Hyper-realistic 3D graphics, super-accurate physics simulations—you won’t get any of that on the Switch.
Even when it was first released in 2017, Nintendo’s dockable, portable do-it-all system was nowhere near as powerful as its rival consoles. That technology gap has only grown over the years.
What Nintendo’s console-handheld hybrid is great at, though, is portable gaming, and that’s made it a sort of haven for smaller-scale indie titles. A carefully crafted pixel-art adventure can be as meaningful and fun as the most expensive video game blockbuster, and we’re sharing our picks of the best 2D Switch games to prove it.
This eclectic list features some of the best 2D titles the Switch has to offer, from innovative strategy titles to hard-hitting action roguelikes.
Not only are the games here tons of fun to play; they’re also standout examples of 2D graphics in video games, with distinct art and animation styles that range from the functional to the extravagant.
Hollow Knight is an atmospheric Metroidvania that encourages discovery and exploration by trusting completely that you can work things out on your own.
The only explicit instruction comes at the start of the game: there’s a short tutorial to help you understand the basics of moving, attacking, and dashing. Immediately afterwards, you’re thrown into the vast catacomb network of Hollownest to fend for yourself.
That staunch trust in the player influences how Hollow Knight tells its tale. The game is lean on dialogue, instead relying on scattered notes and environmental cues to establish its lore. Its story is subtle, non-critical, and intentionally hazy; depending on how observant and thorough you are, you might complete the game and never know why and what is happening.
Of course, there’s plenty of reasons to spend a little time wandering Hallownest’s stern hallways and forbidding ruins, not least because this stunning subterrane is a wonder of environment design.
The shading, nostalgic-ambient soundtrack, and sound effects evoke a persisting melancholy—a fitting mood for a journey through a dead city.
Well, not completely dead.
Hollownest is filled with corrupted bugs that used to call it home, and each enemy type has a rhythm and pattern to learn if you want to stay alive. Combat is intuitive and fairly straightforward to begin with, but it gets increasingly complicated as you add double jumps, spells, wall climbing, and directional slashes to your move set.
Hades follows Zagreus, the son of Hades, in his attempts to escape an eternity in literal administrative hell (pops wants Zag to carry on the family business of managing the dead). Zagreus will be free if he reaches the surface, but he’ll have to fight his way through the four zones of the underworld and an army of his father’s underlings to get there.
Combat is savage, quick, and satisfying: controls are responsive, animations are swift, and the enemy types varied. During a run, members of Zagreus’ Olympian family will offer boons that grant him new powers and skill modifiers. Cobbling together a workable build from random boons makes every run a fun test of your ability to think and fight on the fly.
If you love a good story, Hades cleverly binds its rebel tale with its roguelike death loop.
The world-building is exceptional but not dished out in one sitting.
Instead, you get morsels of lore and spicy deity drama after every death—a reward after a job well tried. This storytelling drip-feed makes every failure a chance to learn more about Hades’ extravagant characters.
We can’t stop gushing about Hades. With its quick combat, satisfying progression system, and a truly creative storytelling gimmick, it’s one of the best roguelike games around.
In Loop Hero, you play a benevolent god with world-shaping powers. You’re not the chosen one, but the one who chooses, and your hero of choice needs some divine assistance if they’re going to defeat the evil Lich.
The titular “loop” is the path your hero takes through the game’s world, and it begins and ends at the same spot. You can’t directly control your hero, but you can use the cards taken from fallen monsters to modify the loop in interesting ways, like changing blocks of terrain so they heal the hero or adding monster spawn sites for extra experience points.
You have to be careful how you shape your loop. The blocks around a card can change its effect, potentially turning the area into a death trap instead of the stat booster you wanted. As your world develops, it demands more prudent card placement, and building without a plan is bound to end poorly.
Loop Hero takes the conventional hero’s tale and turns it on its head. By combining the randomized thrill of the best card games with a deep and nuanced level building mechanic, this dungeon master simulator has enough content to keep you busy for weeks.
20XX is a roguelike action platformer that pays homage to the robot adventures of Mega Man X, adding randomized stages and a slew of fun upgrades to the familiar run and gun action.
We already raved about its sequel, 30XX, counting it among our top roguelike recommendations. 20XX is no slouch either; it features the same frenetic pace and procedurally generated levels of its sequel but with a bit more polish, thanks to its extended time in early access. And unlike 30XX, 20XX is out on the Switch.
Fans of Mega Man X jumping into 20XX will hit the ground running.
It perfectly captures the weight and feel of those SNES classics with a move set pulled straight out of the X series. The game’s primary protagonist pair, Nina and Ace, are clearly parallel-universe versions of X and Zero, complete with their own versions of the X-Buster and Z Saber.
One of 20XX’s biggest highlights is its chiptune soundtrack by Cityfires. It’s chock-full of awesome chiptune tracks with memorable hooks that will stay in your head for days. The music’s energy and catchiness make 20XX’s soundtrack one that’s worth listening to on its own.
Celeste has a charming visual style that belies its hardcore platformer core. You’ll need precise timing, pixel-perfect leaps, and a huge dollop of patience to make your way through Celeste without breaking your controller.
The game’s pint-sized protagonist has a deceptively small move set: dash, jump, and wall hang. But that basic dash alone is surprisingly complex—you can manipulate its length and speed by tweaking your timing and direction. It takes skill and hours of practice to master the nuances of Celeste’s movement, which is probably why the speedrunning community loves it.
Your adventure through the wild and colorful world of Celeste is made all the more engaging by its remarkable, emotional story about anxiety and failure. Instead of relying solely on dialogue and exposition to explore these themes, Celeste weaves its narrative into the level and art design—it’s visual storytelling as immersive as it is captivating.
