The first 5 games you should play on your new Nintendo Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom running on a special edition Nintendo Switch OLED
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

So you just unwrapped your new Nintendo Switch and you’re wondering what games you should play first? Well, you’re in luck, as there are plenty of excellent titles among both the best Nintendo Switch games and the best Nintendo Switch multiplayer games.

Whether you just got a new Nintendo Switch OLED or maybe even a Nintendo Switch Lite, the five games below are from a wide range of genres and represent the best Nintendo’s hybrid console has to offer. They’re also first-party titles that you won’t be able to play anywhere else like on the PS5, Xbox Series X or on PC.

The Nintendo Switch completely transformed the handheld gaming space back when it launched in 2017 and while you might be a bit late to the party, that means you’ll be able to pick up many of the games below at a discounted price. It’s worth noting that you can also save big on Nintendo’s first-party titles by picking up a pair of Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers. However, you will need a Nintendo Switch Online membership to buy them but more on that later.

Here are our top five picks for the games you should play first on your brand new Nintendo Switch and you may want to pick up one of the best Nintendo Switch controllers too if you plan on playing in docked mode on your TV.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Link rides a horse in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

(Image credit: Nintendo)

One of the reasons the Nintendo Switch was as successful as it was when it was released was due to the fact that it launched alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Unlike past 3D Zelda titles, Breath of the Wild was Link’s first open-world adventure and Nintendo really flipped the script on what other open-world games were doing at the time. Link begins the game with no armor or equipment and it’s up to the player to explore the world around them. Along the way, you find new weapons, learn new abilities and meet a diverse group of characters in Hyrule. Exploration is key and you’ll spend countless hours exploring the game’s huge map and mastering your Sheikah Slate abilities.

If you’re willing to skip the first entry, the game’s sequel adds even more areas to explore since large parts of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom take place in the newly formed Sky Islands above Hyrule as well as underground in the Depths. Fortunately, Tears of the Kingdom does a good job of retelling the events from Breath of the Wild, so you won’t feel completely lost. Likewise, if you’re looking for more of an old school style Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is also worth checking out. It’s actually a remake of a GameBoy game but with a new art style and a few modern conveniences. If you’re more of a hack and slash fan, Hyrule Warriors is a prequel to Breath of the Wild and another fun game for Zelda fans.

2. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Not long after Zelda made its debut on the Switch, Mario Kart came to the console in the form of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. While this was originally a Wii U title, Nintendo revamped it for the Switch by adding more items, vehicles, characters, tracks and a brand new battle mode. If you’ve played Mario Kart before, you’ll be right at home. For those that haven’t though, this is the quintessential kart racing game and a blast to play on the same couch with friends and family. However, you can also play online with your friends or race against players around the world but you will need a Nintendo Switch Online membership to do so.

Adding all of this extra content to Mario Kart 8 for the Switch wasn’t enough for Nintendo though. Last year, the company released DLC for the game in the form of its new Mario Kart Booster Course Pass. This adds an extra 48 tracks from previous Mario Kart games on the SNES, GameBoy, GameCube, Wii and more along with 8 additional characters. If you sign up for the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership, you can get all of this DLC free of charge. If not, it costs $24.99 on its own. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers hours of fun for you and your family and if you have multiple Nintendo Switch consoles, up to eight people can play at the same time.

3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing New Horizons

(Image credit: Nintendo)

If you’re looking for a laid-back game you can play for hours, look no further than Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This game took the world by storm back when it was released in 2020 thanks to its adorable world and lovable cast of characters. Animal Crossing: New Horizons begins with your custom-made character designing their very own island. From here, much of the gameplay involves gathering resources to build your own house but as you progress, you also get to further develop your island and interact with the other residents who live there. Although it’s primarily a single player game, if you have a Nintendo Switch Online membership, you can also jump online and visit your friend’s islands where you’ll be able to gather resources like fruits that are not native to your own island.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a beautiful game filled with charm. However, if you’re more of a Disney fan than a Nintendo one, Disney Dreamlight Valley is also worth checking out as it offers similar gameplay with all of your favorite characters. Another game that you might be interested in if you like this style of gameplay is Stardew Valley. Instead of building an island though, it involves your character running a farm and harvesting crops. Animal Crossing: New Horizons may be the best choice among these games as it’s perfect for both new and experienced gamers regardless of their age.

4. Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Mario speaking with a Talking Flower in Super Mario Bros. Wonder

(Image credit: Nintendo)

While New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe was technically the first 2D Mario game on the Switch, this year, Nintendo completely reimagined the game’s side-scrolling formula with the release of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. The game takes the best parts of past 2D Mario titles and builds on them with new characters, gameplay mechanics and upgraded visuals. With a total of 152 different levels across seven worlds (and a bonus one), there’s plenty of fun to be had and you can play Super Mario Bros. Wonder with up to four players locally. There’s also an online component and while you can play with your friends, you can also play by yourself and have others help you or help those that are struggling with a particular level or boss.

If 2D Mario isn’t your thing, Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D game that’s also quite a lot of fun. What sets it apart from other 3D Mario games is that Mario can throw his hat Cappy and jump on it to get across long distances but he can also use it to take control and play as enemies in the game. Just like with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo also brought Super Mario 3D World from the Wii U to the Switch. However, instead of just adding new items and characters, the company put out an entire new campaign to go along with it called Bowser’s Fury. Even if you’ve played Super Mario 3D World before, this upgraded Switch version is worth picking up as Bowser’s Fury is actually the first open-world Mario game. Plus, Mario faces off against the gargantuan Fury Bowser who appears if you hang around any section of the game too long.

5. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition 

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Although Xenoblade Chronicles originally released on the Wii back in 2010, Monolith Soft decided to give the game a complete remaster for the Switch in 2020. This was after Xenoblade 2 launched alongside the console to critical acclaim but before the release of Xenoblade 3. Though each game has its own unique story, there are connections between them which is why it’s recommended to play them in order. Besides being some of the best JRPGs on the Switch, the Xenoblade games have a deep story, excellent world building and can keep you engaged for hours.

If you’re after something a bit more difficult though, you might want to consider playing Shin Megami Tensei V as it’s another Switch exclusive JRPG. Instead of upgrading members of your party to take on monsters though, this game actually has you recruiting the enemies you fight to join your team. It can be quite hard for newcomers which is why you might want to pick up Persona 5 Royal instead. The Persona games are actually a spinoff of the Shin Megami Tensei games and feature a similar battle system. However, in between fighting enemies in Dungeons, you play the role of a high school student in Tokyo just trying to get through their classes.

Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo Switch Online

(Image credit: Nintendo)

A Nintendo Switch Online membership isn’t required to play the games detailed above but it will allow you to play them online with friends. You also get access to over a 100 classic NES, SNES and GameBoy games. Want more classic games? Then you should pick up a Nintendo Switch Online membership alongside the Expansion Pass as this adds SEGA Genesis, Game Boy Advance and even Nintendo 64 games along with DLC for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Splatoon 2.

A regular Nintendo Switch Online subscription costs $19.99 per year while Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack costs $49.99 annually. If this is your first time setting up a Nintendo Account, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to test out Nintendo Switch Online, though you will have to enter your payment information. If you’re coming from Xbox or PlayStation, Nintendo Switch Online is significantly cheaper than its other online counterparts, plus you can play your favorite retro Nintendo games in a brand new way, complete with the ability to rewind gameplay by holding ZL and ZR.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.