Best Nostalgic Switch Games
Image: Nintendo Life

Updated with Pepper Grinder. Enjoy!

Ah, nostalgia — it's a tricksy thing. How many times have we gone back to revisit a treasured classic only to find that modern games have spoiled it for us? For all the brilliant aspects of retro games, the mod cons and performance we're used to now are pretty fantastic, too, and sometimes going back can be tough. Was this slowdown always here? I don't remember it looking this fuzzy. You mean I have to start again... at the beginning?!

Fortunately, alongside all the remasters, repackages and retro compilations which sand the rough edges off gaming classics and polish them up for the busy 21st-century gamer, there's a huge number of modern releases paying tribute to retro games. Taking a core mechanic or two from the past, these homages take advantage of decades' worth of tech advancements and knowledge to recreate classic gameplay with a modern twist.

Below you'll find some of our favourite neo-nostalgia trips available on Switch. They're not in any particular order and most of the games on this list have multiple muses, so the noted inspirations may be the only tip of the iceberg.

Of course, Switch's list of retro-inspired pixel-graphic games is as long as your arm, and there are plenty more we could mention than you'll find below, but the titles here are our absolute favourites - games which give us the feels we remember experiencing when we first played the 8- and 16-bit classics they were inspired by.

So, let's take a look at our very favourite modern games with an undeniably retro vibe...

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, DuckTales, Mega Man, Castlevania, the list goes on...

With a list of influences as long as your arm (which developer Yacht Club itself acknowledges in comic fashion), Shovel Knight was excellent in vanilla form, but Treasure Trove includes absolutely everything that developer Yacht Club has created for the game since its Kickstarter success back in 2013. That includes the extra campaigns Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment and King of Cards, plus multiplayer brawler Showdown which further increases the attractiveness of an already incredibly compelling package. These games are fantastic odes to the glory days of 8-bit(+) platforming, and having the complete Shovel Knight experience in one spot makes this a must-have for Switch owners - especially those that have never dug into this game and its add-ons. Strike the earth!

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198X (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: Streets of Rage, R-Type, Out Run, Shinobi, Kill Screen, the '80s

A passionate love letter to a bygone age, 198X celebrates 2D, arcade-based gaming brilliantly and wraps it up in some of the best hand-drawn art we've seen in years. The soundtrack is also exceptional, and, in terms of pure presentation, it's really hard to fault what's on offer here. 198X's biggest weakness is its brevity; you can finish it in around an hour, but the experience will remain with you for long after the credits have rolled. While we're sure many people will consider the game's shortness a cardinal sin, we'd still recommend you give it a try if you're a fan of '80s and '90s gaming, appreciate lush 2D artwork and desire an experience which firmly lodges itself in your consciousness – even if it doesn't last all that long.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: the 8-bit Castlevania entries

Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon is undoubtedly aimed at a very specific audience, but if that audience is you then you're in luck. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night nuts may want the full-fat Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (and the Switch version appears to be slowly but surely patching its way closer to the experience players on other platforms enjoy), but if the 8-bit Castlevanias get you more excited than the more expansive latter style, this is as perfect a callback as you could wish for.

And if that doesn't sate your hunger, the also-very-good sequel goes by the name of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. Funny, that.

Horizon Chase Turbo (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: Top Gear, Out Run

Out Run might be the most obvious comparison here, but Horizon Chase Turbo actually feels much more like a modern interpretation of the Top Gear games from the SNES days. It's silky-smooth old-school arcade racing with blue skies, colourful cars, and retro-polygonal visuals that leave you in no doubt as to how you should be driving (fast, and with the top down).

Mega Man 11 (Switch)

Inspired by: ... really?!

Mega Man 11 is an excellent resurgence for the Blue Bomber, imbuing the tried-and-true classic gameplay with modern touches and new ideas that expand on existing concepts in interesting ways. The underlying action platforming gameplay is just as tight and challenging as you remember, and when combined with the new visuals and extra options for replayability, you’ve got a game that’s every bit as good as those that came before, while surpassing them in some ways. Mega Man 11 is a modern classic, a fitting refresh for a beloved series, and we’d highly recommend you add this one to your Switch library whether you’re a newcomer or you’ve been playing since the NES days.

