Nintendo’s commitment to exclusivity has helped separate them from the competition and encourage people to buy their gaming consoles and handhelds, with the Nintendo Switch checking both boxes.
While exclusives are bound to annoy some gamers, they’re ultimately a necessary evil (in most cases) to maintain quality and attract users to your platform.
In this list, we’ll be highlighting the best Nintendo exclusives in 2021, including the best switch exclusives and best Nintendo eShop exclusives you can play right now.
We’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles, so make sure to check back and let us know if we missed any games!
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Genre: 3D Platformer
Nintendo’s been spending a lot of time porting Wii U and 3DS games over to the Switch, and their latest effort is Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury.
The original Wii U title saw Mario and friends attempting to rescue cute fairy-like creatures from the clutches of Bowser after he invades the Sprixie Kingdom.
Gameplay is similar to previous Super Mario games with the addition of a character selector and the new Super Bell power-up, which turns the player into a cat that can climb on walls and scratch enemies.
The Switch version includes the base game along with a new standalone story in which Mario and Bowser Jr. team up to defeat Fury Bowser and save Lake Lapcat.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Genre: Life Sim
Although Animal Crossing has been around for years, Nintendo really hit it out of the park with the latest installment, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, released for the Switch in 2020.
The series has always focused on letting players tailor things to their liking, whether decorating their town or populating it with a cast of animal villagers with unique personalities.
New Horizons takes the classic formula to new heights by introducing a new crafting system as well as the ability to modify your deserted island with paths, rivers, and cliffs whenever you want.
While there are also many new items to catalog, animals to befriend, and loans to pay off, you’re encouraged to take things one day at a time.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is another modified port with roots in the Wii U, specifically Mario Kart 8, bundled with post-launch DLC and some extra features.
The original roster has been expanded to include Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, King Boo, Gold Mario, and male/female Inklings from Splatoon.
Additionally, Boo and Super Mario Kart Feathers return as items, and the Battle Mode has been reworked following criticism of how it played in the original.
While you’re more than welcome to play the MK8 on Wii U if you can find it, the Switch version is a much more accessible version with all-around improvements to warrant upgrading.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Genre: Arena Fighter
Nintendo has had a rocky relationship with its various fandoms over the years, namely the Super Smash Bros. community; however, they made sure to pull out all the stops with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
The end result is an action-packed arena fighter with an extensive roster that acts as a who’s who of Nintendo first-party mascots as well as some guest characters.
One of the game’s biggest strengths is its flexible ruleset, allowing you to adjust the level of challenge based on who’s playing.
You could have a go at chaotic 4-player battles with chaotic environmental hazards, game-breaking items and power-ups, or battle to the death in competitive matches that put your skills to the test.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Genre: Action-adventure RPG
Although you can play Breath of the Wild on the Wii U, it’s mainly regarded as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch and even went on to move more units than the console itself.
The option to play in handheld combined with the game’s old school Zelda feel were the only excuses players needed to pick up BOTW.
However, some new mechanics such as cooking and weapon durability are welcome additions that provide an extra layer of challenge and strategy.
Lastly, BOTW features the largest, most detailed world of any other game in the series, with tons of hidden secrets and locations to discover.
Super Mario Odyssey
Genre: 3D Platformer
Super Mario Odyssey is everything you could ever want in a 3D Mario game; you’ve got an all-new adventure spanning 16 worlds littered with coins and collectibles, new outfits for Mario, and more.
The game feels like a nostalgia trip to the days of Super Mario 64, with Mario having access to a wide range of jumps and tricks that lead to some incredible platforming challenges.
That’s not to say it rests its laurels on its predecessors’ success; Cappy gives Mario access to new powers, such as the ability to possess other creatures and objects.
This adds an extra layer of strategy when traversing environments, defeating enemies, and solving puzzles throughout Odyssey’s worlds.
Yoshi’s Crafted World
Genre: Side-scrolling Platformer
Nintendo likes to play favorites with their various mascots by giving them their own standalone games, with Yoshi being among the most coveted.
There are numerous puzzle-platformer games starring the friendly green dinosaur, but the one we’ve chosen to highlight here is Yoshi’s Crafted World for the Nintendo Switch.
It builds off of the tactile look and feel of games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World while introducing a new switch mechanic that shifts the player’s perspective to reveal hidden objects.
In our review of Yoshi’s Craft World, we praised the game for its unique visuals and level variety while pointing out issues regarding its lack of difficulty and messy co-op controls.
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Splatoon 2 maintains the quirky squid-based shooter gameplay of the original Wii U title while also benefiting from the Switch’s more intuitive controls.
In it, you play as humanoid squids called Inklings who enjoy competing in battles using ink-powered weapons used to mark walls, floors, and ceilings with their team’s color.
