If you aren’t into Mario Party, Wario Ware, Metroid or Monster Hunter, 2021 likely felt like a dud for exclusives if you are a Nintendo Switch owner.
You may find yourself asking, “what the heck do I play in the meantime?”
To be fair, the Nintendo eShop doesn’t make it easy to find something new to play, it’s an unorganized mess compared to other discoverability experiences on other platforms.
Never fear! I’ve rounded up a list of severely underrated Nintendo Switch games you may have missed in 2021, that offer really cool, unique experiences that will satiate your desire for something new to play.
Let’s get into it.
I don’t know who sanctioned all the dodgeball games in 2021, but I’m here for it.
Dodgeball Academia fits somewhere between Scott Pilgrim VS. the World, Golf Story, and Knockout City. Despite the mash-up of hits, this game effectively carves out its own niche by bringing rock-solid RPG elements to its whimsical tongue-in-cheek gameplay.
It’s story-mode probably won’t blow you away, but it’s charming enough to keep you entertained. Gameplay is straightforward in the way a simple arcade game should be. However, Dodgeball Academia manages to flesh out a few interesting mechanics–such as special abilities and power-ups–to keep things interesting for the long run. Best of all, Dodgeball Academia supports local play on Nintendo Switch with two Joy-cons, which is always a huge plus for me.
Eastward manages to nail a modern SNES style action RPG that is as entertaining to look at as it is to play.
Invoking themes of Earthbound, Stranger Things and the Goonies, Eastward tells a compelling story of a mysterious girl with Psychic powers discovering the dark truths regarding the sheltered life of an underground post-apocalyptic mining community. The story is creepy, characters are memorable and charming, while the captivating 16-bit art style entices players into its intriguing narrative.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is also solid. Eastward uses unique psychic powers, weapons and puzzle mechanics that feel well thought out. Enemies can be surprisingly punishing, so mastering combat becomes a worthy challenge as the game progresses.
Eastward feels right at home on the console, making it one of the most underrated games on Nintendo Switch.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises on this list is a game about…unpacking boxes?
Unpacking is exactly that, but manages to feel like so much more.
A relaxing puzzle game in practice, Unpacking is an incredible stress reliever at heart. Putting household items in their proper places has all the serotonin release as organizing your own living space. Hmmm, maybe I should actually organize my actual house?
Unpacking has a deceivingly sweet story to tell underneath its simple gameplay that explores both the joys and hardships of moving on and starting a new leg of life's journey.
The dark post-apocalyptic detective RPG finally comes to Nintendo Switch.
Despite being considered for Game of the Year when it was released on Steam in 2019, this game manages to make my list for the most underrated Nintendo Switch games in 2021 as it is still criminally underplayed by Nintendo fans.
Disco Elysium fleshes out intricate mechanics worthy of a pen-and-paper RPG. Robust skill trees drastically change the abilities of your detective protagonist and how he reacts to the world around him. The game skillfully marries these mechanics with a brooding existentialism that elevates video game storytelling. With multiple endings, branching dialogue paths and diverse character builds to experiment with, Disco Elysium is worth digging into for multiple play-throughs.
5. Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!
Another Steam transplant making its way onto Nintendo Switch, Doki Doki is possibly the most surprising game on this list.
Don’t be fooled by Doki Doki’s cutesy facade, this visual novel is genuinely scary. It claims to be the #1 psychological horror experience, and that isn’t too much of a stretch. While you spend the majority of the game getting to know charming characters, writing poems, flirting and engaging in all the mundanity of high school, Doki Doki takes some alarmingly dark turns when you least expect it.
Doki Doki has been a cult classic since releasing on Steam and is a natural fit on the Switch. However, this game is easily missed if this enigmatic game wasn’t already on your radar. To be fair, it’s a hard sell because the game's exterior says nothing about what horrors lurk under its veneer, and maintaining the surprise is essential to enjoyment.
The creativity and unique gameplay of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! are worth experiencing if you can hang with the scares.
Tails of Iron takes inspiration from a grab-bag of sources to create something refreshing on Nintendo Switch.
The cut-out animation art style was heavily inspired by Eastern European wood block carvings, and feels like a sibling to other beautiful RPG’s like Octopath Traveller and Darkest Dungeon. Tails of Iron’s bold black outlines and fairy-tale esthetic provoke it’s own unique tone as the game explores the dark underbelly of the forest where rats, frogs and insects fight for domination.
Reminiscent of the world of Redwall created by Brian Jacques, or Game of Thrones, Tails of Iron oozes good fantasy vibes in it’s storytelling, themes and characters.
The combat is simple, yet punishing. Obviously inspired by the Souls series, Tails of Iron uses timing, parries and counter-attack mechanics in tandem with a variety of weapons with different strengths and weaknesses to combat hordes of vermin.
