The 10 Best Nintendo Switch Kids' Games of 2021

See which titles will make your kids smile from ear to ear

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The Rundown
Mario’s new companion Cappy adds an extra family-friendly component.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe makes it easy for most kids to pick up a Joy-Con and start driving and tossing around shells and Bob-ombs.
The landscape is gorgeous and meticulously crafted with so many secrets to uncover that you’ll easily lose hours exploring.
Your main goal, story-wise, is to become the region champion by climbing the ranks of the Galarian equivalent of a soccer league.
The classic 'gotta catch ‘em all' gameplay has been refreshed to be much more accessible.
While the game centers on combat and shooting, it’s a long way from realistic violence.
It’s frantic fun for younger players, even if shooting game veterans may not find it as much of a challenge as they’re used to.
One of the strengths of Ultimate is how much you can customize any battle to your liking.
Creative Mode is where imagination is unleashed. There’s no losing or dying, and the controls are simple for young kids to pick up.
Each real-time day in the game offers plenty to do, including new content and special seasonal events.

The best Nintendo Switch kids’ games are much more than brightly colored, simplified versions of “grown-up” games. They can be complex, challenging, and immensely entertaining for players of any age, and they help lock in the hugely popular hybrid gaming system as a go-to for family fun.

For starters, veteran gamers will recognize beloved Nintendo franchises they grew up with, from Mario to Zelda to Pokémon, refreshed for the next generation of players. Joining them are plenty of new favorites, covering just about every gaming genre in age-appropriate ways. These titles often take advantage of the Switch console’s innovative portability and multiplayer-friendly design, making them ideal for young gamers to jump in with parents or older siblings. (The value-priced, handheld-only Switch Lite is also a nice option for a kid or as a secondary unit for the family.)

Browse our list of the best Nintendo Switch kids’ games and see which ones may be a hit for the children—and adults—in your life.

Best Overall: Nintendo Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey
What We Like
  • Unique, gorgeous worlds to discover

  • Mix of new and nostalgic elements

  • Cappy offers fun co-op option

What We Don't Like
  • Parts may be difficult for kids

Like many of Mario’s adventures on past Nintendo consoles, Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch is a defining experience that players young and old won’t want to miss. The main collectibles this time around are Power Moons, which fuel your balloon-powered airship, the Odyssey. You’ll need it to chase after (who else?) Bowser, who has kidnapped (who else?) Princess Peach to force her to play bride in the warped wedding of his dreams.

You’ll land at several different kingdoms along the way, and our reviewer Kelsey Simon found that exploring each of these stunning, inspired locations sparked much of the game’s appeal. Each land has a distinct personality and visual foundation, from the colorful, surreal, and food-filled Luncheon Kingdom to the startlingly realistic Big Apple-based New Donk City.

Odyssey’s 3D platformer gameplay will be familiar to Mario veterans, as will the occasional transition to nostalgic 2D side-scrolling. Many moons are straightforward to reach, though others call for more precise jumping and timing that could frustrate younger players.

Fortunately, Mario’s new companion Cappy adds an extra family-friendly component. A second player can jump in and play as the ghost/hat character to help Mario jump, collect items, and bonk baddies. Cappy also offers a way to take control of various entities you come across. Whether it’s an animal, an enemy creature, or the random object you’d least expect to don a Mario hat and mustache, the wacky abilities they give to players are a blast to discover and play around with.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 5.6GB

"Whether you’re good at games or not, competitive or casual, old or young, you can play Odyssey whatever way works best for you."Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Super Mario Odyssey

 Lifewire

Best Racing: Nintendo Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
What We Like
  • Exciting multiplayer races and battles

  • Enjoyable for beginners and experts alike

  • Tons of unique, colorful tracks

What We Don't Like
  • Not much intro for new players

  • Some stats and settings hard to find

If you’ve enjoyed any version of Mario Kart over the years, then you’ll appreciate this opportunity to introduce young racers to the series. Even without a formal tutorial to kick things off, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe makes it easy for most kids to pick up a Joy-Con and start driving and tossing around shells and Bob-ombs. The controls are smooth and intuitive, with options for motion steering as well as newly added auto-acceleration and smart-steering features.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is technically not a brand-new game—it’s an upgraded port of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 that takes advantage of the Switch’s HD graphics and multiplayer-friendly controller options. It’s packed with content from the original game and its DLC, along with some new characters and Karts. The total comes to 42 unique racers and a wonderfully diverse selection of 48 racetracks.