Maps, modes, and gear are frequently rotated to keep things fresh and offer an impressive amount of variety for a multiplayer-focused game.
While you’ll find iterated versions of PVP staples like King of the Hill and Capture the Flag, there are also modes like Salmon Run, which has a squad working together to survive waves of enemies.
Genre: Roguelike Action-RPG
Supergiant is one of the best indie developers in the business and has consistently put out great games throughout the years, including Bastion, Transistor, Pyre, and their latest outing, Hades.
Like many of their previous games, Hades manages to make a familiar concept (roguelike dungeon-crawling) feel fresh and exciting through well-developed characters and sophisticated combat.
In it, you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he sets out to escape an ever-shifting underworld guarded by powerful gods.
Each run sees you exploring a randomized map filled with obstacles and rewards that can help you advance to the next area.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Genre: Turn-based RPG
A crossover between Nintendo’s Super Mario and Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbits may not sound promising on paper but works surprisingly well in practice.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is essentially an XCOM-style tactical RPG set in a chaos-stricken Mushroom Kingdom.
Gameplay sees you assembling a team of three characters that includes either Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, or one of the four Rabbids dressed up like them.
The Rabbids’ inclusion goes a long way towards providing some levity in a surprisingly tough strategy game with a robust battle system.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Genre: Side-scrolling Platformer
Much like Yoshi, Donkey Kong is no stranger to standalone releases, namely the DK Country subseries of side-scrolling platformers.
Many regard these games as the best platformers Nintendo’s ever made, and the latest entry is very much a return to form for the series.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze sees the banana-loving, tie-wearing ape battling a band of arctic-inspired villains that plan to turn his tropical paradise into an icy tundra.
The Switch version includes some neat bonuses to an already satisfying game, such as extra collectibles for dedicated players to track down and an optional Funky Mode for casual players.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Serving as the third installment in the series, Luigi’s Mansion 3 sees Mario’s lanky and neurotic younger brother exploring a haunted hotel after each of his friends goes missing.
To assist him in his ghostly affairs, Luigi dons his Poltergust device yet again, which has since been upgraded courtesy of Professor E. Gadd.
This results in Luigi gaining new ghost-catching techniques and puzzle mechanics centered on controlling Gooigi, an ectoplasmic doppelganger of Luigi that can slip between metal bars and dissolves in water.
The addition of local co-op and online multiplayer modes are welcome surprises that go a long way towards boosting replayability beyond the main story.
Paper Mario: The Origami King
Genre: Action-adventure RPG
The Paper Mario RPG subseries has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years but managed to make a comeback in 2020 with the release of The Origami King for the Switch.
The story follows a paper-fied Mario as he sets out to prevent a wicked king from turning the Mushroom Kingdom into origami and all of its inhabitants into evil minions.
Gameplay introduces several new innovations for the series, including a revamped combat system that involves rotating rings on a radial battlefield in order to maximize Mario’s damage.
The Origami King has been well-received by critics and quickly became the fastest-selling entry in the series, meaning there’s a good chance we’ll see Nintendo release more Paper Mario games.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
We’ve decided to include the remake of Link’s Awakening over the original Game Boy version due to its significant graphical changes, better controls, and ease of use on the Switch.
It’s also incredibly unique as far as Zelda games are concerned; the story takes place beyond the confines of Hyrule and fails to reference the Triforce or even Princess Zelda.
The remake retains the top-down perspective, gameplay, and story elements of the original, which saw Link on a quest to wake the legendary Wind Fish by gathering eight magical instruments.
While retro fans may be adverse to the remake’s shiny, plasticine look, the addition of a new in-game dungeon creator is worth checking out for any Zelda die-hard.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Genre: Tactical RPG
Over the years, Fire Emblem found itself becoming a strictly handheld franchise for Nintendo, with both Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates releasing for 3DS.
However, the series would eventually make its way back to home consoles with Fire Emblem: Three Houses for the Nintendo Switch.
In it, you take on the role of professor at a prestigious academy occupied by three factions: the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions, and the Golden Deer.
The mix of tactical turn-based battling and social sim management ends up feeling extremely rewarding and complemented by returning systems such as permadeath, combat arts, and weapon durability.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Right up there with Supergiant Games, Swedish indie developer Image & Form continues to impress us with every new game they put out.
They’re most well-known for the SteamWorld series of action-platformers and turn-based RPGs, including their most recent title, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech.
It sees you guiding a party of courageous heroes through a hand-drawn world and battling enemies using personalized decks of 100+ character-related cards.
There’s a tremendous amount of depth to card battles, with players able to carve out their own strategies as they explore a world that’s equal parts fantasy and steampunk aesthetic.
