The Switch is a smash. Nintendo’s latest system, which you can easily play at home or on the go, launched earlier this year to instant success. It’s one of the fastest-selling consoles of all time, and its signature game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, immediately entered the conversation for best videogame ever made. After a few years in the wilderness with the Wii U, Nintendo’s now seeing a combination of critical and commercial success that it hasn’t known in over a decade.
Everybody with a Switch knows about Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but there are many great games for the system beyond Nintendo’s core classics. With success comes support, and the Switch has already seen far more support from both the major third-party publishers and independent developers than the Wii U saw after its launch. The Switch’s digital eShop is full of games that you can download, and the Switch racks at most retailers already outnumber the Wii U offerings still on display. If you need help cutting through the clutter, let us point you towards the best of the best. Here are the ten games you most need to play for the Nintendo Switch, along with 12 other honorable mentions that are all worth a download.
Honorable Mentions: Fast RMX; Kamiko; Snake Pass; Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment; Blaster Master Zero; World of Goo; Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition; Gonner; Tumbleseed; Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap; Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment; Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
The central conceit of Arms is ineffably bizarre—one day people suddenly have springs for arms, so they start to punch each other a lot. And yet it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Nintendo fighting game: it’s cute, charming, relentlessly upbeat, and relatively simple to understand but almost torturously difficult to truly excel at. It makes better use of the Joy-Con’s motion controls than any other Switch game, to boot. It might feel a little slight—something that might be rectified by upcoming updates—but for the first big new Nintendo idea on the Switch, Arms is a hit.
Tetris is as undeniable as games get, and mashing it up with cult match-four Puyo Puyo results in a sublime head-to-head slobberknocker. You can play either game straight-up, or mix the two together in various permutations; no matter what you choose, you’ll soon find yourself spiking your Joy-Con in joy or frustration after taking on your friends. Paste contributor Amr Al-Aaser calls Puyo Puyo Tetris a fighting game, and the term is apt. Like a fighting game, a head-to-head match here is about anticipating your opponent’s moves and strategizing your own attacks and responses accordingly, but while trying to keep tabs on two distinct sets of rules. With a host of options and two of the best puzzle games ever, Puyo Puyo Tetris is one of the most endlessly playable releases of the year.
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.
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.
Playfulness is the main constant running through the large amount of varied content within Rayman Legends. Critics often try to avoid the word “fun” because it’s so subjective, but the only other game in recent memory that has so thoroughly embodied the most basic, universal and objective meaning of the word is Rayman Origins—much of which returns as unlockable bonuses within the already superior Legends. Revisiting classic gaming concepts with a timeless sense of humor that everybody can enjoy, Rayman Legends is a videogame without pretense, and that might be the most crucial decision its designers made without even realizing it.
Easily the oldest game on this list, the original Cave Story dates back to 2004. Essentially a homemade tribute to Metroid and Castlevania, that PC version was updated for the Wii and DS in 2010, and then enhanced for the PC and 3DS under the name Cave Story+ a year later. That’s the version that came to the Switch earlier this year. The same traits that made it so great in all its previous incarnations are present in the Switch port, but with the extra benefit of being playable on both a TV and on the go. This is the kind of long, intricate, Metroid-style game that’s incredibly tough to put down, making it a perfect fit on the portable Switch.
This special enhanced edition of the Wii U smash was one of the first big tests for the Switch. How would a game initially built to be played exclusively on a console strapped to a TV translate to a system made to be taken anywhere? The answer: about as well as anybody could expect. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe collected every scrap of bonus content for one of the best games of the decade, added a nostalgic return to a classic battle mode, and made all of it perfectly portable thanks to the Switch’s unique capabilities. If anybody was worried that Breath of the Wild would be a one-hit wonder for the Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gave them hope.
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.
Thumper’s difficulty is suffocating. Along with the oppressive music and the stark graphics, it turns the game into a claustrophobic, stressful, frightening experience. It rattles around inside my brain when I’m not playing it, its velocity and brutality careening throughout as I try to unwind after playing. Thumper taps into art’s ability to alter our consciousness, introducing a new reality for us to get lost in, and it’s not afraid to let this dream world look and feel like a nightmare. Most rhythm games want to replicate the best time you could possibly have at a rave; Thumper wants you to feel like you’re shaking on the floor of a bathroom stall, praying for those weird shapes and sounds that surround you to go away. It is an essentially perfect realization of its own unique goals and concerns, and a game we’ll be playing and celebrating for decades.
[Breath of the Wild is] a fresh approach to what Zelda games have striven 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 edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.