Not for the faint of heart, Celeste challenges players to run, jump, and dash their way through an increasingly deadly gauntlet of platforming challenges. The satisfying, snappy movement and impressive pixel-art aesthetic make it great for gaming on the go. Combine that with its moving, personal story, and you have a game that you won’t soon forget.
Stardew Valley is a relaxing pixel-art farming sim heavily inspired by Harvest Moon. In it, you plant and tend to crops, raise cattle and poultry, and mingle with the locals.
In a way, Stardew Valley offers an escape from the clatter of modern platformers and shooters. While there are quests to complete and side stories to chase, caring for your farm is a decidedly low-stakes venture. You don’t have to do any of that—you can spend your days picking flowers or fishing.
Stardew Valley features local and online co-op, so you can jump in with your friends. The game doesn’t necessitate collaboration, though—you can play as a team or go your own ways. One player might be keen to grab a sword and go slime hunting, while another focuses on building a complex watering system for the farm.
The colorful cast of townsfolk are the real stars of the show. Interacting with a character affects your relationship with them, and investing in relationships opens up new quest opportunities and tasty personal tales to unwind. Most characters are potential love interests, too, and as you spend time with them, you’ll learn the various ways to woo them.
In a rare case of copyright kindness, multinational video game corporation SEGA entrusted their biggest intellectual property to an indie team of diehard fans. This was no ragtag crew of hobbyists, though, but a lineup of the biggest fangame makers and ROM hackers in the Sonic community. The result is Sonic Mania, a lovingly crafted throwback to Sonic’s 16-bit roots.
Despite being developed by an external team, Sonic Mania feels more a part of the series’ lore than any game before it. You’ll visit reworked versions of classic Genesis-era stages, packed with new tricks and secrets to discover. The all-new stages are even more impressive, with interesting themes and creative gimmicks that make them memorable.
Sonic’s all about going fast, and Sonic Mania reminds us how it’s done. Sonic and his pals zoom through colorful stages, bouncing off springs and blasting through loop-de-loops at blistering speed. Deadly traps and robot enemies are scattered throughout the levels, and you’ll need to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid them at high speed.
Sonic Mania is undoubtedly one of the best platformer games around, proving that good gameplay never gets old. If you want to experience the game in its best version, check out Sonic Mania Plus, which features more playable characters, visual upgrades, and a new Encore Mode for endless replayability.
Once in a blue moon, a game like Spiritfarer comes along that forces you to deal with death, to really consider its permanence and gravity.
You play as Stella, the newly appointed Spiritfarer, who’s tasked with seeking out and providing comfort to dead spirits before they go to their final resting place through the Everdoor. It’s grim work, but Stella carries it out with an infectious positivity.
It’s hard to describe what Spiritfarer is. A story-driven adventure game, sure, but there’s a bit of base management and Metroidvania-style retracking in there, too. It’s also beautifully illustrated and animated, with a distinctive aesthetic that’s comforting, despite the somber subject matter.
Since your job is to prepare the spirits for the Everdoor, you’ll get to know each of them quite well. Some have requests that require lots of sailing, gathering, and building. Others just want your company. The spirits are personable and tangible characters, with personal stories worth exploring, and they’re so well-written that you’ll come to dread having to say goodbye.
The Messenger is a tough game to describe without giving too much away, so if you want to ensure a spoiler-free experience, just know that if you’re a fan of ninjas, stylish platformers, intricate pixel art, or fun and unique gimmicks, you should probably just go and get The Messenger.
Now, for light spoilers, keep on reading.
The Messenger is an indie action platformer that draws heavily from classic video games of the 8- and 16-bit eras.
At a glance, it looks like a retro tribute to the OG Ninja Gaiden on the NES, but a few hours into the game, a brilliant time shift mechanic is introduced that makes The Messenger like nothing you’ve played before.
A single shift into the future turns this straightforward action platformer into a non-linear Metroidvania adventure. The visuals also change from a charming-yet-simplistic 8-bit look to the more refined style and palette of the 16-bit era. This isn’t a one-way trip; you’ll have to step back and forth through time to unlock new areas and complete puzzles.
The Switch definitely isn’t lacking for Metroidvanias, but you won’t find another game like The Messenger. Its sharp and satisfying swordplay, fetching pixel art, and one-of-a-kind time traveling gimmick make it a 2D game on the Switch that you shouldn’t miss.
Metroid Dread ended a four-year Metroid drought, and it’s easily one of the best in the series.
With a sprawling new facility to explore, a compelling mix of new and old abilities, and some of the most beautiful HD visuals we’ve seen on the Switch, Dread is a resounding reminder that while there may be a thousand Metroidvanias, there’s only one Samus Aran.
Metroid Dread is firmly rooted in series tradition, but it draws most heavily from Samus Returns on the 3DS. Both games are speed-focused, with tons of upgrades to your boost, dash, and jump. Like in Samus Returns, this makes combat in Dread feel faster than in most Metroid games, though it’s much more manageable on the Switch than it was on the tiny 3DS.
The Metroid series is best known for how its maps are designed to gradually unlock as you earn new skills and upgrades. Metroid Dread does something a bit different this time around, borrowing a feature from Castlevania to literally shift the layouts of stages. (Does that make Metroid Dread the only authentic Metroid-Vania?).
Challenging puzzles, dazzling art and level design, super-tough bosses, and lightning-quick combat—Metroid Dread has everything you’re looking for in a Metroid game and more. It’s an absolute joy to run through and the perfect companion for a long flight or bus ride.