The Switch is a smash. Nintendo’s latest system, which you can easily play at home or on the go, launched early last year to instant success. It’s one of the fastest-selling consoles of all time, and its signature game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, immediately entered the conversation for best videogame ever made. After a few years in the wilderness with the Wii U, Nintendo’s now seeing a combination of critical and commercial success that it hasn’t known in over a decade.
Everybody with a Switch knows about Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, but there are many great games for the system beyond Nintendo’s core classics. With success comes support, and the Switch has already seen far more support from both the major third-party publishers and independent developers than the Wii U saw after its launch. The Switch’s digital eShop is full of games that you can download, and the Switch racks at most retailers already outnumber the Wii U offerings still on display. If you need help cutting through the clutter, let us point you towards the best of the best. Here are the 25 games you most need to play for the Nintendo Switch, along with 20 other honorable mentions that are all worth a download.
Honorable Mentions: Puyo Puyo Tetris, Fast RMX; Kamiko; Snake Pass; Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment; Blaster Master Zero; World of Goo; Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition; Gonner; Tumbleseed; Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap; Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment; Shantae: Half-Genie Hero; Doom; Skyrim; LA Noire; Xenoblade Chronicles 2; The Sexy Brutale; Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker; Okami HD.
25. Octopath Traveler
Octopath Traveler’s choice to break away from the norm and explore an open world JRPG hybrid was a bold move, and while it doesn’t quite come through the other end unscathed, the game does do a great job at keeping you engaged. The characters are all likeable and grounded in the world around them, and each story stays within its own lane and manages to tell a much more personal tale rather than one of some grand world-spanning intrigue. You’d be forgiven for thinking Octopath Traveler was much like the titles that came before it, telling a singular focused story of adventure, when the reality is that the game offers up a collection of tales. It’s an anthology of mini adventures that span the length and breadth of the genre’s own history.—Andy Moore
24. Dragon Ball FighterZ
Dragon Ball FighterZ is both the fighting game and Dragon Ball spin-off I never realized I always wanted. The production values are better, and the narrative tension is vastly improved. Given how Dragon Ball FighterZ amps up the drama on existing Dragon Ball storylines, increases engagement by allowing the player to take dialogue sequences at their own pace, and puts a polished, beautiful spin on the old cartoon, this isn’t just my favorite Dragon Ball game. It’s my favorite Dragon Ball anything.—Holly Green
The central conceit of Arms is ineffably bizarre—one day people suddenly have springs for arms, so they start to punch each other a lot. And yet it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Nintendo fighting game: it’s cute, charming, relentlessly upbeat, and relatively simple to understand but almost torturously difficult to truly excel at. It makes better use of the Joy-Con’s motion controls than any other Switch game, to boot. It might feel a little slight—something that might be rectified by upcoming updates—but for the first big new Nintendo idea on the Switch, Arms is a hit.
Long Hat House’s first game might play fast and loose with history—its hero, Dandara, is a real-life figure from Brazilian history—but its Metroid-style design and unique approach to motion make it compulsively playable. It’s part myth, part dream, all wrapped up in an occasionally psychedelic sci-fi action game heavily indebted to the aesthetics of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and one of the best new games of the year.
21. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a beautiful game, in both appearance and demeanor. It is joyous in its joyousness, so happy to make us happy. Games should be beautiful and joyous. Games can be anything and can look like anything, and yet few games are beautiful or joyous—at least few games with the budget of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
20. Hyper Light Drifter
The world of Hyper Light Drifter is a rotting corpse, and the lizard people or bear people or bird people of that world continue to dwell in the ruins of some kind of technologically advanced civilization. You, embodying the player character, are haunted by your own death, and you’re haunted by some kind of force that keeps this world in its state of decay. It is unclear whether progress in the game means finally killing the world or setting it free, and that ambivalence sticks with me even now.—Cameron Kunzelman
19. Rocket League
Rocket League is the only game I’ve played that’s captured the truly exciting bits of soccer for me. The vast majority of (the admittedly few) sports games I’ve played are so beholden to seasonal statics that I’m just always so bored because I can’t be bothered to keep up with the annual Who’s Who of professional leagues. Rocket League’s touch of zaniness allows it to focus on the bare essentials of the game: there are the players, a ball, and two goals. There are no stat games here. No managing players. No fluff. Just soccer…with turbo-powered RC cars, and it’s all the better and more accessible for that.—Javy Gwaltney
18. Golf Story
This charming curiosity turns the always-dull world of golf into a top-notch role-playing game. It’s pretty much just what that sounds like: “battles” are golf matches instead of fights, you earn experience points and money that can be used to improve your golf game, etc. It’s not just the novelty of the concept or the classic videogame golf action that makes us recommend this one, but the smart, funny script, which features some of the best writing in games this year.
Snipperclips is an adorable puzzle game that focuses on partnership and cooperation, as you and a friend control two papercraft buddies who are trying to arrange themselves in specific shapes or perform certain actions in order to move on to the next screen. You can rotate and tilt them freely into the necessary positions, and even use them to cut each other into different shapes in order to accomplish whatever goals are before you. That might mean perfectly filling an outline on the screen, or snipping one character into a point that they can use to pop a balloon, or even just balancing a basketball or pencil as you carry it from one edge to the other. A lot of co-op games barely require you to acknowledge your partner, but Snipperclips practically forces you to talk through each scenario, like you’re working together on a jigsaw puzzle or at an “escape the room” style event.
16. Dead Cells
Not content with sheer novelty, Dead Cells importantly taps into the most significant aspect of both of the genres it fuses together. Few games are as addictive as those Metroid-style backtrackers, and perhaps the only thing that has come close this decade is the spate of roguelike platformers that flourished in Spelunky’s wake. Dead Cells beautifully captures what makes both of those genres impossible to put down, uniting the “just one more” drive of a roguelike with the “must keep going” compulsion of a Metroid. It’s a smart, confident piece of work, and anybody interested in either of the genres it builds on should consider checking it out.
Minit is an adventure with a twist and also a critique of capital split up into tiny bite-sized chunks and told through adorable animals in a sparsely drawn fantasy land. After enough stop and start minutes you’ll realize a factory is running roughshod over this place, polluting the land and working some of its employees to the bone while firing others whose jobs can now be done by machines. Behind it all is a maniacal manager prioritizing productivity over all else. After all these minutes and all these lives the true story reveals itself, and to reach the end you have to collect item after item, life after life, to eventually have the skills necessary to grind the factory to a halt. Even after realizing this it’ll take many minutes and many lives to finish everything you know you need to do, tiny bits of incremental progress in-between passages of rote, mundane, repetitive busy work. If it starts to feel like a job, well, maybe that’s the game’s point. The factory is Minit itself, its employees all of us who play the game, and its dictatorial boss the developers who put us through these paces again and again and again in hopes of the smallest iota of progress. Like the unending and uncaring work shifts that eat up our days until we die, we expend most of our vital energy redoing the same soul-killing nonsense over and over. It is one of the most effective metaphors for the exploitation of the working class seen in videogames. The minutes pass, we experience multiple tiny deaths every day doing the job we’re expected to do. And we press a button, and we do it again.
14. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
What originally felt like an ungainly mash-up between two properties that share almost no common ground unexpectedly turned into one of the biggest gaming surprises of the year. The Mario imagery and Rabbid humor is almost beside the point: this game works so well because it’s a smartly built and balanced tactical RPG that innovates on genre convention through its liberal approach to movement. If you like Final Fantasy Tactics and XCOM but wish you could move farther and faster across their grids, with multiple different ways to accomplish that, you should check out Mario + Rabbids. It’s a colorful strategy game that looks and feels like nothing else out there.
