The 9 Best Nintendo Switch Games of 2021

We've got the most addicting games for the newest Nintendo console

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
"The game progresses in real-time, meaning that players must be patient when upgrading island buildings and infrastructure."
"Possibly the best racing game of all time."
"Players must explore a haunted hotel after being tricked into visiting for vacation, saving Luigi's friends from ghosts along the way."
"The classic fighting game that put this genre on the map is back."
"Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the 16th title in the series and the first released for home consoles since 2007."
"The development of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was helmed by former Castlevania producer, Koji Igarashi, and is considered to be a spiritual successor to Castlevania."
"Combines classic side-scrolling platform mechanics essential to the Super Mario franchise with level editing and game creation features to let players put together truly unique levels."
"Each death brings you right back with new skills and upgrades and abilities to help you eventually battle your way out of the underworld."
"Some of these fast-paced dogfights can get difficult, but the game helps keep things from becoming tedious or frustrating."
"Age of Calamity captures its distinctive visual look and feel, from the characters and locations to the items and menus."

The best Nintendo Switch games are a showcase of how diverse, accessible, and just plain fun the console is. From its innovative hybrid format that lets you play on your TV one minute and tote the touchscreen in your hands the next, to the funky Joy-Con controllers that can be used together or separately or attached to the system, the Switch (plus the Switch Lite) is all about enjoying your games any way you want. It’s become a wildly popular console even in the face of a new generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

Part of the Switch’s success comes from a strong game lineup that features beloved Nintendo franchises like Mario and Zelda, with most designed for the whole family to enjoy. These games bring familiar characters and nostalgic game worlds into the modern day with fresh twists, along with other surprises only possible on the one-of-a-kind console. There is also no shortage of excellent new properties to try and fall in love with, whether they’re big blockbuster titles or less-hyped indie gems.

Best Overall: Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons
What We Like
  • Progress at your own pace

  • Amiibo support

  • Great for kids and adults

What We Don't Like
  • Only one island per Switch console is supported

There may never be a more perfectly timed game than Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Released just as people all over the world found themselves stuck at home, it gave players a charming virtual world to shape and explore and experience with one another. Its starts with your custom character flown to an initially deserted island, where you have the power to guide its development, upgrade your home and furnishings, and befriend colorful, quirky animal villagers.

The Animal Crossing series is known for a non-traditional sort of gameplay that’s not for everyone, but accessible and enjoyable for young and old, gamers and non-gamers alike. While many players find ways to grind out various aspects of New Horizons, it’s really intended to be a real-time, long-term experience. Every day, there’s a wealth of new things to do. Gather fruits and resources for crafting items. Catch fish and bugs for profit or to fill your gorgeous museum. Check the day’s furniture and apparel at the shops. Different visitors stop by throughout the week, and limited-time events pop up at different seasons and holidays throughout the year. There are no bosses, no high scores. You play at your own pace, living your best island life.

New Horizons is also driven along by its local or online multiplayer. You can visit your friends’ islands, see their houses, meet their villagers, and swap items or custom designs. You can also generate one-time codes to invite over players who, for example, you meet on the generally helpful online community and might have an item you’re looking for. On a single Switch console, multiple players can build homes and play together on the same island, but separate consoles (and game cards) are required to have separate islands.

“Sharing an island with my spouse and daughter had its share of challenges in terms of sharing and cooperation, but it gave us tons of memorable moments over many, many weeks—and counting.” Anton Galang, Product Tester

Best Multiplayer: Nintendo Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
What We Like
  • New items

  • New characters

  • Plenty of tracks

What We Don't Like
  • Only 10 tracks available for online play

  • Voice chat for friends only

It’s tough to top Mario Kart when it comes to multiplayer mayhem, so it’s no surprise that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe quickly became one of the best-selling games in history. The Switch version enhances the original Wii U game in several ways, including new characters, arenas, and battle modes. The full selection of 48 diverse and dazzling racecourses are available from the start, with revamped tracks from previous Mario Kart games alongside clever new ones based on locales from all over the Nintendo universe.

One reason for Mario Kart’s popularity is how easy it is for just about anyone to jump in and speed around and blast each other with items. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe even adds features like smart steering and auto-accelerate to aid newcomers and young players. More competitive veterans of the series, meanwhile, can spend hours discovering shortcuts and speeding up their lap times.

The game offers several options for playing with friends: online, four-player split-screen on the same system, or through local wireless with multiple Switch consoles in handheld mode. You can take to the tracks or duke it out in Battle mode, which includes new arenas and balloon-popping, coin-nabbing modes that make it even more of a blast for parties and groups.

