The Nintendo Entertainment System was on every kid’s wishlist in the second half of the ’80s. Super Mario Bros. dominated playground discussions. The same occurred with the Super Nintendo in the early ’90s and the Nintendo 64 in the late ’90s. But since the emergence of Sony as a gaming powerhouse in that same decade, and Microsoft later in the 2000s, kids’ attention has been divided. While all platforms have a variety of games appropriate for a variety of ages and kid interests, Nintendo’s commitment to the family audience leaves it in an enviable position when it comes to the breadth and depth of game offerings on the Nintendo Switch console, meaning that every kid—the quiet one, the wild one, the weird one, the adult one—can find something they will love playing. With that in mind, here are seven of the best Switch games for kids of all types.
Best for Lego fanatics: MinecraftBest for lovers of cute animals: Animal Crossing: New HorizonsBest for obsessive collectors: Pokémon Sword and ShieldBest for board game geeks: Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide ClassicsBest for Twitch watchers: FortniteBest for high school fantasy fans: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildBest for family game night: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Nintendo has a reputation as a family-friendly and questionable-content-free platform. In fact, in the days of the mid-’90s video-game-violence hysteria, Nintendo published a version of notorious (and great) fighting game Mortal Kombat with all of the blood replaced by a grey “sweat” that poured out of the fighters when they were damaged. While Nintendo has relaxed its stance on mature content in games since those days, the company still tends to aim its franchises at a general audience, letting third parties publish the games with more adult themes and scenes. However, Nintendo’s in-house software being all-ages-appropriate doesn’t make it any less engaging. These classic franchises can be great for kids games and fun for adults at the same time, and many of the best games “for kids” are simply the best games out there for anyone of any age.
Most likely, your child is more up on the newest games than you. They probably have a YouTuber or Twitch star they follow whose recommendations heavily influence their choices, or they watch game trailers to decide what intrigues them. As a parent, it can be hard to keep up with what games are good, and more importantly what games are appropriate. To that end, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the video game equivalent of the film industry’s MPAA, created a rating system with both general ratings and specific content information that can help parents decide if a kids game is right for their child without said parent having to spend dozens of hours with the game themselves. In general, E (for Everybody), E10+ (Everybody 10 and older), and T (for Teen) games are usually OK for most kids.
These are analogous to the G, PG, and PG-13 movie ratings. M (for Mature) games may feature realistic brutal violence, sex and nudity, and swearing. The ESRB website, www.esrb.org, gives specific content information on any game in its database, which is substantial, and is an excellent tool when deciding what games to purchase.
Another way to ensure your child is gaming the way you’d like is to take advantage of the built-in parental controls on the Switch console. As is common with game systems these days, each player is required to make a profile to play games and store game data. Setting up a parental profile allows the option for parents to limit the games that can be played within the child’s profile, either by rating or by creating game whitelists (which excludes anything not on the list). A companion app for Android or iOS means that once you set up the controls, you don’t even need access to the Switch console to adjust those controls. If your child misbehaves and you don’t want them to play Switch games as a punishment, you can institute that from afar.
Time limits can be set, complete with alarms so the child knows how much time they have left to play in a given day. The app displays playtime information to make sure screen time isn’t getting out of hand even without a limit, and will give you push notifications about whatever content, free or paid, is downloaded to the Switch. Lastly, parental controls allow limitations on online communication in games or sharing of game information to social media directly from the Switch console.
While there are lots of great kid- and family-friendly franchises on Xbox One X/S and PlayStation 5—the latest Ratchet & Clank game springs to mind—the sheer number of appropriate franchises that Nintendo themselves produce really sets the Switch apart as the “family” console. Nearly any game with “Mario” in the title is going to be well-made and fun for the whole family. Animal Crossing is about as wholesome as gaming gets. Pokémon has enthralled kids for over 25 years and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. These games are appropriate and largely excellent, so the top kids’ games are also the top Nintendo Switch games in general. As family gaming systems go, you really can’t go wrong with the Switch. Plus, the variety of titles ensures that no matter what interests your little gamer (or the little gamer’s parents) have, the Switch can provide something engaging.
There are plenty of titles beyond these seven that will engage kids, but these are the surest of the sure shots. Each one a hit, each one with stellar reviews. The gameplay experiences are deeper and more varied than those offered by mobile and tablet games, and often require a higher level of skill to perform well. While kids love the feedback loop of victory, it’s also important that games challenge them to teach them how to improvise and improve strategies. Each listing includes the ESRB rating so that you can get an idea of the type of content your tyke, tween, or teen will encounter.
