In addition to online gaming, the Nintendo Switch Online membership brings classic games from the NES, SNES, N64, and Sega Mega Drive to the console – entirely legally. TechStage tests whether the emulation is any good.
The Nintendo Switch is one of my all-time favorite consoles these days due to its versatility and overall gameplay, but that wasn’t always the case. Like many other gamers, the lack of backward compatibility for past Nintendo titles was a major drawback for me at release in 2017.
One remedy for this was the introduction of the Nintendo Switch Online Membership, which, in addition to online mode and access to the storage data cloud, also includes an NES and SNES game collection. Last October, Nintendo announced an additional expansion: the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack. Included are two more groups, the N64 and Sega Mega Drive game collections.
So with these four retro packs, Nintendo wants to not only make up for the lack of backward compatibility but bring a big piece of past video game history to the latest console. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the various collections, their contents, and the implementations and tell you whether the offer pays off.
- Robust selection of NES and SNES titles
- The memory function allows flexibility when playing titles in parallel
- SP versions present fun additional gaming experiences
- The choice between 4:3 screen, original resolution, and CRT filter
- The costly frame of the Nintendo Switch Online + expansion pack
- Currently, a still small selection of N64 and Sega Mega Drive titles
- No possibility of button remapping
The RetroGaming Experience
As mentioned earlier, the four-game packages are divided into two different paid memberships. With Nintendo Switch Online, players pay $19.99 for a 12-month subscription. In return, there is access to the online mode, the storage data cloud, and the NES and Super NES game collections. The Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack gives additional access to the Nintendo 64 and Sega Mega Drive titles and the Animal Crossing: New Horizons expansion Happy Home Paradise. The Nintendo, as mentioned above, Switch Online content is also included, but players will be charged a whopping $39.99 for a 12-month subscription.
Each of the game collections follows the same structure. The group is available for download as standalone software as soon as the respective membership has been paid. The main menu of the software features a full-screen display of all games. While many games are primarily single-player experiences, some can be played with up to four players.
However, the said online experience is limited to selecting one’s own friend’s list. Up to four players can be invited into the respective compatible games. With four-player mode support, each player can play together in titles like Mario Kart 64. Even in a single-player or co-op title, the other players can join in as passive spectators, using their cursors to draw attention to elements on the screen or cheering on the active players with clapping. Information about which game supports which type of modes is unfortunately not directly visible in the menu, making for some tedious research.
Additionally, the settings allow playing the games in 4:3, original resolution, or a CRT filter. However, the highlight in terms of features is probably the same function, which allows you to save to any imaginable location in a game. The collection thus overrides the save functions provided by the game and gives players more power. Especially for titles that offered little to no save option in their original, this makes for easier accessibility. Added to this is the ability to rewind gameplay by a few frames. If you make a mistake or die in a particularly inopportune way, you can quickly undo it. For some, this feature may sound a bit like cheating, but depending on your needs, this can be an excellent addition.
Last but not least are the SP versions, the unique versions of some games. For example, in the SP version of The Legend of Zelda, players get tons of rubies, items, and all sorts of armor right from the start. In one of the two SP versions of Metroid, players can fight directly against the arch-enemy Ridley, while in Super Mario Bros. 3, the version unlocks eight different outfits. Accordingly, the SP versions present themselves as Sandbox Mode, New Game +, or let players jump directly to the climax of the title. The SP version offers a great approach, especially for players who like to experiment or explore a game rather than cut their teeth on it.
So the game collections are not only dedicated to simply making the software available, but with mechanics like the save function or the SP versions, they offer improved usability, as well as a certain amount of experimentation. Of course, the framework of any collection must be filled with plenty of content. Thus, it is primarily the offer that counts in the end.
The Collections at a Glance
In fact, the size of the game collections varies enormously between the respective packages. Within the 58 NES and 49 SNES titles, Nintendo Switch Online subscribers get a splendid selection. With games like Kirby’s Adventure, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda, the NES collection is a true treasure trove of video game history. The SNES generation is also wonderfully represented with Star Fox, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and more.
On the other hand, selecting the N64 and Sega Mega Drive collections is sobering. Eleven N64 games are currently available to players, while the selection of Sega Mega Drive games amounts to 19 titles. Overall, however, these don’t even makeup half of the piece presented in the NES and SNES game collections. Especially the presentation of an upcoming N64 emulation caused a lot of anticipation among Nintendo fans. Nintendo’s decision to keep this section of fans in particular waiting seems all the more incomprehensible.
Nevertheless, some of the most vital titles of the N64 era are available with Super Mario 64, Paper Mario, or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The Sega collection is impressive, with titles like Ecco the Dolphin, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, and Castlevania Bloodlines. However, that Nintendo is working on steady growth is evident with new arrivals like Banjo-Kazooie, or even The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, announced for February. So over the year, players can expect steady growth in the two previously minor collections.
Just as important as the number and type of titles available in the gameplay experience. The lag-free input, the visual quality, or even the stability of the ports. So how do the titles of past Nintendo consoles ultimately feel on the Nintendo Switch?
The Nintendo Switch as a Retro Emulator
The gaming experience will differ somewhat depending on which console generation the player in question grew up with. With the Gameboy as an entry point into the world of Nintendo, it’s mainly the NES collection that provides excitement for me personally. The aforementioned save function allows you to quickly jump into titles like Dr. Mario on a day-to-day basis and pick up where you left off in the previous game. Once clicked on, the match opens immediately; there are no lags or otherwise noticeable bugs to complain about. The thoughtful sound design of the titles is also well preserved; only the side frames on the screen sometimes feel a bit annoying.
Those who are otherwise into porting and emulating old Nintendo titles may have some complaints about the graphics quality and performance of the conversions in some places. Some report a stuttering frame rate and input lag in the N64 titles, but I didn’t notice any problems in my personal test. However, a significant issue is the non-configurable controller layout of the JoyCons.
Even though the JoyCons are excellent in their function with Nintendo Switch games, the button assignment in terms of emulation causes quite a few frustrations. It becomes a guessing game which button belongs to which game function; often, I had to call up the user manual of a match to internalize it. Even the save function is accessed by pressing the ZL and ZR buttons on the NES collection, but on the N64 games, this function is on the minus button on the left JoyCon.
Although JoyCons in the design of the classic controllers can be picked up to match each collection, which solves the problem (and look very chic at the same time), an additional purchase should not be a requirement if you already have a paying membership. A simple button remapping function would do wonders here and make it easier for many players to get started with the titles.
The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack offers, among other advantages, a strong deal for retro lovers with the extensive NES and SNES collections for only 19.99 Euros per year. However, those particularly keen on emulating N64 or Sega Mega Drive titles should be patient. With a price of 39.99 Euros for a 12-month subscription, combined with the minimal selection so far, the price-performance ratio is rather bad than good.
While implementing button remapping and a better overview of the availability of local/online multiplayer modes would significantly raise the quality of the gaming experience, Nintendo still has some way to go in terms of N64 and Super Mega Drive titles.
With all the gems from past console generations, the potential to expand the offerings is practically endless. Who knows, we might even get a Gameboy Advance emulator in the future that gives us direct access to titles like Pokémon Ruby / Sapphire, WarioWare, or even Metroid Fusion on the Nintendo Switch. Until then, it’s up to the players’ preferences whether the retro packages from Nintendo Switch Online will bring the whole emulation experience directly to the Switch or whether they will demand a lot of money for little content.