Your child is begging for a game console, you finally think you’re ready to say yes, and you’ve heard about the Nintendo Switch. Is it right for your family? What’s the difference between the Switch, the Switch Lite, and the OLED Switch? Do you need extra accessories? You are in the right place to get those answers. Here’s my “Buying a Switch for Dummies” guide that will help you get everything you need to have a happy, family friendly gaming experience.
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This guide will be broken down into the following parts:
Part 1: Who should get a switch?
Part 2: Which switch should you get?
Part 3: What accessories do you need?
Part 4: Digital vs. physical games
Part 5: Top 10 games to consider buying
Part 1: Who is the Switch good for?
The Nintendo Switch is a video game console that can support play for 1-4 people locally (in the same room) and remotely (through the internet). It has small controllers called “Joycon” that can be played with directly “Docked” on the console, or used separately through bluetooth (which works automatically).
The Switch is a Nintendo product, and Nintendo is known for its family friendly game lineup. Characters like Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Kirby, and many others are unique to the Nintendo universe. This means that although the Switch can play some games that are not Nintendo exclusive, the Switch is the ONLY console that plays games with exclusive Nintendo characters. To put that another way: if your child is interested in Nintendo characters, the Switch is the only console that will play games with those characters.
You can get many other games on the Switch, including games that may be available on other consoles. It strikes a good balance between Nintendo exclusive titles, other games, and indie titles. Nintendo is known for creating consoles that encourage physical movement, like the Nintendo Wii, and the Switch is no exception. If you are hoping for a console that can encourage movement and play aside from sitting on the couch, the Switch is a very good option.
The Switch is NOT a good option if you are interested in the highest graphics quality, or in games that are exclusive to XBox or Playstation. A lot of these games are geared toward older players (like Skyrim, Forza Horizon, Eldin Ring, etc.) and the Xbox and Playstation are less intuitive, less portable, and generally more expensive. The Switch is a console that your family will enjoy that will also grow with your child.
Part 2: Switch vs. OLED Switch vs. Switch Lite: Which to buy?
Most of the time, when people say “Switch” they are referring to the classic Nintendo Switch, which retails for around $300. The Switch can be played in 3 ways:
Handheld (holding the entire device)
Docked into the charging dock which displays to a television (Joycon are detached and held separately)
Un-docked with the Switch console standing separately using the small (flimsy) kickstand, with the Joycon separated and used to play with 1-4 players looking onto the small screen.
The Nintendo Switch OLED is the same as the classic Switch. It is white, has a larger screen (the device is the same size), the display is OLED and therefore clearer and brighter, and it is $50 more expensive ($350).
There is one feature of the OLED Switch that I think is more than worth the $50 price differential. That is the kickstand. On the regular Switch the kickstand is a small, weak piece of plastic that sits at one angle; on the OLED Switch the kickstand is a metal plate that can be set to any angle and runs the length of the device. If you are EVER going to play the Switch away from home, like on an airplane tray table or a hotel room, the kickstand alone is enough reason to buy the OLED Switch.
Nintendo Switch Lite
The Nintendo Switch Lite- typically called the Switch Lite– looks very similar to the Nintendo Switch. It is significantly cheaper at $200, but has some fundamental differences.
The Switch Lite can only be played as a handheld device. You cannot dock it into a charging dock to display on a TV. You cannot remove the Joycon; they are built into the device itself. This also means you cannot play multiplayer games on the Switch Lite; it supports one person playing at a time. Someone with a Switch Lite can play online multiplayer games but not “local” co-op with two players.
For most families, it makes more sense to pay the extra $100-$150 and get an OLED Switch or classic Switch. Although you may not think you’ll want to play multiplayer games or play on the TV, it is nice to have the option.
The main benefit of the Switch Lite is it can be an “auxiliary” console if you have more than one child who wants one. You can buy a regular Switch or OLED Switch and have a Switch Lite as a “Secondary device”.
This can be very useful if you have kids who want to play at the same time, and is especially useful for heavy travel days.
Part 3: What accessories do you need? (If any)
You finally decided on which Switch to buy, but do you need other things to go with it? Depends on your needs. There are three accessories I would recommend, depending on what you will use the Switch for and how many people will use it:
- An extra set of Joycon
If you are going to have more than 2 players ever, you’ll need an extra set of Joycon. You will also need an extra set of Joycon if you want to play any 2-player games that require each player to use 2 Joycon each. Although one person can use 2 Joycon when playing, you can turn each Joycon horizontally and use it like a small NES-style controller. So, in multiplayer games, one person generally only needs one Joycon. One extra set is probably all you need.
