If we’re talking impressive debut years for consoles, the Nintendo Switch is right up there. Since launching in 2017, it’s smashed records all over the world and is only just getting started.
Most importantly, however, it proved the most cynical of naysayers wrong: Nintendo isn’t anywhere near finished as a company with some of its Switch exclusives being some of the best games of the last few years.
One dud console doesn’t undo decades of innovation and success, after all.
Rumours and hope surrounded the Switch right up until its reveal – the feeling was that this was a make or break move for Nintendo. The Wii U, to be blunt, failed to inspire much confidence in the gaming public, which wasn’t helped by muddled marketing and a lack of true advancement from the Wii.
So, when the Switch was announced as a true hybrid between console and handheld gaming, a statement was made.
Playable either through your TV via a dock or entirely handheld, the Switch may be underpowered compared to its peers, but something that the industry could learn in general is that you don’t need to see every inch of muck on a soldier’s face to be sold on a game.
Thanks to a controller idea so simple that you have to wonder why nobody thought of it before, gamers could take their favourite Nintendo titles with them wherever they wanted it, but mainly so that they don’t need to keep re-reading the same old, worn Time magazine from 2009 while sat on the toilet.
As well as them always thinking outside of the box, people are drawn to Nintendo for their exclusives. For all the talk of Sony nailing the exclusives this generation, it’s also been Nintendo who have flourished with their enviable catalogue of IPs. Their newest console is off to a bright start on that front, so it’s time to sift through the best Switch exclusives, which, compared to every other console going, are highly unlikely to ever be found elsewhere.
Bear in mind, just like other exclusives lists on this site, we’re excluding re-releases and remasters for the sake of variety and to stop technicalities. That means Pokken Tournament DX, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe have to sit this one out.
And, sadly, it means we won’t have one more chance to wax lyrical about Breath of the Wild – it’s not technically a Switch exclusive as it’s also on the Wii U.
Every list has to start somewhere, but it’s hard to argue that 1-2-Switch shouldn’t be at the bottom here. While it has the same weird family fun that Nintendo have made a name out of, it’s hard to shift the feeling that this really should have been packed-in with the Switch, not unlike Wii Sports.
Whereas your aunt could find plenty of enjoyment in Sports, however, what with its promises to help you stay active, 1-2-Switch is just a strangle jumble of mini-games that make you look severely unwell when you play them. If you want to milk a cow, that’s fine, but do you really want to spend this much money for what is essentially a bunch of disparate demos?
The range in quality is alarming, so for every mild distraction you will find at least a few fillers. If you absolutely must buy 1-2-Switch, make sure you have enough friends so that it’s worthwhile.
21. Mario Tennis Aces
Developer: Camelot Software Planning Publisher: Nintendo
Nobody comes into a Mario Tennis game expecting a realistic sim — that’s simply not what it’s about. Just like every Mario x sports game Nintendo has released, Mario Tennis Aces should be seen as a fun party game that you shouldn’t take too seriously.
It’s the wisest choice because Mario Tennis Aces isn’t often actually tennis, its Adventure Mode a bizarre mix of one of the oldest sports and also boss battles where you have to get through an enemy’s shields. It’s bananas.
The game also introduces a few key tweaks to the way it plays with a learning curve sure to bewilder even veterans, but Mario Tennis Aces is ultimately let down by its lack of simple features in online play.
You either love or you hate puzzle games. I, personally, would rather die into the beautiful lakes seen in The Witness with large boulders tied to my ankle than actually play the thing, but I have all the time in the world for puzzlers with unique and fun twists. Snipperclips is one such game, asking you to pair up with a friend to cut your way to the solution — and through each other.
The main objective is to cut your character down to fit the obstacles the game throws at you. While this might sound like some kind of Lovecraftian nightmare, the cutesy art style and upbeat tone mean that Snipperclips is anything but. One of the better co-op games on the market right now and arguably the Switch’s most underrated exclusive.
You know what you’re getting with any Kirby game. It’s not going to tax you mentally whatsoever and is going to mainly be a laidback adventure with some pink fluff. That’s exactly the case with Star Allies, Nintendo’s unlikeliest mascot’s first outing on the Switch.
While you can have some fun with Star Allies on your lonesome, it’s at its best when you’re teaming up via the game’s easy drop-in-drop-out co-op to wreak some light-hearted havoc.
