Updated Jul 11, 2022 10:21 AM
Your home theatre is immaculate. You have the surround sound, the giant screen, the plush, deep-cushioned recliner. You’d spend every waking moment there if you could. But more than you’d like, the outside world calls, whether it’s the morning commute or a walk to the dog park with your pet pooch. But you’re smart, you planned ahead. You bought a Nintendo Switch console (read out our full review here), and can easily change it into handheld mode for fun anytime, anywhere. The only question is: what to play? Sure, you could just continue whatever game you were playing at home, but there are some games that are just better in the bite-sized chunks and unfamiliar confines that the world-at-large brings. Each situation calls for the perfect game, and while the list of best Nintendo Switch games is long, you can easily find the title for you with a little help. So if you’re looking for road trip games or public transit timewasters, we’ve got you covered.
Want to play at home and roam? Nintendo lets you, well, switch it up
Handheld gaming at Nintendo actually predates home gaming, with the one-game-per-system Game & Watch line debuting in 1980, three years before the Famicom (renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System for non-Japanese markets) was released in Japan. Since then, Nintendo has been the dominant force in the handheld market with huge hits Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo 3DS all taking the lion’s share of gaming eyeballs and gamer’s pockets. When the Switch debuted in 2017, it upended the previous Nintendo strategy of distinct home and handheld systems, combining the lines into one. The Nintendo 3DS line was officially discontinued in September 2020, leaving Switch as the only in-production line of Nintendo systems.
There are currently two versions of the Switch: The standard $299 Switch is both a home console and a portable one, while the Nintendo Switch Lite is a handheld-only version of the console that costs $100 less. (We’ve compared the two to see which is right for you.) A new addition to the line will debut in October 2021 with the release of the Nintendo Switch OLED, an upgraded version of the standard Switch with all the same features but more memory, a bigger and better screen, and a better-designed kickstand for tabletop play. This version will retail for $50 higher than the standard Switch, which will remain available on the market. But, no matter which version of the console you buy, the games library is great, and playing away from home is easy and fun.
Do I need any accessories to best enjoy my Switch on the go?
For short trips, or if you’re headed somewhere with access to a power outlet, you don’t really need a backup battery. But for long trips and especially all-day multi-transfer plane trips, they’re a must. A good-enough power block can be had for $35, with higher-end models that double as AC adapters or have built-in solar and wireless charging hitting the mid $100s. Also, a carrying case is highly recommended to protect the Switch’s screen from inadvertent scratches while it bounces around in your backpack or shoulder bag. Carrying cases also tend to have snug spots for game cards, JoyCon controllers, and cables; a place for everything and everything in its place. Though not 100-percent necessary, a set of switch grips can also make the system a little easier to hold onto, and that more solid feeling can be had for as little as $20. Further screen protection is available in the form of either hard plastic screen covers or soft clear decals that go over the Switch screen. There are even car seat mount kits to put the screen on the back of a headrest if your tykes spend a lot of time gaming on the way to your grandmother’s house. If you’re interested in digital games over physical games, you’ll definitely need an upgrade to the Switch’s internal memory, and an SDXC card of at least 128GB is recommended. If you’re like me, though, the backup battery and carrying case are enough.
Are other games not good for playing away from home?
The games below are presented for the situations they best fit, but, in general, the best Nintendo Switch games are a joy to play both at home and on the go. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey lead the way as the two stand-out titles on the Switch, each featuring an unassailable Metacritic rating of 97. While they aren’t discussed below, these two games are simply an auto-include for any Switch collection and are games that can be played for 10 minutes or 10 hours.
Can I try before I buy?
While recommendations, reviews, and ratings are an excellent jumping-off place, never forget the value of trying a game out for yourself! Demos are available for select games on the Nintendo eShop. Sadly, demos as a whole have become less and less common for games as press hype has replaced try-before-you-buy strategies for driving sales. If you can’t play a demo, however, you can often find videos on YouTube or Twitch featuring in-depth gameplay, which can give you a better idea of whether a game is right for you, how much playtime is required for a basic session, and how the game might fit into your gaming schedule. Also, if you’re the type to abandon a game early on, physical copies are probably the way to go over digital, as physical games can be resold to another gamer or traded into many stores, both brick-and-mortar and online, for credit. An abandoned digital game has no such possible return on investment.
The best Nintendo Switch games for on the go
A great game is a great game no matter where you play it, but certain games tend to lend themselves to certain amounts of playtime. For example, an excellent RPG like Octopath Traveler or Dragon Quest XI Definitive Edition S is better digested a few hours at a time, rather than a few minutes at a time. While these games are definitely worth playing and may fit into your gameplay schedule, their play session requirements disqualify them from my “on the go” list. All the games for Switch below offer a single-session experience that can easily last less than an hour, some as little as a few minutes, making them fit perfectly into certain away from home situations.
