The 10 Best Nintendo Switch Kids' Games of 2021

See which titles will make your kids smile from ear to ear

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The best Nintendo Switch kids’ games make a clear case for why the innovative hybrid gaming system is so popular with families around the world. Its game catalog is heavy on imaginative, colorful titles that feature both kid-friendly content and engrossing gameplay for any age.

Beloved Nintendo franchises often take center stage, from Mario games covering several genres to rich new Zelda adventures, to a Pokémon universe that keeps growing. Some are refreshed ports of older games, but many are new takes for a new generation.

Even with less powerful hardware than the newer Microsoft Xbox Series X and Sony PlayStation 5, Nintendo’s console is uniquely designed to appeal to young gamers: It has the flexibility to switch from playing at the TV to gaming on the go, and it’s easy for friends, siblings, or parents to jump into multiplayer action on many games. Even the smaller, handheld-only Switch Lite offers excellent value as a kid’s console.

There are plenty of entertaining, high-quality options to choose from, but below you’ll find our top picks for the best Nintendo Switch kids’ games across a variety of genres.

The Rundown
The 3D environments offer a modern open-world element of exploring what interests you at your own pace.
The mechanics are smooth and intuitive, with options for motion steering as well as newly added auto-acceleration and smart steering.
The landscape is meticulously crafted, with so many things to do and secrets to uncover making it easy to spend hours exploring.
Combined with Nintendo Switch Online, the Wild Area lets you battle alongside other real-life players.
The Switch and its Joy-Cons allow for drop-in co-op, where a second player can pop in at any time to support the main character.
While the game centers on combat and shooting, it’s a long way from realistic violence.
Most of the time, you run around in humanoid form using your paintball-style guns to shoot ink all over your opponents.
The brawler gameplay remains the same at its core, refined enough for expert players but accessible for anyone to jump in.
It's all about what you can create with the countless blocks available to you.
Showing off what you’ve built and taking inspiration from what others have created is a big part of the New Horizons experience.

Best Overall: Nintendo Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey
What We Like
  • Unique, gorgeous worlds to discover

  • Mix of new and nostalgic elements

  • Cappy offers fun co-op option

What We Don't Like
  • Parts may be difficult for kids

Mainline Super Mario platformer games are often defining titles for each Nintendo console, and that remains the case with Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch. The adventure finds Mario chasing after Bowser in a balloon-powered airship, stopping at a colorful array of “kingdoms” in search of Power Moons to fuel his journey.

Each kingdom is imaginative and beautifully crafted, with our reviewer Kelsey Simon praising the balance of surprising new visuals with nostalgic touches from past Mario games.

The gameplay, too, mixes the old and the new. The 3D environments offer a modern open-world element of exploring what interests you at your own pace without restarting the level. But to reach the area’s Power Moons and other collectibles, you often must navigate various puzzles or platforming challenges, including bits of retro-styled 2D side-scrolling. You don’t have to beat every obstacle to get through the game’s main story, and you likely won’t; they can vary dramatically in difficulty, and some call for more precision and coordination than young gamers can handle.

Mario—and the player—do get help in the form of Cappy, Mario’s controllable new hat/ghost companion. A second player can hop in as Cappy at any point to help with jumps, collect items, and bonk baddies. Cappy also gives Mario the entertaining ability to “capture” certain creatures and objects you come across, opening up a wacky world of abilities as you control everything from Goombas to T-Rexes to forks.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 5.6GB

"Whether you’re good at games or not, competitive or casual, old or young, you can play Odyssey whatever way works best for you."Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Super Mario Odyssey

 Lifewire

Best Racing: Nintendo Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
What We Like
  • Exciting multiplayer races and battles

  • Enjoyable for beginners and experts alike

  • Large selection of colorful tracks

What We Don't Like
  • Not much intro for new players

  • Some stats and settings hard to find

Mario Kart games have been a multiplayer staple for Nintendo over the years, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an excellent opportunity to introduce young racers to the series. Even with no formal tutorial to kick off the game, our tester Kelsey found the controls simple enough for kids to pick up a Joy-Con and start tearing around the track.