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Minecraft isn’t just a game, it’s also a tool that helps kids learn about physics and engineering while showcasing their creativity. Minecraft
There’s truly no game that compares to Minecraft. Essentially a first-person building game, Minecraft has evolved over 12 years to feature tons of game modes and ways to play, allowing for infinite hours of replayability. The best Switch games for kids are those that engage players on multiple fronts, and Minecraft players can spend hours exploring other players’ worlds, building their own, fighting enemies in different story modes, or just noodling around with the game world’s physics. While fun, there’s also many educational elements to Minecraft that can help parents justify allowing their youngsters to devote hundreds of hours to the game.
Minecraft is the most successful game of all time, selling over 200 million copies across dozens of platforms, and the Nintendo version has all the features a player needs, plus the portability of the Switch console. For a young gamer with a maker’s mind, you can’t go wrong with the game named “best of the 21st century” by The Guardian.
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A completely stress-free gaming experience, Animal Crossing: New Horizons scores high on the adorability scale. Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest game in a series where, basically, the player does favors for cute little animals wearing cute little clothes in a cute little world where they have a cute little house that they can decorate in cute little ways. Did I mention that this game is cute and little? Well, it is. Animal Crossing’s characters are not just visually adorable, but their personalities, teased out by daily interactions, are delightful and frequently produce laugh-out-loud moments. The game is charming, stress-free, and features both simultaneous and asynchronous multiplayer elements that allow gamers to share their little cuties with others.
A game that can be played for 20 minutes a day for the rest of your life if you so desire, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is also a wonderful game for early readers who may not be able to understand all the text in Zelda or kids without the Twitch-gaming skills to excel at platformers or racing games. But even older kids—and as Twitter shows, adults—are enchanted by Animal Crossing’s sweet aesthetic, making it one of the best Switch games for kids.
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Fully realized fantasy worlds and collections of cute-but-deadly critters have made Pokémon a favorite since the mid-’90s. Pokemon
If you were born since 1980, I probably don’t have to tell you what Pokémon is, because it’s been a huge part of childhood for every Millennial and Gen Z kid. Even without playing the games, it would take living in a cave to have avoided the toys, movies, television shows, and general ubiquity of Pokémon mascot Pikachu within popular culture. While popularity doesn’t always mean quality, there’s a reason Pokémon has been consistently popular. The pleasure loop of catching new Pokémon, training them to be strong, and using their strength to catch even more new Pokémon works on even the most jaded gamer. Many players’ first RPG (role-playing game), Pokémon has a new “generation” every four to five years, adding more monsters and gameplay quirks.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, technically two different titles but sharing 90 percent of the same game, offer a fully 3D world to explore (a relatively new development for the series), along with downloadable side adventures. As the main line Pokémon titles, Sword and Shield are likely to continue receiving updates and downloadable content into the future.
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A collection of excellent board games, Clubhouse Games is a digital twist on a traditional family game night, with far less clean-up. Nintendo
Stuffing an entire closet’s worth of board games onto a video game cart, Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics features some of the most recognizable games in history like chess and dominoes; other lesser-known true gems like Reversi (née Othello) and mancala; and quirky digital versions of slot cars and fishing pond games. Featuring 51 games in total, as the title clearly indicates, Clubhouse Games features tutorials for all its games, CPU opponents with adjustable difficulty, and multiplayer, both local and online. While most of these games play exactly the way you’d expect, some surprise.
One of the cooler features is in the slot cars game, where if there are multiple Switch systems connected, the Switch screens can be laid end-to-end in different combinations to create different track designs. Being a Nintendo-produced title, Clubhouse Games offers some great Japanese games, like hanafuda, a card game with a unique deck. Nintendo, as a company, started in the hanafuda card printing business in 1889, nearly 100 years before it became a computer game powerhouse. Clubhouse Games is an excellent way to declutter the closet, and you’ll never lose a piece from the box!
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A cartoony shooter with a huge cross-platform player base, Fortnite is also technically free to play, though there are lots of ways to spend money. Fortnite
Fortnite was released in 2017 as two distinct game modes featuring the same base gameplay. One was a four-player tower-defense shooting game in which players worked together to fend off enemies from their base. While that version was moderately popular, Fortnite Battle Royale was the true star, busting out in a big way and giving everyone Fortnite fever. Up to 100 players compete until only one is left standing. The mode became one of the most popular games for viewers of Twitch, the Amazon-owned gaming-and-more streaming platform. Available for free, Fortnite has, in the four years since, offered tons of ways to spend money, including a monthly battle pass that gives players boosted rewards for playing the game.
