The 5 Best Nintendo Switch-Exclusive Games Of 2022
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The Nintendo Switch is getting up in years, but the hybrid portable console is still going strong. The platform had a solid year of great new releases, especially from outside the realm of Nintendo's usual top-tier franchises. Games like Kirby and Switch Sports were excellent callbacks to some beloved brands that didn't lean hard on bigger names like Mario or Zelda. Xenoblade Chronicles marked another enormous RPG for the platform that has become known as a destination for playing epics on the go.
In the realm of Nintendo's biggest franchises, this was a year of unusual entries. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope returned to the bizarre tactical game partnership between Nintendo and Ubisoft, to exceptional results. And Pokemon Legends: Arceus was a big departure from the usual Pokemon formula, helping to chart a new path forward that we saw partly iterated on in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, which released later in the year.
Nintendo was not immune to delays, however, which pushed some games outside of the 2022 release window. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom--previously informally known as Breath of the Wild 2--was pushed to May 2023. And in an unpredictable turn of events, Nintendo made the last-minute decision to indefinitely delay the release of Advance Wars Reboot Camp in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Either or both of those games remain among our most anticipated, and could very well have landed on this list.
Despite those hurdles, this was an incredibly strong year for the Nintendo Switch, with a wide array of games that will keep you playing docked and handheld well into the new year. Below, we've outlined our picks for the five best Nintendo Switch exclusives of 2022, in no particular order.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a bizarre mashup of Nintendo's Mario, Ubisoft's Rabbids, and XCOM-like combat. It worked incredibly well despite its disparate elements, but the follow-up proved itself much more than a mere iterative sequel. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is an improvement in every meaningful way, borrowing just enough Mario DNA to make a tactical experience that's unique to the genre.
The most obvious difference is the free-flowing movement, allowing you to run around the battlefield almost like you would in a traditional Mario platformer. At first blush, this change may seem superficial, but it actually has a profound impact on gameplay, allowing you to chain your squad's moves one after another to gain a tactical advantage over your foes. The Sparks system, too, gives you an enormous amount of flexibility over your team composition and strategy, for an experience unlike any other game of its type.
"Put simply, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is an absolute delight," Steve Watts wrote in GameSpot's Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Joy review. "This is a combination that shouldn't work and yet it more than works--it excels. When Ubisoft announced Kingdom Battle, the concept seemed so goofy that its success came as a surprise. Sparks of Hope is an improvement in every meaningful way, from the characterization and world-building to combat variety and flexibility to environmental diversity. Ubisoft loves and respects these characters, and has now shown definitively that even something as familiar and comfortable as Mario is still capable of surprising us over and over again."
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
With its hybrid combination of TV and portable functionality, the Nintendo Switch is an ideal venue for deep, meaty RPG experiences. It doesn't get much more substantial than Xenoblade Chronicles, the latest epic from Monolith Soft. The sprawling tale of warring nations tackles themes of sacrifice and community, and while its delivery is sometimes held back by awkward dialogue, it's enough to care deeply about these characters once the story hits its stride.
Equally ambitious is the revised combat system, with 23 classes and unlockable Master Arts that add an extra layer of tactical flexibility. A streamlined menu system makes it easy to manage your MMO-like party, and the result is a system that rewards experimentation as you play with different party compositions and loadouts. That level of complexity gives the experience its longevity, as our reviewer still found new options and Master Arts after 120 hours.
"Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like the game Monolith Soft has been trying to craft for years," Jake Dekker wrote in GameSpot's Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review. "While its dialogue could have used an extra pass, it more than makes up for it with its wonderful story and superb combat. It's rare for a JRPG to hold my attention for a 100-hour runtime, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 did it with confidence."
Kirby and the Forgotten Land
One of Nintendo's most recognizable mascot characters, Kirby has seen his fair share of platformers, along with more experimental projects on handheld platforms like the Nintendo DS. Even so, the little pink puffball still managed to surprise us this year with Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The more open-structured platformer is akin to the Mario 3D Land and World games, with diorama-like environments filled with challenges and obstacles to overcome.
This time, the world is built to look more realistic, with real-world objects like traffic cones and even cars for Kirby to gobble down. When he takes on a particularly large object he transforms into Mouthful Mode, a clever way to get new gameplay functionality out of his classic eating mechanic. Not only that, but this game also gives us upgradable versions of many of the classic Kirby power-ups. You don't have to settle for a little flame ability anymore, as you can become a lava-spewing terror instead. It all culminates in one of the wildest endings in a Kirby game to date, showing the character still has some tricks up his sleeves. Does Kirby have sleeves? You get the idea.
"Kirby and the Forgotten Land is one of those games that's hard to play without constantly having a silly smile on your face," Steven Petite wrote in GameSpot's Kirby and the Forgotten Land review. "It's far more than just a cute and charming platformer with colorful visuals, though. This is one of the best platformers on Nintendo Switch thanks to its brilliantly designed stages and a dynamic arsenal of abilities that consistently shake up the moment-to-moment platforming and action. And FrankenKirby, if you're reading this review, please don't eat me. I don't have any cool powers anyway."
Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Pokemon fans got not just one but two major Pokemon releases this year, and they were each special in their own way. For our money, though, the standout was Pokemon Legends: Arceus, a prequel that takes place in an era inspired by the Japanese colonization period. The new setting allowed for a very different take on the Pokemon formula, including a semi-open world structure full of sprawling environments to explore.
Rather than the traditional quest of catching wild Pokemon and rising to the ranks of Pokemon Master, Arceus put you in the role of a Pokemon researcher. That meant completing research tasks like defeating a certain number of Pokemon, capturing a certain type, and more. The gameplay changed to facilitate this new take on the Pokemon norm, with the ability to catch Pokemon in the wild by simply tossing a PokeBall without being seen. It mixed stealth, traditional Pokemon mechanics, and exploration into a package that was hard to resist.
"Some of the new ideas in Arceus have rough edges, and it's slow to start before you get access to many environments and mounts," Steve Watts wrote in GameSpot's Pokemon Legends: Arceus review. "This is an awkward first step, and it was a big adjustment for me, a longtime fan of the series, to make. Once Pokemon Legends: Arceus finds its stride, though, it's the most daring and inventive the series has been in years, breaking apart the staid core and creating something new and exciting from its pieces."
Wii Sports was a genuine phenomenon that we don't often see in video games, the type of breakout success that inspires mainstream press attention and finds its way into the lives of non-traditional gamers, like nursing homes. It only makes sense that Nintendo would follow up on the Switch, with its Joy-Con functionality acting very similar to the Wii remote. Nintendo Switch Sports is the result, a new package that brings back popular sports like bowling and tennis alongside new events like badminton, soccer, volleyball, and chambara.
Like the best social games, Switch Sports is best if you can gather a bunch of friends together to compete for goals, knock each other into the drink in an epic sword duel, and more. And Nintendo has made a habit of committing continuing support to games like this, as it recently added Golf to the Switch Sports repertoire. It's a great little package that scratches the itch that made Wii Sports such a hit.
"Playing by myself for an extended period of time was boring and monotonous, and the absence of certain single-player modes is a major oversight," Kurt Indovina wrote in GameSpot'sNintendo Switch Sports review. "But Nintendo Switch Sports is a fantastic multiplayer game that, for the most part, invites anyone and everyone to pick up a controller and flail their limbs about. It has its issues, but they fall away when you have other people to play with and are joyously going toe-to-toe in virtual sports. As with the original Wii Sports, Nintendo Switch Sports finds beauty and fun in simplicity. And bowling is great. Better than real-life bowling."