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Whether you’re buying Nintendo Switch games as a birthday present or building up your own collection, there are some Switch games that are must-haves. The Switch console offers a unique, versatile and above all fun way to play video games, and the titles below are the cream of the crop. If you’re looking for the absolute best Nintendo Switch Games of 2021, then read on.
Games such as Just Dance 2021 and Mario Party are regular favorites for social gatherings, while Zelda: Breath of the Wild will provide more serious gamers with the challenges and surreal storylines they love. Of course, non-gamers who don’t know their Marios from their Warios run the risk of buying the wrong title. If you don’t know what the best games for Nintendo Switch are (and don’t want to ask for advice lest you ruin the surprise of your gift), then you can’t go wrong with any of these Nintendo Switch games.
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
How did so many people end up suddenly obsessed with Animal Crossing? The pandemic quarantine probably had a lot to do with why this long-running franchise took the entire internet by storm since in March 2020. In fact, Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn’t have come at a better time. Set on your own personal island (we all need a vacation from our homes every now and then), you and your animal neighbors have full control over the island landscape. You can make friends, plant a garden, go fishing, maintain your home and relax. To add a sense of realism, time is synced to real life, so day and nighttime, as well as seasons, change with the time of year. For builders and creators, Animal Crossing: New Horizons won’t disappoint.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
As one of the highest-rated games of all time, Breath of Wild may very well go down in history as the best Zelda game ever made (sorry, N64 fans). The sheer level of complexity and the expansive open-world design is enough to keep any gamer satisfied for months. What sets this game apart from anything else in its genre is Nintendo’s signature touch. Easy to pick up and highly addictive, it’s everything we’ve always wanted in a game. Not simply one of the best Nintendo Switch games, this is one of the best video games ever made. Be warned, if you’re looking for Switch games to buy as a gift, there’s a good chance the gamer in your life has already played through this particular title.
3. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Super Mario 3D World is widely considered one the best Mario games ever made thanks to its inventive level design and new items such as the cat suit. But because it originally released on the flop that was the Wii U, it was not played by as many people as it should have been. It has been given second live on the Nintendo Switch, however, which means tens of millions of gamers will be able to experience the brilliant gameplay that exists between the old-school 2D Mario games and the more modern 3D titles.
To make the deal even sweeter, Nintendo packaged this game with Bowser’s Fury, an experimental title that mixes traditional platforming with open-world gameplay to give you a Mushroom Kingdom adventure unlike any that have come before it.
In a year stacked with blockbuster releases such as Final Fantasy VII Remake, Cyberpunk 2077, Ghosts of Tsushima and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla few expected an indie roguelite for the Nintendo Switch to emerge as the game of the year in 2020. But that’s exactly what happened when Hades arrived, taking the gaming world by storm with its fast, fluid and addictive hack-and-slash gameplay. You play as the son of Hades, tasked with the goal of escaping the underworld as a litany of mythical beasts try their best to prevent that, and often succeed. But every time you fail to escape, you get a little stronger, and each successive run will give you the tools to advance further through the game. What makes Hades so great is not that it reinvents the wheel, but rather it combines so many different elements of great games (mechanics, story, presentation) in a way that no other game has.
5. Monster Hunter Rise
Monster Hunter has been huge in Japan for years, but it wasn’t until the release of Monster Hunter World in 2016 that the franchise really began to take off in America. Monster Hunter Rise is the latest game in the series and it has landed on the Switch. In Monster Hunter Rise you must take down gigantic mythical beasts, but it isn’t as simple as showing up to the battle with superpowers and unlimited ammo. You must prepare and ensure you have enough armor, food and other items, as well as track down and successfully lure the monster out of hiding before you finally take it down.
6. Super Mario Maker 2
Make your own levels, enjoy the story mode, or play against others online, Super Mario Maker 2 is much more than just a video game designer’s dream. You can design some pretty off-kilter levels in Maker 2, and even set new parameters in your level — like, for instance, maybe Mario isn’t allowed to jump — giving you total control in new ways. Not in the designing mood? Play the story where Peach’s castle accidentally gets reset (destroyed) and it’s up to you (Mario) to put the pieces back together. Super Mario Maker 2 is the powered-up version of its predecessor.