Some courses revamp old favorites from past games, while others take fresh inspiration from various Nintendo franchises, and each one immerses drivers in a delightful visual environment that makes every race as exciting as the last. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also tacks on new head-to-head and team-based battle modes, offering even more ways to enjoy multiplayer chaos for all ages.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 6.9GB

"Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is great for kids, especially those with a more competitive streak." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

 Lifewire

Best Action/Adventure: Nintendo The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
What We Like
  • Massive, beautiful open world

  • Smooth combat controls

  • Tons to explore and experience

What We Don't Like
  • Minimal direction to the narrative

The Switch has allowed a number of classic Nintendo franchises to evolve, but Breath of the Wild takes the Legend of Zelda to brand new dimensions. Link returns as the courageous, silent hero, but this time he awakens in a breathtakingly vast, open-world version of the kingdom of Hyrule.

The landscape is gorgeous and meticulously crafted, with so much beauty to be found and so many secrets to uncover that you’ll easily lose hours exploring it. Tame a wild horse and gallop across the plains. Scale a mountain, shield-surf down its slope, and paraglide to an intriguing landmark in the distance. Catch fish, pick mushrooms, and cook up a meal to refill your hearts and stamina so you can go out and explore some more.

The threat of Ganon looms over the adventure and drives your main objectives, but for the most part, you’re not given specific guidance on what to do next. This gives you the freedom to forge your own paths, but our tester Kelsey felt that a bit more direction would have helped propel the narrative.

Your treks are also somewhat reigned in by certain survival elements. This includes limited equipment durability; your items wear out after a certain number of uses, so you have to be aware of your resources. But the combat itself is as straightforward and satisfying as you’d expect from a Zelda game, with a variety of swords, clubs, bows, shields, and more, along with special abilities geared toward tackling certain types of puzzles and foes.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 14.4GB

"Nintendo took a lot of time and consideration when it came to the visual design of Breath of the Wild, making us love the game even more for it." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Nintendo Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Lifewire / Kelsey Simon

Best Party-Based RPG: Game Freak Pokemon: Sword/Shield (Nintendo Switch)

Pokemon Soord
What We Like
  • Familiar mechanics with needed improvements

  • New open-world Wild Area

  • Exciting Dynamax battles

What We Don't Like
  • Simple graphics and animations

  • Limited set of available Pokémon

25 years after the launch of the first game, Pokémon frenzy is as strong as ever. The latest main games in the series—Sword version and Shield version—offer today’s players a lot to love. They’re the first core titles to let you catch, collect, and battle your “pocket monsters” not only on the go, but also on a big TV through a home console.

While some fans had understandable gripes about the simplistic graphics and limited number of available Pokémon (out of the roughly 900 total species), Sword and Shield don’t fail to deliver on the tried-and-true franchise formula. You travel from town to town—this time in the very U.K.-inspired Galar region—taking part in turn-based battles against wild Pokémon and other Pokémon trainers.

Your main goal, story-wise, is to become the region champion by climbing the ranks of the Galarian equivalent of a soccer league. Your battles in the various stadiums are exciting spectacles, especially with the new Dynamax mechanic featured in Sword and Shield. It allows your Pokémon to grow to massive sizes, sometimes dramatically changing in appearance, and use devastating, environment-altering attacks.

The game also introduces a dynamic, open-world Wild Area where Pokémon of varying difficulty levels roam free. Combined with Nintendo Switch Online, the Wild Area offers opportunities to interact with and battle alongside other real-life players, as well as for period limited-time events to take place. Two other completely new open-world areas with new Pokémon to catch have also been made available for purchase through a pair of expansions: the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 12.4GB

"If you’ve never played a Pokemon game before, you’ll love Sword and Shield’s soft challenges. If you’re a veteran, you’ll probably like it, too." — Emily Ramirez, Product Tester

Pokemon Sword/Shield

 Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Best Casual RPG: Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Let’s Go, Eevee!