Although you can find cheaper Joycon made by other brands, I highly recommend buying the Nintendo brand. Nintendo is generally very good at fixing or replacing them no matter how old they are. Since these are bluetooth controllers you want to make sure you are buying good quality. You get what you pay for.
- A carrying case
We have this exact case and love it. It fits the entire Switch device, a charging cable, an extra set of Joycon, and 10 game cartridges. It’s about the size of a thin clutch purse. It really is our most used Switch accessory. This will not fit the dock that charges the Switch and connects it to the TV. Many people have a separate charger that plugs directly into the bottom of the Switch for on-the-go charging. That way you’re not trying to pack the bulky dock.
- A “Comfort Grip” for single player play.
When playing with the Switch docked on the TV, the person playing will be holding two Joycon; one in each hand. This sometimes is great (like when you’re doing something with motion, or if you’re an older player who can have your hands separated and each operating a controller). But if you’re playing for a long time or you have a younger player, a comfort grip can make it much easier to play. This model is the official Nintendo model and will also keep the Joycon charged. There are cheaper versions but I cannot vouch for them and am recommending the official controller for this reason. This is a good accessory for those playing at home a lot; this is not something you’d likely take on a trip.
Here are a couple of other accessories that are not as essential but can be nice to have:
- A portable battery If playing with the Switch while traveling, you won’t have the dock and you’ll need a way to charge it. A portable battery is a great solution and also allows you to charge it while playing. That’s perfect for playing in the car or on a plane.
- A USB C cable– to charge a Switch when not near a charging dock, you can use a portable battery or any wall plug with a USB port. You’ll just need a USB-C Cable to plug into the bottom of the Switch
- A micro SD Card– particularly if you’ll be buying mostly digital games (see below), you’ll need some extra storage space on the Switch. You can buy a Switch that includes an SD card but they are often overpriced; how much storage space you need will depend on how many games you download and how much space they need. A 128 GB card should be more than enough for most people, and is fairly inexpensive.
Part 4: Digital vs. Physical games; Which should you buy?
Any model of Nintendo Switch, including the Switch Lite, has the ability to play physical game cartridges OR digitally downloaded games. Which should you buy? Here’s the pros and cons of each:
Physical game cartridges:
- You can loan them or share them between consoles
- You can resell them when you’re done (and Nintendo Exclusive games tend to resell for a fairly high value)
- You can purchase them used
- Although some games require storage space on the Switch, most games’ information is contained on the physical game card, so you need less storage on the Switch itself
- You can lose them
- You must remember to bring them all with you when you’re traveling; if you don’t have the game cartridge you can’t play the game
- Swapping between games is harder and requires physical dexterity to remove one game, insert another, and store the games
- You can’t lose them
- It’s very easy to swap between games
- You can buy games and have immediate access to them
- Some games are digital only (particularly small Indie games)
- All your gaming content is in one place; directly loaded onto the Switch itself
- You can’t resell them
- You can’t loan them to someone else
- You can’t share a game across multiple devices
- You will need an SD card with extra storage space to hold all the game data
- There is no discount for buying digitally
Can you buy BOTH digital and physical games and have a mix of both? Yes! You can buy physical game cards for some games and digitally download others, but that can be hard to keep track of. Ultimately there’s no “right” answer for whether to buy digital or physical games and it comes down to what is best for your family.
Part 5: What games should you buy? A few recommendations
Although I will always say you should buy the games that are most interesting to your child, here is a quick “top 10” games list to consider. I’m including games that will fit a variety of people, from brand-new gamers, to families, to adults, to teens. Again, consider your child, their comfort with gaming, and their interests when choosing a game to buy. When possible the link will bring you to an option for physical and digital games.
1. For families and/or new gamers: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart is a tried and true favorite, and it’s one of my favorite games for introducing gaming to kids. You can pause during a race and turn on accessibility features such as auto-steering and auto-gas. This means the person playing won’t have to hold a button to go, and the game will keep them on the road no matter what. You can also change the steering from thumb-stick to using the Joycon as a steering wheel. I love that the accessibility is per person, so I can play with no added accessibility while my child plays with auto-steer and auto-gas, which makes the races a bit more evenly matched. You can play with 1-4 players. I also like racing games as first games because the camera is always directly behind the character.
2. For siblings with an age gap, or a younger child playing with an adult: Kirby and the Forgotten Land
Although you can play this alone, there is a 2-player mode in which player 2 is a secondary character who can never get too far from Kirby. It’s a good option if you have a younger player who is just learning video games. Remember that in 3D platformer games, the camera changes vantage point a lot and the player will need to constantly reassess which way is “forward” for their character. That is HARD, and a good reason to introduce this alongside a seasoned gamer playing as player 1.