7. Paper Mario: The Origami King
While Mario is best known for his role in side-scrolling adventures and even some 3D adventures, he actually has quite the history in the RPG world. Starting with the fantastic Super Mario RPG in 1996, Mario is no slouch when it comes to taking turns bouncing and bopping bad guys. But since the N64 era, Mario went 2D (in a sense), with the Paper Mario games. The first two (Paper Mario and Paper Mario: Thousand-Year Door) games are certified classics at this point, and the latest game in the franchise, Paper Mario: The Origami King Nintendo sort of brings Mario back to his papery roots. While the combat is not quite what many fans have hoped for, Mario’s latest paper adventure is very much in line with the others in terms of creativity, beauty and cheek. That’s right, if you enjoyed the wacky side comments of the original games, you’ll love this latest version. From shining seas to dark deserts and even theme parks, Mario and co fight against the evil King Olly, an origami creation come to life who is attempting to “re-align” the paper Mushroom Kingdom.
If you were a fan of the original Paper Mario, it’s worth picking this game up. Sure the radial battles aren’t quite the classic turn-based fights of day’s past, but with the amazing worlds and clever humor, this game is very much worth your time.
8. Untitled Goose Game
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the gaming world in 2019 was the success of Untitled Goose Game. Yup, a game so unlikely to be successful the creators didn’t even name it. The premise is simple: you play as a goose whose purpose is to be a complete nightmare and total nuisance to its human neighbors. So, basically, a normal goose. As the partially-titular goose, you bug the hell out of humans by locking them in closets, eating their crops, and honking away relentlessly as you make life miserable for all mankind. It’s definitely one of those games that once you start, before you know it, you’ve put in three hours of gameplay without even blinking an eye. It’s also exactly the kind of video game title that is uniquely suited to the Nintendo Switch community.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a post-apocalyptic game in the mix. But Overland takes more strategy than barreling through zombies with artillery. Traveling from coast to coast in America, you’ll have to figure out how to survive with scarce supplies while creepy creatures lurk. Even when a character dies, the story goes on. You’ll continue to survive as you traverse the country playing as different characters for as long as you can. It’s an unsettling strategic game that you won’t be able to put down.
The blocky phenomenon known as Minecraft has finally made its way into Nintendo’s hands, and subsequently, into gamers’ hearts. C’mon, we knew it was only a matter of time. The controls are highly intuitive and the graphics look every bit as good as the PS4 and Xbox One versions. But what makes the Switch iteration so great is the fact that you can literally play it anywhere — on the train to work, at the laundromat or when you’re over at a friend’s house.
11. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate really is the ultimate Smash Bros. This is undoubtedly one of the most popular games to give as a gift to Nintendo Switch users (assuming they don’t already have a copy). Everything is cranked up to 11 on this one. There are 74-characters you can choose from –– everyone from Mario to Metal Gear Solid’s Snake. There are even 100 fight stages included in this ultimate Smash Bros. bonanza. If you want things to get really chaotic, you can have an 8-on-8 battle where the action will be relentless. Or you can dial it down and play the Spirit mode which is great for single player warriors. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a fan favorite and one of the most popular Switch games this year.
12. Astral Chain
There’s never a dull moment in Astral Chain, an action-adventure game that is set in a modern metropolis, but under duress by supernatural enemies. Of course, you’re tasked with stopping the attack, but you don’t need to go it alone. With the help of other characters in the “Legion”, you’ll need to solve puzzles and attack the supernatural to save the city. Not as dark as Mortal Combat, but with extra flair beyond Mario-esque staples, Astral Chain finds a nice niche in the Switch game lineup.
13. Pokemon Sword and Shield
Pokemon Sword and Shield is a winner for Pokemon fans. The game has something for old-school Pokemon fans as well as newcomers to the universe. You get all the great monster catching and battling that Pokemon lovers have grown accustomed to, but now in the mix of open-world Wild Areas in an RPG-style game. Dynamax battles are also new to Sword and Shield, where giant Pokemon characters compete in battles that are just as big and epic as the characters. These two games also have a ton of online features, which is another calling card for the Pokemon franchise. This game is a must-own for any Nintendo Switch gamer who also loves Pokemon. For non-Pokemon players, it’s best to pick another title on this list.
