The 10 best Nintendo Switch exclusive games

The Nintendo Switch is – for a lot of people – the absolute best place to play video games. Not only because it’s home to a great amount of top-tier indies, but also because the first-party hits keep on coming with the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and plenty more. Of course, it helps that you can play great games and take them anywhere with you on the go as well as playing them in docked mode on the TV. That’s the beauty of the Nintendo Switch being a hybrid console! But what are the 10 best Nintendo Switch exclusive games worthy of your time? We’re here to help out with that.

The following is a list of the 10 best exclusive Nintendo Switch games that play brilliantly in either docked, tabletop or handheld mode, guaranteeing you a good time whenever you’re on a commute or want to deeply invest in a game at home. Want to know what Nintendo Switch exclusives are essential to play first? You’ll find it here, along with the best current online price for each (that’s what we do). Here’s our definitive list covering 2021 and beyond:

1. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Previously underserved by the Wii U’s lacklustre sales, Mario Kart’s eighth instalment was able to enjoy a second wind thanks to a souped-up, remastered version in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Drifting around corners as the Mushroom Kingdom’s eclectic cast of characters has never been more thrilling than on the Nintendo Switch, with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s new anti-grav sections and overhead racing offering a degree of spectacle that makes boosting past your friends even more of a blast.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features 48 vibrant tracks to play on across 12 cups – four of which were only previously purchasable as additional DLC on the Wii U, but are now available right from the off in this definitive Nintendo Switch version. We say definitive because, in addition to being the most feature-complete Mario Kart 8 package, your ability to break off two Joy-Con and get a couch co-op race going in minutes is truly a modern marvel.

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2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Arguably one of the best games to ever be released alongside a Nintendo console’s launch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild blew everyone’s expectations away with its emphasis on unrestrained freedom of movement through a living, breathing upon world. It does away with the dungeon-based formula of prior entries and asks players to trust their own instincts and immerse themselves within a version of Hyrule that has gone unprotected for hundreds of years.

What sees Breath of the Wild stand so highly above its peers is its insistence to let players go anywhere and climb anything. Eventually you’ll come across what are known as shrines; essentially acting as mini-dungeons that are quickly resolved and gift Link with the ability to improve his health or grip. Both are useful in the bid to defeat Ganon, whether you’re brave enough to tame all four of the divine beasts beforehand or not. Breath of the Wild is a Nintendo Switch essential.

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3. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey

If Galaxy saw him shoot off to space and Sunshine let him chill on vacation, Super Mario Odyssey sees Nintendo’s little, moustachioed plumber go on a global trip around the world. He’s still attempting to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser’s grasp, who this time is intent on marrying the poor girl. Thus kicks offs a new 3D platforming adventure for Mario, where players must gather as many Power Moons as possible to power the eponymous ship and stop the wedding before it’s too late.

Odyssey’s gimmick is Mario’s iconic hat, which he can now throw on the head of any enemy you see in order to take possession of them. Doing so feels weird at first, but eventually becomes second nature. Each possession lets you unlock a new way of traversing through whatever world you find yourself in, whether it’s using Bullet Bills to boom across large gaps or capturing one Goomba to form a tower of many and get to high places. Super Mario Odyssey is colourful, creative and fun, rendering not only one of the best Nintendo Switch games, but the best Mario game in a while.

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4. Astral Chain

Most famous for developer other stylish action hits like Bayonetta and Vanquish, Platinum Games has created something special in their first Nintendo Switch exclusive: Astral Chain. In it, you play as a super cop tasked with holding back an invading force of aliens within a totalitarian government state. Helping you do this is your legion, a controllable beast born in the same dimension as the very threats your fighting. However, the eponymous astral chain keeps you linked and lets you do battle in myriad creative ways, keeping the peace while looking good doing it.

Astral Chain is simply one of the best Nintendo Switch exclusives because it plays and feels like nothing else, offering up players a fully roamable world full of interesting side quests and an engaging core story. Different legions will be dished out to you throughout the campaign at a good pace, letting you hone each’s unique abilities – whether that’s during enemy fights or odd job tasks.

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5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Donkey Kong Super Smash

They said it couldn’t be done, but in 2018 we got confirmation in a Nintendo Direct announcement that every known playable fighter ever from Smash Bros. history would be appearing in the Nintendo Switch version. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its title, featuring a staggeringly large roster of 74 characters – and that’s not taking into account the six additional fighters confirmed for those that pick up the Fighter’s Pass.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also sees a revised campaign mode make its debut in World of Light. In it, players are tasked with restoring the spirits of all 74 characters by doing battle with them and overcoming certain challenges that sees most mimic the moves of other characters from game history. The online portion is also more robust than it’s ever been, in frantic fights that support all major Nintendo Switch controller options.

