The 9 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
"Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch is a defining experience that players young and old won’t want to miss."
"The Switch version is packed with all content from the original game and its DLCs, along with some new characters and Karts."
"Another excellent feature made possible by the Switch and its Joy-Cons is seamless drop-in co-op"
"Breath of the Wild takes the Legend of Zelda to brand new dimensions."
"Want to let your kids in on the excitement of shooter games but without the typical violence and blood?"
"With the Switch as a hybrid system, though, Sword and Shield become the first Pokemon titles you can play on your home TV."
"The blocky building phenomenon Minecraft has become a part of our culture."
"While the game centers on combat and shooting, it’s a long way from realistic violence."
"Animal Crossing: New Horizons hit the scene just as many people around the world were forced to spend much more time at home."

Nintendo’s wildly popular hybrid gaming system offers endless hours of family-focused fun, and that’s very clear when you look at the best Nintendo Switch games for kids. With a long history of beloved franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon in the mix, there’s no shortage of imaginative and age-appropriate adventures for young players to enjoy.

The characters and environments of these games are rich and varied, but so are the gameplay experiences themselves. Action-adventure. Platforming. Racing. RPG and strategy. Sandbox and open-world. Even kid-friendly shooters. You’ll find options for just about any genre, with plenty that new gamers can jump right into and others that call for some grownup help.

The Switch console itself is uniquely designed with features ideal for younger players, like its trademark portability and innovative controller system that’s great for multiplayer and co-op. It’s no surprise, then, that there are such high-quality family titles available for the console, and many of the kid-approved games on this list are simply some of the best Switch games—period. You’ll have a terrific time whether you’re young or young at heart.

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 like 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 also not so complex that a child will get lost.

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 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 only games you might want to watch out for are console/PC ports like Witcher 3 which tend to have darker, more adult content.

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 kingdoms along the way, and our reviewer 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. Some are animals, some are enemy creatures, some are the last object you’d expect to don a Mario hat and mustache, but the wacky abilities they give to players are a blast to discover and play around with.

"Simply put, if you own a Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey is a must buy." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

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. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is technically not a brand new game—it’s a refreshed version of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 that takes advantage of the Switch’s HD graphics and multiplayer-friendly controller options. Even without a formal tutorial to kick things off, it’s not hard 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.

The Switch version is packed with all content from the original game and its DLCs, 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, 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.

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

Best Casual RPG: Nintendo Let’s Go, Pikachu!

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 Pokemon 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 Pokemon games. Those 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 Pokemon 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 Pokemon running around the environment. And instead of battling wild Pokemon before catching them, Let’s Go borrows the Poke Ball throwing mechanics from the ubiquitous Pokemon GO mobile games. You can even sync to your Pokemon GO account and transfer Pokemon 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.

“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

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

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. It’s a gorgeous, meticulously crafted landscape 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 felt that a bit more direction would have helped propel the narrative. Your treks are also somewhat reigned in (by design) 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 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.

"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

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.

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

Best Party-Based RPG: Game Freak Pokemon: Sword/Shield

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 Pokemon

True to its “pocket monsters” origins, the main Pokemon games in the series had been limited to Nintendo’s handheld consoles. With the Switch as a hybrid system, though, Sword and Shield become the first Pokemon titles you can play on your home TV. While our reviewer acknowledged some disappointment that the games didn’t utilize the modern console’s power to take the franchise to new levels, it’s the same enjoyable Pokemon catching/training/battling experience for trainers young and old—with needed gameplay evolutions like cutting out random encounters.

Your player character in these 8th-generation games will trek around the Galar region, heavily inspired by the U.K. in terms of locations, culture, and even several of the new Pokemon species. Your ultimate goal, story-wise, is to win the championship tournament of an organization not unlike a soccer league, complete with massive stadiums serving as the game’s “gyms.” These gym battles are excellent at capturing the hype of challenging a world-class trainer as enthusiastic crowds roar in the stands. It also helps that stadiums are places that allow for Dynamax forms, a new battle mechanic where Pokemon can grow to a colossal size and perform arena-altering attacks (with some capable of Gigantamax forms that dramatically change their appearance).

Breaking up the typical pattern of hopping town-to-town collecting gym badges is the opportunity to explore the new open-world Wild Area. It’s a vast space with an exciting diversity of landscapes, weather patterns, and Pokemon, some of which will start off too strong to catch. You can also join three other players in Max Raid battles against Dynamax Pokemon, adding a fresh new multiplayer element to the mix.

“The classic, cartoony style of the game fits perfectly with the models. The textures are simple, but nice to look at. It just feels right for a Pokemon game.”Emily Ramirez, 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 blocky building phenomenon Minecraft has become a part of our culture. Survival Mode embodies the basic gameplay: explore the land, mine resources, craft items, and equipment, 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 noted that his 6-year-old not only loves experimenting within the game itself but also started reading Minecraft books for ideas and inspiration.

The creative potential is staggering whether you play on PC or consoles, but the Switch version provides an element of portability without 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. Nintendo also throws in exclusive Mario-themed assets 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.

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

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 like Mario and Peach thrown alongside Rabbids versions of themselves. The writing and dialogue is clever throughout, though it might be a lot to read for many 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.

“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

Best for Casual Play: Nintendo 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

Animal Crossing: New Horizons hit the scene just as many people around the world were forced to spend much more time at home, and it quickly took over households everywhere. The game helped boost Switch sales to new heights, and for good reason. It offers a stress-free escape to a charming island paradise where you can take life at your own pace. One day at a time, you furnish your house and develop your island. You plant flowers and trees while harvesting others for fruit and wood. You pick your outfits and chat up your quirky animal neighbors. (There’s a pool of almost 400 of these villagers out there to potentially meet and invite to your island.)

You find some degree of structured progression to New Horizons, mostly in the form of earning Bells to pay off-island improvements and gaining Nook Miles as currency for achievements. But like previous Animal Crossing games, you’re mostly left to do whatever brings you the most joy and satisfaction. This may cause some kids to lose interest after some time, while others may love the freedom to play around however they want.

One unfortunate restriction is that there can only be one island per Switch, so you need multiple consoles and copies of the game to live on separate islands. Having family members share a single island peacefully can be a challenge, but it can also be a rewarding exercise in how to cooperate while giving each other space. Then there’s the ability to visit the islands of friends and other members of the huge online community. Players are mostly helpful and wholesome to match the positive spirit of the game, but as with any online features, adults should supervise their children’s interactions.

“Not only do my wife and 5-year-old and I get to enjoy quality experiences on our shared island, but we’re also able to connect with family and friends around the world that we haven’t seen in person for a long, long time.”Anton Galang, Product Tester

Final Verdict

The Nintendo Switch has no shortage of kid-friendly titles, but Super Mario Odyssey 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 for racing enthusiasts and the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 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.

Taylor Clemons has over three years of experience writing about games and consumer technology. She has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar and her own publication, Steam Shovelers.

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 six-year-old son.

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 Pokemon Sword/Shield praising the innovative new Wild Areas.

FAQs

What ages are Nintendo Switch kids’ games appropriate for?
There are some games tailormade 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.

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