The Nintendo Switch turned five this year … and with that birthday came a wave of discourse. Fans are anxious for Nintendo to launch a new piece of hardware, whether that be a Switch Pro or a new console altogether. It’s an understandable request; the once magical Switch now seems a little less impressive in the age of the Steam Deck. However, this year once again proved why Nintendo can get away with aging hardware: its games are just that good.
Even without The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to cap it off, 2022 was a landmark year for the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo delivered its best lineup of exclusive games since the console first launched in 2017 — though it’s no coincidence that some of this year’s best games were sequels to its first-year titles. We’ve put together a list of the best Nintendo Switch exclusives of 2022 below, but what’s jaw-dropping is that this doesn’t even include everything worth talking about. That’s a testament to Nintendo’s strong first-party support, which remains its unshakable secret weapon.
While the Kirby series is certainly inconsistent, developer HAL Laboratory has a way of churning out a bona fide classic every few years to remind players why the pink puffball is one of Nintendo’s top mascots. We were overdue for an entry like that, and HAL delivered with one of the series’ best entries to date: Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The platformer is an all-ages delight from top to bottom, featuring lovely visuals, tons of copy abilities, and a surprisingly deep endgame. Its perhaps most memorable for its hysterical Mouthful Mode, which cements Kirby as one of gaming’s best comedic talents. When he swallows an entire car, he’s a modern day Charlie Chaplin.
When it came to RPGs, Switch owners couldn’t have asked for a better year. From ports like Persona 5 Royal to entirely new releases like Triangle Strategy, there simply weren’t enough hours in the year to play them all. If you only have time to catch up on one though, make it Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Developer Monolith Soft’s latest is its magnum opus, delivering the best iteration of the series yet. While I could sing its praises all day when it comes to its MMO-like combat or incredible soundtrack, its story is what sticks out the most. The heartfelt war tale challenges players to rethink the concept of good guys and bad guys, pointing out the real villains we should be fighting: oppressive powers that profit off of conflict.
Well, Bayonetta 3 certainly had a weird year, didn’t it? As anticipation mounted for the long-delayed action-title, a convoluted voice acting controversy threatened to spoil the party. While it cast a dark cloud over the release initially, it ended up placing more eyes than ever on the series just in time for its best installment. Bayonetta 3 is a bombastic action game that revels in its own multiverse silliness. Though its narrative left some longtime fans disappointed, PlatinumGames made up for those shortcomings by dropping some of its most wildly creative ideas yet. From kaiju battles to 2D espionage interludes, Bayonetta 3 is simply out to surprise and thrill you at every turn.
I played a lot of multiplayer games in 2022, from MultiVersus to Overwatch 2. Not a single one of those games is as rich with content as Splatoon 3 was on day one. While the ink shooter didn’t change much about its core online modes, it delivered a a suite of content so robust that I spent 100 hours playing its first season without ever reaching the bottom. I spent countless hours grinding my way up the ranks in Anarchy Battles. I completed every single level of its strong single-player campaign. I played the heck out of its improved Salmon Run mode, which is one of the finest PVE modes in gaming today. I was even addicted to Tableturf Battles, its new puzzle minigame that I would play on mobile devices in a heartbeat. Every single piece of content in Splatoon 3 is worth playing — something I simply can’t say for 99% of its competitors.
I remember the first time I saw a leak that revealed Nintendo and Ubisoft were working together on a Mario/Rabbids crossover game. On paper, it sounded like a terrible idea. Here I am five years later though, and both Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and now Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope are two of my favorite tactics games of all time. Sparks of Hope is especially impressive though, as it completely reworked its predecessor’s winning formula and only made it better. Few tactics games let you string together abilities as well as Sparks of Hope, allowing players to pull off strategically brilliant turns that feel downright impossible. Its not only one of Mario’s finest spinoffs; it might just be one of Ubisoft’s best games, period.
In any year, there are always going to be great games that simply fall under the radar. There are just too many titles to keep track of. However, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes might just be 2022’s most underrated release. The action game isn’t just a bland Musou that uses the cast of Fire Emblem: Three Houses; it’s a full-blown sequel and a shockingly deep RPG in its own right. While I went into my playthrough not expecting much more than a mindless hack-and-slash, I came out with richer understanding of the characters I’d grown to love in Three Houses. Though its an understandably niche release, its worth diving into before Fire Emblem Engage takes the series’ spotlight in January.
Nintendo Switch Sports didn’t exactly launch to rave reviews. Critics largely felt that it was a pretty bare-bones package that would have worked better as a free pack-in rather than a nearly full-priced new release. So why was it one of my most-played games of 2022 in terms of hours? For all its shortcomings as a package, Nintendo Switch Sports still reigns supreme thanks to the same intuitive controls that made Wii Sports a phenomenon all those years ago. Some of my favorite gaming moments of the year simply came from bowling against strangers online while playing some music in the background. It’s the ultimate low-stakes zone out game — and one that’s only improved since launch thanks to the recent addition of golf.
This was a big year for Pokémon, even if not all the attention it received was positive. The series got its next official mainline installment with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, a fun pair of games hampered by poor performance. Those weren’t the only Pokémon games released this year though, and some might argue that they weren’t the best either. Pokémon Legends: Arceus took the series in an entirely new direction, creating an RPG adventure more akin to Monster Hunter. While Scarlet and Violet may be the better games overall, Arceus opened new doors for the series with its completely revamped approach to catching, battles, and progression. I imagine that we’ll see some of those features in the next mainline Pokémon game, which may make Arceus 2022’s more influential Pokémon game in the long run.
It wasn’t just a big year for new releases on the Switch; it was also a banner one for rereleases. That was thanks in no small part to Square Enix, which seemed more eager than ever to revisit its deep history of RPGs. The biggest story of the year though, may have been Live a Live. The classic RPG is an incredibly influential one that has shaped some of the genre’s best games, but it had never been released in the U.S. until this year. The wait may have been far too long, but it was worth it. Nearly 30 years after its original release in Japan, Live a Live feels unlike any game I’ve played thanks to its multi-protagonist setup that has players doing everything from sneaking through a castle in feudal Japan to competing in a wrestling tournament. And all of that has been recreated in a gorgeous 2D-HD art style that makes it feel brand new again.