The mechanics are smooth and intuitive, with options for motion steering as well as newly added auto-acceleration and smart-steering features that are particularly helpful for kids.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is technically not a brand-new game—it’s an upgraded port of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 that takes advantage of the Switch’s HD graphics and multiplayer-friendly controller options. It includes content from the original game and its DLC, along with some new characters and Karts. The total comes to 42 unique racers and a wonderfully diverse selection of 48 racetracks.

Some courses revamp old favorites from past games, while others take fresh inspiration from various Nintendo franchises, but each one immerses drivers in a dynamic visual environment that cleverly integrates an exciting racetrack.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also adds new head-to-head and team-based battle modes, offering even more types of multiplayer chaos for drivers of all ages.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 6.9GB

"Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is great for kids, especially those with a more competitive streak." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

 Lifewire

Best Action/Adventure: Nintendo The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
What We Like
  • Massive, beautiful open world

  • Smooth combat controls

  • Tons to explore and experience

What We Don't Like
  • Minimal direction to the narrative

The Switch has allowed a number of classic Nintendo franchises to evolve, but Breath of the Wild unquestionably takes the Legend of Zelda to new dimensions. Link returns as the silent hero, this time awakening in a vast, open-world version of the kingdom of Hyrule.

The landscape is gorgeous and meticulously crafted, with so many things to do and secrets to uncover making it easy to spend hours exploring. Tame a wild horse and gallop across the plains. Scale a mountain, shield-surf down its slope, and paraglide to an intriguing landmark in the distance. Catch fish, pick mushrooms, and cook up a meal to refill your stamina so you can explore some more.

The threat of Ganon looms over the adventure and drives your main objectives, but for the most part, you’re not given specific guidance on what to do next. This gives you the freedom to forge your own paths, but our tester Kelsey felt a bit more direction would have helped propel the narrative.

Your treks are also somewhat reigned in by certain survival elements. This includes limited equipment durability; your items wear out after a certain number of uses, so you have to be aware of your resources.

But the combat itself is as straightforward and satisfying as you’d expect from a Zelda game, with a variety of swords, clubs, bows, shields, and more, along with special abilities geared toward tackling certain types of puzzles and foes.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 14.4GB

"Nintendo took a lot of time and consideration when it came to the visual design of Breath of the Wild, making us love the game even more for it." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Nintendo Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Lifewire / Kelsey Simon

Best Party-Based RPG: Game Freak Pokemon: Sword/Shield (Nintendo Switch)

Pokemon Soord
What We Like
  • Familiar mechanics with needed improvements

  • New open-world Wild Area

  • Exciting Dynamax battles

What We Don't Like
  • Simple graphics and animations

  • Limited set of available Pokémon

Twenty-five years after the launch of the first game, Pokémon frenzy is as strong as ever. The latest main games in the series—Sword version and Shield version—offer today’s players a lot to love as the first core titles to be playable not only on the go, but also on a big TV through a home console.

Playing our test copy of Pokémon Sword, Emily Ramirez understood fans' gripes about the simplistic graphics and limited number of available Pokémon (out of the roughly 900 total species). At the same time, the game still delivered on the franchise’s tried-and-true gameplay formula. You catch wild Pokémon and lead them in turn-based battles against other trainers, repeating the process this time in the very U.K.-inspired Galar region.

Your most important battles take place against gym leaders in their home stadiums, and these are exciting spectacles featuring the game’s new Dynamax mechanic. It allows your Pokémon to grow to massive sizes (sometimes dramatically changing appearance) and use devastating, environment-altering attacks.

The game also introduces an open-world Wild Area where Pokémon of varying difficulty levels roam free. Combined with Nintendo Switch Online, the Wild Area lets you battle alongside other real-life players and participate in limited-time events. Two other completely new open-world areas with new Pokémon to catch are also available for purchase through a pair of expansions: the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 12.4GB

"The classic, cartoony style of the game fits perfectly with the models. The textures are simple, but nice to look at. It just feels right for a Pokémon game." — Emily Ramirez, Product Tester

Pokemon Sword/Shield

 Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Best Casual RPG: Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Let’s Go, Eevee!

Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Let’s Go, Eevee!
What We Like
  • Charming, upgraded graphics

  • Kid-friendly gameplay

  • Easy drop-in two-player mode

What We Don't Like
  • Minimal difficulty

  • Low complexity for veteran players

Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! provide a modernized take on the first generation of Pokémon games, and it’s casual fun for old and new fans alike. The original games kicked off the series with the Red and Blue versions, but the Let’s Go titles are based more on the Pikachu-centric Yellow version, with either Pikachu or Eevee as the partner Pokémon at your side, based on which game you’re playing.

