The Switch made me more optimistic about games as both an entertainment medium and art form than anything the industry has seen in years. It’s the perfect compromise between a handheld and a console, allowing us to take not just Nintendo’s latest epics on the road, but a vibrant selection of smaller games from developers throughout the world. The Vita had a long second life as a home for what many call “indie” games, and the Switch is poised to carry on that tradition in grander fashion. So far it’s also had just the right amount of touchscreen and motion sensor functionality—enough to not feel like overlooked gimmicks, but not enough to feel forced or to hamper the enjoyment of any specific game. Even its online network is less annoyingly restrictive than expected, given Nintendo’s track record on that front. (And honestly, voice chat isn’t missed at all, at least not by this guy.)
And then of course there’s the software lineup. Nintendo released two legit contenders for best game of the decade in 2017, with the latest adventures starring Mario and Link. Between Splatoon 2 and ARMS, the company showed a commitment to sustaining and launching new concepts that don’t have their roots in the company’s ‘80s heyday. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might be the best Mario Kart ever, and would rank high on this list if it wasn’t an expanded version of a game from a few years ago. Some of the best independently produced games also made it onto the Switch, from Gorogoa and Battle Chef Brigade to 2016’s perfect Thumper (another game that would have came in near the top of this list if it wasn’t a port from 2016). Nintendo and its third party partners complemented the system’s launch with a solid cluster of supporting players to the prohibitively high profile Breath of the Wild, and then smartly staggered out enough top notch games to keep players tuned in between Zelda and Super Mario Odyssey. Anybody who dredged up those hoary old “but where are the games” or “it’s collecting dust” gripes about Nintendo’s latest hardware must not have been paying attention.
Here are the best of those games. Again, we didn’t consider games that were originally released on other systems before 2017, so no Thumper, Doom or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Here are the 10 best Switch games that debuted in 2017, either exclusively on that system, or on a variety of consoles.
Tumbleseed is all about patience. Predicting the trajectory of the seed and adjusting the angle of the bar requires quick thinking, and steady fingers. The levels change every time the player restarts, and thus the layout cannot be memorized. They can only anticipate what types of enemies and obstacles may lay ahead based on the environment they’re playing in. The mountain has four separate ecosystems as the seed travels upward, and they offer a change of atmospheric pace as the game progresses. At a distance, the limited number of areas would suggest the game is short, but with the repetition the game’s difficulty demands, they’re actually quite long.—Holly Green
Snipperclips is an adorable puzzle game that focuses on partnership and cooperation, as you and a friend control two papercraft buddies who are trying to arrange themselves in specific shapes or perform certain actions in order to move on to the next screen. You can rotate and tilt them freely into the necessary positions, and even use them to cut each other into different shapes in order to accomplish whatever goals are before you. That might mean perfectly filling an outline on the screen, or snipping one character into a point that they can use to pop a balloon, or even just balancing a basketball or pencil as you carry it from one edge to the other. A lot of co-op games barely require you to acknowledge your partner, but Snipperclips practically forces you to talk through each scenario, like you’re working together on a jigsaw puzzle or at an “escape the room” style event.
8. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
In a world of HD rehashing and the seemingly obligatory impulse to re-render old games with the latest in photorealistic graphics tech, it warms my heart to witness the stylistic human touch of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. It’s a splendid homage, a playable history exercise, and an unexpected touchpoint for the expressive potential of hand-drawn animation in 2017.—Dan Solberg
Arms is more than a game about fighting; it is a reminder of genre’s stagnation. Just like a bicep will atrophy in absence of exercise, so too will a category of game (“one-on-one-fighting game”, for example) become stunted by too many me-too attempts. There is both unlimited room and potential for videogames and yet the market is oversaturated with games that rely on stale conventions. Playing Arms feels both intuitive and strange. Stand in front of your TV with a Joy-con in each hand and you feel more connected to your character than in a typical 2D Street Fight. While Arms presents itself as a fighting game, in a way, it has become a sneaky demonstration of the limitations of the genre’s defining features.—Jon Irwin
6. Splatoon 2
Some have dinged this one a bit (including our own review) for sticking too closely to the formula established by the Wii U original. It’s true that, at first, it can feel more like a remake than a sequel. In time though its unique attributes become more apparent, from the variety of weapons, to the new maps, to the various multiplayer modes that supplement the standard Turf War. Splatoon 2 might not break a lot of ground but it’s one of the most purely fun games to come out for any system this year.—Garrett Martin
5. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
What originally felt like an ungainly mash-up between two properties that share almost no common ground unexpectedly turned into one of the biggest gaming surprises of the year. The Mario imagery and Rabbid humor is almost beside the point: this game works so well because it’s a smartly built and balanced tactical RPG that innovates on genre convention through its liberal approach to movement. If you like Final Fantasy Tactics and XCOM but wish you could move farther and faster across their grids, with multiple different ways to accomplish that, you should check out Mario + Rabbids. It’s a colorful strategy game that looks and feels like nothing else out there.—Garrett Martin
4. Battle Chef Brigade
As a “match-three” game, Battle Chef Brigade goes above and beyond the call. Anime characters are superimposed on soft backgrounds featuring wet washes of paint pooled over textured paper, set to a lilting orchestral soundtrack not unlike a Miyazaki score. The combat segments, which from a distance may seem tacked-on, are not only well-incorporated mechanically, but also provide immense satisfaction with the fluidity and power of Mina’s attacks. Despite the time limit on each battle, the back and forth between two sources of panic—quickly cooking a dish to the judge’s specifications versus killing monsters for key ingredients—is actually pretty fun. The complexity of solving puzzles contrasts the no-brain hacking and slashing for a very welcome change of pace.—Holly Green
I couldn’t help but marvel at Gorogoa’s innovative use of space. The game’s sole developer and illustrator, Jason Roberts first conceptualized Gorogoa as a card game but later scrapped it because the mechanics were too complex. Fittingly, the simplicity of Gorogoa, with its lack of subtitles or voice acting, limited animations, and minimal use of audio, suits it well. On the screen are four panels presenting environment-based interactive puzzles that, once deciphered, will progress the story. The pictures shift and can be aligned in sequence to match up key atmospheric details, pulling off layers and overlapping others to reveal solutions and clues as the player explores and combines elements of each. Think of it as a picture book where the reader must solve a mystery hidden in the illustrations to turn each page.—Holly Green
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Bicker about what makes up a “core” Mario game all you want. All I know is that Super Mario Odyssey is one of the two or three best games to ever have that lovable little guy’s name in the title. It is every bit as powerful as Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Bros. 3, the previous high-water marks for Nintendo’s mascot, and for the platformer genre in general. Odyssey is an overwhelming cornucopia of pure joy, full of the kind of freedom typically found in open world games but with a constant chain of clear objectives and attainable goals pulling you ever deeper into its roster of candy-colored kingdoms. It’s a perfect bookmark to Nintendo’s other major Switch game of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: both recraft a classic cornerstone of the entire medium into an effortlessly enjoyable and crucially contemporary masterpiece that unites all eras of gaming history.—Garrett Martin
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is a fresh approach to what Zelda games have strived for since the very beginning. The depth you expect, the open exploration and constant sense of discovery the series is known for, are here in perhaps greater effect than ever before, but with the systems and mechanics that drive the moment-to-moment action heavily overhauled. The result is a Zelda that feels unmistakably like a Zelda, but that also breathes new life into the venerable classic.—Garrett Martin