13. Rayman Legends Definitive Edition
Playfulness is the main constant running through the large amount of varied content within Rayman Legends. Critics often try to avoid the word “fun” because it’s so subjective, but the only other game in recent memory that has so thoroughly embodied the most basic, universal and objective meaning of the word is Rayman Origins—much of which returns as unlockable bonuses within the already superior Legends. Revisiting classic gaming concepts with a timeless sense of humor that everybody can enjoy, Rayman Legends is a videogame without pretense, and that might be the most crucial decision its designers made without even realizing it.
12. Cave Story+
Easily the oldest game on this list, the original Cave Story dates back to 2004. Essentially a homemade tribute to Metroid and Castlevania, that PC version was updated for the Wii and DS in 2010, and then enhanced for the PC and 3DS under the name Cave Story+ a year later. That’s the version that came to the Switch earlier this year. The same traits that made it so great in all its previous incarnations are present in the Switch port, but with the extra benefit of being playable on both a TV and on the go. This is the kind of long, intricate, Metroid-style game that’s incredibly tough to put down, making it a perfect fit on the portable Switch.
11. Stardew Valley
For all the nostalgia-driven indie gaming experiences we’ve had over the past decade, the long-running and much-loved world of Harvest Moon had gone curiously neglected until more recently. Stardew Valley is easily the best of these virtual farming love-letters, making vast improvements on core mechanics while adding its own unique flavor. It’s faithful enough that devoted Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons fans fell in love with it, but approachable enough that it introduced an entirely new group of gamers to the joys of a pixellated country life.—Janine Hawkins
10. Battle Chef Brigade
As a “match-three” game, Battle Chef Brigade goes above and beyond the call. Anime characters are superimposed on soft backgrounds featuring wet washes of paint pooled over textured paper, set to a lilting orchestral soundtrack not unlike a Miyazaki score. The combat segments, which from a distance may seem tacked-on, are not only well-incorporated mechanically, but also provide immense satisfaction with the fluidity and power of Mina’s attacks. Despite the time limit on each battle, the back and forth between two sources of panic—quickly cooking a dish to the judge’s specifications versus killing monsters for key ingredients—is actually pretty fun. The complexity of solving puzzles contrasts the no-brain hacking and slashing for a very welcome change of pace.—Holly Green
I couldn’t help but marvel at Gorogoa’s innovative use of space. The game’s sole developer and illustrator, Jason Roberts first conceptualized Gorogoa as a card game but later scrapped it because the mechanics were too complex. Fittingly, the simplicity of Gorogoa, with its lack of subtitles or voice acting, limited animations, and minimal use of audio, suits it well. On the screen are four panels presenting environment-based interactive puzzles that, once deciphered, will progress the story. The pictures shift and can be aligned in sequence to match up key atmospheric details, pulling off layers and overlapping others to reveal solutions and clues as the player explores and combines elements of each. Think of it as a picture book where the reader must solve a mystery hidden in the illustrations to turn each page.—Holly Green
8. Hollow Knight
Any game can be hard. That’s not what makes Hollow Knight so great, at least not alone. Team Cherry’s first game is a charming Metroid-style game full of warmth, humor, precise platforming, and, yes, brutal, forbidding difficulty that’ll make you think of a Souls game. (Look, I know that’s a cliche, but writers wouldn’t make that reference so often if it wasn’t so often true.) Hollow Knight is a great example of how to reference the past without dwelling on it—of how to churn ideas and mechanics and aesthetics from previous generations of videogames into something new and original.
Matt Thorson’s follow-up to Towerfall employs a familiar aesthetic and language from videogames past to tell a story about mental health and self-actualization, using the mountain the game is named after as a representation of a young woman’s struggles with depression and self-doubt. Celeste is an inspired triumph, with art that recalls the early ‘90s, and requiring a precision to navigate its levels that comes straight out of the heyday of platforming. The vibrant use of color and warm, stylistically varied score elevate the retro aesthetic beyond mere homage. It’s a touching and occasionally insightful depiction of what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression.