Visuals get the most obvious upgrade in Let’s Go, with a charming, colorful 3D style that sparks new life far beyond the original Game Boy graphics. But our reviewer Kelsey (playing the Pikachu edition) found the refreshed “gotta catch ‘em all” gameplay to be much more accessible, too.

Random encounters give way to Pokémon that are very visible in the environment. And instead of battling these Pokémon before catching them, Let’s Go borrows the Poké Ball throwing mechanics from the ubiquitous Pokémon GO mobile games. You can even sync your Pokémon GO account and transfer Pokémon to your Let’s Go adventure (though this option doesn’t unlock until relatively late in the game).

Another convenient feature made possible by the Switch and its Joy-Cons is seamless drop-in co-op, where a second player can pop in at any time to support the main character. This makes the game’s battles significantly easier—a downside for veterans seeking a challenge, but perfect for families with younger children wanting to join the action.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 4.2GB

“Everything about this game is age appropriate. It has feel-good moments, a positive attitude, and while fighting occurs, no one actually gets hurt. The bad guys aren’t even that bad.” Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Nintendo Let's Go, Pikachu!

Lifewire / Kelsey Simon

Best Strategy: Ubisoft Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Ubisoft Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
What We Like
  • Cartoony, kid-friendly presentation

  • Humorous writing and plot

  • Fun, playable characters

What We Don't Like
  • Simplified tactical gameplay

Traditional tactical, turn-based single-player RPGs might have a hard time grabbing a child's attention, but Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is far from typical. The game’s wacky, slapstick story takes place in a version of the Mushroom Kingdom that’s been infested by hordes of mischievous Rabbids.

You control a small, Roomba-esque robot named Beep-0, and the team you enlist to fend off the intruders consists of Nintendo characters such as Mario and Peach, thrown alongside Rabbids versions of themselves. The writing and dialogue are clever throughout, though it might be a lot to read for younger kids.

While the game centers on combat and shooting, it’s a long way from realistic violence, with blasters and other weapons covering enemies in things like honey and ink. The battles themselves use standard turn-based strategy gameplay—you position your squad of three characters around a grid, plan and execute their attacks, and then watch the enemy team take its turn.

It’s simple and usually easy enough for young strategists to get by, but there’s enough difficulty across the stages and enough variety in the victory conditions that careful planning is crucial for getting the best scores.

There’s also a lot of depth in the unique weapons and special abilities you can unlock and choose to equip along the way, in addition to plenty of bonus collectibles that older players can challenge themselves to find. Plus, you’ll eventually open up local co-op and versus modes that add replay value by throwing a two-player twist into the gameplay.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 2.9GB

“Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle strikes a nice balance between suitable for children, while still being challenging enough for adults to love.”Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

 Lifewire

Best Shooter: Nintendo Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2
What We Like
  • Kid-friendly shooting gameplay with ink-based twist

  • Vivid characters and environments

  • Exciting multiplayer modes

What We Don't Like
  • Limited plot

  • Not as deep and competitive as adult shooters

For parents looking to let their kids in on the excitement of shooter games but without the typical violence and blood, Splatoon 2 offers an ideal amount of frantic fun. Our tester Kelsey recommends it for families with younger players, recognizing veterans of third-person team-based shooter games may not find it as much of a challenge.

Splatoon 2 is set in a colorful urban world populated by squid-kids known as Inklings. Most of the time, you run around in humanoid form using your paintball-style guns to shoot ink all over your opponents as well as the environment. But then you can switch into squid mode and swim through ink puddles of your designated color, speeding sneakily around the level while refilling your ink supply.

Splatoon 2’s single-player campaign takes you through a simple story that helps introduce the game’s assortment of weapons and controls. Like many shooters, though, the emphasis is on multiplayer, with Turf War as the primary battle mode. Rather than trying to rack up kills, it shifts the focus to covering as much of the stage as you can with ink of your team’s color.

