clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Link stands on a mountainside, gazing upon Hyrule’s vast expanse in Breath of the Wild Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Filed under:

6 games to play first on your new Nintendo Switch

From modern Nintendo classics to the best indies on the console

Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

eCongrats, you are the owner of a Nintendo Switch! It’s a wonderful position to be in, as the console has a robust, delightful library of games. Plus you not only get to play them on a television screen or monitor; you can also take the console with you wherever you need to go. And it doesn’t hurt that there are tons of cute Joy-Con colors, a great pro controller, and lots of themed peripherals for fans of all stripes.

The hardest part is where to even start, in terms of sorting through your options. Luckily, we’ve got six recommendations, ranging from modern Nintendo classics (that you can’t play on any non-Nintendo console) to indie games that are perfect for the Switch.

It was really and truly difficult to narrow it down to just six — there’s so much great stuff out there! — so if you’re looking for more recommendations, definitely check out the 22 best Nintendo Switch games, 36 best couch co-op games for Nintendo Switch, and the best Nintendo Switch games for grown-ups.

The best classic Nintendo Switch games to play first

Nintendo is home to some of the most iconic gaming franchises, and a great place to start for any first time Switch owner is with these modern-day Zelda, Mario, and Animal Crossing games. While it’s hard to pick just a handful from this wealth of options — not to mention other iconic Nintendo series — we’ve narrowed it down to some of the platform’s absolute best.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Link and a black horse gaze off a hillside in Breath of the Wild Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

There are two standout Zelda games for the Switch that have gained the status of modern classic: Breath of the Wild and the sequel that came out this year, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. While both of them are masterful accomplishments — putting Link in an open world, and reimagining the scope of what is possible in exploration and puzzling — we’ve gone with Breath of the Wild as the starting point, because it’s where this iteration of Link’s story kicks off (and because it’s extremely accessible to newcomers). It has all of the joy of exploration on a vast map, as Link can climb and glide all over, without mechanics introduced in the sequel that can be overwhelming (as well as expansive).

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

A group of eight residents gathered around a picnic table in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Animal Crossing games have long been loved for their chill farming sim vibes and adorable villagers, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons perfected the genre. Great for newcomers to consoles and veterans of the genre alike, the game sticks you on an island where you get to design a cute house, harvest materials, catch bugs and fish, and court animal villagers. Time passes as it does in real life, so the game paces itself perfectly for daily engagement with tasks to accomplish — and fees to pay Tom Nook, the raccoon that lends you all of your supplies and lodging.

Even more fun, you can visit other friends’ islands. So if you’ve got friends who also have the game on Switch, they can give you a tour, and lend you a hand in the form of gifting bells or other items.

Super Mario Odyssey

Mario jumping upside down in Super Mario Odyssey Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

In a sea of truly excellent Mario games, Super Mario Odyssey stands out as the choice for the Switch. This game was released specifically with this console in mind, and it perfectly mixes classic, whimsical Mario platforming with the expansiveness of a large world. You get to run around tons of different maps — this notably includes my favorite metropolitan area in any Switch game, New Donk City — some of which reference past installments of the franchise. There’s also lots of power-ups and critters to turn into, courtesy of partner character Cappy — you get to play as a T-Rex in a segment of the game — and hidden collectibles for the exploration inclined. Collect Power Moons and save the day. The world is your oyster.

Acclaimed indie games perfect for the Switch’s portability

With so many celebrated indie games, it can be hard to know which platform is the best to play them on. Here are three of our absolute favorites for the Switch.


Zagreus slays the Bone Hydra in Hades Image: Supergiant Games

In Hades, you play as Zagreus, prince of the underworld, fighting your way out of hell and onto the surface in this truly excellent roguelite. It’s got a fantastic, full cast of gods who give you various powers you can mix and match during the course of each run. But these deities are just one of many lovable, complicated, and extremely hot characters you meet along the way, as Zagreus’ story unfolds. Each run where you die doesn’t feel like a loss — the story is simply that propulsive. There are so many weapon and buff combinations to try, you’ll be eager to hop into your next playthrough, making the Switch’s portability crucial. Hades is for the Greek mythology nerds, but it’s also for everyone.

Stardew Valley

A screenshot from Stardew Valley, showing a person standing in a small ranch. Image: ConcernedApe/Chucklefish Games

Solo developer and composer Eric Barone created both a game and a phenomenon with this one, which is inspired by the Harvest Moon series. In Stardew Valley you inherit a farm from your grandfather, and move in as you’re eager to leave the corporate life behind. Farm, mine, fish, and make friends with the locals in Pelican Town. It’s so easy to think to yourself “just one more day” and then lose hours, days, and months even to building out your farm, wooing a townsperson, and completing community bundles. The multiplayer is also excellent, as you can share a farm with up to three other players.

Hollow Knight

The Knight is sitting next to Quill, overlooking the City of Tears in Hollow Knight Image: Team Cherry via Polygon

You’re a lonely knight, wandering through the crumbling halls of an enormous and wending kingdom — home to a defunct civilization of bugs — with only a nail as a weapon. But not to worry: your arsenal of attacks and powers grow the more you explore and defeat bosses. Hollow Knight is one of the best Metroidvanias (and Souls-likes) on the Switch, owing to its precise platforming mechanics, its memorable cast of characters, and a sprawling map full of secrets. There’s no better feeling than doing a little digging and then finding an entirely new region on the map. Hollow Knight captures that feeling — and you’ll want to take the game with you.