Nintendo Switch NES NSO with NES controllersSource: iMore

Best retro-inspired games you should play on Nintendo Switch iMore 2021

Nintendo has been making games since 1977, but you don't need a huge collection of old consoles to really enjoy its history. If you have a Nintendo Switch, you can play some of the best NES and SNES games on Nintendo Switch online, a remastered classic game updated with new art and content, or even recent titles that emulate old school style. Out top pick is Undertale, an indie 2D RPG inspired by '90s games like EarthBound, Super Mario RPG, and Shin Megami Tensei. It emphasizes choice, letting you decide whether to fight monsters or spare their lives as you adventure.

Best overall: Undertale

Undertale SwitchSource: 8-4

A tribute to the SNES game EarthBound, the indie RPG Undertale follows a child who falls underground into a world filled with monsters. You can approach the game like a traditional RPG and fight these creatures in turn-based battles mixed with bullet hell, or you can choose to spare them.

It's possible to play through an entire game without killing anyone, though figuring out how to befriend a monster can be more challenging than fighting it. The dialogue options are inspired by Shin Megami Tensei. Like in that game, you should listen carefully and try to understand your foe's personality for a better chance of pleasing them.

The game is short, but it has multiple endings. It's also very meta, and bosses will actually change how they interact with you on a second playthrough based on how you finished your last game.


  • Compelling story
  • Worth replaying to get different dialogue
  • Can be cleared without fighting
  • Excellent soundtrack


  • Visuals are a bit ugly

Best overall

Undertale Box Art

Undertale Nintendo Switch

Make friends with monsters

Solve puzzles and explore an underground world filled with monsters that you can fight or spare in this indie title inspired by EarthBound and Shin Megami Tensei.

Best platformer: Sonic Mania Plus

Sonic Mania Switch ScreenshotSource: Sega

A remix rather than a remake, Sonic Mania Plus uses the Sega Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games to inspire the look, feel, and soundtrack of its levels, adding new paths and items to surprise players. There are also totally new zones like the movie- and TV-themed Studiopolis, where Sonic gets tossed around by a popcorn machine.

Aside from an animated intro, the game uses 16-bit style to make you really feel like you're back in the early '90s. Each of the game's acts features a boss fight, and these sometimes feature 3D animation in the style of the Sega 32X and Saturn. There are also bonus stages to find and complete, though they're so hard you might want to skip them unless you're a true completionist.

The mechanics are pretty similar to the original games, but the characters have some new powers that are a bit too hard to use. A better tutorial might help make the clumsy abilities more intuitive. Sonic Mania was released in 2017, and 2019's Sonic Mania Plus adds more playable characters and a competition mode.


  • Entirely new zones
  • Reimagined versions of classic levels
  • Great boss fights


  • Could use a better tutorial
  • Bonus stages are extremely hard

Best platformer

Sonic Mania Plus Box Art

Sonic Mania Plus Nintendo Switch

Gotta go fast

Classic Sonic the Hedgehog games are reimagined with new paths, bosses, and bonus levels. Play solo or with a friend with split-screen co-op and race modes.

Best indie game: Celeste

Celeste SwitchSource: Matt Makes Games

Inspired by classic NES and SNES platformers, the first version of Celeste was developed in just four days as part of a game jam. The full version has eight chapters and a free DLC that follow Madeline, a young woman attempting to climb Mount Celeste who must confront her own inner demons to succeed.

The game is extremely popular with speedrunners because it's challenging without being punishing. Madeline can jump, climb walls, and dash through the air but gains additional abilities as the game progresses. An Assist Mode can make some of the challenges easier if you're stuck.

There's also plenty for completionists to love, like strawberries that can be collected to alter the game's ending. You'll need to complete some tougher platforming sections and solve puzzles to gather them. There are also secret levels and a hidden mini-game that lets you play the game jam prototype.


  • Approachable but challenging platforming
  • Lots of collectibles and secrets
  • Emotional story
  • Excellent soundtrack


  • Requires patience to unlock everything

Best indie game

Celeste Box Art Final

Celeste Nintendo Switch

Climb every mountain

Help a young woman battle her inner demons as she climbs Mount Celeste in this platformer that's easy to pick up but requires serious skills to master.