The Messenger (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: Ninja Gaiden

2D side-scrolling action games like The Messenger may be a dime a dozen these days, but you’d be missing out on something special by passing this one up. Featuring a surprisingly long campaign, an incredible soundtrack and tight, challenging level designs, we'd be remiss not to mention its incredible chiptune soundtrack as well. The Messenger stands as a shining example of great game design in the old-school mould which deftly skips from 8- to 16-bits without missing a beat, and the game remains an absolute treat in Switch's fully-stocked larder of sweetmeats.

Sonic Mania Plus (Switch)

Inspired by: ... you're not even trying, are you?

Sonic Mania was a true return to form for SEGA's mascot, in his 2D 'Classic' guise at least, and celebrates the glory days of the original Mega Drive / Genesis games while also enhancing their qualities and taking on new ideas. From new areas, imaginative second acts and some delightful boss encounters, the development team poured a lot of passion and talent into the project. The new characters and modes that came in the Plus update added some neat tweaks which iron out some of the kinks present in the original release, and after the blue hedgehog's unarguably patchy history in the intervening decades, it was an absolute pleasure to see him return in one of the best 2D platformers of recent memory.

Blaster Master Zero 2 (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: Sunsoft's original Blaster Master

Inti Creates knocked it out of the park with Blaster Master Zero 2, improving on the original 'reboot' in nearly every conceivable way while also setting a clear path forward for what could hopefully become a flagship series for the company. Tight platforming action, memorable boss battles, plenty of extra side content, and some gorgeous pixel art make this one of the easiest recommendations on the eShop; we’d strongly encourage you to pick this one up. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the series or are just getting into it for the first time, Blaster Master Zero 2 is a stellar experience from stem to stern, and further cements Inti Creates’ legacy as one of the best developers in the retro gaming business.

Blaster Master Zero 3 also hits all the notes to deliver a high octane and satisfying retro platforming experience with a dark world mechanic which adds a nice extra layer to the overall design. We probably wouldn't start with 3, though — you should first play the preceding two entries. Really, these games are just that good.

Stardew Valley (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: Harvest Moon

Stardew Valley offers its players a chance to live a second life – one where you can forget the troubles of the real world and get excited over finding a particularly rare carrot. It is a truly magical experience; games can often be enjoyable but they don’t all manage to be as captivating as this. It's the sort of game that ideally requires a significant amount of time to be invested; the enjoyment doesn’t necessarily come from the day-to-day actions you perform, but rather from the general growth of pride, satisfaction, and sense of security as the days go by in this colourful, 16-bit-styled farm sim. Fans of games such as Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing will be right at home here.

Axiom Verge (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: the Metroid series

Axiom Verge channels the gameplay of Metroid into an old-school action adventure which adds a dusting of twists and surprises to keep things feeling fresh. As well as delivering the patented exploration you'd expect from a title with Metroid in its DNA, there's also an affecting narrative to follow as you're filling out the world map and blasting nasties to kingdom come. While Super Metroid still plays beautifully these days, the original NES game doesn't hold up as well as it might, and playing the sublime Axiom Verge only highlights how far we've come since then.

The sequel is a bit of alright, too.

Cuphead (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: 1930s Fleischer or Disney cell animation, Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Mega Man

Cuphead fires nostalgia out of every orifice. Whether you're a sucker for its early 20th century style of animation or can't get enough of run-and-gun boss battlers, StudioMDHR's classic — which was an Xbox One console exclusive until it made a surprising jump to Switch — is the same visually jaw-dropping, aurally delightful, knuckle-whiteningly difficult game it was on Microsoft’s console and the Switch’s library is all the better for its presence. Its focus on intense boss battles won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into we can’t recommend it enough. Just look at it!

Hotline Miami Collection (Switch eShop)

Inspired by: the original top-down Grand Theft Auto games, Drive, the '80s

Both games in this collection offer some of the most addictive and rewarding (not to mention ridiculously violent) experiences you can play anywhere. The Switch versions don’t bring anything particularly new to the table, but if you’re looking to experience these games for the first time (or again) on a portable platform, this is the place to do it. The sequel is the lesser of the two games here but the pixel art visuals and synthwave soundtrack of both have aged incredibly well since 2012 - probably because nostalgia for this retro aesthetic still burns bright.