The best Nintendo Switch games

While not a graphical powerhouse, style shines through in the best Nintendo Switch games.

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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.

The best Nintendo games for Switch

The best role playing games for Switch

The best indie games for Switch

The best retro collections for Switch

The best Nintendo games for the Nintendo Switch

Nintendo’s first-party games are legendary for their quality, and often take advantage of their respective consoles better than most third-party titles. The Switch has no shortage of games designed by Nintendo, and most of them rank amongst the best this system has to offer.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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A flagship series for Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild helped sell the Switch when it launched in 2017. Even in 2023, 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.

Luigi’s Mansion 3

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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.     

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

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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.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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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—definitely one of the best Switch games for kids.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

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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.

The best role playing games for the Nintendo Switch

Role playing games have been a popular genre on Nintendo systems since the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games were released in the 1980s. The Switch is home to newer entries in those series along many others. If you’re the type of gamer who likes to get lost in lore, these are the games you should check out fitst.

Octopath Traveler II

Octopath Traveler II

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Octopath Traveler II builds on the success of the original title with an even grander story while maintaining everything people loved about the original title. Its turn-based battle system stays engaging thanks to a plethora of different spells, weapon types, and character classes. The sprites for both enemies and player characters are smooth and gorgeous, evoking the 16-bit 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. Octopath Traveler II differentiates itself from most JRPGS by giving equal weight to eight individual stories that inevitably intertwine in continually interesting ways. While the game is just as lovely in handheld, your big screen will really allow you to savor the details.

Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age

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Square Enix had its work cut out for it to bring the latest Dragon Quest game to the Nintendo Switch, but all that effort paid off. The beautiful, cell-shaded turn-based JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) never overstays its welcome, which is quite something considering its 100+ hour campaign. Quality of life improvements like increasing your battle speed and a tactical skill progression system will keep you engaged as the game’s story unfolds before you. A big part of what makes the Dragon Quest series special is its pacing; each section of Dragon Quest XI plays out like one story in a fantasy anthology. The characters in your party change over the course of the game, and you’re rewarded for doing optional side quests with additional backstory for each. As if that wasn’t enough, a 16-bit version of this game is also available on the same cartridge, so you can have a truly old school JRPG experience with you on the go.

Tales Of Vesperia Definitive Edition

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Tales of Vesperia was the first entry in this long-running JRPG franchise to be released in HD, but this definitive edition adds an extra layer of visual polish that makes it even easier to appreciate. The standout feature of each Tales game is the fast-paced real-time battle system, which relies on constant movement and on-the-fly strategy to master. Special moves are mapped to different button combinations, and you can switch between the characters in your party to suit your play style. Melee characters will attack enemies up close with weapons, magic users can inflict damage from afar, healers will keep the rest of the party fighting fit, and so on. This version of Tales of Vesperia earns the “definitive” distinction by including characters and items previously exclusive to the Japanese version of the game, as well as improved graphics.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition

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There are three entries in the Xenoblade Chronicles series available on Nintendo Switch, but this HD remastering of the first title is the place to start. The game takes place on the Bionis, a giant biological warrior engaged in an all-out war with the Mechonis, a technological rival. As you progress through the massive open-world game, you’ll scale the bionis to discover why the two warriors were fighting in the first place. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition will awe you with its sheer scale, with huge environments that don’t require you to go through multiple loading zones. While the game’s story is great on its own, the Definitive Edition features an additional chapter that fills in some plot holes. By the end of the adventure you’ll be happy there are two more games that continue the story even further.

Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster

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Both of the games included in this collection were relatively obscure upon their original release on the Nintendo Gamecube in the mid 2000s, but they’re JRPG gems well worth revisiting. The calling card of the Baten Kaitos game is, well, its card-based battle system. As battles progress, you’ll receive different cards, which allow you to perform actions (attacking, using spells, etc.) and use items. It’s up to you to build your deck so as not to be at the mercy of a lucky opening hand. Bandai Namco Entertainment did a great job overhauling the visuals of both games, which is great because the unique areas really benefited from the extra polish. Some may quibble with the fact that the original voice acting, which has admittedly aged poorly given the production value in games today, was left in-tact, but it has a sort of period-piece charm. There are a lot of excellent role playing games on the Nintendo Switch, but the Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster is well worth a look.

Star Ocean The Second Story R

Star Ocean The Second Story R

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Square Enix hit it out of the park with its HD2D remaster of the second Star Ocean title, which first debuted in the mid 1990s on the original PlayStation. The lovingly recrafted game improves not only the game’s graphics, but also includes hours of voiced dialogue, an updated battle system, and quality of life improvements like auto saving. The story picks up years after the original Star Ocean and centers on the story of Claude Kenny, the son of the first game’s protagonist. Over the course of a roughly 40 hour adventure Claude and a cast of diverse characters that you can recurit uncover literal mysteries of the universe and seek to save billions of people in the process. The story remains engaging throughout, with solid pacing and enough unexpected twists to keep you on your toes. Optional sequences allow you to get closer to certain characters, which impacts the post-credits sequences—there are 99 of these vignettes, and you can unlock them all by replaying the game and making different choices. In an era where many game remasters are simply an nicer coat of paint on the original title, Square Enix went above and beyond to make Star Ocean: The Second Story R stand toe-to-toe with titles released this year.

The best indie games for the Nintendo Switch

Independent studios have done a fantastic job supporting the Nintendo Switch, and filling out its library with ttiles that can stand toe-to-toe with games released by gigantic studios. Some of the system’s best indie games are downloadable only, which means you should be sure to keep a Nintendo Switch eShop card on-hand so you can pick them up.