Thanks to its charming soundtrack, quaint visuals and just how much fun you can get out of it without putting much effort into it, Kirby Star Allies might be the perfect opportunity for some bonding with the young ones on a Switch.
The series that has been splitting up friends, families, and lovers for generations keeps up its same psychological warfare on the Switch. Super Mario Party is a return to chaotic farm for the series after some less than stellar outings.
Returning to the basics that have made Mario Party such a household favourite over the years, Super Mario Party reintroduces board gameplay as you remember it while also introducing online multiplayer for the first time in series history.
Nothing quite beats sitting on a couch and watching the heartbreak on the face of those you love as you ruin their life, though.
Arms didn’t really get the love it deserves. Perhaps it’s due to the lack of content or not all of its punches quite hitting their mark, but Arms remains one of Nintendo’s most interesting, entertaining experiments. It’s certainly one of the platform’s biggest examples of the dynamism allowed by its controllers.
For our money, the best way to embrace Arms is with a pair of Joy-Cons in your hands, swinging for the fences and screaming expletives like a crazed celtic warrior. It’s more than just wild punching, though: there’s a lot more tactical depth to Arms than you might first believe.
The learning curve is a little steep and its playerbase may have dwindled significantly, but Arms is still worth playing.
We waited years and years for a new Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which was compounded by the first two games being taken off of digital storefronts. While Black Order didn’t quite succeed as expected, it’s great to see Ultimate Alliance back and hack and slashing.
Taking the action to a different universe and whole new canon to the first two games, The Black Order sees you battling against Thanos as he tries to unite the six Infinity Ones and fulfill his Mad Titan shtick.
The main criticism to give to The Black Order is that it’s perhaps a little too simple, leading some repetition to set in. The cast of Marvel characters is decent, though, and if you just want an excuse to play as your favourite superheroes, this is the best Switch exclusive for just that.
Is it a stretch to say that Yoshi is the equivalent to Sony’s Knack, a tertiary mascot who doesn’t get the love he deserves? Yoshi has never been the biggest star in Nintendo’s lineup of unforgettable stars, but Crafted World tries its best to make it happen.
Aimed at kids, Yoshi’s Crafted World offers little to no challenge as a side-scrolling platformer to those who eat Super Meat Boy for breakfast — enemies act like they’ve just woken up, for instance. That’s now what Yoshi is about, though.
Yoshi’s Crafted World is a lovely, relaxing time brimming with cute animations and a refreshingly optimistic outlook. It’s a nice antithesis to the heavy fare of most modern games, and you get 40 levels of loveliness to sink your teeth into, too.
Tetris, Tetris never changes. Well, actually, that’s a lie. They’ve tried everything over the last few decades to make Tetris appealing to increasingly fussy generations of gamers, but could anyone have predicted a battle royale?
Tetris 99 doesn’t use it as a gimmick, however: it’s legitimately one of the best of its kind on the market. Its implementation of battle royale is ingenius with up to 99 players duking it out to complete rows while fending off garbage rows attacks from other players.
Anyone who doesn’t live and breathe Tetris may struggle when taking the fight online, but there’s also paid DLC that allows you to practice against bots. Did we mention that the game is completely free (as long as you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription)?
Hands up if you saw this coming: a collaboration between Nintendo and Ubisoft featuring the main mascot of the former and the most irritating minion-alikes of the latter? Okay, well put those hands down again, because you’re liars. Don’t even try to flinch if I ask if you thought the end result would have been this good, either.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle absolutely, undeniably should not work. It’s Mario teaming up with Rabbids in what is, more or less, XCOM. On paper, that should be a disaster and further proof to Nintendo that they should treat their properties with a tight leash.
However, Kingdom Battle ended up being a smart, testing RTS title that somehow made Rabbids hard to hate. Thanks to a clearly passionate development team, Kingdom Battle turned out to be one of the surprise hits of this generation. Who’s next for Mario to team up with? My money’s on Bubsy.
12. Pokémon: Let’s Go
Developer: Nintendo/Game Freak Publisher: Nintendo
Pokémon: Let’s Go is not a bad way for us to let us twiddle our thumbs while we wait for the full-fat Pokémon RPG that is Sword and Shield. It lacks the depth of the games that Pokémon made its name on, but is an appealing hybrid between the casual nature of Pokémon GO (while also featuring integration with the mobile phenomenon) and the classics that could be a great introduction.