"The game is simple enough that even if you’ve never played a Mario Kart game before, you should be able to figure things out with some trial and error." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Best for Kids: Nintendo Luigi's Mansion 3

Nintendo Luigi's Mansion 3
What We Like
  • Single and Multiplayer

  • Plenty of environments

  • New mechanics

What We Don't Like
  • Controlling both Luigi and Gooigi may be difficult for some young children

Most of Nintendo’s games are already geared for the whole family, but Luigi’s Mansion 3 shines as an excellent Switch title for kids who like a bit of spooky fun. Despite the game’s moody, mysterious atmosphere, there’s so much life, color, and silliness that it plays out more comical than outright scary. And it doesn’t hurt that the game centers around one of Nintendo’s goofier characters. When his brother Mario and their other friends are taken captive at a luxury hotel filled with ghosts, the jumpy Luigi musters his courage to explore the strange tower’s 15+ floors and rescue his pals.

The main tool at Luigi’s disposal, like previous games in the series, is his Poltergust vacuum cleaner, handy for sucking up ghosts—and basically any object he sees. Trying it out all over the very interactive, destructible environment is a delight in itself. Luigi gains other tools along the way, and putting them all to clever use is key to solving the hotel’s diverse puzzles and defeating tricky boss ghosts. One innovative gameplay addition in Luigi’s Mansion 3 is “Gooigi,” a green, oozy clone that can be summoned at will. A single player can swap between controlling Luigi and Gooigi, or a second player can take control of Gooigi for drop-in co-op.

Online and local multiplayer modes also keep the game going beyond the campaign. Players can form teams and go head-to-head in the ScreamPark, or work together to clear randomly generated floors in the ScareScraper.

“Having my 5-year-old control the essentially immortal and hilariously blubbery Gooigi gave us a way to enjoy the entire main story together, tackling one floor a day, often just playing around with our gadgets and breaking everything in the room.” Anton Galang, Product Tester

Best Fighting Game: Capcom Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

Capcom Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers
What We Like
  • One of the best fighting games ever

  • Slick mechanics and presentation

  • Very multiplayer friendly

What We Don't Like
  • Not much content for solo players

Since the original arcade release of Street Fighter II in 1991, the revolutionary fighting game has stayed alive through esports tournaments and frequent revamps and refreshes. It hit the Switch as Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers 26 years later, and it’s a satisfyingly pure experience. You can play with modern HD graphics or dial back to the classic pixel-art style. Either way, the animations are smooth and satisfying, and the combo-based mechanics are as crisp and responsive as ever. The controls translate well on Joy-Cons, though many may prefer a larger Pro Controller.

Ultra Street Fighter II throws in a few new features, but they take a backseat to the tried-and-true gameplay. The two “new” fighters added to the roster of favorites are actually variants: Evil Ryu and Violent Ken. There’s a new two-player co-op mode, along with an unexpected single-player, first-person Way of the Hado mode that has you using the Joy-Con’s motion controls to pull off Ryu’s signature moves. Multiplayer battles remain the heart of the game, though, and Street Fighter fans will likely spend most of their time in local head-to-head battles or jumping online for casual or ranked matches.

Best RPG: Nintendo Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Nintendo Fire Emblem: Three Houses
What We Like
  • High replay value

  • Well-written story

  • Good voice acting

What We Don't Like
  • Difficulty may be too low for some players

Like the best role-playing games for Switch and other consoles tend to do, Fire Emblem: Three Houses immerses you in its story and never lets go. It’s a powerful narrative centered on a cast of complex characters and their conflicts with one another. Your main player character is pulled into an officers’ academy where you pick which of the titular three houses to teach. Your choices and in-game actions are critical; they can lead to branching paths, multiple endings, and tons of potential for replayability. Add in free updates and DLCs and there’s over 100 hours of content you can play through. The dialogue is impeccably voice-acted throughout, and while the graphics don’t do anything groundbreaking, they nail the anime style with the character designs and many epic, fully animated action cutscenes.

The core gameplay will be familiar to anyone who’s played one of the 15 previous Fire Emblem games, or any turn-based tactical RPG in general. You command your deployed units around a grid-based battlefield where they can move, attack foes, and support one another. Three Houses, though, adds more flexibility by letting most classes wield multiple types of weapons or magic and choose from a set of equipable skills. You can also play in “casual” mode where fallen team members come back after the battle, rather than the Classic version where they would be gone permanently.

Beyond combat, Three Houses introduces several simulation-game elements new to the Fire Emblem series. You spend time teaching classes, farming, and building relationships with students at the school, making the game a more fresh, rounded experience than other RPGs like it.

“Three Houses is also a teaching simulator, and a fishing simulator, and a pet-feeding simulator, and a meal-eating simulator. Three Houses is a JRPG protagonist life simulator.” Emily Ramirez, Product Tester

Best Indie: 505 Games Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
What We Like
  • Great visuals

  • Tons of items and power-ups

  • Well-written story

What We Don't Like
  • Input lag and frame rate issues

The idea of former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi creating a spiritual successor to the trailblazing series was a popular one with fans. His project became a wild success on Kickstarter, quickly meeting its target and securing funding for stretch goals that added numerous extra features. The result was Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a faithful modernization of the classic Castlevania experience.

