This past Friday saw the launch of Nintendo Switch, a hybrid device capable of transforming instantly from home game console to handheld player that can go anywhere. Coming from a company that has traditionally split software development resources between handheld and big-screen platforms, the Switch represents a bold vision for the future of gaming, and though it does suffer from some of the same issues that have plagued other recent Nintendo hardware launches—a half-cooked online shop, incomplete network infrastructure, missing Virtual Console service, and hardware issues on some units—the time I’ve spent with the system so far has been promising. As a Nintendo fan who hates being tethered to a television, I’m excited that I can now play all of the company’s “big budget” games on the go; as a handheld gamer first-and-foremost since the early ’90s, I’m thrilled Nintendo’s hybrid approach means handheld gaming won’t die out anytime soon.
Regardless of where players stand on Nintendo’s hardware design philosophy, or how inexcusable it is that the system didn’t launch with all of the features players were expecting, the Switch is rock solid when it comes to what is inarguably the most important aspect of any new hardware launch: the game selection. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is very likely going to be remembered as one of the greatest games ever made, but even without Nintendo’s flagship title, there’s a pretty great lineup of games to choose from (unless you’re looking for sports or first-person shooters, in which case you’re out of luck for the time being.)
It gets even better for players who take advantage of the system’s lack of region locking: the Japanese eShop features a handful of great games that aren’t currently available in the U.S.—in some cases, they’re not due out for another 2-3 months—and most of them are fully playable in English. That said, it’s not nearly as easy to purchase games from the Japanese eShop as it should be: Nintendo has limited Switch eShop purchases to credit cards issued in the same country, meaning you’ll either have to pay a middle-man fee on eShop cards from import retailers, or top up your eShop funds via a Japanese 3DS or Wii U, then merge them with your Switch. It’s a puzzling move after Nintendo heavily touted the system’s region free capabilities, but I expect the company will fix the issue with a future software update.
In any case, here are some thoughts on the launch games I’ve played so far, along with a quick rundown of everything else you can get from other region shops right now with a little extra effort!
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is the biggest game Nintendo’s ever made, and it’s a game changer in much the same way Super Mario 64 was in 1996: it takes everything players always imagined a Zelda adventure could be and crystallizes those ideas into something that’s somehow even better. It’s as if the illustrations adorning the pages of the original Legend of Zelda’s instruction manual provided a glimpse into a living, breathing Hyrule that’s always existed somewhere, only it’s taken Nintendo 30 years to figure out how to unlock the doors to that world. This has already devolved into hyperbole, so I’ll just say this: everything you’ve heard about the game is true. If you’ve longed for a Zelda game that drops you into a vast, fantastical landscape and lets you uncover its secrets at your own pace, you don’t want to miss this.
A port of Shin’en’s Fast Racing NEO on Wii U, Fast RMX is the F-Zero game fans have been begging Nintendo to make since the GameCube days: pulse-pounding, 60-FPS, futuristic racing that moves at a breakneck pace and leaves everything else in its dust. With 30 tracks — all of the ones featured in NEO and its Future Pack DLC, plus six more — 15 unlockable vehicles, and a myriad of local and online multiplayer modes supporting up to 8 players, this game stands tall alongside Mario Kart 8 as one of the best racing experiences on any modern gaming platform. There is one minor caveat keeping me from making a wholehearted recommendation on Fast RMX: there’s currently no way to play online multiplayer with friends, which was a huge letdown after I’d rushed to download the game as soon as I set up my Switch and scheduled time to race with several friends who’d also purchased the game on day one. The good news is, Shin’en is patching this feature into the game soon, so if you’re okay racing with strangers (or sticking to the single-player mode) until then, there’s no reason not to jump right in.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove / Specter of Torment
Shovel Knight is one of the best retro-style platform games ever made, and even though I understand developer Yacht Club Games’ business model, it’s still baffling to me that the company keeps releasing free full-sized expansion packs for players who’ve already purchased the base game. That said, there are a couple good reasons to pick the game up on Switch. The first of these is co-op, which was previously exclusive to Wii U owners who purchased the Shovel Knight amiibo toy, and is a great fit for a system that comes with two controllers in the box. The second is a brand new campaign called Specter of Torment, which you can buy separately for $9.99 or as part of the full-sized Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove release for $24.99. gives you three uniquely challenging Mega Man-inspired adventures to tackle at a discounted $24.99. From a gameplay standpoint, Specter of Torment might be the most challenging of all three campaigns, but it’s also the better-designed of the two villain-centric campaigns, and Specter Knight’s story is well worth experiencing.