Available in two versions, Pikachu and Eeevee, players must take their Pokémon of choice on a journey through the original games (sans the random encounters) with some simplistic combat and a bonding mechanic that makes your pocket monsters feel like tamagotchi.
The addition of co-op also makes Pokémon: Let’s Go feel like the perfect introduction to meatier Pokémon games, so anyone born in this decade will be in for a treat.
“For veteran players, just experiencing the original games one more time in a brand new way is enough to put a smile on your face and reawakening that inner child. Playing along with a newcomer or first-timer makes it even more inviting and enjoyable, reminding you why you fell with love with Pocket Monsters in the first place.”
It’s not often that you see a Zelda game relatively low down on a list of the best exclusives, Link’s Awakening sadly being undone a little by its brief playtime. If you played the Game Boy original, though, you’ll know that it’s worth your time regardless.
Taking the action to Koholint Island after Link washes ashore, players must rustle up eight instruments to summon the legendary Wind Fish so he can get out of dodge. While exploring a contained but detailed open world, players can solve puzzles, take on dungeons, and get lost in Link’s Awakening’s gorgeous world.
The original game still holds up, though this Switch remake may be regarded as the definitive way to play before long.
Another example of just how much you cannot underestimate the capabilities of the Switch, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 brings all the hallmarks of a JRPG and delivers them in style. Featuring enough content to tide you over until the looming end of days and just the right amount of weirdness, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 closed out a debut year for the Switch in style.
The follow-up to the Wii’s Xenoblade Chronicles, this sequel takes what made its predecessor so great, sprinkles some of the older games in the Xenoblade franchise’s finest moments in for good measure and with the added bonus of letting you become totally enamoured by your party of digital people while sat on the toilet for hours at an end.
Trust us, the piles will be worth it — it has a talking tiger, for crying out loud.
Probably the most controversial mainline Pokémon RPG in the lead up to release, while it’s true that Sword and Shield aren’t the absolute best ways to catch ’em all (and not just because of the missing Pokémon), there’s still a lot to dive into.
The first “proper” Pokémon RPG on console, Pokémon Sword and Shield sends you out into Galar with a Pokédex to fill and a Pokémon champion to defeat.
There’s nothing that groundbreaking in that regard, yet its battles look better (and bigger) than ever. Gigantamax Pokémon are absolutely a gimmick, yet it’s always fun to see how your party changes when they grow to a huge size.
There’s an open world region to explore to collect new Pokémon, as well as loads of neat little touches that enrich the overall experience. Yes, it could have been better, but when we started to try to figure out the difference between teapots, we knew we were hooked.
If you’re looking for a sequel that completely flips the script and changes everything you thought you knew, Splatoon 2 is not that game.
The changes are minimal enough that you might have to do a double-take on the box to see if the ‘2’ rubs off, but when you have a game this thrilling and somehow also wholesome, a revolution isn’t necessary.
Nintendo’s family-friendly foray into arena shooters swaps out the guns for paint while introducing alliance-based gameplay. If you know Splatoon, you ultimately know what to expect from Splatoon 2, but the maddening brilliance of Salmon Run and the ability to challenge your friend in the same room to a decorative deathmatch is hard to resist.
When Platinum teamed up with Nintendo to renew their love-in and bring Astral Chain exclusively to the Switch , almost everyone with eyes could see that it would be a very good thing indeed. With lashings of Chaos Legion and that distinctive Platinum weirdness, Astral Chain was a smash hit.
Playing as your own customisable character, who is joined by their twin, in a special task force, you are thrown into an utterly mad but wonderful plot involving using chained monsters from another dimension and the imminent destruction of mankind. Astral Chain’s premise is certainly out there, but the real allure are the people and Legions you encounter along the way.
As well as traditional combat, players can also indulge in police investigations at crime scenes, further making Astral Chain more than just a simple hack and slash game. Things are looking pretty good for Bayonetta 3.
The original Super Mario Maker was one of the last great lights of the doomed Wii U, it offering players the chance to create their own Mario levels and then make other players the world over scream in frustration.
Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t a grand re-invention of the formula, rather a streamlining exercise that adds new things like a decent Story Mode, better online play, and extra items to make the torture options that much more robust.
