Zelda game for Nintendo Switch not only brings incredible gameplay and a long, involved quest, but it also has some incredible painterly graphics that really shine on a big screen. 

Features:

  • Long, involved quest
  • Hundreds of items and weapons to collect
  • Go anywhere, as nearly every surface is climbable
  • DLC adds extra dungeons and items
  • Playtime can easily reach 80 hours
ProsCons
A huge world to exploreControls can take getting used to
Incredible painterly fantasy visuals that immerse the player Weapons breaking is initially frustrating
Involved, challenging combat featuring variations on both ranged and melee    Easy to get sidetracked

A flagship series for Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild helped sell the Switch when it launched in 2017. Even in 2021, its graphics still impress. The expansive vistas and intricate boss designs set the tone for a fantasy adventure that players find highly addictive. Additionally, the ability to climb on nearly every surface in the game means that if a little mountaineering feels like it should go on the agenda, it can, giving the player an opportunity to appreciate a graphics style that is part anime, part fairy tale, and part coloring book. A truly beautiful game that you’ll want to play before the recently announced sequel hits shelves.

Best Switch game for adults: Octopath Traveler

New School Old School

Harkening back to the sprite-based SNES and Genesis RPHs of the ’90s, but with beautiful modern twists, this feels like a game from futures past. Amazon

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Why it made the cut: Presented as a modern game if the aesthetics of the past were never dropped, Octopath Traveler continues that “retro-future” vibe in its gameplay, creating a lot of nostalgia for adult players who remember the classic 16-bit Japanese-style RPGs of their youth like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger.

Features:

  • Eight-part quest with multiple lead characters
  • “HD-2D” graphics style with sprites on 3D backgrounds
  • Beautiful spell and special attack effects
  • Quality music, as expected of a Square Enix game
  • Classic battle mechanics mixed with some new ideas
ProsCons
A beautiful aesthetic that will be reused in the upcoming Dragon Quest III remakeJ-RPGs require a lot of grinding for experience, which can annoy some players
Classic mechanics that will harken adult players back to their youthSome of the eight paths are less interesting than others
Some memorable characters and great dialogue 

Japanese-style narrative-driven RPGs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea due to the long-time requirements and often grindy gameplay, but those hours sure do go down smoother with a beautifully realized game world, as the Final Fantasy series has proven. Octopath Traveler, from the same game studio, Square Enix, offers old-school gameplay with close-to-traditional RPG battles and a pretty standard story, but the plot isn’t the only thing that is pretty. The sprites for both enemies and player characters are smooth and gorgeous, evoking a simpler gaming era, but with some wonderful scaling and twisting bells and whistles to keep them from seeming staid. Lighting and spell effects, focus shifts, and particularly the tapestry-esque hues employed in the game’s color palette become a character unto themselves. While the game is just as lovely in handheld, your big screen will really allow you to savor the details.

Best Mario game for Switch: Luigi’s Mansion 3

Breakfast Cereal In Game Form

Luigi’s Mansion is buttery-smooth, full of bright, bouncing characters and excellent transition and transparency effects. Amazon

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Why it made the cut: An unexpected choice for the best Mario game for Switch, Luigi’s Mansion 3 gets a slight edge over the excellent and also gorgeous Super Mario Odyssey by featuring fun lighting, transition, and transparency effects in its spooktacular setting.

Features:

  • Ghost-hunting puzzle-adventure hybrid gameplay
  • Co-op and competitive multiplayer modes
  • Cute, cartoony characters with excellent transparency effects to give a fun, spooky look
  • Silly, kid-friendly story that never takes itself too seriously
  • DLC offers additional content including minigames and new multiplayer modes
ProsCons
Lots of different gameplay types from mini-games to exploration keeps the adventure fresh-feelingMain quest is somewhat short
Great cartoony visualsIf you’re not into multiplayer, you will miss out on much of the content
Silly humor is enjoyable for all ages

Luigi’s Mansion is an under-appreciated franchise for Nintendo, just as the taller, more slender Mario brother doesn’t get the love he deserves. While the puzzles and action of his franchise can be an acquired taste, there’s no question that the graphics taste delicious, like cloying, artificial fruit flavors in 2-percent milk. Luigi’s Mansion 3’s graphics style espouses the most cartoony elements of Nintendo’s Mario aesthetic, with characters being pushed and pulled by supernatural (and super-suction) forces. Incredible transition and transparency effects give the Scooby Doo-esque g-g-g-g-ghosts a really c-c-c-c-cool look. Best enjoyed sitting cross-legged on the floor in underoos, this is one of the best Mario games for Switch by being different from the rest.     

