Nintendo Switch is the perfect console for local multiplayer — simply crack off those Joy-Con and start having fun with whoever happens to be in the room with you. However, the console has built up a solid portfolio of online multiplayer games since launch, too, and we've picked out a handful — in no particular order — to help you get the most out of your online experience.
While Nintendo's online infrastructure has had a rocky reputation in the past, Switch has come on leaps and bounds since launch and, despite its foibles, Nintendo Switch Online is certainly worth the modest monthly or annual fee if you've got Switch friends in distant places (there are also ways to make that cost even more reasonable if you're willing to share).
The subscription also gives you access to an ever-growing catalogue of lovely NES and SNES games to play at your leisure, many with online multiplayer options courtesy of the service's built-in framework, so in addition to the gems we've picked out below, you've always got the option to go retro if you fancy playing Double Dragon or Super Mario Bros. 3 with a faraway friend.
Our picks of the best couch co-op Switch games might suit you better if you prefer multiplayer of the local variety, but let's sit back and take a look at the best online multiplayer games currently available on the console.
Splatoon 2 is just about everything you could ask for from a sequel. It builds on everything the original online team shooter set up and then some; almost every single major issue people had with the first game has been resolved, showing that Nintendo is genuinely listening and wants to deliver the absolute best experience possible. It maintains the freshness you’d expect and throws in countless big and small changes and additions, every one of them for the better. The last Splatfest may have come and gone, but Splatoon 2 is still ink-redible.
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Epic delivered the full fat Battle Royale experience of Fortnite on the ‘homeheld’. You’re sure to notice the framerate difference if you’re coming from other consoles, but performance-wise, it’s steady and perfectly playable. Frequent updates keep the game feeling fresh and, crucially, that just-one-more feeling survives the transition to Switch intact. Before you know it, you’ll be eyeing the clock at 3:56 am thinking ‘hmm, that’s not a round number’. The heart-pounding suspense of making it to the final two may not be healthy, but it sure is addictive. Fortnite is one of Switch's most nail-biting online experiences, and with all the new features piling into the game every season, there's no time like the present to parachute in.
One of modern gaming's true online multiplayer success stories, Rocket League is an essential addition to the Switch's striking library. The spirit of the game has been transferred perfectly, with the added benefit of portable play which opens up the chance to host local matches with your Switch owning mates wherever and whenever you fancy. Developer Panic Button has done an utterly fantastic job with this port, but technical wizardry aside, what really matters is that the core game is so addictive, so compelling, so enjoyable and – perhaps above all else – so deep. Don't let anyone tell you that Rocket League is simplistic or lacks longevity; the vibrant community that has grown up around Psyonix's masterpiece renders that viewpoint wholly incorrect. It rewards skilful play and perseverance, and new tactics and strategies seem to flow from each and every match you partake in. Only the occasional network niggle throws shade on this otherwise sublime release, but it's still an essential online experience.
The complete oddball of the family, Tetris 99 offers a truly unique way to play the tried-and-tested classic, even if the overall package feels a little lightweight. Playing live against 98 others is chaotic, and the action feels fast, precise, and wonderfully addictive. It’s seriously difficult, too – we’d fancy our chances in Fortnite over this any day – and we’re impressed with the fact that it's forced us to play the game with a completely different approach to our usual slow-and-steady ways. Signing up for Nintendo Switch Online just to play this game might be a bit of a stretch, but if you’re already a member, what are you waiting for? It’s free, and it might just become your next favourite time sink.
Honourable Mention: Puyo Puyo Tetris - While Tetris 99 has stolen its limelight, Puyo Puyo Tetris is still a remarkable entry in the puzzle genre, combining two of the greats in one fantastic package with solid online play.
Diablo III: Eternal Collection is a lovely port of a classic RPG loot-a-thon that keeps its feet firmly in the past. The execution is wonderful, but its gameplay is not something that will appeal to everyone due to the high level of repetition. Local multiplayer is a beautiful addition, and even though the limitations of having to have all four characters on one screen can be mildly irksome, it’s still excellent fun. Online is the absolute bee’s knees in contrast, allowing you to drop into any friend’s game at a moment’s notice provided they’ll allow it, and continue grabbing loot and smashing evil in the face. Its visuals are clear and functional if not especially interesting, but performance is top notch to make up for it. If you’re looking for a loot-driven grind-a-thon with more explosions of viscera than you can comfortably discuss with your mother, this is the game for you.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe delivers a huge amount of racing goodness right out of the box; arguably the best Mario Kart release we've seen. Some will argue about where this entry stands in the pantheon of the franchise, but for our money it's competing for top spot. It's the definitive Mario Kart 8 experience, content-rich and a delightful feast of comedic, cartoonish karting action. You can play solo or in two-player split-screen online, with Global and Regional rooms for racing and battling. With a solid online setup that has the potential to keep you playing for months and even years to come, it's a game that continually raises a smile and, occasionally, induces that trademark Mario Kart rage as shells strike and positions are lost. It's addictive and unifying, unfiltered fun that draws in anyone daring enough to take up the wheel.
Hi-Rez Studios' team-based shooter Paladins: Champions of the Realm is an easy sell. As exciting, tense and rewarding as Overwatch, it brings the cross-platform hero shooter to a new platform without sacrificing the moreish gameplay elements that made it such a hit with both gamers and pros. There’s a definitive learning curve for those looking to play competitively, but it’s nonetheless one of the console’s best multiplayer games.
Honourable Mention: SMITE - Also coming from Hi-Rez, this free-to-play MOBA is to League of Legends and Dota 2 what Paladins is to Overwatch. It's a textbook example of how to port an online-focused experience to a handheld-friendly console and is absolutely worth a look.
New mechanics, monsters and a gorgeous setting make Monster Hunter Rise a new high-water mark for the franchise. The Wirebug, Switch Skills, Palamute and carefully thought-out monsters shake things up enough to make the game feel fresh for hunters who have previously spent thousands of hours with the series, and while the package could be slightly intimidating for newcomers, it's arguably the ideal place to get started if you're serious about getting into the franchise. And, with a peerless four-player multiplayer experience, the Rampage quests are a blast. Monster Hunter Rise is one of the strongest entries into the franchise to date, and another stone-cold classic for the Nintendo Switch.
Honourable Mention: Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is a sort of ‘greatest hits’ collection of the high points of the series to that point, giving you hundreds of hours of content to play through. An entirely separate quest board and ranking system exists for the multiplayer component, potentially allowing for limitless hours of replayability. Monsters fought while online are generally much tougher to take down, but having up to three other people whaling away with weapons of their own makes up for this, and you get a much greater sense of satisfaction beating a monster as a team, rather than alone.