Maker Mode is where you will spend most of your time in the game, a comprehensive suite of customisation options available to you, so comprehensive in fact that someone was able to build a first-person dungeon explorer.
Nintendo (belatedly) added online multiplayer with friends after launch, and the game is due to be supported by its dedicated community for years to come.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 really is one of the most underrated Switch exclusive games out there. While it certainly has its fair share of fans, it deserves even more, what it brings to the franchise formula arguably making it the best entry yet.
You once again play as Luigi, but this time backed by Gooigi: a goo version of Luigi who can fit through tight gaps, among other things. The addition of this charming sidekick adds plenty of great spins to the game’s puzzles as you look to free Mario and the gang from paintings.
Better yet, Luigi’s Mansion 3 has some pretty great multiplayer that sees you fighting your way to the top of a hotel, and there’s always the option of returning to its story for full completion.
If you’re looking for one of the Switch’s best exclusives that will completely and utterly charm you from the word go, Luigi’s Mansion 3 may well be it.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Developer: Intelligent Systems/Koei Tecmo Publisher: Nintendo
Fire Emblem hasn’t had the full-fat console RPG it deserves in many years, so when Three Houses was announced, franchise fans were nervously excited to see how it would fare. There was no need for concern: Three Houses turned out to be a masterful, life-consuming RPG that made you make some tough choices.
Choosing to represent one of three nations on the continent of Fódlan, you play as a mercenary turned teacher at the Officers Academy of Garreg Mach Monastery. As you’d expect, Three Houses is filled to the brim with characters to chat to as you make your way through the school’s halls, and deep, grid-based combat.
Three Houses flips the script in a major way at one point, tugging at your heartstrings as you’re forced into an impossible decision. Three Houses will completely engross you if you let it, so much so that we haven’t seen some of our Vultures since it launched.
Releasing at a time when the world needed it the most, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was well worth the wait for Switch fans, it offering a perfect getaway from real life as you look to build up a tropical island.
Or not. The great thing about New Horizons is that there really isn’t any pressure on you to do anything.
If you want to recreate a town from your favourite anime, feel free. Want to just fish the day away as a form of therapy? That’s good, too.
An evolution of the franchise that adds many new twists to the formula, including Nook Miles and expansive crafting, New Horizons really is just the gift that keeps giving. If you’re one of the few Switch owners who hasn’t tried New Horizons yet, clear your schedule and get utterly lost in its charms.
You simply couldn’t ask for a better way to experience what Smash has to offer than its most recent offering, an absolutely gigantic game with such a staggering amount of content that it’s like wandering into a time portal. And that’s just if you want to play the thing entirely solo — let’s not even discuss how deep this thing goes if you want to become the best.
Featuring every single character featured in the history of Smash and then a tonne of assist trophies, it’s basically unrivalled in terms of things to experience, but it also has the tightest and best balanced gameplay of the franchise — no more Bayonetta ruining tournaments.
“What else is there to say? This is Smash in its purest, most perfect form. Everything from previous games that made it such a worldwide phenomenon is back and everyone that made the game so great is here to make it that much more fun. Keyword: fun.
It’s both a blessing and a curse for Nintendo that two veritable contenders for GOAT games came out in the same year.
It’s a blessing because oh boy look at all those sales, but it’s also a curse because one doesn’t see quite as much love as the other. It’s lucky, then, that we have stupidly strict rules as Super Mario Odyssey might have missed out on another top spot to Breath of the Wild.
However, it’s ultimately apples and oranges. Breath of the Wild is a more daunting experience whereas Odyssey is a more joyous, whimsical affair that also completely enslaves you to collecting stars around its quasi-open-worlds.
Every mainline game has a unique hook, Odyssey’s being that you can inhabit almost everything in the world, whether that be a distressingly real human being, a tank, or even a dinosaur.
It’s silly and you know exactly where its story is going before the end, but make no mistake: Odyssey is further proof that you cannot underestimate gaming’s most iconic mascot.
3D Mario hasn’t been this good since the N64, and the Switch might also be Nintendo’s best console since then.
“For the second time this year, Nintendo have blasted one of their flagship franchises to dizzying new heights. Totally sublime from start to finish, Super Mario Odyssey is an essential Nintendo Switch title. It’s genuinely one of the greatest games ever made and you owe it to yourself to experience it.”