What We Like
  • Charming, upgraded graphics

  • Kid-friendly gameplay

  • Easy drop-in two-player mode

What We Don't Like
  • Minimal difficulty

  • Low complexity for veteran players

Parents love reliving treasured experiences from their childhood alongside their kids, and Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! does that for the Pokémon franchise in the very best ways. You jump into the Kanto region for what’s essentially a much-modernized remake of the first generation of Pokémon games. Those games kicked off the series with the Red and Blue versions, but the Let’s Go titles are based more on the Pikachu-centric Yellow version, with either Pikachu or Eevee as the partner Pokémon at your side based on which game you’re playing.

Visuals get the most obvious upgrade in Let’s Go, with a cute and colorful 3D style that sparks new life far beyond the original Game Boy graphics. But the classic “gotta catch ‘em all” gameplay has been refreshed to be much more accessible, too.

Random encounters give way to very visible Pokémon running around the environment. And instead of battling wild Pokémon before catching them, Let’s Go borrows the Poke Ball throwing mechanics from the ubiquitous Pokémon GO mobile games. You can even sync to your Pokémon GO account and transfer Pokémon over to your Let’s Go adventure (though this option doesn’t unlock until relatively late in the game).

Another excellent feature made possible by the Switch and its Joy-Cons is seamless drop-in co-op, where a second player can pop in at any time to support the main character. This makes the game’s battles significantly easier—a downside for veterans seeking a challenge, but perfect for families with younger children wanting to join the action.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 4.2GB

“Everything about this game is age appropriate. It has feel-good moments, a positive attitude, and while fighting occurs, no one actually gets hurt. The bad guys aren’t even that bad.” Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Nintendo Let's Go, Pikachu!

Lifewire / Kelsey Simon

Best Strategy: Ubisoft Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

What We Like
  • Cartoony, kid-friendly presentation

  • Humorous writing and plot

  • Fun playable characters

What We Don't Like
  • Simplified tactical gameplay

If you imagine tactical, turn-based single-player RPGs to be dull, tedious affairs, then you haven’t tried Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. The game’s wacky, slapstick story takes place in a version of the Mushroom Kingdom that’s been infested by hordes of mischievous Rabbids. You technically control a small, Roomba-esque robot named Beep-0, but the team you enlist to fend off the intruders consists of Nintendo characters such as Mario and Peach thrown alongside Rabbids versions of themselves. The writing and dialogue are clever throughout, though it might be a lot to read for younger kids.

While the game centers on combat and shooting, it’s a long way from realistic violence, with blasters and other weapons that cover enemies in things like honey and ink. The battles themselves use standard turn-based strategy gameplay where you position your characters around a grid and plan their attacks before the enemy team takes its turn.

It’s simple and usually easy enough for young strategists to handle, but there’s enough difficulty in certain stages and boss battles that older players must plan their moves carefully to meet all the victory conditions and unlock all the goodies. You’ll also eventually open up local co-op and versus modes that add a two-player twist to the gameplay.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 2.9GB

“Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle strikes a nice balance between suitable for children, while still being challenging enough for adults to love.”Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

 Lifewire

Best Shooter: Nintendo Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2
What We Like
  • Kid-friendly shooting gameplay with ink-based twist

  • Vivid characters and environments

  • Exciting multiplayer modes

What We Don't Like
  • Limited plot

  • Not as deep and competitive as adult shooters

Want to let your kids in on the excitement of shooter games but without the typical violence and blood? Take them into the colorful urban world of Splatoon 2, a third-person team-based shooter populated by squid-kids known as Inklings.

Most of the time, you run around in humanoid form using your paintball-style guns to shoot ink all over your opponents and the environment. But then you can switch into squid mode and swim through ink of your designated color, speeding sneakily around the level while refilling your ink supply.

