The Nintendo Switch may have been the old guy in the room this year when compared to the PS5 and Xbox Series X, but the Switch arguably stole the show when it came to exclusive games in 2021. The Switch is approaching its fifth birthday, and Nintendo has shown no signs of slowing down on its avalanche of games you can only play on the hybrid console.
Some of Nintendo's most storied franchises received new games this year for Switch. Perhaps most notably, 2021 saw the return of side-scrolling Metroid in Metroid Dread. Nintendo also revitalized one of the best Pokemon spin-offs in New Pokemon Snap. The trip down memory lane for the Pokemon series continued this fall with the release of Pokemon Shining Pearl and Brilliant Diamond, lovely remakes of the Generation 4 games that were originally released on Nintendo DS.
Of course, Nintendo's most iconic mascot jumped in on the fun, too. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury brought one of the best Wii U games to Switch and added a wonderful new campaign that showed off how Mario in a larger open-world setting could work. The plumber also picked up a golf club again in Mario Golf: Super Rush, a new high-energy entry in the Mario sports game catalog.
Meanwhile, non-Nintendo franchises continued to flourish on Switch. We received not one, but two deep and engaging (and exclusive) JRPGs in Bravely Default II and Shin Megami Tensei V. The action-RPG front was covered too with a new entry in Capcom's Monster Hunter series that, at least for the moment, remains only available on Switch.
Given all of the standout exclusives that landed on Switch this year, it was difficult to whittle down the list to the best of the best, but that's exactly what we've done here. Here are our picks for the five best Nintendo Switch exclusives of 2021. For a look across platforms, check out GameSpot's Top 10 Games of 2021.
Metroid Dread was the biggest surprise of the year for the Nintendo Switch. To be clear, it's not surprising that it's great; it's just kind of wild that it exists at all. Nintendo tasked Mercury Steam with unburying Metroid Dread, a canceled Nintendo DS project, from its grave nearly two decades after the last (brand-new) side-scrolling Metroid adventure was released. While fans continued to wait for Metroid Prime 4, Dread offered a welcome return to side-scrolling action that many Nintendo fans grew up on.
Metroid Dread hit all the right notes, balancing open-ended exploration with exciting boss battles and tight platforming sequences. Dread simply felt incredible in motion, whether you were roaming the varied locales in search of missile packs or taking on your old buddy Kraid in a fight to the death. While Dread followed the familiar Metroid progression, it added some new wrinkles such as the EMMI (killer robots) that Samus had to evade, brand-new suit powers, and more hidden areas than ever before. Metroid Dread brought Samus' winding story arc to a fitting and immensely satisfying conclusion.
We awarded it an 8/10 in our Metroid Dread review. More than anything else, Metroid Dread feels like going back to a place of comfort after a long time away," Steven Petite wrote. "Though the gameplay is refined and new features have been added to the mix, Dread sticks closely to the formula of its predecessors. In the end, for longtime fans like myself, that's probably for the best. There's nothing to dread here. We're home again."
Monster Hunter Rise
While Nintendo Switch owners didn't have the chance to play the Monster Hunter game that catapulted the franchise to mega-stardom, Capcom more than made up for that with Monster Hunter Rise. Arguably even more dynamic than Monster Hunter World, Rise added a wonderful new mechanic that completely altered the flow of both combat and exploration. The Wirebug, essentially a grappling hook, let hunters zip around the richly detailed locales in a flash and made showdowns with the larger-than-life monsters more versatile. In addition to the Wirebug, Rise introduced the ability to ride Palamutes across the maps to speed up the pace and get you into the thick of the action quicker. In this respect, Monster Hunter Rise felt more action-packed by removing the tedium and letting you focus on what Monster Hunter is all about.
Make no mistake, Monster Hunter Rise still offered a layered action-RPG experience featuring more than a dozen weapons with unique styles to master, loads of customization features, and increasingly challenging hunts to test your skills. This time around, though, Monster Hunter felt more approachable than ever before.
The Switch console exclusive earned a 9/10 in our Monster Hunter Rise review. "Going toe-to-toe with these intimidating beasts is the unmistakable core of the Monster Hunter experience, and Rise still feels like a distinctly Monster Hunter game, even if it's more of a fully-fledged action title than any other entry in the series," Richard Wakeling wrote. "This renewed focus doesn't diminish its layered RPG mechanics, nor does it dumb down on any single aspect of the hunt. Certain changes make Rise a more approachable game for newcomers, but you also have the freedom to tailor the experience to your liking."