3. To get your kids and family moving: Nintendo Switch Sports
If you ever played Wii sports and experienced the magic of bowling on the TV, this is the 2022 version. Play tennis, golf, and other fun sports with 1-4 players. This is a great way to get up, move, and have fun as a family. I also think games that aren’t “real” video games are good for adults who aren’t as familiar with gaming. If you buy the digital code, OR if you want to play with more than one person, you will need to buy a leg strap (1 is included if you buy the physical game cartridge)
4. Fast-paced, silly, and fun: Wario Ware Get it Together
If you ever wondered how fast you could pick a nose, this is the game for you. Wario Ware is a series of fast-paced “micro games” where you try to do a task for a few seconds at a time to keep the game moving. It keeps you on your toes and will keep you laughing. A great game for families
5. For the bigger kid who wants to explore: Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild
It’s been said that the inspiration of Breath of the Wild came from being a child exploring their backyard. That is exactly what this game feels like. This is a much less demanding “open world” game than other games, and is a great fit for a young-ish (8+) gamer who is ready to do some exploring and self-driven gaming. Experience with the Legend of Zelda series is NOT a prerequisite for this game
6. For the strategic thinker: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
This is a sequel to the extremely well received Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (which you could probably find used). This uses familiar faces from the Mario and Rabbids series and introduces “turn based strategy”. For kids who really like things like Pokemon or Magic the Gathering, this would likely be a good fit for them. The focus is on strategic thinking and turn-based game play, which in turn moves the plot forward
7. For the creative: Minecraft
I’m not a Minecraft person, and I think you generally know if your kid is a Minecraft person. If they are, Minecraft on the Switch is probably a natural fit for them.
8. For the competitive and/or those who need to work on their communication: Movin’ Out
Movin’ Out is a game based around moving things out of someone’s house and into a moving van. This is one of many “collaboration” games (like Overcooked, or New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe U). What I love about Movin’ Out are its accessibility features. When we first played the game, I turned on all the features so the game would be less frustrating and more fun. If you ever wanted to shout “pivot!!!” while playing a video game, here’s your chance
9. For those ready for a little spooky without horror: Luigi’s Mansion 3
Luigi’s Mansion is secretly a game for those who love to clean. The game centers around Luigi sneaking around a mansion, freezing ghosts with a flashlight and sucking them into a backpack vacuum. It’s a good leveled 3D platformer; the mechanic is very repetitive and every level is essentially the same. It feels like a more “grown up” game without actually being mature or adult. You can also play 2 player if desired
10. For those who wish video games were real: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit
This is a version of Mario Kart that is played on the Switch while you control a physical Mario around your house. This is a REAL Mario car and you steer it around a series of gates in your house. For the kid who always wished they could make their own Mario races, this is a really cool gift.
11. (one extra) A membership to Nintendo Switch Online
Nintendo Switch Online is a membership that gives a player online access to old Nintendo games (NES and SNES games). You can pay extra and have access to N64 and Sega Genesis games. Unlike the XBox and PS game memberships, this does NOT include current games. You must buy those separately. You can buy a 12-month individual membership for as low as $20, a family membership that covers all accounts on the Switch for $35, the individual 12-month with N64/Sega expansion for $50, or the family 12-month with expansion for $80. The expansion membership also gives you access to some Mario Kart exclusive courses. If your child is interested in online multiplayer games, you generally must have a Nintendo Switch Online membership. If that’s something you’re interested in, WAIT to see if it’s bundled with a Switch during holiday sales (see below)
BONUS Part 6: WHEN should you buy a Switch?
The Switch is unusual in that it actually does go on sale, but not by much. Black Friday is going to be your best bet, and even then the “sale” normally is a bundle of the Switch, Nintendo Switch Online membership, and a game. The bundle tends to run around $300, so you’re essentially getting a game and the Nintendo Switch Online membership for free. There is no harm in waiting to see what the holiday sales are; the Switch doesn’t have a supply issue and it won’t become more expensive.
If you ever see a Switch on its own for anything under $275- buy it. It is rare to find the console on sale without a bundle. The OLED Switch rarely goes on sale; you’ll likely pay full price. The Switch Lite is sort of overlooked; I would wait until the major holiday sales and see if you can find it discounted. Any discount of $25 or more on a console is pretty unusual. As frustrating as it can be, this is a luxury item that retains its value, so you won’t be finding a bargain.
Whew! You did it! You read the guide, you studied the differences, you’re ready to make an informed decision for your family. I really hope this helped and your family is ready for some gaming fun.