The Nintendo Switch is now over a year and a half old, and it’s going from the strength to strength. Part of its appeal is the unique home-and-away design that lets you play your favorite titles on a big-screen TV when docked or in handheld mode when you’re waiting in line at the post office. It’s especially convenient for commuters or people with busy lifestyles.
The other huge appeal is the games. The Switch saw one of the best first-year libraries in gaming history, and more must-have games are coming out every month. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an action-RPG that will be spoken about for years to come. Splatoon 2 is a more-than-worthy follow-up to the excellent Wii U original. And Super Mario Odyssey is simply one of the best Mario games ever made.
Critics will likely retort, “You just mentioned first-party games!” Yes, because they’re absolutely darling titles. That said, the Switch has gotten plenty of solid second- and third-party games as well, with surprisingly strong ports from both previous and current generations like Bayonetta 2, Diablo III, and Doom.
The system is strong with retro and indie games, too. Hamster, a company that specializes in many arcade-to-console ports, has brought loads of SNK’s classic Neo Geo titles to the system, such as The King of Fighters ’98 and Metal Slug. Nintendo is eking out its own classic pre-NES arcade games, and though a true Virtual Console is still curiously missing from the system the Nintendo Switch Online service includes a library of dozens of NES classics. Meanwhile, indies are extremely well-represented, with games like Hollow Knight, Night in the Woods, Inside, and The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories available on the Switch.
In short, Nintendo Switch is the most compelling console on the market, and it has plenty of excellent games in its catalog. If you want to experience the Joy-Con life, these 18 games are where you should start.
ARMS is Nintendo’s newest take on the fighting game genre. It combines cartoonish aesthetics, sci-fi weapons, and arm-stretching boxing into an accessible, offbeat fighter with a lot of variety. It’s a polished, fun, competitive game that bears more than a passing visual similarity to Splatoon. Though time will tell if ARMS gains any momentum within the esports scene, the game offers plenty of opportunity to swing fists at your friends.
2 Bayonetta 2
Bayonetta 2 is another fantastic game that launched on the wrong system. Years later its initial release, Bayo 2 still stands as one of the best action games out there, and now that it’s been ported from the Wii U to the Switch it can get the attention and devotion it deserves. Tight controls, robust challenge, and plenty of style make this stand out as a pinnacle of action games.</ziffbin>
3 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
The Switch has gotten a reputation as a machine for game ports, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Wii U wasn’t the massive hit the Wii was, but it still had several excellent games that went underappreciated in their time. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of them, a sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns with even more challenge and variety. The Switch version of this game adds Funky Kong Mode, an easier setting and new playable character (Funky Kong himself) that makes the surprisingly brutal platforming feel a little less punishing.</ziffbin>
4 Kirby Star Allies
Kirby games are always fun. Whether they’re the simple platformers like Kirby’s Adventure or weirdly gimmicky experiences like Kirby’s Dream Course, every first-party experience with Nintendo’s pink puff ball has been enjoyable. Kirby Star Allies is no different, with a lighthearted campaign filled with colorful friends and abilities, surprisingly challenging extra modes to unlock, and support for up to four players at once. Get on the Friend Train!</ziffbin>
5 Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Hyrule is in danger again, and Link must save it. That’s been the theme for nearly every Legend of Zelda game, and it’s still the case in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The series’ basic premise and Link/Zelda/Ganon dynamic are present, but nearly everything else is different. The classic Zelda dungeon-exploration structure is replaced by a huge open world that’s filled with destructible weapons, monsters, puzzles, and quests. Breath of the Wild’s scope is one previously unseen in the Zelda series, and Nintendo executes the adventure-filled world with aplomb.
6 Lumines Remastered
Puyo Puyo Tetris is great for classic, competitive block-dropping, but it’s a bit overly perky and anime-ish to really relax to. Lumines Remastered is the ultimate chill-out block-dropper, syncing the mesmerizing pattern matching to dozens of hypnotic electronic and trance tracks. Load it on your Switch, put on your favorite headphones, and space out while you build huge combos.
7 Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Before Minions, there were Rabbids, Ubisoft’s manic, sublingual, noseless horde spawned from Rayman: Raving Rabbids. Then the weird, bug-eyed, rabbit-like creatures caused havoc in their own game series. Now, they’re running around Mario’s stomping grounds in Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. This strategy-RPG combines two cartoonish worlds with satisfyingly deep, XCOM-like gameplay for a very fun and strange experience. It’s a combination of styles that work much, much better than you’d expect.
8 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart 8 stood out as the best-looking Mario Kart game yet when it came out on the Nintendo Wii U. Instead of making a new Mario Kart for the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo brought Mario Kart 8 to its new game system. In the process, Nintendo threw in both previously released DLC packs and made some few welcome changes to its multiplayer options, justifying the game’s full retail price. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the most robust game in the series so far, and with the optional portability of the Switch, it ranks as a must-own title.
