The Nintendo Switch was a return to grace for the Nintendo console series after the Wii U’s failure to sell when compared to the Xbox One and PS4, which released around the same time. The Switch, however, has been a success, outpacing the Wii U on release and then receiving another huge bump during the pandemic as many people rediscovered a dormant love for gaming.
Although the Nintendo Switch offered unique tech that allowed for never-before-seen options when playing games, a console is only as good as the games available for it. With Nintendo’s return to prominence, new life was injected into Nintendo’s legacy franchises as well. With New Pokemon Snap -- a remake of the beloved 1999 classic -- releasing today, here are the top five games on the Switch that breathed new life into beloved Nintendo worlds.
No. 5: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Released around the same time everything shut down due to the pandemic in March 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons became a safe haven for many in a world of turmoil. The classically cute characters, charming music and low-stress gameplay helped push retired gamers back into fantasy worlds with the newfound free time.
Additional achievements like earning and redeeming Nook Miles, unmatched customization options and what felt like a truly endless museum to fill up all made New Horizons a hit. It was not just a perfect match for the world it was released to but also a phenomenal game with a lot of depth.
Image credit: Nintendo
No. 4: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Although Mario Kart 8 was originally released for the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. The game brought together all of the maps added as DLCs to Mario Kart 8 as part of the base game. The result was 48 different tracks with revised tracks from history and new additions too.
When you add on all the split routes, the fun shortcuts and the extra modes, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is by far the biggest offering of any game in the series history. The game feels smoother than plenty of its predecessors as well. There’s even a burgeoning esports scene that could actually gain steam if Nintendo invested in it, but, well, don’t hold your breath.
No. 3: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are similar in quite a few ways. They are a return to dominant form for Nintendo’s flagship competitive games with possibly their best iteration since the Gamecube generation. (Yeah, it’s been a while.)
Despite the releases of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Smash 4, it wasn’t until Ultimate where players finally moved en masse away from Melee as the dominant title. Even then, Nintendo forced some of that movement.
There are 80(ish) characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate, a truly massive amount. Nintendo even brought in Minecraft Steve, which was an unexpected but certainly appreciated addition. Ultimate gets the balance between casual and competitive right in a way no other title can truly boast. The only glaring issue is the online experience. Nintendo’s NetCode is so poor that Smash Bros. Ultimate had to be removed from EVO Online for the second straight year because the game just couldn’t be relied on in a competitive environment.
Before getting to No. 2 on this list, here are a couple games that didn’t quite live up to the series’ previous hype.
Paper Mario: Origami King
The Paper Mario series exists in a weird place. The first two games, Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 and The Thousand Year Door for the GameCube, are beloved classic titles. Ever since then, Nintendo hasn’t been able to capture that same magic. Paper Mario releases on the Wii, Wii U, 3DS and now Origami King for the Switch have fallen a bit flat.
Origami King might be the best of the Paper Mario series since the Thousand Year Door, and it’s a charming game with some nice humor, but the puzzle-based battle system gets old pretty quickly. Users on Metacritic gave the game a 6.9/10 while IGN agreed with a 7/10. Compare that with a 9.1 for the Thousand Year Door on both sites and this seems like a case of Nintendo setting super high expectations and just not quite living up to previous excellence.
Super Mario Party
This game is so close to being amazing. In some ways, it is. The new character-based dice blocks add in a much deeper level of strategy than Mario Party games in the past. The minigames are all pretty solid for the first few playthroughs. The issue is the depth.
Especially compared to Mario Kart’s 48 race tracks or 80 playable characters in Smash Bros., the four maps in Mario Party feel unnecessarily shallow. There are two variations of each map depending on if you are playing the normal mode or a 2v2 Partner Party mode, but they aren’t all that different.
The game is also missing an online function that would have been a huge boost in playability to get four people together. There are online minigames but not the actual game board which feels like it would be easier to do than the minigames themselves. It’s close, but right when you start to get enthralled with the strategy, the lack of depth comes through. Now let’s hope Pokemon Snap is more like the next two entries than these two ...
No. 2 Super Mario Odyssey
Despite the fact that I still can’t beat the absolute gauntlet that makes up the Darkest Side of the Moon in Mario Odyssey, the game is a true masterpiece. Released in 2017, Odyssey was the first Super Mario 3D game on console since Super Mario Galaxy 2 in 2010. It was worth the wait.
Considering the game took place on flat planes without a super soaker attached, it felt like a return to the basics of what made Super Mario 64 one of the all-time best games ever created. The worlds in Odyssey offer so many hidden surprises they feel like they could have been spread over multiple games. Each big world hides multiple mini worlds, moons hidden behind 2D portals and just fun surprises in every nook and cranny of the game. Odyssey, combined with the No. 1 game on this list (which will surprise absolutely no one) were truly the games that cemented the Switch as a must-own console for any Nintendo fan.
Image credit: Nintendo
No. 1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Everyone knows this game had to be at the top of this list. Legend of Zelda games broke barriers for non-linear storytelling, with each iteration making the world bigger and bigger. How Nintendo will ever be able to expand beyond the world of Breath of the Wild is a mystery.
Breath of the Wild offers little in the way of a tutorial. Beyond locking the first section until a player completes four marked shrines, the rest of the map is open for exploration. Although the map might not look massive, those three little islands off the Eastern coast have enough to explore to fill an afternoon. The desert in the bottom left corner is a full weekend’s worth of content.
The last boss fight might feel a bit anticlimactic when it’s all over, but the release of a DLC added additional challenges that really force players to use all the skills they developed over the course of playing the main game. Breath of the Wild is a true masterpiece.
The best part of exploring this reimagined look at Hyrule is that the entire world is open to your exploration. There is no guidance given by the game itself. Besides the Great Plateau (the small circle in the middle) there is no other filled in section of the map when the game starts. Players must fill it in section by section, encountering new monsters, new puzzles and new obstacles along the way.
With the addition of the DLC, Breath of the Wild also received a major uptick in difficulty as well. There’s a reason IGN and Polygon both rated Breath of the Wild a 10/10. For IGN, it was one of just three games in 2017 to receive that rating, with Super Mario Odyssey being one of the other two.
Even four years after release, Odyssey and BotW are driving the popularity of the Nintendo Switch as the console’s flagship titles.
Lead image credit: Nintendo