The Best Nintendo Switch-Exclusive Games Of 2023
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These are our very favorite Nintendo Switch games of 2023, showing just how strong the year has been for Nintendo's console-handheld hybrid. The Nintendo Switch is approaching its twilight years as persistent rumors of a successor start to seem imminent. You wouldn't know it's on its way out from the library, though, as this year is one of the strongest that the little console-handheld hybrid has ever seen.
This year, the system put its biggest names forward with both a long-anticipated sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as a new mainline Super Mario Bros. game. We also got excellent remakes like Metroid Prime Remastered, and some notable third-party support. For this list, we considered all console exclusives, meaning games on Switch and PC were eligible, although this year, everything we selected ended up only being available on Switch. If this is ultimately going to be the last year for the Nintendo Switch before a new console takes some of its shine, 2023 was a strong way to finish.
There's a moment in the opening title music of Pikmin 4, where in the flutter of piano notes invoking wonder and curiosity, there's a singular note played slightly off-timing with all the others. It's off-cue just enough that the deliberate placement of that single piano note turns the inspiring tone into something more unsettling. As small of a detail as it is, I think it's emblematic of the series' entire tone: the joy and terror of exploring unknown territory. And more than any Pikmin before it, Pikmin 4 encapsulates that best.
Pikmin 4 demonstrates Nintendo's iteration on the series, taking everything the games had done in the past and honing it into the most approachable and strategically deep Pikmin has ever been, including its more horror-like elements. Pikmin 4's companion character, the dog-like creature Oatachi, is the best version of the series' take on playable companions yet. New game modes--allowing players to embrace the different offerings in its strategic gameplay, such as Night Expeditions, which is like Pikmin's version of tower defense, and Dandori Battles, which existed as Bingo Battles in previous games--are interwoven through the story to showcase the competitive edge of its mechanics. All these new features, topped on everything else the series has done before, makes Pikmin 4 feel like a complete package and vision for the franchise.
It's not just one of the best Switch games of the year, but one of the best in the system's library.
"That story, like most of Pikmin 4, is gentle and unobtrusive," Steve Watts wrote in our Pikmin 4 review. "It's all just very agreeable and sweet, and there's a certain gratification that comes from directing your little army of plant-people to gather treasures like fruits and Game Boy Advance cartridges. The more Pikmin 4 leans into fashioning itself after a more traditional game, with competition and fail-states, the more prone it is to getting in its own way. Sometimes, it's enough to simply have a relaxing activity." -- Kurt Indovina
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza And The Lost Demon
Since her debut in 2009, Bayonetta has been defined by her demonic powers, sexual magnetism, and dazzling flamboyance. And it is precisely for this reason that when Platinum Games announced the next entry in the Bayonetta series would follow the future dominatrix as a young girl, more than a few heads turned. Yet despite Bayonetta's reputation and Platinum's legacy of making exhilarating action games, Bayonetta Origins just works.
The whimsical adventure game follows a young Bayonetta as she sets off on a quest to find a source of magic that will cure her "cowardice." This mission soon leads her to the forbidden Avalon forest, where she accidentally summons a demonic cat, Cheshire, to help her solve puzzles and navigate the treacherous woods. While the two have their own reservations towards one another (and a whole lot of baggage), the unlikely duo come together in a shockingly emotional story that somehow draws a line straight from the timid girl to the confident woman we know and love.
With clever gameplay that sees each Joy-Con control either Bayonetta or Cheshire, engaging puzzles, a heartfelt story, and charming, storybook illustrations, Origins firmly cements itself as more than a simple Bayonetta spin-off. Instead, it is a captivating entry that adds depth and tenderness to the video game icon while also proving that both Bayonetta and Platinum Games are more than high-octane action wrapped up in leather.
"Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and The Lost Demon is a testament to thinking outside the box," critic Jessica Howard wrote in our Bayonetta Origins review. "While I don't suspect Platinum Games will pivot to this new style of gameplay and storytelling in future Bayonetta games in the same way Breath of the Wild or God of War (2018) shifted the direction of their respective franchises, I cannot help but be thankful that the studio trusted the vision of its team enough to create this experience. Though with how fantastic every aspect of the game is, I understand why the developer did." -- Jessica Howard
Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp
While the Fire Emblem series saw a massive spike in popularity during the last decade, Intelligent Systems' other turn-based strategy series--Advance Wars--remained in a deep hibernation. That finally changed, albeit in remake form, with Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp. A remake of Advance Wars and sequel Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, Re-Boot Camp doesn't go for an anime-inspired look like the recent Fire Emblem games. Instead, it resembles retro toys and board games, with the battlefield even having clear edges on top of a table in what is presumably the "real world."
Like the original Game Boy Advance titles, Advance Wars 1 + 2 focuses entirely on combat, which is in stark contrast to modern Fire Emblem games. Some might find this too simple, but it also gives the game a fantastic "one more mission" hook that can stay engaging for hours. The series' identity has been made clear for modern players, which will hopefully lead to some 100% original Advance Wars games in the future that build on Re-Boot Camp's wonderful foundation. Still, even if that doesn't happen, getting to return to such a classic strategy series after all these years sure is special. Now, if only Battalion Wars could make a comeback, too…
"What makes Advance War 1+2: Re-Boot Camp an exciting prospect today is the same as what made the games compelling when they were first released: fun and approachable strategic gameplay that is built on a solid foundation," Jake Dekker wrote in our Advance Wars Reboot Camp review. "While the first title certainly shows its age in the latter stages, the moments of magic that earned Advance Wars a passionate fan base are still there. If turn-based tactical combat is your thing, there is plenty to sink your teeth into here." -- Gabe Gurwin
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom had to reckon with remarkably high expectations for one of its most highly-acclaimed games of all time. Nintendo rose to the occasion and not only met expectations but exceeded them. Tears of the Kingdom improves upon its predecessor in practically every way, from remarkable powers and inviting dungeon design to a more compelling story.