For short trips on public transit: Puyo Puyo Tetris 2
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 combines two puzzle franchises, Sega’s color-matching Puyo Puyo and the classic line-clearing game Tetris, into one package. Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 offers a lot of the same pleasure loops as top mobile puzzle games like the former sensation Candy Crush. Clearing levels is relatively quick but can be challenging. At the same time, classic modes for the two games allow for longer game sessions (assuming a higher level of skill). The Nintendo Switch game is great for adults because of the nostalgia and great for kids because the gameplay is really easy to grasp.
Public transit is the perfect place to perfect your skills in short sessions, and when you’ve sufficiently leveled up your abilities, you can deploy them against your friends. The multiplayer options for Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 offer a lot of depth and competition. There are options for two to four players, either sharing a screen or with multiple devices. Six different versus modes offer a lot of variety. This is where a console game like Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 far outshines simpler, less feature-rich mobile games. For the best time against friends, I recommend Swap mode, which switches between a Puyo Puyo board and a Tetris board every 25 seconds. Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is the game with the shortest play sessions on this list, and thus one of the easiest to play on the go.
For a long layover or flight: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
While the Fire Emblem strategy RPG series has an excellent pedigree, it’s not for the faint of heart. There are multiple storylines, and dozens of different units to add to your army, and the battles in this strategy RPG can be very unforgiving. You will lose…a lot. You will get frustrated. And then you will realize that you were making a mistake, you will fix that mistake, and you will win, and it will feel awesome. The game is portioned off into separate battles with story segments and army upkeep options in between, leading to easily chunked 30-45 minute game sessions.
Nothing is more boring than a long layover in an airport, but Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a brain-testing, beautifully rendered way to knock out your stay in Terminal A. Both the challenging gameplay and the intricate story can be a bit of a double-edged sword. If losing frustrates you to the point of not wanting to play, the Fire Emblem series is not for you. The plot of Three Houses is very engaging if you like “Game of Thrones”-style conflicts between clans or nations, but there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and ultimately only a few of them are important to the central story. So if you don’t like superfluous side stories and characters, there’s less to love here. If you’re already a fan of strategy RPG series like Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Valkyria Chronicles, you probably don’t need to be convinced to get the newest Fire Emblem game. If you’re a strategy RPG neophyte, Fire Emblem is one of the most polished and rewarding examples of the genre, and perfect for mid-length gaming sessions where your body is forced to be in one place but you want to take your brain to faraway lands.
For the backseat for a few hours: Hades
A road trip when you’re not the driver is an exercise in killing time. As a kid, maybe you played Eye Spy or other social games. Inevitably, these games become repetitive, and when they repeat they become less fun. You can only spy something green so many times. Luckily, we now have video games to supplement the road trip experience, and we have game design that turns repetition into sweet rewards. Few games got the attention of Hades in 2020. A hit on both PC and Switch, it’s a new pinnacle for dungeon-crawling roguelikes.
The roguelike genre is built on the idea of runs: gameplay sessions that start fresh and end when your character dies. But instead of simply starting back from nil, the next fresh run is informed and improved by the last, offering carry-over power-ups or currencies that allow each successive run to be deeper, opening up new and more powerful things to kill you once again. Hades adds a mythological setting with familiar elements to anyone who’s watched “Clash of the Titans” or read up on the Olympians, making it seem both fresh and familiar. What all this means for gaming on the go is that Hades is the kind of game that’s easy to put down, but you won’t want to. You’ll die often, and each death can be the end of your session, but because you’ll get to carry over your rewards, you’ll want to start another run immediately. This makes the experience perfect for car trips, where pit stops and side destinations can break up the available gameplay time in odd chunks. Hades fills slots of many sizes extremely well, and dying never feels bad, so stopping playing never feels bad. Eye spy a Nintendo Switch game with universal praise that can’t be strongly recommended enough.
For killing time in line with friends: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Lines are back! Yes, there are live events. There are tickets. There are big in-person sales of cool gadgets (including the upcoming Nintendo Switch OLED). If you’re the type to spend a couple of hours in line to make sure you get the best seats or the best gear then you probably already know to bring a camp chair, something to block the sun, and several bottles of water. But if you do these types of activities with friends, I also recommend you bring a Nintendo Switch and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. There are very few games that bring together a group of friends (as well as tear those friends apart) like the Super Smash Bros. series.
The Super Smash Bros. franchise, old enough to legally drink at this point, features all the best Nintendo characters beating each other up. What was once a schoolyard debate has become one of the top fighting franchises. For the past few games, Nintendo has invited in other famous video game characters like Solid Snake, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, and Ryu from Street Fighter. With the Switch’s ability to play locally in tabletop mode, friends can beat each other up while you wait for the box office or doors to open, assuming you have a few extra JoyCons or Pro Controllers. But why stop there, as Smash Bros. tabletop action is also excellent for a picnic in the park, a day at the beach (as long as you protect your system from sand and seaspray), or an outdoor BBQ. Tabletop mode in general is a surprisingly wonderful way to play the Switch, and one of the main benefits of the traditional Switch over the Switch Lite. If fighting is less your thing and racing appeals to you more, you can get the same competitive fire from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, as well. Both games, however, become significantly less fun if you play them single-player, so make sure you’re among good company.