Genre: Turn-based RPG
In a nod to classic RPGs, characters are represented by 2D sprites that are cleverly set against highly-detailed environments with immersive lighting, shadows, and fog.
Complementing the game’s distinct look is a lengthy 60-hour campaign spread across eight playable characters that come from wildly different walks of life.
As you get to know each adventurer, you’ll find yourself exploring magical and dangerous lands throughout the massive continent of Orsterra.
Super Mario Maker 2
Genres: Side-scrolling Platformer, Game Creation Tool
Super Mario Maker 2 builds off of its predecessor’s success while introducing a host of new features and quality of life improvements.
This time around, players are given more creative freedom when designing levels, thanks to the new slope and scrolling tools.
Additionally, the sequel sports many new block types and themes, namely the option to create levels inspired by Super Mario 3D World.
Whether you fancy yourself a self-proclaimed “Maker” or someone who simply enjoys checking out others’ creations, SMM2 has something to offer to just about every Mario fan.
Launch games for new consoles often feel a bit barebones in both content and features (looking at you 1-2 Switch), but then there are exceptions like Snipperclips.
Presented as a cooperative puzzle game, it has up to four players working together to reshape their characters’ bodies to complete different challenges.
These can vary from simple tasks like carrying an object from one side to another, to more complicated puzzles that demand coordination and precise trims.
Following the game’s release, Nintendo released Snipperclips Plus, a downloadable update for the game that adds 30 new levels across two new worlds, a new multiplayer mode, and additional features.
Another unique co-op game that’s exclusive to the Switch is Vitamin Connection, in which two-players co-pilot a Capsule Ship and travel through human bodies, wiping out pathogens.
It’s a surprisingly well-polished little indie game that even incorporates the Joy Con’s look into your Capsule Ship’s design.
Vitamin Connection is developed and published by WayForward and features the same kinds of cute cartoony characters and energetic gameplay the studio is known for.
The two characters travel through maze-like levels zapping viruses using Vitamin Beams and completing mini “sub-games” at the end of each stage.
The last co-op centric Switch exclusive we’ll be highlighting is Good Job! In it, you play as the clumsy child of a CEO who’s tasked with climbing the corporate ladder by completing mundane office tasks.
Tasks are presented as environmental puzzles that can be solved by interacting with random objects throughout the office, meaning there’s usually more than one solution.
The goal is to complete your tasks as quickly as possible while minimizing damage to the office and its workers, though sometimes that simply can’t be helped.
Good Job! is playable solo or with two players and includes over 100 in-game outfits to find throughout the office’s many departments.
Ring Fit Adventure
Genre: Fitness RPG
Ring Fit Adventure isn’t your average video game and serves as a cross between real-world exercise and a turn-based RPG.
It utilizes Nintendo’s Ring-Con and Leg Strap peripherals to track your body’s motion in real-time, provide strength training, and can even monitor your pulse rate at the end of a session.
Levels see you jogging, sprinting, and high-kneeing your way through vibrant fantasy environments as you collect coins and battle enemies by performing various exercise-based attacks.
There are more than 100 levels to explore throughout 20 worlds, as well as shorter minigames tailored for every skill level and workout schedule.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Although there’s no shortage of enjoyable puzzle-platformers on the Switch, most of them are relatively light on the puzzles, with one notable exception.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was originally released for the Wii U before being ported to the Switch and 3DS in an updated version with extra levels.
In it, you play as meek adventurer Captain Toad who, unlike Mario, cannot jump and gets easily startled by most enemies.
To overcome Captain Toad’s limited mobility, the game emphasizes verticality in its level layouts that essentially function like giant Rubik’s cubes with moving pieces and hidden areas to unlock.
Cadence of Hyrule
It still blows our minds that Nintendo would ever let an indie developer handle one of their IP, especially one as high-profile and revered as The Legend of Zelda.
Nevertheless, they did, and developer Brace Yourself Games created a rhythmic hit that takes the best parts of Zelda and Crypt of the Necromancer and smashes them together.
Playing as either Link or Princess Zelda, you explore randomly-generated dungeons and overworlds attacking, defending, and moving to the beat.
Cadence of Hyrule features remixed versions of classic Zelda tracks that have been finely tuned for rhythm-based combat; it’s also worth mentioning just how gorgeous the pixel art in this game is.
Genre: Sports-adventure RPG
Last but certainly not least, Golf Story is a delightful indie adventure game that blends role-playing mechanics and sports-inspired gameplay.
You play as a has-been golfer who only has one last shot at making things right and impressing his estranged wife by competing in a professional tour.
Initially, the game presents itself as a retro-style golf game centered on using a three-click system to sink shots but quickly deconstructs that notion.
This is done through dozens of side quests and secrets you’ll discover, many of which call for golf-related methods to solve.