These are the best games to play on Nintendo Switch

(Nintendo/Washington Post illustration)

Nintendo has sold more than 100 million Nintendo Switch consoles. And though it’s already five years old, hype for the console hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

Nintendo says the console is at the “midpoint” of its life cycle. The Switch line includes the base console, a handheld-only version called the Switch Lite and the OLED model with a bigger, brighter screen. The console has a library of more than 5,000 games — from reimagined classics like Donkey Kong and Mario Party to niche, artistic titles from independent developers.

We’ve played and reviewed many of these games in some capacity as part of our collective coverage for Launcher. Below, we’ve listed the best games to play on Switch in alphabetical order, along with our reasoning for why each game made the cut. We’ll continue to update the list as titles release and will replace some of the games listed over time.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The latest entry to Nintendo’s popular life-simulation series was an instant hit when it released right as the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in March of 2020. “New Horizons” became a virtual hangout that offered excellent distractions for many of us who were struggling to find the rhythm of our new normal.

Players spent hundreds of hours building their towns, decorating their homes and scavenging for items to display in a museum. Though the gameplay may sound monotonous to some, it’s wrapped up in an addictive gameplay loop that rewards those who patiently put in the effort.

Read our review


Cuphead: Don’t Deal With The Devil

“Cuphead” is an addicting — yet infuriatingly difficult — homage to 1930s cartoons.

The game lures you in with its hand-drawn animation, and then smacks you over the head with grueling boss fights. You wind up playing the same fights over and over again.

Why torture yourself? The animation is truly worth the price of admission. Every frame of each character is hand-drawn. “Cuphead’s” creators have said they were inspired by 1930s cartoons from Disney and Fleischer Studios. The game seemingly comes straight out of a time capsule with its big band music and crackling film quality.

Read on for other indie games to play


Fire Emblem: Three Houses

“Fire Emblem: Three Houses” is a must-try if you’re into turn-based strategy games like “Final Fantasy Tactics,” “XCOM” and “Advance Wars.” And it’s a great first foray into the genre for anyone who’s never played the franchise before.

“Three Houses” combines a number of gameplay elements for players to recruit, train and battle with a band of student warriors from a pool of 20-plus personable characters. The base mechanics of the game never change, but its difficulty ramps up quickly as you attempt to out maneuver your enemy on a board-game-like battlefield.

But combat is only part of the series’ appeal: “Three Houses” makes you care about the characters, not just the end result of each battle. You need your favorite heroes to survive the war, as well.

Hades

“Hades,” our pick for the best game of 2020, found incredible solutions to long-standing pacing and narrative issues not just within its chosen rogue-like genre, but within the gaming medium as a whole.

Supergiant Games, the 20-person studio behind “Hades,” made inevitable failure not just the core of the story, but something players might even look forward to. They recognized that realistic, casual conversations are fleeting, and not repeating, so every character has thousands of dialogue options they would say only once and never again. They transformed tired Greek god cliches into characters so unique that entire fandoms have been built around their mannerisms and personal qualities.

All this innovation came on top of a crackling, nonstop action game that could blister the thumbs of the most hardened players, all the while providing options to make the game easier to play for just about anyone intrigued by its art style and story.

Read our review


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

“The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” recaptures the original intent of the series: exploration purely led by the player’s own curiosity and imagination. Every aspect of this game’s design is in service of player freedom. It’s rare to see any pop culture franchise be so committed to rediscovering itself that it’s willing to upend every single aspect of its winning formula, but Nintendo did that here to wild success.

The game’s physics engine is so unpredictable that, to this day, the “Breath of the Wild” community continues to find new tricks to navigate Nintendo’s biggest game ever. Many fans report that the game has helped them deal with depression and anxiety. Other developers are studying it to figure out how exactly Nintendo created a “killer app” so compelling that, for many, it became the sole reason for customers to invest in Nintendo’s hardware.

“Breath of the Wild” is a game that further cemented Nintendo’s legacy as the best creators of the craft — and the series as an industry flagship.

Metroid Dread

“Metroid Dread” is the first new game in the series since 2017. This latest Metroid had the tough job of reintroducing the franchise to a new generation of players while also recapturing what made the series so influential in the first place.

“Dread” very nearly accomplishes these goals. While 2-D Metroid-like games have won critical and commercial success over the years, “Dread” reminds us why Samus Aran, the first lady of gaming, is still queen of the genre. She speeds through the game with powerful, unique moves that have often been replicated, but rarely delivered with the same impact.

Read our review


Monster Hunter Rise

This is probably the best Monster Hunter game to date. “Monster Hunter Rise” is an original, made-for-Switch Capcom title that shatters expectations.