The Legend of Zelda Link's AwakeningSource: Nintendo

If you loved The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can also experience the 1993 Game Boy game The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on the Switch. The HD remake features an updated soundtrack and provides plenty of new quality of life features like the ability to equip extra items and review conversations.

Link is far from Hyrule in a land full of monsters and talking animals and must collect instruments to find his way home. Like in other Zelda games, you'll divide your time between exploring the overworld and delving into dungeons to solve puzzles. The remake also adds a Dungeon Maker where you can build your own dungeons for friends to explore.

The game also features some goofy cameos from Mario characters plus side-scrolling dungeon sections that really capture the old-school vibe. You might also want to pick up some Zelda amiibo to unlock extra chambers for the Dungeon Maker. This is a great way to get your Zelda fix while you're waiting for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2.


  • Very faithful recreation of a Game Boy classic
  • Goofy humor referencing other classic games
  • Challenging dungeons
  • You can carry more items than the original


  • Framerate can dip in overworld area

Best adventure

Link's Awakening For Nintendo Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Nintendo Switch

Washed up

Help Link return to Hyrule in this excellent HD remake of the 1993 Game Boy game. Explore dungeons and build your own for friends to try.

Best RPG: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster

Final Fantasy X-2Source: Square Enix

The PlayStation 2 games Final Fantasy X and X-2 are JRPG classics, and the HD Remaster version came to the Nintendo Switch in 2019. X follows a teenage athlete sent to another world as he goes on an emotional journey to defeat a terrible monster while X-2 picks up two years after that game's events.

The cutscenes have been redone with improved graphics, making the regular characters look a bit dated by comparison even though their models have also been upgraded. The audio for the voice acting and soundtrack has also been improved, though you can stick to the original music if you'd prefer.

This is a great value providing about 40 to 50 hours of gameplay per title. There are many secrets to uncover as you master the game's turn-based battles and the leveling systems, which are different for both games. This version also includes optional bosses, new mini-games, and additional cinematics not available in the original North American release.


  • Two games for the price of one
  • New story content
  • Big improvements to visuals and sound


  • Some cutscenes are unskippable
  • Fixed camera angles can shift in jarring ways

Best RPG

Final Fantasy X-2 box art

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster Nintendo Switch

Double trouble

Play two of the best JRPGs ever with new graphics and audio. Each has a different battle and leveling system to keep things fresh while the emotional story propels you forward.

Best value: Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo Switch Online Nes GamesSource: Nintendo

Why settle for one retro game when you can play more than 80? A Nintendo Switch Online subscription provides access to some of the best NES and SNES games so long as you're connected to the internet. The list of included titles just keeps expanding.

Love classic platformers? Play Donkey Kong Country or Super Mario Bros. 3. Prefer racing games? Try Super Mario Kart or F-Zero. The service provides a great way to experience gaming history without collecting old cartridges or worrying about investing in a title you don't like.

You'll also get access to all of Nintendo Switch Online's other great services, such as cloud backup for your save data, the ability to play online multiplayer games, and even exclusive games like Tetris 99. The service is worth buying for almost any Switch player, but it's especially great for retro game fans.


  • Provides access to more than 80 games
  • Needed for online play for many modern games
  • Backs up your save data
  • Provides access to special deals


  • Must be online to use

Best value

Nintendo Switch Online 12-Month Membership

Nintendo Switch Online 12-Month Individual Membership

Subscribe and save

Get access to a huge collection of NES and SNES titles that regularly expands, plus other great features like cloud backup and the ability to play online multiplayer games.

Bottom line

Nintendo's long history of game development makes the Nintendo Switch home to an enormous repository of retro titles from the biggest franchises. Still, the versatile system also lends itself well to indie games that just emulate that old-school style. Undertale is our favorite option because it takes the style and gameplay of early classics and finds a clever new way to package them with a dark story and novel gameplay mechanics. Whether you like the look of 2D pixels or want to experience a remastered classic, all of the options on this list should provide you with some great retro fun.

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