14. Luigi’s Mansion 3
Mario, who? With the Luigi’s Mansion franchise of games, Mario’s brother finally gets his due, and Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the latest and best in the series. In this ghostbusting adventure, you control two characters at once: Luigi and Gooigi, Luigi’s slimly and ghostly counterpart, as you attempt to conquer King Boo’s haunted mansion. There are a number of new tools at Luigi’s disposal and a handful of new moves and bosses that make the gameplay more fun than ever before. This game is just as challenging as it is fun and will be a winner as a Nintendo Switch gift for the gamer in your life.
15. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Lovers of the O.G. Zelda video games from the first Nintendo systems will certainly have a soft spot for Link’s Awakening on Switch. It brings back the classic 2D gameplay, but with new artwork –– as Zelda games tend to switch up artwork styles from time to time. With baby-looking Link –– and, seriously, he’s as cute as a button — you’ll go across the sprawling map trying to solve puzzles and conquer dungeons. But there’s also a new wrinkle: you can create your own dungeons, too. While it’s not nearly as epic as the more immersive Breath of the Wild, it’s still an amazing game that Zelda lovers will appreciate.
16. Nintendo Labo
Equal parts goofy and genius is the best way to describe the Nintendo Labo VR Kit. You actually build your controls (toy-cons) out of cardboard and pair them with various games. Each toy-con has an associated game or two, and there are a handful of different toy cons — everything from steering wheels to a piano. Leave it to Nintendo to produce such a unique take on VR gameplay, and succeeding with its ingenuity.
17. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is the most expansive, creative and fun Mario in years. This game jumps from world to world like no other. Literally, you could be running down the streets of a city one moment and warped to a 2D world like NES Mario the next. Mario’s hat and companion, Cappy, along with a bunch of new moves, add a new element to the game that was much needed in the Mario franchise. Even though this Mario has a new look and feel, along with expansive and creative new maps, there are still plenty of classic items such as the green pipes and mushrooms that are all too familiar to long-time Mario fans. Super Mario Odyssey is the Mario we’ve all been waiting for.
18. Just Dance 2021
Just Dance 2021 is one of the best party games for any social occasion. You and your friends can get together and move your way to greatness. There is a great list of songs and dance routines to choose from. And for those who are a bit more health-conscious, pair this game with the Ring Fit accessoriy and track the calories burned while dancing. There is even a Kids Mode that includes eight dance routines so the younger generation doesn’t feel left out during your dance party. Just Dance 2021 is a party favorite and great for the Switch gamer who also loves to entertain.
19. Super Mario Party
Super Mario Party is the perfect game for holiday get-togethers, parties or any social interaction where you and friends want to play flat-out fun video games. Super Mario Party will have you and your friends standing up in your living room, waving around the joy-cons, and laughing and hollering at the abundance of mini-games that have made Super Mario Party so popular over the years. You can even pair multiple Switches and monitors up for large gatherings. Super Mario Party is a total blast.
20. Sonic Mania
Created by fans, for fans, this side-scrolling adventure is a welcome throwback to the 16-bit days of the 90s. It’s a fun game in its own right, but fans of the original Sega series are sure to take an extra liking to it. A welcome addition to Switch’s growing arsenal, Sonic Mania is proof that good things can happen when you put your trust in the right hands.
When the Switch first hit the shelves, only a handful of games were released. While gamers were worried about the lack of titles, ARMS quickly calmed their fears with its fast-paced action and insanely addictive gameplay. It’s quickly become a fan favorite and is just another testament to how good Nintendo is at making video games that are as fun as they are absurd.
22. Splatoon 2
What makes this game so great is the sheer number of customizable modes. A great game on its own, it’s even better when you play with friends. Splatoon‘s graphics are really quite striking, and the splattering ink is such a satisfying sight that it actually makes you want to keep playing. It’s a worthy sequel to the original Wii U hit, and the free updates are a welcome addition.
23. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
Ever wonder what Pokémon do when they aren’t around humans — when they are in their world? Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX uncovers that mystery as you become a Pokémon and see what it’s like day in and day out in their environment (hint: they are way nicer to one another than people). As part of the rescue team, you’ll go out into the wild and attempt to save Pokémon who are in danger. You’ll get cast into dungeons to fight enemy Pokémon who only attack when you do, which adds more difficulty to the gameplay. The remake of the Game Boy Advanced game is hard to put down once you’re entered the Pokémon world.
24. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
We can’t forget about Mario Kart! The Switch saw the popular Mario Kart franchise take on a new look with the highly addictive (and insanely fun) Battle mode. While the graphics are roughly the same as the Wii U version, the extra options are reason enough to warrant this game a spot on our list. Plus, it’s even more fun when you play it on the go. This is another classic Nintendo franchise that many people grew up playing, and now it’s the perfect game to share with a new generation of Nintendo fans. For all these reasons, it’s not just one of the best Nintendo Switch games of 2021, but also one of the best gifts to give Nintendo Switch players.
25. Nintendo Switch Gift Card
If you’ve read our list of the best games for Nintendo Switch and still don’t know what to buy as a gift, then there is a plan B. When you can’t be bothered to learn the difference between Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield, and there is a difference, opt instead for a Nintendo Switch gift card. This will allow the gamer in your life to pick out the perfect game for themselves. As a stocking stuffer, Christmas present, birthday present, or just because present, this is a gift that will be much appreciated by your favorite gamer.
26. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem brought its clever mix of strategy and role-playing elements to Nintendo Switch with Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It expertly combines day-to-day interactions in a school that trains soldiers for combat with actual combat, with students comprised of representatives from a variety of nations. They’re all preparing for war, and you happen to be their teacher. Not only is it the most accessible game in the entire series, but it’s also resonated the strongest with newcomers and veterans alike. You won’t be able to decide which faction you love the most, as they all have their own unique quirks and characteristics.
27. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
There have been several Wii U games that have made their debut on Switch with expanded content and improvements, and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is one such games. It brings improved controls, additional characters to play as, and even some new stages to enjoy. You get that classic Mario platforming goodness with added co-op fun to bring another player into the equation. Since there’s a lack of traditional Mario platforming on the system, this certainly made for a nice addition. It’s still challenging, but it’s even more fun when played with all your friends and family.
28. Octopath Traveler
If you’re looking for a traditional JRPG to take on the go, Square Enix and Acquire’s Octopath Traveler is a fantastic option. You get to play as eight different heroes and select the hero that you start with. From there, you can set off on a fanciful journey with multiple paths that eventually intertwine. There are four different story chapters each with their own satisfying stories and combat, and by the time you complete your journey, you’ll be aching for an additional eight characters to go through it all again. And don’t forget its absolutely gorgeous sprite graphics.
29. Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido
There are plenty of casual games on the Switch, but perhaps the greatest that delves into light RPG elements is all about the scarcity of sushi in a parallel world. Sushi is banned in Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, and those in charge want to hoard it and keep it all to themselves. What do you do? Become a Sushi Striker and take the fight to those who refuse to mete out the delicacy. Recruit Sushi Sprites to do your bidding as you eat as much sushi as humanly possible, then throw the plates they came on at your opponents to chain together big bonuses. You can play with a controller or via touch screen, but no matter what you choose, you won’t be able to put it down.
30. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one of the most intriguing RPGs on a Nintendo console, and it’s absolutely massive as well. Players travel to a sea of clouds where absolutely enormous creatures called Titans soar through the skies. Humans actually live on these Titans, but there’s a big problem: the Titans are dying out. That means you’ve got to figure out what the issue is since humans and Titans tend to support each other. Whether you’re into lengthy adventures or looking for great RPG combat and characterization, there’s plenty to love about this positively sprawling title that’ll have you glued to your Switch for hours.
31. Yoshi’s Crafted World
You can’t get much cuter than Yoshi, and this family-friendly “yarn” is a game you can enjoy with absolutely any type of gamer. Travel to an entire island full of Yoshi as you make your way through a cute, hand-crafted world. We’re talking milk carton trains, yarn pathways and button doorknobs. You have to save the island’s resident Sundream Stone after Baby Bowser and Kamek try to take it over. When the Yoshis are separated, you have to grab them as well — and as you explore a handmade world, you’ll find all sorts of reasons to say “Aww!”