9 Mario Tennis Aces
You don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy Nintendo sports games. If a sport has “Mario” in front of it, it’s probably going to be a fun, very unrealistic romp instead of a serious simulation. Mario Tennis Aces is an exciting tennis game not because of any realistic physics, but because of fast, responsive gameplay and strategic mechanics that make matches feel more like rounds in a fighting game than tennis sets.</ziffbin>
10 Nintendo Labo Variety Pack
Labo is a weirder concept than the Switch itself. It’s based around building cardboard “Toy-Cons” in which you place the Switch’s components to let you do new things with them. It’s also surprisingly functional, entertaining, and educational. The Nintendo Labo Variety Kit has all of the parts you need to build several different Toy-Cons like a piano and motorcycle handlebars, and walks you through every step of the process. Just building the Toy-Cons is fascinating, but the Toy-Con Garage mode adds surprisingly robust programming options to let you create your own remote controlled creations.</ziffbin>
11 Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee/Pikachu
We’re so close to getting a completely new, full Pokemon game on a home console for the first time ever. That hasn’t happened yet, but with the Switch out the eighth generation of Pokemon being playable on your TV looks inevitable. Until then, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee and Pikachu offer a taste of what that might be like. This duo of games remake the first-generation Pokemon Yellow, with bright, colorful HD graphics and a new capture mechanic based on Pokemon Go, as well as plenty of trainer battles and turn-based combat for fans of classic Pokemon.</ziffbin>
12 Puyo Puyo Tetris
Practically everyone in North America has heard of Tetris. Far fewer have heard of Puyo Puyo. Both are block-dropping puzzle games, but while Tetris has been Tetris for decades, Puyo Puyo has had many different tweaks and name changes in attempts to appeal to the west. It came out first as Puyo Pop, then received different licensed incarnations, such as Puzzle Fighter and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Now, Puyo Puyo is making its mark here, thanks to Sega and a double-billing with Tetris. The pairing results in a title that’s plump with game modes, unlockables, and solo and multiplayer options.
13 Rocket League
Rocket League is soccer, with remote controlled cars and funny hats. It’s amazing how compelling a game can be when the entire point of it is to use a car to knock a ball into a goal, but Rocket League nails it. Wild physics, colorful visuals, and simple game types you can keep coming back to while challenging friends and strangers make this one of the best pseudo-sports games on the Switch.</ziffbin>
14 Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Platforming excellence comes to the Nintendo Switch courtesy of Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. This downloadable package includes the original Shovel Knight, one of 2014’s top titles, as well as all the previously released DLC including the Plague of Shadows and Specter of Torment campaigns. If you long for some retro, 2D action, Treasure Trove a a game that you should not miss.
15 Splatoon 2
Splatoon on the Wii U surprised gamers with its fresh take on the team-based shooter genre. It was family-friendly, colorful, and most importantly, fun. Nintendo kept updating it with new maps and modes over its lifespan. Splatoon 2 for the Nintendo Switch doesn’t significantly change enough gameplay aspects to really feel like a full-fledged sequel, but it adds a handful of new weapons and modes, as well as overhauled graphics.
16 Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
Street Fighter has been the biggest name in fighting games for decades, and Capcom is proud of that fact. While it really got going with Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection lets you play the original Street Fighter in all of its genre-building glory. And, after you realize how bad that first attempt was, you can play the much better sequels like Super Street Fighter II, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike. You’re looking at a dozen games in this collection, with loads of extra content like soundtracks and sprite data.</ziffbin>
17 Super Bomberman R
Bomberman’s return to console gaming was one of the most surprising moments in the Nintendo’s January 2017 Switch game showcase. Considering that the little guy’s now the property of Konami, a company that’s more known for killing P.T. and warring with Metal Gear maestro Hideo Kojima than making video games, it was shocking to see Super Bomberman R announced as a Nintendo Switch launch title. Thankfully, this newest entry in the beloved, bomb-tossing franchise keeps the series’ simple and addicting core gameplay intact, and adds tons of modes, collectible items, and characters to keep things fresh.
18 Super Mario Odyssey
In Super Mario Odyssey, the heroic plumber returns to open-world game design for the first time since the incredible Super Mario 64. Though Odyssey isn’t as technically groundbreaking as its predecessor, the action-platformer is packed to the brim with hat-tossing combat. Yes, hat tossing. This time around, Mario has a new friend, Cappy, who lets Mario dispatch enemies with the flick of the wrist. And, even better, Mario can assume the identity of an enemy, gaining its abilities, by plopping Cappy on the foe’s head.