Your array of powers this time mostly revolve around the Ultrahand and associated crafting abilities, challenging you to tinker with found objects and solve environmental puzzles by crafting complex machines and bridges. Dungeons feel more reverent of Zelda history, while also serving as proving grounds for the experimental construction mechanics. And the story is quite simply the best in the series, with a time-bending narrative that packs shocking revelations and emotional resonance. It's not just one of the best Switch games of the year, it's a must-have for any Switch owner.
"And then, of course, there is the story you write yourself through gameplay--when you built a clever machine to cross a chasm, explored a dark cavern with only your wits and a handful of arrows, raced through a thunderstorm on horseback to find shelter," Steve Watts wrote in our Tears of the Kingdom review. "Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a canvas for your own creativity, a book to write your own stories, a world to create your own legends. It gives you back as much as you put into it, and beckons you to soar, burrow, engineer, solve, adventure, and explore." -- Steve Watts
Metroid Prime Remastered
Another year in the books, another year without Metroid Prime 4, which was announced way back at E3 2017. But 2023 was a better year for series fans as, ssurprising everyone, Nintendo shadow-dropped a remaster of the original Metroid Prime in February.
Retro Studios did a wonderful job modernizing the controls and enhancing the graphics. This is more than a minor touch-up; smoother textures, more vibrant colors, and lighting improvements come together to further accentuate the haunting atmosphere. Outside of these quality-of-life improvements, it's the same experience that's widely regarded as one of the best games of its generation. Things go sideways for Samus while investigating a distress signal from Space Pirates on a research frigate, and she finds herself chasing Ridley to the planet Tallon IV, where she'll have to reacquire her abilities and unravel the mystery of the ancient Chozo.
A testament to its one-of-a-kind ethos, Metroid Prime Remastered feels fresh even today. It has well-designed puzzles, richly layered environments that reward thoughtful exploration, combat and traversal that steadily evolve as Samus unlocks new power-ups, and an ambient soundtrack that sets the unforgettable tone.
"Metroid Prime Remastered offers a reminder that revisiting beloved games many years later can enhance your appreciation," critic Steven Petite wrote in our Metroid Prime Remastered impressions. "On rare occasions, the game is even better than you remember. Two decades after its original release, Metroid Prime Remastered demonstrates how special it was and still is today." -- Steven Petite
Super Mario RPG
Super Mario RPG capped off a year filled with marquee re-releases of all-time classics. The turn-based RPG lovechild of Nintendo and Square, Super Mario RPG originally launched on Super Nintendo in 1996. It garnered critical acclaim and has remained a fan-favorite ever since. It even kicked off the greatest song ever composed about the Wii Shop Channel, which only added to its revered status.
What's most remarkable about Super Mario RPG is how well it has aged all these years later. While it has modernized graphics, the rest of the charming ingredients remain in the recipe. The timing-based combat system is consistently engaging, albeit perhaps too easy for some players--though a new post-game mode offers a nice challenge. Clever puzzle and platforming challenges, along with minigames, are interspersed throughout the breezy 15-20 hour adventure.
Great characters, humorous writing, and an endearing world make this quirky tale a memorable one. With Super Mario RPG, Nintendo both appeals to nostalgia and offers a lovely introduction to the genre.
"Super Mario RPG is one of the most interesting remasters I've ever had the pleasure of playing," critic Steven Petite wrote in our Super Mario RPG review. "Returning to 1996 and joining Mario and pals on this zany adventure that contributed greatly to my love of turn-based RPGs was a nostalgic joyride." -- Steven Petite
Super Mario Bros. Wonder
It's not uncommon to hear game companies talk about wanting to surprise and delight players, and it's hard to find a better example of a 2023 game doing just that than Super Mario Bros. Wonder. This is a real step forward for 2D Mario games.
The new Wonder effects are the chief addition here. By finding a Wonder Seed hidden (to varying degrees of difficulty) in each level, an otherwise standard level can be transformed into something totally new and different. Platforming may suddenly take place with a top-down camera; a wave of Bulrushes you can ride may flood the stage; or numerous other examples that you should see for yourself--some are truly surprising. Whatever the case, these can completely upend the way you traverse or interact with a level, and they'll often leave you with a big smile on your face.
Experiencing the Wonder-fied versions of levels (or not) leaves you with ample reason to revisit each level, so as to see what the alternative is. But further adding to the replayability is Wonder's new Badge system. Badges each provide you with some kind of bonus, from the relatively mundane to those that give you new abilities (an underwater burst of speed or a crouching high jump). Some, like Spring Feet (causing you to bounce whenever you hit the ground) or Invisibility (making you invisible, both to yourself and enemies), force you to thoroughly rethink your approach, making for a very different experience on the same level.
Combine the consistently delightful surprises with surprisingly strong multiplayer support and a wonderful look--there are numerous delightful touches in the game's many animations--and Mario Wonder is a must-play for Switch owners.
"Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a bold choice for a name," Steve Watts wrote in our Super Mario Bros. Wonder review. "It plants a flag in the ground that suggests anything less than a constant sense of awe and delight will be a failure by its own terms. But then, surprisingly, Mario Wonder rises to the challenge and the result is a modern classic. The Wonder effects are the marquee feature, and for good reason, as they serve as a springboard for a cornucopia of creativity. But it's the smart and thoughtful choices around new power-ups, badges, online multiplayer, and visual flair that cement it in Mario canon. This is the rightful successor to Super Mario World, and hopefully, will serve as a touchstone for 2D Mario going forward." -- Chris Pereira