A few other battle modes mix up the gameplay, including competitive special events that are introduced on a regular basis. Most of the content requires an online account, though you can also play local multiplayer among multiple Switch consoles—no split-screen modes are supported.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 6.1GB

"Splatoon 2 is a game that we felt was far more appropriate for a younger audience than an older one." Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

Splatoon 2

Lifewire

Best Fighting Game: Nintendo Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Nintendo Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
What We Like
  • Tons of playable fighters

  • Accessible but deep combat

  • Wide array of modes for one or more players

What We Don't Like
  • Can take awhile to unlock every character

  • Amount of content can get overwhelming

The Super Smash Bros. series began as a chance to duke it out as a few of your favorite Nintendo characters. With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch, it has evolved into a way to play not just as Nintendo staples, but as a dizzying collection of characters across video games past and present.

The total comes to over 80 characters to unlock, including every fighter from previous Smash Bros. games, new additions to Ultimate, and 11 more added through post-release DLC.

The brawler gameplay remains the same at its core, refined enough for expert players to appreciate but accessible enough for anyone to jump right in. Rather than lower your opponents’ health to zero, the goal is to damage them and make them easier to knock off the stage.

Young players may find themselves winning just by staying alive, or even through a bit of luck—the frantic stages and wacky items that can pop up ensure that pretty much anything can happen.

But if there’s anything in the battle settings you don’t like, you can customize it to suit your needs. You can choose the items, starting damage, win conditions, and much more.

There’s also impressive variety in the game modes available both online and off. Multiplayer rumbles take center stage, but a new single-player adventure mode offers surprising depth and playtime as well. You battle across a giant map to unlock more fighters, along with non-player “Spirit” characters that can add bonuses in battle.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 16.7GB

"The stage builder mode has become a hit with my 6-year-old—her creations set up some wildly chaotic battles, and, in her eyes, the crazier the better." — Anton Galang, Product Tester

Best for Creativity: Mojang Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition

Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition
What We Like
  • Powerful sandbox building tool

  • Easy-to-learn mechanics

  • Educational and empowering

What We Don't Like
  • Limited in typical “game” structure

On the journey from its 2011 indie beginnings to its status as the all-time best-selling video game, the building phenomenon Minecraft has earned a solid spot in today’s culture. Its main elements are simple, from the iconic blocky style to the basic gameplay embodied in Survival Mode: explore the land, mine resources, craft items, and fend off monsters.

But Creative Mode is where imagination is unleashed. There’s no losing or dying, and the controls are simple enough for young kids to pick up. It becomes all about what you can create with the countless blocks available to you. You can dig deep into the earth or build high into the sky.

Our reviewer Andrew Hayward noted that his 6-year-old not only loves experimenting within the game itself but also started reading Minecraft books for ideas and inspiration. Teachers are even incorporating it into their classrooms as an educational tool.

The creative potential is staggering whether you play on PC or consoles, but the Switch version provides a convenient element of portability. It also avoids the limitations of the mobile version for phones and tablets—performance is smooth and high-resolution, though with slightly reduced world sizes and draw distance compared to more graphically powerful platforms.

As a bonus, Nintendo throws in exclusive Mario-themed assets for Switch users to play around with. Building with others adds another rewarding aspect to the experience, which you can do through local multiplayer or a Nintendo Switch Online membership.

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10+) |  Install Size: 1.1GB

"Minecraft remains such a pure and compelling sandbox experience, dropping players into a blocky world full of seemingly endless possibilities." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Microsoft Minecraft

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best for Casual Play: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons
What We Like
  • Relaxed, real-time gameplay

  • Enjoyable for all ages and experience levels

  • Seasonal events and festivals

What We Don't Like
  • Open-ended, long-term pace not for everyone

  • Limited to one island per Switch

Released in March 2020 just as many families were spending more time at home, Animal Crossing: New Horizons benefited from its perfect timing and became a global hit. More than one year and 700 play hours later, our reviewer Sandra Stafford still considers the game an excellent, low-stress escape from reality. 

Players can pop into their island paradise any day of the real-time year and find plenty to do, with seasonal events and new limited-time goodies that keep the content fresh. With so many beautifully detailed items available within several charming themes and styles, collecting the perfect pieces to deck out your house or neighborhood offers great incentive for ambitious decorators.

Users may enjoy creating custom designs for clothes and furniture, while others may like landscaping their island with trees, flowers, ponds, and waterfalls. Some may want to acquire every bug, fish, fossil, or artwork for the local museum, or find their favorite animal “villagers” to invite to join the neighborhood.