For babysitting your friend’s kids: Stardew Valley
It takes a village to raise a child. And even if you don’t have your own, you may end up caring for some in the short term. It’s a high-tension environment as you make sure their needs are met, they stay happy, and their messes are cleaned up. Finally, they’re down for the night and look like little angels sleeping in their beds and you’re left to wait for their parents to come to relieve you of your duties. Or maybe you’re simply looking to wind down before you head to bed yourself. Stardew Valley is the perfect game for this situation, whether you’ve just sent your own progeny or someone else’s off to dreamland.
Stardew Valley started on the PC but has been ported to every major home system. It’s a combination of farming simulator Harvest Moon with the socializing and task-oriented village life in the Animal Crossing series. You inherit your grandfather’s farm, which has fallen into disrepair. It’s your job to get the farm up to snuff, expand the business, interact with townsfolk, and even get married and have kids if you so wish. The game is entirely open-ended. If you want to spend 20 minutes picking and planting carrots, you can. If you want to take advantage of the radish market’s fluctuations to grow your bank account, you can do that too. Stardew Valley is the warm bath of video games, so in any situation in or away from home, it can be used as a panacea for frayed nerves. The game time invested is entirely up to the player, so it’s good as a quick fix or a long wind-down. There are even some multiplayer elements if you have a partner or roommate who also likes low-key rural tending of land.
For sitting on a bench in the park: Mario Golf: Super Rush
I’ve always found video golf relaxing. From the original NES Golf to the Everybody’s Golf series on PlayStation consoles, to some fun mobile golf games, aiming for new personal bests with simple gameplay while enjoying some lush, green courses within the game world have always set me at ease. That’s why I can heartily recommend the newest Mario-starring sports game, Mario Golf: Super Rush, as a lovely option to play while sitting on a bench in the park. Enjoying the breeze through your real hair while enjoying the virtual breeze through Luigi’s mustache is a great time, made better by new game modes Speed Golf and Battle Golf.
While traditional lowest-score-wins modes are available, Speed Golf and Battle Golf, which are playable against the CPU or in multiplayer, offer a first-to-finish approach to golf, where careful shots go out the window in lieu of super-rushing to the pin. Battle Golf makes the experience even more mad-cap by having multiple possible holes to claim, with a first-to-three condition to win. These modes are really what set Super Rush apart, making the game feel less like a new iteration and more like a whole new game compared to previous Mario Golf games. While the story mode could definitely have used some more depth, and the online options (no tournaments?) could be beefed up, spending time in the sunshine is well-spent with Mario Golf: Super Rush. Feed the birds while making a birdie.
Q: Can you take the Nintendo Switch in the car?
Absolutely you can take a Nintendo Switch in the car. As mentioned above, there are accessories that allow you to mount the Switch screen on the back of a headrest, creating a little gaming nook in the backseat. Even without those, the Switch is easy to pack into a carrying case and doesn’t take up much space in a backpack. Playing in handheld mode doesn’t require any more space than your body normally takes up in the passenger or back seat, so game away!
Q: How do you charge a Nintendo Switch on a road trip?
Typically, you charge the Switch’s internal battery with a plugged-in AC adapter or by nestling it into the dock connected to your television. However, because the Switch’s AC adapter is USB-C based, a simple USB-C to USB-C or USB-C to USB-A cable can connect your Switch to hundreds if not thousands of battery packs and power sources. You may even already own something compatible with the Switch if you’re purchased a backup battery for your phone or tablet, as long as you get the right cable to connect it. When you reach a destination with a power outlet, you recharge the battery with a USB-compatible power plug.
Q: Can you Switch without the internet?
While the Switch’s online and LAN multiplayer options require an internet connection, all of the above games either have tabletop mode multiplayer or are fun to play single player. Just make sure you’ve downloaded all the games you want to play to your internal memory or SDXC card if you’re not going to buy physical games.
The best Nintendo Switch for roadtrips
The Switch is made to be versatile. Even games with playtimes or styles that aren’t conducive to playing while out and about have a suspend function that lets you pause the game longer-term and resume it later. That means that marquee titles like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and Pokémon Sword and Shield are great for either environment. The Switch digital game store also features a ton of smaller-scale indie titles that are incredibly fun, like Baba Is You and Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Whether at home or on the go, the best games for Nintendo Switch offer a lot of options. Getting the most out of your Switch requires you to think of it less as a set-top box and more as an endless source of portable potential, so get out there and get gaming!