While perhaps not a master-of-one quality, Tails of Iron does a lot of different things well enough.
Cyber Shadow is published by Yacht Club, and is a follow up to their smash-hit Shovel Knight.
This time around they have worked with Machine Head Studios to release a game that is unashamedly an homage to the beloved Ninja Gaiden series. It gives you all the feels from the 8-bit golden age of gaming, but with all the modern bells-and-whistles that improve the quality of life.
Cyber Shadow challenges players with tactical platforming and combat you’d expect from the genre. Katanas, ninja gadgets and platforming ability don’t feel new necessarily, but where Cyber Shadow leans on familiarity they execute with a pristine level of polish.
Yacht Club’s skill in level design, pacing and challenge present in Shovel Knight is on full display here that help it stand out from other modern “retro” video games.
"It's like Clue on a boat" could be the simplest elevator pitch for Overboard!, but the game manages to be so much more.
Overboard seems to lean into all the tropes of a classic detective visual novel with puzzle elements and dialogue choices, yet diverts from the norm in an interesting way–you are the murderer.
Set aboard the SS Hook, the game tells a story of a wife who pushes her husband into the ocean. The next morning your eclectic co-passengers seek to solve the who-done-it mystery in the 8 hours it takes to get to shore. Where most games in the genre would have you dig around for clues to find the killer, your role in Overboard! is to hide clues, deceive concerned parties or even shift the blame to a poor, innocent, victim.
The story is fluid, able to be influenced by branching dialogue paths, narrative choices and timing events. How you manage to escape undetected is up to you in this interactive story that feels fresh in it’s genre.
Overboard! is worth checking out as one of the most underrated Nintendo Switch games as it distinctively riffs on a classic narrative with clever gameplay and a good-enough story that is highly replayable.
Dreamscaper is a lovely isometric hack-and-slash roguelike that explores the hostile dreamworld of protagonist Cassidy struggling with depression and finding her place in a new town.
This dreamworld serves as an exploration of Cassidy’s past in her effort to find herself and deal with her anxieties. The moody lighting and dreamy art style, combined with the melancholy marionette character designs of Cassidy and her neighbors, help to create a visually stunning video game.
Dreamscaper makes use of several gameplay mechanics. It is largely a roguelike with RPG elements and diverse weapon and ability types. This action and puzzle heavy gameplay takes place in Cassidy’s dream world. However, when she is awake, players explore Cassidy’s town and interact with characters that will boost your abilities in the real and dream worlds. Dreamscaper uses well written dialogue to interact with these real world characters that help tell a grounded story that feels natural.
Much like video games that explore mental health like Celeste and Hellblade, Dreamscaper is a game that has an important message to share in the midst of its stellar video game design.
Everhood breaks the mold for what a video game can be in this belovedly odd experience.
Part RPG, part rhythm game, part action game, Everhood covers a wealth of genres and art styles. With the acid trip charm of Undertale, Everhood takes you on a radical journey to battle with music. Everhood will have you dungeon crawling, escaping bullet-hell encounters and fighting bosses on psychedelic Guitar Hero/DDR screens.
The music is expectedly the star here, especially if you consistently enjoy 8-bit soundtracks. Along with the attention to detail in music, there is a permeating thoughtfulness in Everhood’s writing and character design. It is both zany and heartfelt in a way that feels intentional and earned.
Everhood is one of those games that come around to remind us how special of an art form video games can be.
Unsighted is another retro-style coming out in 2021 where android-like characters called Automatons try to protect their sentience with a material called Anima. If an automaton runs out of Anima, they turn into mindless machines called Unsighted.
Unsighted is a race against time, where you must navigate an isometric action RPG world where your choices determine which of your friends are saved from becoming unsighted. The game is quick, snappy and makes heavy use of puzzles to make the time crunch all the more stressful. The gameplay is challenging in a way that a retro-style action game should be, and the game equips you with diverse weaponry and abilities to tackle its many obstacles.
Your choices and gameplay influence the story in major ways, leading to multiple potential endings. Unsighted encourages further playthroughs with full Co-op, dungeon raid and Boss rush modes.
The attention to detail is apparent in all phases of Unsighted, which nicely rounds out this list of underrated Nintendo Switch games.
The Nintendo Switch is developing a diverse library of games to choose from in all genres. Of course you have the no-brainer games to play in 2021 like Metroid Dread and Marioparty Superstars, but its the underdogs that are really giving the Switch its personality.
Plenty of unusual and unsuspecting indie titles are releasing with a high level of quality that are deserving of attention. What’s even better is that many of these games on this list are well below the standard retail video game price of $50-$60.
Especially as 2021 and 2022 continue to be slower years for AAA games, these smaller titles should be on your radar.