Blaster Master Zero
Blaster Master Zero is being marketed as a sequel to Blaster Master on the NES, but in reality, it’s more like a turbocharged update of the first game, with improved graphics, new weapons, a more loquacious main character, and a map system that finally makes it possible to not get wholly and completely lost in the game’s maze-like world. Like Shovel Knight, the Switch version also supports two-player co-op play. Blaster Master Zero missed the North American Switch launch by a week, but it was a launch title in Japan, and players who download it from the Japanese eShop can play it in English on North American systems.
Super Bomberman R
Super Bomberman R is a followup to the SNES Bomberman games, and a welcome return to form for a series that went off the rails after the N64 entries. The single-player mode is a good time for those who like puzzle action and giant bosses, but local multiplayer’s still where it’s at. One system can support up to four players, while two Switch systems in close proximity to each other can support up to eight. Online play, unfortunately, is a bit of a mess: it’s hampered by serious input and network lag, meaning it’s sort of a crap shoot trying to find an online game that works as it should. Pro-tip: from the main menu, select “Other,” then “Basic Settings,” then move the Network Settings slider all the way to the left to “Find opponents who have good network connection.” Hopefully Konami can offer up a more permanent solution in the near future.
Snipperclips has all the makings of a future cult classic: a quirky, charming presentation, unique but intuitive gameplay, and a great selection of puzzles optimized for either two or four players working together… all wrapped in a package that most players will refuse because of the way it looks. But they shouldn’t, because this odd little puzzle game is one of the most fun couch co-op experiences I’ve had in years. It strikes that perfect blend between teamwork and teammate antagonization, and it has me and my wife grinning from ear to ear every time we play it.
Here’s a selection of standout launch titles I haven’t yet played full versions of, but all come highly recommended, whether you import now or wait for them to launch in North America.
1-2 Switch. This one’s not an import-only title—in fact, it’s a Nintendo-developed collection of mini-games designed to show off the Switch’s unique controller technology similarly to what Wii Sports and Nintendo Land did for the Wii and Wii U, respectively. The difference is that Nintendo’s asking $50 for this collection rather than including it as a free pack-in with the Switch, so the value of this collection is highly subjective. If your social gatherings frequently involve video games, go ahead and give this one a shot; me, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. As in, wait-and-see if the price ever drops to $20.
Arcade Archives. If you’re lamenting the lack of a Virtual Console available at the Switch’s launch, this collection of Neo Geo classics might just tide you over. Each game is priced at around $7 on the Japanese eShop, and you get to choose from The King of Fighters ’98, Metal Slug 3, Shock Troopers, Waku Waku 7, and World Heroes Perfect—all presented with English language options.
Disagaea 5 Complete. This highly rated strategy role-playing game comes complete with the original 2015 and all of its DLC, and best of all, it can be played entirely in English. If you need another huge RPG on your Switch and you need it right now, there’s absolutely no reason to wait on the North American release coming May 23rd.
Dragon Quest Heroes I & II. If you’ve played Dragon Quest Heroes on PS4—or Hyrule Warriors, or any of the other Musou games—you know exactly what you’re getting here. This one’s presented entirely in Japanese, but why not download the free demo and remind yourself that you’ve been neglecting Dragon Quest VIII on 3DS ever since you got your Switch?
I Am Setsuna. Square Enix’s retro-style RPG has been called a spiritual sequel to Chrono Trigger thanks to a battle system that feels like it was ripped right out of that SNES classic, but it’s priced a bit high at $39.99 for a title that’s download only in North America. Again, if you need another RPG right now, Setsuna might be a good option, but maybe import a physical copy to justify the high price tag.
Puyo Puyo Tetris. Available now in Japan, or launching in North America on April 25th, this mashup of two great competitive puzzle series was released several years ago on 3DS, Vita, and other platforms in Japan, and is finally making its way west for Switch (and PS4.) The version available now on the Japanese eShop is presented in Japanese only, but you can try out the free demo to determine if that’s going to be a barrier to your enjoyment (but it shouldn’t.)
Voez. This visually hypnotic rhythm game actually came out last year on mobile devices, so if you’re in North America and hankering to give it a try without having to import it from the European or Japanese eShops, you could just download the free version on your phone. Unlike literally every other Switch game announced thus far, Voez is actually a touch-only game, so it can only be played in handheld mode. We’re not sure why this needed to come out on Switch—especially since it muddies the whole identity of the platform—but the pop music is great and the action is easy to pick up. It’s also available in English, no matter which shop you download it from.