The humble Nintendo Switch is four years old today! And, much like its predecessor the Wii, it has repeatedly demonstrated that you don’t need the most graphical horsepower to put out some of the greatest games in the world.
In fact, the Nintendo Switch has become such a widely beloved console precisely because it doesn’t focus solely on the big-budget side of things; its massive library caters to all kinds of gamers, many of whom have found themselves being somewhat underserved by the triple-A end of the market.
So with that in mind, let’s celebrate five of the best Switch-exclusive Japanese games you can play right now. You won’t find any Super Mario Odysseys or Breath of the Wilds here, either — everyone knows those are good already. Instead, this is all about the wide variety of other great Japanese games that are exclusive to the Nintendo Switch platform.
C’mon, it’s the Switch’s birthday, shouldn’t you buy it a treat or two…?
The most recent release on this list, Gal*Gun Returns sees the beginning of the legendary series finally come west for Nintendo Switch in spectacular form. Taking on the role of young man Tenzou, who finds himself cursed with being irresistable to every girl in his school except the four he’s actually interested in, you’ll need to work with the angel Patako in order to find true love before the sun goes down.
Gal*Gun Returns features rail shooter gameplay combined with stat-manipulating dating sim elements and visual novel-style storytelling. There’s a ton of unlockable content in the game to keep you playing over the long term — and the mechanics on which it’s built are rock solid, which should absolutely not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the past works of Inti Creates.
We’ve still got a few Birthday Suit Editions in the Rice Digital store if you want yourself a physical copy, too — but hurry, ’cause when they’re gone they’re gone, and you wouldn’t want to have regrets, now, would you? And for those of you already securely on board the Gal*Gun train, don’t forget to check out our extensive guide.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition
I’m listing this in favour of the more recent Age of Calamity, because this game is heaven from a collector’s perspective: this Nintendo Switch version contains everything that was in the original Wii U release, plus all the DLC that came out for that, and doesn’t need patching or updating. You buy the game, you got the game. All of it.
And what a game. Still one of the strongest, most playable installments in Omega Force’s long-running Warriors series to date, Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition features a compelling original Zelda tale that brings together elements of Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword and more — then when you’re done with the story mode (which will take you a while in itself) the absolutely enormous Adventure mode will keep you busy for months.
If you’re the sort of player who enjoys min-maxing and learning how to fight with a variety of different characters — all of whom have quite different mechanics from one another — then this should be an essential purchase, whether or not you think you’re a big Zelda fan. I didn’t think I was, and this game is still keeping me occupied to this day after several hundred hours.
Psikyo Shooting Stars
This might be cheating a bit in that it’s actually a whole bunch of games spread across two separate releases — Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha and Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo — but if you’re a shoot ’em up fan with a Nintendo Switch these bundles are hard to go wrong with.
Whether it’s the chaotic, anime-inspired blasting of the two Gunbird games or the deliciously ridiculous “World War II planes fight giant robots” action of the Strikers 1945 series, Psikyo shooters have something to appeal to all players and moods. Plus the wide range of difficulty levels on offer make these collections highly accessible to newcomers as well as grizzled veterans. And you can play ’em in Tate mode when the Switch is in handheld mode; time to bust out that Flip Grip!
While sadly lacking a few features that are becoming increasingly common in retro rereleases — such as online leaderboards and slow motion or rewind facilities — you can’t really argue with the sheer amount of game you’re getting in these bundles. Good shoot ’em ups are always great to have on hand if you just have a few minutes of gaming time before you have to do something else, and these are some of the best shmups out there.
Mary Skelter 2
While this came out on PlayStation 4 in Japan, here in the west it’s a Nintendo Switch exclusive. And it’s one of the best first-person grid-based dungeon crawlers you’ll ever play, featuring a delightful blend of stylised, moody, bloody horror and inspirations drawn from classic fairy tales.
Compile Heart games often divide opinion somewhat, but the Mary Skelter games are interesting in that they’re pretty universally regarded as excellent — even by people who don’t normally have a lot of time for the company’s output. That should tell you something about the calibre of game we’re dealing with here.
Don’t worry if you never played the first Mary Skelter on its original Vita release, either; veterans actually recommend you play this one first — and, conveniently, the entirety of the first Mary Skelter game is included in this game, too. Either beat Mary Skelter 2 to access it — or grab a piece of DLC from the Nintendo Switch eShop to unlock it early if you’re impatient.
Groove Coaster Wai Wai Party!!!!
With the Switch’s strong lineup of support from Japanese developers, it’s no surprise to see some well-regarded music games favour the platform. Taito’s Groove Coaster Wai Wai Party!!!! is an expensive game to jump on board with, but it’s well worth that initial investment — there’s a ton of tracks to enjoy across a variety of genres in the base game, plus a huge variety of missions to complete, characters to unlock and all manner of other goodies.
Groove Coaster is a series that has been quietly humming along ever since its original release on iOS devices back in 2011. With Wai Wai Party!!!! the series successfully jumps to Switch with a variety of control options, a wide and accessible array of difficulty settings plus an incredibly eclectic mix of music ranging from Vtuber hits to the seemingly inevitable inclusion of A Cruel Angel’s Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion — apparently an obligatory part of every new Japanese music game these days.
Groove Coaster Wai Wai Party!!!! is a challenging but fun and friendly game — and a great way to engage with and discover new music. Try not to let that whopping price tag put you off — it rarely goes on sale, either, sadly; I bet those music licenses ain’t cheap — just splash the cash if you can afford to do so, and enjoy one of the best music games in years.
There are many, many other fantastic Japanese games for the Nintendo Switch out there! Why not let us know some of your favourites in the comments or via the usual social channels?
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