Splatoon 2’s single-player campaign takes you through a simple story that helps introduce the game’s assortment of weapons and controls. Like many shooters, though, the emphasis is on multiplayer, with Turf War as the primary battle mode. Rather than trying to rack up kills, it shifts the focus to covering as much of the stage as you can with ink of your team’s color. It’s frantic fun for younger players, even if shooting game veterans may not find it as much of a challenge as they’re used to. A few other battle modes mix up the gameplay, including competitive special events that are introduced on a regular basis.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 6.1GB

"Splatoon 2 is a game that we felt was far more appropriate for a younger audience than an older one." Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Splatoon 2

Lifewire

Best Fighting Game: Nintendo Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

What We Like
  • Tons of playable fighters

  • Accessible but deep combat

  • Wide array of modes for one or more players

What We Don't Like
  • Can take awhile to unlock every character

  • Amount of content can get overwhelming

The Super Smash Bros. series began as an exciting chance to duke it out as a few of your favorite Nintendo characters. With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch, it has evolved into a way to play not just as Nintendo staples, but as a dizzying collection of characters across video games past and present.

The total count tops 80, which includes every fighter from previous Smash Bros. games, new additions to Ultimate, and 11 more added through post-release DLC. The selection makes it easy for any gamers to find their old favorites or discover new ones.

The brawler gameplay remains the same at its core, refined enough for expert players to appreciate but accessible enough for anyone to jump right in. Rather than lower your opponents’ health to zero, the goal is to damage them and make them easier to knock off the stage. Young players may find themselves winning just by staying alive, or even through a bit of luck—the frantic stages and wacky items that can pop into them ensure that pretty much anything can happen.

One of the strengths of Ultimate, though, is how much you can customize any battle to your liking. Turn any items on or off. Set the players, starting damage, win conditions, and tons more. There’s also impressive variety in the game modes available both online and off. Multiplayer rumbles of all sorts take center stage, but a new single-player adventure mode offers a lot of depth and playtime as well. You start as Kirby and win battles across a giant map to unlock your friends, along with non-player “Spirit” characters that can add bonuses to your fighters in battle.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 16.7GB

"The stage builder mode has become a hit with my 6-year-old—her creations set up some wildly chaotic battles, and, in her eyes, the crazier the better." — Anton Galang, Product Tester

Best for Creativity: Mojang Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition

Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition
What We Like
  • Powerful sandbox building tool

  • Easy-to-learn mechanics

  • Educational and empowering

What We Don't Like
  • Limited in typical “game” structure

On the journey from its 2011 indie beginnings to its status as the all-time best-selling video game, the building phenomenon Minecraft has earned a solid spot in today’s culture. Its main elements are simple, from the iconic blocky style to the basic gameplay embodied in Survival Mode: explore the land, mine resources, craft items, and fend off monsters.

But Creative Mode is where imagination is unleashed. There’s no losing or dying, and the controls are simple enough for young kids to pick up. It becomes all about what you can create with the countless blocks available to you. Dig deep into the earth. Build high into the sky. Our reviewer Andrew Hayward noted that his 6-year-old not only loves experimenting within the game itself but also started reading Minecraft books for ideas and inspiration. Teachers are even incorporating it into their classrooms as an educational tool.

The creative potential is staggering whether you play on PC or consoles, but the Switch version provides a convenient element of portability. It also avoids the limitations of the mobile version for phones and tablets—performance is smooth and high-resolution, though with slightly reduced world sizes and draw distance compared to more graphically powerful platforms.

As a bonus, Nintendo throws in exclusive Mario-themed assets for Switch users to play around with. Building with others adds another rewarding aspect to the experience, which you can do through local multiplayer or a Nintendo Switch Online membership.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 1.1GB

"Minecraft remains such a pure and compelling sandbox experience, dropping players into a blocky world full of seemingly endless possibilities." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Microsoft Minecraft

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best for Casual Play: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons
What We Like
  • Relaxed real-time gameplay

  • Enjoyable for all ages and experience levels

  • Great for playing as a family

What We Don't Like
  • Open-ended, long-term pace not for everyone

  • Limited to one island per Switch

It doesn’t dominate as many gamers’ lives as it did when the pandemic first locked us down in our homes, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons remains one of the most pleasant, wholesome ways to escape from reality. You’re placed on an island paradise that you can develop as you like, spending your time as you like. Each real-time day in the game offers plenty to do, including new content and special seasonal events released all throughout the year to keep things fresh.

Even without the limited-time happenings, there are more than enough stress-free activities to keep you busy. Catch bugs and fish to sell or display in your museum. Buy clothes to fill your wardrobe or furniture to decorate your house. Grow trees, chop wood, craft items. There are even around 400 animal “villagers” in the game that you can potentially invite to live on your island as your cute and quirky neighbors.