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6. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Pokemon starters

2020 wasn’t fun for a lot of reasons, but having stay inside was definitely more palatable by the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch. This anthropomorphic life-simulation series was there when we most needed, allowing players to build and lead there very own island paradise entirely in real time. This is the first time Animal Crossing has been presented in true HD visuals, rendering your artistic and creative endeavours beautifully.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is also the most interconnected game in the franchise yet, letting you invite friends over either locally or via the internet to visit your island town. You all can exchange gifts and hold events, working together on garden tips and trading. Up to four players can inhabit a town at any time, reinforcing the game’s emphasis on togetherness. This is one of the best Nintendo Switch exclusives easily.   

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7. Monster Hunter: Rise

Following what seemed like an endless avalanche of ports from the 3DS, the Nintendo Switch finally received a new and exclusive entry into Capcom’s beast-slaying series in Monster Hunter: Rise. Building off the tenants first laid down in World, this is a fully realised version of what it means to squad up with friends and improve your gear through hunting. New this time around are the new Palimute companions, which can be ridden to take you into the heat of the battle much quicker.

Another notable addition in Rise is the Wirebug: a new tethering tool that allows you to zip into the air and across environments. Such high-octane actions allow you to keep the pressure on all the different monsters you’ll be fighting, letting you plan attacks more strategically and with great aplomb. Monster Hunter: Rise is a Nintendo Switch exclusive game that proves what’s possible on the system when a Triple-A developer pours in plenty of passion, making it a must-play entry. 

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8. Luigi's Mansion 3

Luigi's Mansion 3 slam

Luigi’s Mansion 3 easily makes our list of the 10 best Nintendo Switch exclusive games purely because it balances charm and spookiness to a near perfect degree. You, as Mario’s gangly and nervous brother, once again are tasked with roaming a building’s haunted halls sucking up ghosts, but the transition to a multi-layered hotel now means that the scope upped to a wild degree. Each floor is uniquely distinct, as a result, ranging from movie sets to Egyptian style pyramids.

Luigi also has a few new abilities to help him this time around. The most important is his ability to slam ghosts, either against the ground or against one another. The latter lets you do double the damage by killing two birds with one stone, which helps a lot to prevent Luigi from getting swarmed. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is also filled with plenty of discoverable secrets to let you equip additional upgrades.

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9. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Tropical Freeze

Ideal for anyone craving a bit more of a challenge than you’ll find in the average Super Mario 2D platformer, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a visually vibrant spin-off that sees you swoop, swing and bounce your way through the jungle tropics just as an ice dragon swoops in to freeze Donkey Kong Island. It’s the work of none other than Viking-themed baddies called the Snowmads, kicking off one hell of a side-scrolling platforming adventure.

Tropical Freeze is another Wii U port that made its way to Switch, but brings with it a few new refinements that makes it less daunting for Donkey Kong newcomers. You’ll still be taking down enemies, finding bananas and collecting letters, but a newly added “Funky Mode” exclusive to the Switch version grants Kong the ability to hover and take more hits. Suddenly, one of the best 2D platformers ever made can now be enjoyed by everyone – especially with the Switch’s added convenience.

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10. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Just when you think Nintendo couldn’t bottle nostalgia any better than with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s subtle callbacks, they just go ahead and remake one of the long-lost classics from the series. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Nintendo Switch lovingly recreates the whimsy and charm of this classic top-down Zelda, following Link’s journey as he washes ashore of a mysterious, dream like island.

New to this version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is obviously the clay-like art style and persistent overworld, but players can now look forward to a new dungeon creator mode. Here you can fit together pieces from all 8 of the regular dungeons playable in the base game, creating your own so as to challenge your friends. If you’re done with Breath of the Wild and are hungry for more, Link’s Awakening is a good bite-sized option.

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Honourable mentions

If you’re STILL at a loss of Nintendo Switch games to play, here are a few honourable mentions that might not be Nintendo Switch exclusive but are still worth a mention. All are cracking in their own right, only further serving to highlight the eclectic library thriving on Nintendo’s hybrid platform.

Arms

Trust Nintendo to think up a fresh way to reinvent the fighting game genre. Arms lives up to its name in the literal sense, featuring several colourful characters that can duke it out from a distance thanks to their uniquely elongated arms. Players control each arm conjunctively using the Joy-Cons’ motion control capabilities, thrusting and punching that isn’t too dissimilar to how a lot of Wii games functioned. Arms perfectly showcases the capabilities of the console while serving as one of the most charming fighting games around, making it a top-tier Nintendo Switch exclusive.

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Tetris 99

Just when you thought you’d seen it all with the classic puzzle game, Tetris 99 comes along and gives the tried and tested format a new Battle Royale spin, where you face off against 99 others in the attempt to be the last person standing. This is a game exclusive to members of the Nintendo Switch Online service, challenging you to attack and defend smartly while still clearing your own Tetris’ boxes lines. Check out Tetris 99 if you’re looking for a fun way to while away the hours on Switch.