As with most free-to-play games—the most popular monetization model for mobile games—it’s important to set spending limits to avoid having a “free” title become the most expensive game you buy. Even without spending money, Fortnite offers a lot of replayability and social gaming opportunities, and it’s likely your kid has some friends who are already experts that he or she wants to play with. Assuming you put parental controls on spending in the game, Fortnite is an auto-download. Can’t get cheaper than free for one of the best Switch games for kids!
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A fully realized, gorgeous fantasy world with tons of nooks and crannies to explore and sufficient challenge. Nintendo
Few Switch games have been lauded like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As a series, Zelda is often lavished with praise, and Breath of the Wild seems to be everyone’s favorite since all-timer Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64. Featuring a huge world map with tons of items to collection, characters to meet, and enemies to defeat, Breath of the Wild also features impressive verticality. Nearly every surface in the game can be scaled, giving even more space for players to discover. Zelda can be a bit complicated and difficult for younger gamers, so this one is better for teenagers, especially for older kids who love swords and sorcery. If your kid loves Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, there will be a lot in the narrative and aesthetics for them to glom onto.
It’s dangerous to go alone: take The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with you. It will fill the hours with spin attacks, horse rides, and hookshots, making Zelda one of the best Switch games for all ages and all time.
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Frenetic, fun, fast, and furious, like all great car-based entertainment. Nintendo
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is all about family, because everyone can easily pick up and play the game. The latest in one of Nintendo’s dozen-or-so classic franchises, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the updated Switch version of Wii U’s Mario Kart 8. Available nearly from the launch of the system, Kart 8 continues to sell at a brisk pace because of its pick-up-and-play accessibility and enjoyable variety of competitive modes. Traditional race-to-the-finish is available, with courses inspired not just by the worlds and characters of the Mario franchise, but other loved Nintendo titles like The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, and even Excitebike. The real appeal of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is multiplayer, and while there are other multiplayer-focused family options like Super Mario Party, none of them can produce the excitement and competition of a good session of Kart.
Lots of different control options are available, from single-JoyCon motion controls to the separately purchased Pro Controller, letting every member of the family play the way they want. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the perfect family game to start fights (because of that damnable blue shell) and to finish them (loser does the dishes). Race out to get this one.
Yes, a 5-year-old can play Nintendo Switch, but some games are going to be too complicated, require too much dexterity, or have too much dense text for a 5-year-old to enjoy. In general, avoid games that require fast reflexes like platformers or shooters, games with complicated narratives like RPGs, and, of course, watch out for inappropriate content. However, something like Clubhouse Games or Animal Crossing is perfectly palatable for an anklebiter, assuming their attention span and reading skills are up to snuff.
As kids get into elementary school, they’ll probably be exposed in one way or another to Pokémon, and may beg to play. While fully recommendable by age 9 or 10, 1st graders with patience and reading skills can definitely start to dip their toes into the Pokémon world, making it one of the best Nintendo Switch games for a 7-year-old. However, the newest Pokémon games tend to have more complicated battle and evolution systems, so the remakes of previous Pokémon games (Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! And Pokémon: Let’s Go, Evee!) may be the best choice. These are updated versions of simpler, 1998-era Pokémon games that are more suited for a child’s first entry into the series.
Kids in the second half of elementary school likely have the skills to start enjoying more complicated narratives and game systems. If they show interest, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might be top of the heap of the best Nintendo Switch games for a 9-year-old. While it is rated E10+, the violence is largely bloodless and there is no swearing or sexual content to worry about. The game might be intimidating for some, but will definitely engross others. If Zelda seems like too much, Super Mario Odyssey is a good alternative. Almost as widely lauded as Breath of the Wild, it’s slightly simpler but has some very challenging parts that will feel like an accomplishment for a 9-year-old to clear.
Nintendo has built a ton of trust in its brand, not only for its quality but for its content avoiding any of the hard edges of “adult” gaming platforms like Xbox One S/X and PlayStation 5. Aside from the fantasy violence of Zelda or something like Fire Emblem: Three Houses being a bit much for younger kids, first-party Nintendo titles are almost always child-appropriate and worth playing. In addition to the games listed above, there’s beloved franchises like Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Party, a wide variety of Mario-centric sports titles, and Splatoon 2, an even more kid-friendly shooter than Fortnite. All are great choices when you’re looking for the best Nintendo Switch games for kids.
Lastly, if you want your progeny to get a little bit of exercise with their gaming, Ring Fit Adventure is an exercise game that’s actually fun to play, unlike most exercise games. The depth of the Switch’s software library means not only will the system have something for every youth but it can follow them into adulthood as their interests get more specific and the types of content they can handle grow. The Switch is an excellent system for kids with some of the best video games for kids, and I’m not kid-ding about that.