For all intents and purposes, it’s an even bigger experience than “Monster Hunter World” on PC and other consoles. This is grand news for any hunters who joined the bandwagon with “World,” currently Capcom’s best-selling title of all time, bigger even than its Resident Evil or Street Fighter series.

Read our review


Ori and the Will of the Wisps

This sequel to Moon Studios’s “Ori and the Blind Forest” improves on nearly every facet of the first game.

It can’t be overstated just how good it feels to traverse the lush, sprawling map of this Metroidvania — a phrase referring to games that play like classic Metroid or Castlevania titles. The way the game allows you to chain together Ori’s jumps, glides and air dashes gives the player a sense of grace and fluidity not found in other platformers.

“Will of the Wisps” also happens to be absolutely gorgeous. The layered particle effects, animated backgrounds and rays of light beaming through gaps in the forest make you want to put down the controller to process the game’s captivating beauty. A sweeping orchestral soundtrack provides the cherry on top of a masterful presentation.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

“Pokémon Legends: Arceus” is the most ambitious title in the franchise’s 25-year history. Core series mechanics, such as the way you “catch them all,” have changed. Capturing a Pokémon used to only be possible through combat, but “Arceus” is much more open and experimental.

In past Pokémon games, players are set on a linear journey, traveling town to town to beat the different gym leaders in a region. At a certain point in “Arceus,” players are just let loose to explore an open-world akin to “Breath of the Wild.”

“Arceus” is set in a world long before humans have learned to build their lives around Pokémon. Many people are terrified of the awesome, destructive power these monsters possess. Your job is to catch enough of the creatures so people can start to understand them.

Game Freak’s bold foray into a new direction for the franchise isn’t perfect, but it is promising.

Read our review


Splatoon 3

In “Splatoon 3,” the latest in Nintendo’s stylish series of third-person multiplayer shooters, the goal isn’t to kill the other team, it’s to place more paint on the battlefield. And as the third installment, “Splatoon 3” refines the franchise’s frenetic gameplay to near perfection, adding in new weapon classes, new modes and new movement options like the Squid Roll. Its cute and colorful visuals are a disguise; the game offers a level of depth even veterans to the genre will appreciate.

Perhaps the best quality of “Splatoon 3,” though, is its pacing. Because matches are so short and gameplay is so fast, you will never be out of the action for too long, and thus never get bored in competitive matches. And even when you do, the game also offers a robust single-player campaign and co-op mode in Salmon Run.

Read our review


Streets of Rage 4

“Streets of Rage 4″ shows why the beloved and once-abandoned series remains the final boss of the fighting genre. The game adds enough finesse in its combat to make it just a bit deeper, the animations transitioning just a bit tighter to keep each two- to three-second fistfight feeling frantic and fresh.

The legendary dance tracks have been updated with today’s electronic beats. But indie developers DotEmu and Lizardcube barely changed anything from the game’s Sega Genesis formula because it was already almost perfect. Any drastic compromise to its formula would have endangered its status as the perfect brawler, which it is.

Read our review


Super Mario Odyssey

“Super Mario Odyssey” is the promise of “Super Mario 64” finally fulfilled: open worlds with secrets and stars to find, Mario with the same robust acrobatics he had in 1996 and a camera that you can finally fully control.

“Odyssey” is arguably the best 3D outing for Mario. Its only flaw is the game has some empty calories in all the content — items to hunt for and secrets to find that are a bit bland.

Every Mario game, ranked

Super Smash Bros Ultimate

With 89 total fighters in the game — and clear over 100 if you consider Mii Fighter costumes that reference other characters — “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is an astonishing gaming accomplishment. The dizzying number of contractual licensing deals needed to get the likes of Microsoft’s Banjo and Kazooie, Minecraft’s Steve, Square Enix’s Cloud and Sephiroth, Disney’s Sora, and Konami’s Snake, just to name a few, all in one game showcases an alliance across platforms never before seen in the medium.

Part of Smash’s success has to do with the unique gameplay mechanics, fine-tuned after two decades worth of games in the multiplayer brawler franchise. Instead of the typical health bars most fighting games employ, Smash Bros. is about using the colorful cast’s unique combos to rack up more damage and knock your opponents offstage. It’s a formula that’s easy to pick up yet difficult to master, making it perfect for players of any skill level to enjoy.

Smash has inspired copycat crossover brawlers like “Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl” and “MultiVersus.” While several more are bound to pop up in the future, nothing quite beats the feel of the original.

"Smash Bros. Ultimate's" biggest character snubs, listed

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