Best indie game for Switch: GRIS

A Singular Aesthetic With Wonder

A puzzle platformer that looks like your favorite storybook, GRIS offers a short but unforgettable journey that lingers lovingly in the eyes. Amazon

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Why it made the cut: Short but utterly memorable, GRIS is poetry in motion. The experience is like playing an arthouse animated film. You’ll barely be able to believe you’re playing pixels.

Features:

  • Single-player platformer
  • Seven supported languages
  • Rich colors
  • Detailed information
  • Wistful, fable-like storyline
ProsCons
Short but utterly memorable, GRIS is poetry in motionOnly about 5-hours long
Like playing an arthouse animated filmGameplay lacks the depth of exploration platformers like Hollow Knight
You’ll barely be able to believe you’re playing pixels

The Nintendo Switch has been a boon to indie game developers. Tons of previously PC-bound titles made by small teams with shorter gameplay times have performed exceedingly well as download-only titles for the Switch. It has given gamers an alternative to Nintendo’s stream of AAA-budget dozens-of-hours-long mainline franchises. GRIS rises above the rest with a moving picture-book design that may be the best Switch art to date. The story of a girl and her magical dress (but much more than that, to not spoil anything), GRIS scales and moves like an animated film more than a videogame, with colors that are simultaneously luxurious, sad, and a little ominous. It’s the storybook combo that draws young and old alike to the works of Hans Christen Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and the 1001 Arabian Nights. Of all the games in this list, GRIS may be the one that is as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.

Best Switch racing game: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Frantic, Fun, and Fanciful

A virtual tour of Mario’s world, as well as some other key Nintendo franchises, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the latest in the long-running racing series and delivers tight, competitive, but balanced gameplay with fun worlds full of eye-popping detail and easter eggs. Nintendo

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Why it made the cut: Everyone’s party favorite, the Wii U title Mario Kart 8 has been updated and expanded for Switch. Featuring great course design and tight controls with multiple inputs, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the most accessible Nintendo Switch games for all ages and skill levels, with great balancing mechanics.

Features:

  • 42 characters from Mario and other Nintendo franchises
  • 48 courses including those inspired by Zelda and Excitebike
  • Up to 12 simultaneous players with online play (8 with local wireless play, 4 on a single console)
  • Play with a single Joy-Con controller
  • Wheel controller accessory available separately
ProsCons
Beautiful renditions of all the most popular Nintendo charactersShines in multiplayer, while single-player can be a less-fun grind
Quick and fun gameplay sessions that don’t wear out their welcomeStill feels like it could do with more courses, as many of them come from previous games
Balancing mechanics to help less-skilled players improve their results

A love letter to the family-friendly Nintendo franchise that has persisted for generations, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an updated and improved version of the Wii U Mario Kart 8, and features tracks from all the previous iterations of the games, updated with higher-definition graphics that really shine. The characters are big and animated, and the levels include many familiar foes and obstacles from Mario and other Nintendo series. Gameplay is a sophisticated evolution of classic kart racing with drift-boosting and the use of power-ups key to victory. In multiplayer, where Mario Kart 8 Deluxe truly shines, the signature balancing mechanics of the series give stronger power-ups to players that are lagging behind, allowing for some frantic finishes as players jockey for position. Good in single-player but great in multiplayer, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the best and most beautiful games to bust out at a party, family game night, or sleepover.

Best Switch game for kids: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Cute, Chill, and Kind

Infinitely replayable, cute as a button, and full of characters that encourage good characteristics, Animal Crossing: New Horizons continue the unique “be kind to your neighbors” gameplay of this blockbuster series. Animal Crossing

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Why it made the cut: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is just a game that feels nice to play. The adorable homemade-looking style and relaxing, low-impact gameplay charms, with lots of ways to connect with other players in your own home or online.

Features:

  • Collect decorations and items to make your virtual space unique
  • Continual updates bring new content and items
  • Unleash your inner designer with editing options that let you create something that screams you
  • Up to 4 players can play on the same system
  • Visit other players’ spaces with online features (Nintendo Online membership required)
ProsCons
Awesome styleAfter a while, playing can feel like work
Fun characters with big personalities to interact withNot as much fun if you don’t have friends and family playing with you
Neverending gameplay

A series that has gone from cult favorite to big blockbuster, the beauty of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is that it’s entirely inoffensive and impossible to lose. You play simply to live in the space of the game, adding to your virtual home and interacting with your neighbors. The writing and animation make these interactions really fun, with great humor and wordplay sprinkled throughout. There’s nothing here that wouldn’t be appropriate for kids and nothing that wouldn’t appeal to adults. It’s a kid-friendly game that isn’t childish, and it encourages kindness, consideration, and community. Those are lessons kids of any age can afford to learn. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a warm hug and a great, cute way to spend 20-30 minutes a day—a great choice when it comes to Switch games for kids.