Showing off what you’ve built and taking inspiration from what others have created is another big part of the New Horizons experience. You can visit other people’s islands in real time or explore saved “dreams” of them, but be warned that connecting online comes with the hassle of tedious dialogue and long load times.

Also note that players on the same Switch console can have their own houses, but they must share a single island. It can make for a rewarding exercise in cooperation for some families and a frustrating challenge for others.

ESRB: E (Everyone) |  Install Size: 7.0GB

"There's no hurry, and there's no wrong way to play." Sandra Stafford, Product Tester

Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Lifewire / Sandra Stafford

Final Verdict

Our testers found plenty of excellent, kid-friendly selections for the Nintendo Switch, including multiple standout titles in the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey (view at Amazon) particularly showcases the console’s flexibility and innovation, with imaginative worlds that appeal to both old and new Mario fans, plus a fun drop-in co-op option for a second player as Cappy.

For those looking to get lost in a groundbreaking open-world adventure, the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (view at Amazon) is worthwhile for gamers of any age.

About Our Trusted Experts

Anton Galang is a Lifewire writer and reviewer who first entered tech journalism as part of PC Magazine in 2007. He and his young daughter enjoy spending afternoons playing any Switch games they can get their hands on.

Kelsey Simon is a long time gamer who has written for Lifewire since 2019. She owns a variety of systems including a Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite.

Emily Ramirez has been playing games for years, and has written for Lifewire since 2019. Previously, she wrote for MassDiGI and the MIT Game Lab. She reviewed Pokémon Sword/Shield praising the innovative new Wild Areas.

Andrew Hayward has covered games since 2006, writing for publications like TechRadar and Polygon. He's a pretty big gamer himself and owns and uses a Nintendo Switch at home which he often plays with his 6-year-old son.

Sandra Stafford has been writing for Lifewire since 2019, but she's been playing games for much longer. She particularly enjoys playing on her Switch and has hundreds of hours in Animal Crossing.

What to Look for When Buying Nintendo Switch Kids' Games

Gameplay

Nintendo games have always been effective at straddling the balance where they appeal to kids and adults equally. With adventure-driven platformers such as Mario Odyssey, you get just the right mix of fun, child-friendly graphics with gameplay that’s unique and challenging. Breath of the Wild, an open-world RPG has more plot and mechanics to it, but it’s not too complex for most kids to enjoy.

Graphics

Games on the Nintendo Switch have perfected an art style that makes them stand out from the rest. Breath of the Wild has a particularly unique graphic style reminiscent of more “adult” games like Witcher 3 or Skyrim, with an esoteric twist that lends itself to a fantasy world. Splatoon 2 goes for the more traditional cartoony graphics, making the competitive shooter seem fun and colorful, rather than bloody and violent.

Kid-Friendliness

It’s rare you'll have to worry about child-friendliness on Switch games. From Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the majority of first-party Nintendo games will avoid any kinds of graphic violence, profanity, nudity, or other adult content. The types of games you might want to watch out for are console/PC ports such as Witcher 3, which may have darker, more adult content.

FAQ
  • What ages are Nintendo Switch kids’ games appropriate for?

    There are some games tailor-made for preschool players, but many more are designed with straightforward gameplay (platforming, puzzles, racing, etc.) that most kids 5 and up can enjoy. Other titles involve more action, strategy, reading, or other overall complexity—these are better suited for older kids, or call for more adult guidance and supervision.

  • Are parental controls available for the Nintendo Switch?

    Detailed parental control settings are activated by syncing your console to the free Nintendo Switch Parental Controls mobile app with an adult’s Nintendo Account. You can use Child, Pre-Teen, or Teen presets, or customize which features and games are restricted based on rating. You can also monitor play time and set limits, but any parental control settings apply to everyone using the system, not individual users (though adults can use a PIN to override restrictions).

  • Can kids play Nintendo Switch games online?

    Adults with a Nintendo Account can create “supervised” accounts for kids and add them to a Nintendo Switch Online family membership for online play. The parent account can restrict what content on the Switch eShop their children can view or purchase, and the Switch Parental Controls app can limit social sharing and other online interactions. In general, though, parents should stay aware of what young players are doing online and with whom.

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