New Pokemon Snap
Pokemon Snap for N64 has long been one of the most beloved Pokemon spin-offs. More than 20 years after its release, Nintendo finally brought it back. Though the title is rather uninspired, New Pokemon Snap marked a triumphant and charming return for the on-rails "shooter." A more tranquil Pokemon experience, New Pokemon Snap let fans observe Pokemon in their natural habitats, just like the original. And collecting research data for the Professor proved to be a relaxing joy filled with surprises and callbacks to the original game.
Developer Bandai Namco did a wonderful job with the levels, packing them with vibrant colors and intricacies that brought the world to life. New Pokemon Snap also had far more to offer than the original thanks to a wide array of objectives to complete that made replaying the dynamic stages well worth your time. Adding the ability to edit your photos to your liking and create albums was a nice touch, and the sheer variety of Pokemon roaming the world nudged us to fill out our collection much like our Pokedex in the mainline games.
The sequel earned an 8/10 in our New Pokemon Snap review. "Fans clamored for a Pokemon Snap remake for years, and with New Pokemon Snap, we've gotten even more than we bargained for: a great sequel that pulls from all eight generations of Pokemon released so far, dynamic courses that can be explored during both daytime and nighttime, and the ability to create an album of edited, personalized Pokemon photos (which you can then print or post online, a fitting evolution of the game in the social media era)," Jenae Sitzes wrote.
Shin Megami Tensei V
After a long gap between titles, the fifth mainline Shin Megami Tensei game arrived on Nintendo Switch this holiday. It's safe to say Shin Megami Tensei V was well worth the wait. Keeping up with the traditions of the long-running franchise, Shin Megami Tensei V offered a deep and affecting JRPG that kept us on our toes throughout the entire duration of the lengthy campaign.
While many JRPGs have a joyful tone to them, Shin Megami Tensei V is relentless in its approach to stick to dark themes and a brooding atmosphere. Its unique style extended to its turn-based combat, which provided some of the toughest challenges of the year on Nintendo Switch. The brutal combat system may have not always felt entirely fair, but there was no denying that it kept us focused on thinking two steps ahead. Despite its dark tones and challenging combat scenarios, Shin Megami Tensei V still managed to be the most inviting entry in the series for newcomers due to its fairly easy-to-follow story that doesn't require any knowledge of previous entries to enjoy. With stunning visuals, a story and world that reacted to your choices, and a smartly designed combat system, Shin Megami Tensei V stood out as the best JRPG on Switch in 2021.
We awarded it an 8/10 in our Shin Megami Tensei V review. "Shin Megami Tensei V is a game that demands a lot of the player--its slow pace and punishing difficulty will more than likely turn some folks off," Heidi Kemps wrote. "But those who stick with it will find an incredibly rewarding experience that only gets better the further in you get. SMTV truly makes you feel like the weight of this crumbling, conflict-torn world of mythological nightmares rests firmly on your shoulders--but it's a burden you'll be glad you chose to bear."
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury
Super Mario 3D World certainly wasn't the first Wii U game to get a second lease on life on Nintendo Switch, but it was arguably the most impressive considering how much it added to the overall experience. Nintendo made some welcome quality-of-life changes to 3D World, including faster movement speeds for each character that made the platforming snappier and a tad more challenging. Super Mario 3D World is chock-full of awesome content on its own, but this package also added an entirely new Mario experience.
Bowser's Fury took cues from Super Mario Odyssey and classic Mario level design to create an open-world take on the retired plumber's charming adventures. Bowser's Fury saw Mario team up with Bowser Jr. to stop a terrifyingly large (and furious) Bowser from stomping everyone and everything to bits. The open-world setting contained a bunch of gradually unlocking "levels" with a unique set of objectives. The pleasant and bright island world was occasionally disrupted by a dark storm and Bowser spewing fireballs at you while you frantically tried to collect every last one of the 100 Cat Shines. Plus, you could even travel by water on Plessie's back.
The package earned a 9/10 in our Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury review. "Put together, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is a spectacular package," Steve Watts wrote. "Super Mario 3D World is an absolute joy of classic platforming excellence, and this is the best version of it thanks to some well-calibrated improvements."
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