Another joy of New Horizons is how it lets you interact with other people. Anyone playing on the same Switch console will share a single island, making for a possibly challenging but rewarding family exercise in sharing and cooperation. You can also go online to visit the islands of friends and other players around the world. As always, adults should supervise young children’s interactions, but Animal Crossing community members are generally very positive and helpful to one another, often willing to trade or give you the items you’re looking for.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 7.0GB

"The sheer volume of beautifully detailed items simply demands to be used." Sandra Stafford, Product Tester

Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Lifewire / Sandra Stafford

Final Verdict

The Nintendo Switch has no shortage of kid-friendly titles, but Super Mario Odyssey (view at Amazon) is a superb showcase of what the system has to offer. Its brilliant, imaginative level designs can appeal to longtime Mario fans and new players alike, with independent control of Cappy as a fun option for the second player. There are plenty of great games across other genres as well, including Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (view at Amazon) for racing enthusiasts and the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (view at Amazon) for those seeking a grand, open-world adventure.

About Our Trusted Experts

Anton Galang is a Lifewire writer and reviewer who first entered tech journalism as part of PC Magazine in 2007. He and his young daughter enjoy spending afternoons playing any Switch games they can get their hands on.

Kelsey Simon is a long time gamer who has written for Lifewire since 2019. She owns a variety of systems including a Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite.

Emily Ramirez has been playing games for years, and has written for Lifewire since 2019. Previously, she wrote for MassDiGI and the MIT Game Lab. She reviewed Pokémon Sword/Shield praising the innovative new Wild Areas.

Andrew Hayward has covered games since 2006, writing for publications like TechRadar and Polygon. He's a pretty big gamer himself and owns and uses a Nintendo Switch at home which he often plays with his 6-year-old son.

Sandra Stafford has been writing for Lifewire since 2019, but she's been playing games for much longer. She particularly enjoys playing on her Switch and has hundreds of hours in Animal Crossing.

FAQs

What ages are Nintendo Switch kids’ games appropriate for?
There are some games tailor-made for preschool players, but many more are designed with straightforward gameplay (platforming, puzzles, racing, etc.) that most kids 5 and up can enjoy. Other titles involve more action, strategy, reading, or other overall complexity—these are better suited for older kids, or call for more adult guidance and supervision.

Are parental controls available for the Nintendo Switch?
Detailed parental control settings are activated by syncing your console to the free Nintendo Switch Parental Controls mobile app with an adult’s Nintendo Account. You can use Child, Pre-Teen, or Teen presets, or customize which features and games are restricted based on rating. You can also monitor play time and set limits, but any parental control settings apply to everyone using the system, not individual users (though adults can use a PIN to override restrictions).

Can kids play Nintendo Switch games online?
Adults with a Nintendo Account can create “supervised” accounts for kids and add them to a Nintendo Switch Online family membership for online play. The parent account can restrict what content on the Switch eShop their children can view or purchase, and the Switch Parental Controls app can limit social sharing and other online interactions. In general, though, parents should stay aware of what young players are doing online and with whom.

What to Look for When Buying Nintendo Switch Kids' Games

Gameplay

Nintendo games have always been effective at straddling the balance where they appeal to kids and adults equally. With adventure-driven platformers such as Mario Odyssey, you get just the right mix of fun, child-friendly graphics with gameplay that’s unique and challenging. Breath of the Wild, an open-world RPG has more plot and mechanics to it, but it’s not too complex for most kids to enjoy.

Graphics

Games on the Nintendo Switch have perfected an art style that makes them stand out from the rest. Breath of the Wild has a particularly unique graphic style reminiscent of more “adult” games like Witcher 3 or Skyrim, with an esoteric twist that lends itself to a fantasy world. Splatoon 2 goes for the more traditional cartoony graphics, making the competitive shooter seem fun and colorful, rather than bloody and violent.

Kid-Friendliness

It’s rare you'll have to worry about child-friendliness on Switch games. From Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the majority of first-party Nintendo games will avoid any kinds of graphic violence, profanity, nudity, or other adult content. The types of games you might want to watch out for are console/PC ports such as Witcher 3, which may have darker, more adult content.

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