Bloodstained shares strong similarities with its predecessors, from its gothic horror style to a mystical summoned castle. It stars Miriam, a Shardbinder who can absorb crystal shards from demons to gain their powers. You step into her very lethal shoes as she tries to thwart the evil plans of the only other surviving Shardbinder, Gebel.

Miriam’s ability to gather and equip enemy skills provides a fresh magical element to the combat. Much of the other aspects of the gameplay stay quite close to Castlevania mechanics. It’s a 2D action platformer taking place on a single massive map that you explore one room at a time, with many sections closed off to you until you earn the appropriate abilities or items. You swap weapons and gear on the fly to boost your stats and better battle the castle’s monsters. It all feels nostalgic and familiar to fans of the genre, but it doesn’t stop the romp from being great bloody entertainment.

“The crafting system opens up a huge number of items to build and upgrade, and it’s a nice bonus incentive to loot materials on your repeated trips through the castle.” Anton Galang, Product Tester

Best Platformer: Nintendo Super Mario Maker 2

Nintendo Super Mario Maker 2
What We Like
  • Story mode

  • Online and local multiplayer

  • New level assets

What We Don't Like
  • Multiplayer has lag issues

Super Mario Maker 2 is more than your standard side-scrolling platform game. Sure, there’s a story mode, and it involves gradually rebuilding Princess Peach’s castle using coins that you earn from jobs assigned by Toad and other characters. Each job puts Mario in a 2D platforming level with a distinct visual theme from a past game, from the original pixely Super Mario Bros. to the more “2.5D” New Super Mario Bros. style. Many jobs also throw in the twist of a unique rule or objective (like never touching the ground or reaching the goal holding a shell).

The key difference, of course, is the “Maker” part of the game. As with the first Super Mario Maker for Wii U, you have the freedom to create and edit and share 2D courses of your own. That means placing parts like terrain, traps, blocks, baddies, and power-ups from Mario’s many 2D adventures, along with choosing details like backgrounds, sound effects, scroll speed, and more. You can then save your creations and upload them to the online community, where up to four players can play them together locally or online and rate their experience.

A more recent update added the World Maker feature, letting you create world maps with up to 5 of your custom courses in each, and a Super World containing 8 of those world maps. If you invest in learning the maker interface and have the patience to build and test your ideas, you could essentially create your own full Mario game for others to enjoy.

“Making challenging, playable levels has some learning curve to it, but between the tips and tutorials within the game (mixed with your patience and imagination), it can become a powerful creative tool.” Anton Galang, Product Tester

Best Roguelike: Supergiant Games Hades

What We Like
  • Rewarding replay loop builds a deep story

  • Interesting mythology-based characters

  • Excellent music and visuals

What We Don't Like
  • Gameplay repetition not for everyone

A roguelike game is defined by procedurally generated levels where if your character dies, you start all over. Fortunately, in Hades for Switch and PC, you’re the immortal prince Zagreus, and dying is very much part of the story. Each death brings you right back with new skills and upgrades and abilities to help you eventually battle your way out of the underworld. You can wield one of six primary weapons, choosing from a selection of blades and bows that let you try out noticeably different styles of play. You can also earn items to aid you in various big and little ways in future runs.

The real loot, though, is the friends (and enemies) you make along the way. You’ll encounter gods and heroes from Greek mythology—Ares, Athena, Achilles, et al.—and gain their powers or friendship or support or resistance. They’re all compellingly voice acted and reveal a little more of their intriguing personalities and backstories each time you see them. They remember everything, from the powers you used to how you died, and they’ll comment the next time you return. It’s an addictive process that builds up a dynamic, engrossing story bit by bit and makes you want to jump into the inferno again and again… and again… and again…

Best Sim: Double Damage Games Rebel Galaxy Outlaw

What We Like
  • Exciting spaceship dogfights

  • Detailed ships and upgrades

  • 7 radio stations with hours of lively music

What We Don't Like
  • Repetitive and grindy nature to missions

If you’ve dreamed of living the drifter life, riding around from bar to bar, shooting pool, making coin from odd jobs—and doing it all in space—then Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is the simulation game for you. You play as Juno Markev, a smuggler hunting down her husband’s murderer, traversing a galaxy with a wild-west feel. You stop at seedy space stations full of truckers and ruffians, where you can play minigames like dice, slots, and an Asteroids-like arcade game. Your goal is to gather information, funds, and parts to upgrade the junk pile you start out with as a ship.