GRIS

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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.

Tunic

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With Tunic, developer Finji managed to create the ultimate homage to top-down Legend of Zelda games while creating a unique, vibey game that can hold its own. While this is primarily an action game, much of Tunic’s fun comes from solving puzzles and traversing the mysterious environment. As you progress, you’ll begin to fill out a manual reminiscent of the ones that came with video games in the 1990s. The game relies on environmental storytelling to help you intuit how to solve problems rather than offering up a lengthy tutorial. There’s no voice acting and limited text—some of which is in an original language. There’s nothing quite like Tunic on the Nintendo Switch, and its ability to distill the best elements of classic games with some modern sensibilities makes it well worth trying.

Sea of Stars

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Sea of Stars is the Japanese role playing games gamers have been clamoring for since Chrono Trigger was released on the Super Nintendo in the mid 1990s. In fact, the same compsor (Yasunori Mitsuda) worked on the music for both titles. What sets Sea of Stars apart from most of the other indie JRPGs on the Switch is the sheer attention to detail. Its graphics pop, its story is compelling, and the game never feels like it’s overstayed its welcome. While Sea of Stars’ influences are clear, the game’s developers made quality of life tweaks that separate it from titles released in the original 16-bit era. Deaths don’t feel punishing, movement feels more fluid, and the game’s controls are smooth. Sea of Stars is a special game, and it’s earned its place among the best indie games released on any platform.

Fashion Police Squad

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Fashion Police Squad is what you get if Doom was less about demons and more about denim. The colorful first-person shooter puts you in the shoes of a police officer who’s hunting down unfashionable people and upgrading their wardrobe with a belt whip, sewing gun, and assortment of other weapons. Making a lighthearted shooter is difficult, but developer No More Robots struck the right balance between gameplay and style. Fashion Police Squad feels like it belongs in the Sega Dreamcast’s library due to the sheer originality of its concept, its frantic-but-fun gameplay, and genuinely funny sense of humor. While the game is lighthearted, it still requires the same skills as any first-person shooter, so don’t expect a cakewalk.

The best retro collections for the Nintendo Switch

A big part of the Nintendo Switch’s appeal is its extremely deep library, which includes more than just the latest games. Retro game buffs, or those who want to learn more about the best games of yesteryear, are well served by the Nintendo Switch thanks to a plethora of collections available the system. Retro game collections are a bundle of several titles from the same series or franchise on a single cartridge. Having a few retro game collections in your Switch library will help you relive some of gaming’s previous glory days on a modern system.

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection

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Mega Man’s Battle Network Legacy Collection is a one-stop-shop of playing the first six games in the series, which were all released on the Game Boy Advance in the early to mid 2000s. Unlike traditional Mega Man games, the Battle Network series is more than an average platformer. Battles take place on a grid system, and incorporate strategy and light RPG elements. Outside of battle, you’ll control a character who can walk around freely, advance the story, and “jack in” to computer terminals computers to engage in battles. Fans of the original Mega Man series shouldn’t expect more of the same from this game, but the Battle Network Legacy Collection lets players experience one of the franchise’s most successful spin off series.

Sonic Origins Plus

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Sega has replackaged early titles in the Sonic The Hedgehog series a number of times, but Origins Plus is a worthwhile pickup even if you have an earlier collection. This collection contains the first four Sonic The Hedgehog games and allows you to play them in their original 4:3 aspect ratio or newly remastered in widescreen. Quality of life improvements from earlier collections—like the ability to spin dash in the original entry—are present. Additionally, Sega has included new modes and the option to play as different characters in the original games. We’re grateful Sega allows you to switch between the original and remastered versions of these games for the sake of preserving the classics while tastefully modernizing them, too.

Collection of Mana

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The Collection of Mana is another important game for fans of JRPGs who want to bone up on some classics. This collection contains Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy: Legend, and crucially Trials of Mana. That final title went unreleased in the United States for over 20 years, but is finally accessible through this game—it was also remastered as a standalone title a few years later. These games are well-loved because of their action RPG mechanics, charming stories, graphics, and in some cases local multiplayer. If you find turn-based role playing games boring, or want to find the missing links between Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, you’ll find it here.

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Bundle

Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Bundle

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The first six Final Fantasy games are responsible for keeping Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) afloat and popularizing JRPGs the world over, and they’re essential for fans of the genre. The Pixel Remaster collection features these games with easier-to-read text, updated translations, and tweaked visuals. These games retain their pixelated iconic look, but sport a widescreen aspect ratio. Other quality of life improvements, like the ability to fast-forward through battles makes level grinding a lot more manageable. Gamers returning to these games for the first time in 30 years will feel immediately at home playing these titles, while those who’re new to the franchise won’t feel lost. This collection wasn’t available on the Nintendo Switch for a long time, but we’re very pleased it’s finally come.

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Nicholas Ware

Contributor, Reviews

Nicholas Ware was born and raised in Montgomery, Ala., but has since spent time in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, California, and Japan. At PopSci, he contributes reviews and round-ups focusing on tech, audio/video products, and video games. While much of his free time is spent enjoying that realm, his outside interests include professional wrestling and improv comedy and he has attended the two biggest wrestling shows in the world: WrestleMania in the United States and Wrestle Kingdom in Japan. Most of his career has combined freelance writing with being an educator and he has taught at nearly every level from elementary school to university as well as supplemental education/tutoring.