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Fire Emblem: Three Houses

If you’re looking to get invested in meaningful character relationships and in-depth strategy on Nintendo Switch, Fire Emblem: Three Houses serves as a nice mix of both. Set on the fictional fantasy continent of Fodlan, you play as a school tutor who must guide one of three nations through a series of battles. Each plays out in thoughtful turn-based fashion, letting you plan your attack by swapping in troops, upgrading characters and improving their bonds with one another. Interspersed between the action is the ability to teach classes during school time. It’s a weird blend that somehow works!

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SteamWorld Dig 2

What do you get when you splice the digging gameplay of Dig Dig with the back-and-forth interconnectivity found in games like Metroid and Castlevania? You get SteamWorld Dig, of course! And better yet its bigger, and unabashedly better sequel SteamWorld Dig 2 is now available on the Nintendo Switch. Directly following on from the original game’s events, you play as Dorothy: a steam-powered prospector in search of her partner (and first game’s protagonist) Rusty. This affords you the freedom to explore the Earth below in any direction you wish, with SteamWorld Dig 2 introducing new power-ups, new enemy types and new ways to explore the hazardous caves.

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Yoshi's Crafted World

Yoshi games have a bit of a reputation as being extremely easy, but this is more than made up for in Yoshi’s Crafted World thanks to its inherent papercraft charm. The entire world has been constructed with the idea that everything is card, paper and glue, letting you explore the finished product in the first half of the level before getting a behind-the-scenes look by completing it in reverse. Yoshi’s Crafted World is entirely played on a 2.5D plane, seeing you guide Yoshi through obstacles and having him eat enemies which can then be pooped out as an egg and used to solve puzzles. Backed up by a kindergarten-like soundtrack and wildly inventive, it’s a game that’s sure to brighten up your mood and lift your spirits.

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Doom

2016’s Doom reboot was a revelation to most first-person shooter enthusiasts. Rather unexpectedly, players were encouraged to run and shoot against demons head-on as opposed to taking cover and just popping off shots from far away. The Nintendo Switch port features this same anarchic action, challenging players to shoot their way across Mars and through the pits of hell in one of the most grotesque games you’re likely to play on a Nintendo platform. Chainsaw and Shotgun at the ready!

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas

The likes of Skylanders, LEGO Dimensions and Disney Infinity may have put the final nail in the coffin as far as toys-to-life games are concerned, but that didn’t stop Ubisoft from giving it their own rendition via an intergalactic ship-based adventure that placed players firmly in the driver’s seat. Starlink: Battle for Atlas takes place in the Atlas star system, with you heading up the resident peace-keepers by going planet to planet and ridding them of any invading alien menace. You can buy toy spaceship add-ons for those who like to display desk ornaments, but they’re not essential to play.

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Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

One part of this package might not quite fit the “exclusive” criteria as it released on Wii U, yet Super Mario 3D World is still a phenomenal co-op game that’s a paw-some time to play with friends. Bowser’s Fury continues the fun as a satisfying spin-off that hinting at the future of Super Mario games set in a persistent open-world. It’s a side story that sees Mario and Bowser Jr join forces to calm down and thwart the latter’s Godzilla-like father, completing platforming puzzles from a true third-person perspective while traversing a world constantly shuffling between the light and dark.

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Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a prequel story set 100 years before the events of Breath of the Wild, in which you play as a range of familiar characters while discovering how the barren version of Hyrule Kingdom came to be. This isn’t a traditional exploration game but rather an action-packed hack-and-slasher. Only here can you take control of Breath of the Wild’s four champions, using each’s unique abilities and captaining their divine beasts to hold back the evil forces of Calamity Ganon. Doing so involves wading through hundreds of on-screen enemies at any one time.

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Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

While at first it might seem strange to see the likes of Mario, Luigi and Peach wield a weapon, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle serves up heaps of satisfying turn-based gameplay that makes battles both thrilling and fun. Your team of three consists of mushroom kingdom characters as well as rabbids, each boasting their own special moves that makes them an asset when used each turn. If you don’t normally enjoy strategy games but have always been curious, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a great place to start.

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Splatoon 2

While at first it might seem strange to see the likes of Mario, Luigi and Peach wield a weapon, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle serves up heaps of satisfying turn-based gameplay that makes battles both thrilling and fun. Your team of three consists of mushroom kingdom characters as well as rabbids, each boasting their own special moves that makes them an asset when used each turn. If you don’t normally enjoy strategy games but have always been curious, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a great place to start.

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Marvel’s cop-operative brawling series, this long-awaited sequel arrived back in 2019 as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Ultimate Alliance 3 also differs from the previous games in that it touts a fresh-feeling comic book art style, featuring well over 40 different characters to play as. Whether or alone or with friends, this is a fun actioner that sees the worlds of superheroes, mutants and villains cross over.

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