The main way to improve your situation, though, is to take on missions and bounties that call for space combat, and that’s where the real action of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw kicks in. Some of these fast-paced dogfights can get difficult, but the game helps keep things from becoming tedious or frustrating. Holding down the left trigger automatically steers your ship toward your target so you can focus on shooting. You’ll also meet fellow pilots you can call on for assistance. Eventually, you’ll be able to upgrade your ship enough to make tougher skirmishes easier, though the process is somewhat of a grind. There’s also a very advanced painting tool for customizing your ship, and you can even order a 3D-printed scale model to be sent to you in real life.

Best Action RPG: Nintendo Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

What We Like
  • Beautiful presentation faithful to Breath of the Wild

  • Diverse playable characters

  • Tie-ins to BotW story and other elements

What We Don't Like
  • Not traditional Legend of Zelda gameplay

  • Often straightforward button-mashing

Hyrule Warriors, a Wii U game ported over to the Switch, took the action RPG combat of the long-running Dynasty Warriors franchise and added characters and settings from across the Legend of Zelda’s history. The new Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity takes the connection to another level, serving as a spin-off/prequel to the Switch’s acclaimed Breath of the Wild. While not the same sort of open-world adventure as BotW, Age of Calamity captures its distinctive visual look and feel, from the characters and locations to the items and menus, and offers a peek into the events that would set BotW’s story into motion 100 years later.

Fans of Dynasty Warriors and BotW alike will find a lot to enjoy in Age of Calamity’s twist on battlefield combat, which adds more depth than most previous titles in the series. On the way to capturing outposts and meeting objectives, you’ll still button-mash to slash through hordes of enemies and fearsome bosses. But tougher foes call for strategic use of various weapons and specialty attacks, and these moves are what make the different playable hero characters feel unique. Link has his trusty sword and bow, plus BotW-inspired tricks like paragliding, shield surfing, and special rune-powered bombs. Impa creates duplicates of herself, and Daruk the Goron smashes fiery rocks. Zelda’s moves revolve around Sheikah Slate runes, but all characters have different special abilities based on those runes as well. Also woven in are familiar RPG progression mechanics, including levelling up, looting chests for better gear, and collecting resources to craft helpful recipes and upgrades.

Final Verdict

Animal Crossing: New Horizons became a global phenomenon for Nintendo, and for good reason. It’s a wholesome escape to a charming island that you can mold to your liking, where you can live how you want and visit friends all without leaving your real-world house. If you’re looking for a more fast-paced multiplayer session, you can’t go wrong with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Players of just about any skill level can have a great time racing through the eye-catching tracks and firing off wacky items.

How We Tested

Our expert reviewers and testers use several factors to evaluate the quality of Nintendo Switch games. We play through each game, judging the game based off the coherence of its plot, the quality of its graphics, and the overall enjoyment of its key gameplay loop. We balance the subjective elements of personal likes and dislikes, with an overall view of the genre as a whole and the value proposition offered by the games in terms of length and payoff. We also compare each game to a similar rival to help us make a final evaluation. Lifewire purchases each game; we do not accept review codes. 

About Our Trusted Experts

Anton Galang is a Lifewire contributor who began writing in the tech field more than a decade ago. He is a lifelong fan of Nintendo games and systems, with the Switch currently serving as his go-to console for at-home and on-the-go gaming.

Kelsey Simon works as both a tech writer and as a technology rep for her library. She combines her love of writing and video games in her game reviews, including testing out several Nintendo Switch games for Lifewire.

Emily Ramirez has a degree in Comparative Media Studies (Game Design) from MIT and is always playing, making, or writing about video games. Her Lifewire reviews have covered a variety of games and other consumer electronics.

Which Nintendo Switch Game is Best for You?

Genre - The main thing you need to consider when you're shopping for any game is what kind of experiences you enjoy most. It doesn't matter how well designed a game is if it's the sort of thing you're never going to play, so if you love first-person shooters, it's possible that flight sims just aren't for you. We've picked some of the best of every genre and tried to be as inclusive as possible, with an emphasis on the things Nintendo historically does best: platformers, multiplayer, and games for younger players.

Length - Sure, a 100-hour JRPG might seem like a great value proposition for your $60, but if you're a busy professional you might actually get more fun out of a short linear shooter (and more satisfaction when you're actually able to finish it). There are also a growing number of games-as-a-service that offer a continually evolving suite of systems and gameplay that you can dip into whenever you like, often for one flat fee; while a lot of these have yet to make their way to a Nintendo platform, more and more of them are popping up as developers realize what a long tail the Switch has.

Narrative - If you're the sort of gamer that loves a rich story and a fully developed, immersive world, you may take as much (or more) satisfaction from an adventure game or visual novel as from the latest Activision FPS. On the other hand, if you get your story kicks from books, films, and/or TV, maybe an addictive little puzzle game or a MOBA is the best gaming investment for you.

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