Best multiplayer Switch game: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Enter the Arena

Known to get the party started and cause the worst arguments, platformer fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate features the crispest visuals and the biggest and most versatile roster the series has ever seen. Nintendo

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Why it made the cut: A party favorite whose ethos in the Switch generation has been “more is better,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate offers so many choices of who to play and where—looking amazing while doing so—that players will always have something new to try.

Features:

  • 76 playable characters (plus more available via DLC)
  • 104 stages (plus more available via DLC)
  • Stage Builder lets you make your own stages
  • Up to 4 players simultaneously either in-person or online (Nintendo Online membership required to play online)
ProsCons
Massive roster of playable characters and stagesCan be unforgiving for less-practiced players
Stage Builder adds even more varietySome characters are annoying similar to others
Tight unique knock-back gameplayNeeds a Pro Controller to get the best results

Fun for casuals and competitors, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the newest in the genre-defining platform fighting franchise. Featuring characters and stages from not only Nintendo but also Sega, Namco, SNK, Square Enix, and other big game-makers, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the, excuse the repetition, ultimate crossover game. Any player with a deep play history will want to try out the characters that they remember and the frantic, fun, and fierce battles will make them want to improve their skills (and possibly upgrade to the best Nintendo Switch controllers to do so). A bit of a beautiful nostalgia trip as a single-player game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate blooms as a multiplayer game, blowing away the very stiff competition on a system known for great multiplayer gaming. While the game can be intimidating for first-timers against veterans, once you get the Smash bug, you’ll put dozens if not hundreds of hours into your battles.

FAQs

Q: What Nintendo Switch games should I buy?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an easy purchase. It’s not only a beautiful game, it’s also one of the best-reviewed titles of the past decade. Super Mario Odyssey is another charming, cartoony game that features tight controls and fun power-ups, but enough challenges to feel like a real accomplishment when you complete 100 percent of it. Lastly, Hades is a newer indie rougelike that has been a phenomenon with PC players and Switch players alike. While the graphics aren’t so intricate as to demand TV viewing, the colors pop and the animation is silky smooth, complementing gameplay that is engrossing and rewarding. And it only costs $25. 

Q: What Nintendo Switch Mario game is the best?

Super Mario Odyssey is an astoundingly fun continuation of the 3D Mario sub-series begun in the classic Mario 64 25 years ago. Bouncy music and large colorful characters expand and refine the Mario aesthetic, familiar and comforting as a warm hug. Precise controls and challenging content work for young and old alike. Not just top of the best Mario games for Switch, one of the best games on the system, period.

Q: What is Nintendo’s most popular game?

Two titles have dominated the Switch’s sales charts, outselling the rest of the field by more than 10 million units. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, an updated version of the Wii U game, launched just a few weeks after the Switch and has sold over 35 million copies in the subsequent four years. The game gets maximum mileage out of both new and returning courses and has a wonderful sense of speed without ever feeling out of control. Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched at the beginning of the global pandemic and piled up more than 32 million units sold in just over a year. The cute, child’s-picture-book visuals and soothing slow-paced gameplay were a massage for the brains of a stressed-out planet. The simple but instantly memorable characters and their sweet-n-sassy personalities make playing the game feel like visiting friends.

Q: What are the top 10 Nintendo games?

Critical consensus is a slippery thing, but the following Nintendo-produced Switch titles have the most universal acclaim and the fewest detractors: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, Fire Emblem: Three House, Super Mario Maker 2, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Some of these titles may have niche appeal (like the level-building-and-playing Super Mario Maker 2) but all are excellent examples of their respective genres.

The final word on shopping for the best Nintendo Switch games that look great

The Switch’s home-or-handheld choice is often best left to the user and even access. While the Switch doesn’t push polygons like its competitors, it still manages to use innovative design choices to present graphic art that can astound, immerse, and enthrall. From sci-fi militaries to storybook dresses, elastic little brothers to high adventure, the Switch offers worlds that can go wherever you go but can still offer a showstopping graphical experience on your home theater. If you’re looking for games for a slightly younger age group, consider some of the best Switch games for kids.

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