6. Into the Breach
Into The Breach is interested in you, as a player, gaining skills and developing new ways of thinking about the puzzle-like battles it puts in front of you. The island regions threatened by the Vek are small tactical boards, and you control a small cohort of giant, Pacific Rim-style robots who are there to smash and push their enemies around. Critically, these giant robots have mass, and Breach is very much committed to showing that big stuff smacking into other things has real effects. The idea is to prevent the Vek from attacking civilian buildings, prevent them from killing your mechs, and to kill them. Importantly, the game’s concerns are in that order.
That’s the puzzle-y part of the game. Each map has a turn counter that’s slowly ticking down, and at the end of it the remaining Vek will disappear. Into The Breach’s most interesting qualities come from the fact that you do not have to kill your enemies to win the game. You don’t have to annihilate each and every Vek on a time limit, and you don’t ever have to put your mechs in too much danger. You just need to be able to use your punching, shooting, artillery-firing robots to keep scooching enemy Vek around until the game is over.—Cameron Kunzelman
5. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
This special enhanced edition of the Wii U smash was one of the first big tests for the Switch. How would a game initially built to be played exclusively on a console strapped to a TV translate to a system made to be taken anywhere? The answer: about as well as anybody could expect. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe collected every scrap of bonus content for one of the best games of the decade, added a nostalgic return to a classic battle mode, and made all of it perfectly portable thanks to the Switch’s unique capabilities. If anybody was worried that Breath of the Wild would be a one-hit wonder for the Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gave them hope.
4. Splatoon 2
Some have dinged this one a bit (including our own review) for sticking too closely to the formula established by the Wii U original. It’s true that, at first, it can feel more like a remake than a sequel. In time though its unique attributes become more apparent, from the variety of weapons, to the new maps, to the various multiplayer modes that supplement the standard Turf War. Splatoon 2 might not break a lot of ground but it’s one of the most purely fun games to come out for any system this year.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
Bicker about what makes up a “core” Mario game all you want. All I know is that Super Mario Odyssey is one of the two or three best games to ever have that lovable little guy’s name in the title. It is every bit as powerful as Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Bros. 3, the previous high-water marks for Nintendo’s mascot, and for the platformer genre in general. Odyssey is an overwhelming cornucopia of pure joy, full of the kind of freedom typically found in open world games but with a constant chain of clear objectives and attainable goals pulling you ever deeper into its roster of candy-colored kingdoms. It’s a perfect bookmark to Nintendo’s other major Switch game of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: both recraft a classic cornerstone of the entire medium into an effortlessly enjoyable and crucially contemporary masterpiece that unites all eras of gaming history.
Thumper’s difficulty is suffocating. Along with the oppressive music and the stark graphics, it turns the game into a claustrophobic, stressful, frightening experience. It rattles around inside my brain when I’m not playing it, its velocity and brutality careening throughout as I try to unwind after playing. Thumper taps into art’s ability to alter our consciousness, introducing a new reality for us to get lost in, and it’s not afraid to let this dream world look and feel like a nightmare. Most rhythm games want to replicate the best time you could possibly have at a rave; Thumper wants you to feel like you’re shaking on the floor of a bathroom stall, praying for those weird shapes and sounds that surround you to go away. It is an essentially perfect realization of its own unique goals and concerns, and a game we’ll be playing and celebrating for decades.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
[Breath of the Wild is] a fresh approach to what Zelda games have striven for since the very beginning. The depth you expect, the open exploration and constant sense of discovery the series is known for, are here in perhaps greater effect than ever before, but with the systems and mechanics that drive the moment-to-moment action heavily overhauled. The result is a Zelda that feels unmistakably like a Zelda, but that also breathes new life into the venerable classic.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.