Just got a Nintendo Switch? Play these 5 games first

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Have you just unwrapped a Nintendo Switch for Christmas? If so then lucky you – and you'll likely be wondering which top Switch games you should play first. Fortunately, we're here to help.

The Nintendo Switch has a library filled to the brim with excellent Switch games for you to choose from, from third-party blockbusters to first-party exclusives. But, with so much choice, it can be difficult to know which games are worth jumping into right off the bat – and that's where we come in. 

Below, we've put together a list of five quintessential Nintendo Switch games that we think should be your first ports of call. We've tried to include a mixture of games that will dazzle and delight both adults and children, so, whether you've got the original Nintendo Switch, the handheld Switch Lite or the upgraded Nintendo Switch OLED, there should be something on this list to suit your tastes (though the Switch Lite isn't compatible with all these titles).

And if there's nothing in this roundup that takes your fancy you can always check out our best Switch games guide for a comprehensive list of top titles.

A beach scene from Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Image credit: Nintendo)
The pinnacle of peaceful pursuits

Reasons to buy

Crafting is an excellent addition
Best-looking Animal Crossing to date
More player control

Reasons to avoid

Only one island per Switch
More clarity around data recovery needed

First up is the Switch game that everyone seemed to be playing upon its release: Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

New Horizons is the first new entry in the mainline Animal Crossing series for almost eight years, and the first entry to be playable on the Nintendo Switch – and it was definitely worth the wait. 

New Horizons whisks you off to a deserted island courtesy of an exclusive Nook Inc package holiday. Your job is to turn the island into a top resort, attracting new islanders by sprucing things up and making your island a tropical paradise. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is packed with charm, and the perfect game for those who want to kick back and just take things at their own pace. It’s familiar and fresh, deftly combining all the enjoyable elements of the series with some much-needed improvements and far greater depth than we’ve seen before. It just keeps giving, too, with regular seasonal updates keeping things fresh throughout the year.

A gravity-defying racetrack from Mario Kart 8 on Nintendo Switch

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Image credit: Nintendo)

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Racing royalty

Reasons to buy

Revised battle mode
Fantastic multiplayer fun
Includes old and new tracks

Reasons to avoid

Pretty much like every other Mario Kart game

Wanting to share the Switch fun with family and friends? Then Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just the ticket. 

If you've played Mario Kart before, then you probably know what to expect from this zany racer: Nintendo characters going pedal to the metal on a range of exciting, themed race tracks. 

Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U was already one of the best entries in the franchise, and the enhanced Nintendo Switch version is no different – in fact, it's even better. At its core, the game offers the same excellent racing as the Wii U original, but there are also a number of new additions for this version of the arcade racer. 

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes a battle mode, new characters, all the previously released DLC tracks, and the ability to hold two special items at a time to add an extra layer of strategy to your racing.

You can choose to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe solo, but we find multiplayer much more fun. You can play online, in split-screen with up to four players, or via wireless multiplayer (allowing up to eight players to connect multiple Switch consoles).

It's worth noting that due to the handheld nature of the Switch Lite, this Switch game is more suited to the hybrid Nintendo Switch or Switch OLED. Mario Kart is compatible with the Lite but, to play with more than one player, you will need Joy-Cons.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a versatile release, and well worth picking up for anyone who missed out on Mario Kart 8 the first time around. 

Super Mario running down a city street in Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey (Image credit: Nintendo) (Image credit: Nintendo)

Super Mario Odyssey

One of Mario's finest adventures

Reasons to buy

Doesn't discard the core mechanics
Game world full of intrigue and surprises
Instantly familiar

Reasons to avoid

Can be a bit tedious

Super Mario Odyssey was Mario's first real outing on the Nintendo Switch, and it remains one of the best games on the console. 

Odyssey is a 3D sandbox adventure that sees Mario travel between a wide range of worlds to save Princess Peach from the nefarious and maritally-minded Bowser. Giving the old formula a bit of a refresh, this game sees the traditional Power Ups replaced with a new companion for Mario called Cappy. This sentient hat is Mario's weapon and friend, and he can be used to possess enemies and objects in order to solve puzzles and defeat foes.

While Odyssey is primarily a single-player game, you can also play two-player couch-co-op – with one player taking on the role of the iconic plumber and the other playing as Cappy (though Switch Lite players will need Joy-Cons for this). 

If you loved Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, then you'll probably love Super Mario Odyssey too. 

The full roster of fighting characters from Super Smash Bros, overlooking a cliff face

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Image credit: Nintendo) (Image credit: Nintendo)

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

The ultimate brawler

Reasons to buy

Exciting and inclusive roster
A mode for every occasion
Great fun to play solo or with others

Reasons to avoid

Online play can stumble

Want to play a Nintendo Switch game that packs a punch? Then Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is probably for you – it's got plenty.

The fifth entry in the Smash Bros. series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a crossover fighting game that sees you playing as a variety of Nintendo and third-party characters, with choices including the likes of Link, Mario and Mega Man, and attempting to knock your opponents out of an arena.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate packs in more fighters, more stages, more gameplay modes, and more tactical elements than any game in the franchise. It is, to all intents and purposes, the definitive Super Smash Bros., with everything that entails – and plenty of juicy Smash Bros DLC (Joker! Piranha Plant! Banjo-Kazooie!) to keep you occupied after you've unlocked the main roster of fighters.

Like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate can be played solo, but it's much more fun in multiplayer. You can play online, in split-screen with up to four players, or via wireless multiplayer (allowing up to eight players to connect multiple Switch consoles). Also like Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is great to play solo on the Switch Lite, but multiplayer is more suited to the Nintendo Switch or Switch OLED. 

Zelda star Link faces a skeletal cyclops in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Image credit: Nintendo) (Image credit: Nintendo)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

A compelling adventure

Reasons to buy

Hours of gameplay
Plenty to explore and secrets to find
Engaging narrative

Reasons to avoid

Can be overwhelming in scale

Last but certainly not least is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is not only considered one of the best Switch games of all time, but one of the best games full stop.

Set at the end of the Zelda timeline, Breath of the Wild sees protagonist Link awaking from a hundred-year slumber to embark on a mission to defeat the evil Calamity Ganon and restore the ravaged kingdom of Hyrule. 

While past Zelda games have stuck pretty closely to the formula established by Ocarina of Time (the series' 3D debut), Breath of the Wild throws much of the established wisdom away, offering more RPG elements than other games in the franchise.

The entire map is opened up to you almost immediately, allowing you to approach the game in whatever order you see fit. You can spend hours just climbing trees and brewing elixirs, or you can even head straight to the game’s final boss battle if you're feeling a little more confident. Breath of the Wild's puzzles, too, are less rigid than other games in the series, implementing physics-based problem-solving that often means there are multiple solutions to each challenge, depending on how you combine your various skills. 

The result is a game that feels incredibly broad in scope, with so many little touches to discover that it’s hard not to fall in love with this long-running series all over again – and, if you haven't played a Zelda game before, it could be love at first sight.

Vic Hood
Associate Editor, TechRadar Gaming

Vic is TechRadar Gaming's Associate Editor. An award-winning games journalist, Vic brings experience from IGN, Eurogamer and more to the TechRadar table. You may have even heard her on the radio or speaking on a panel. Not only is Vic passionate about games, but she's also an avid mental health advocate who has appeared on both panels and podcasts to discuss mental health awareness. Make sure to follow her on Twitter for more.