How Nintendo Switch Online made me stop craving a virtual console

When Nintendo first launched its Switch Online catalog of classic games featuring NES games, I regretted announcing what I thought was a shoddy content delivery system. Not only were we asked to play a much smaller library of games than we had on the Wii or Wii U, but I didn’t even have the option to buy those games. Instead, we get a small library of games from a single console, with no way to inherit previously purchased rights or actually own the classic games I’m playing. I feel like Nintendo Switch Online is a worse service in every way, even as Nintendo expands the offering to include a robust library of NES and SNES.

Then in 2020, things changed. With many of my normal social activities on hold, I find myself having more free time at home than ever before. I spend most of my time following TV shows, movies, and of course video games. As part of that, I delved into the classic gaming offerings on Nintendo Switch Online — after all, I pay for the entire kit, not just Super Mario World, as my gaming habits might lead you to believe. I’ve discovered a lot of games that I’ve never heard of, never played, or completely forgotten about since I was a kid.

Yes, it’s great to be able to access old hits like Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Donkey Kong Country, But if I had to pay for each title individually, I would never have those titles, I had amazing fun with them. As someone who grew up with the SNES, Genesis and Nintendo 64, those gems that haven’t been played before are mostly present in the NES catalog. I played a lot of NES as a kid, but never in my family unless someone brought theirs over. So I’m at the mercy of games my friends own. I initially missed titles like NES Open Tournament Golf, Rygar and StarTropics, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to go back to games like Gradius, Ice Hockey and Super Dodge Ball – games I played at a friend’s house but never owned. It also allowed me to play missed SNES games (Pilotwings, Donkey Kong Country 3, and Super Punch-Out!!) that I’ve always wanted to try without paying extra.

Then it got even better thanks to some extra features it added. Save states and rewinding are standard additions to retro games these days, but Nintendo has also added online multiplayer for multiple games in various libraries. However, I most appreciate the special editions of select games that Nintendo has added over the years, like the Super Mario World version with a special world and all the twists that come with it, or Samus’ fully upgraded version of Super Metroid. While there’s something to be said for getting these famous unlocks with these games, getting these right away with these optional special editions is a cool twist on the standard retro gaming offering.

In 2021, Nintendo launched the Switch Online expansion pack, giving players access to N64 and Genesis games, as well as premium expansion packs for titles like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. While I loved my Genesis at the time, the Nintendo 64 was the component I was most excited about with this new subscription tier. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the experience I was hoping for at launch, but by increasing the availability of the Switch’s N64 controller, continuing to roll out new services, and improved emulation, the Nintendo 64 did the same I’m Other What the directory does: it gives I had the opportunity to revisit previous favorites and experience games that I missed when I was younger.

That’s not to say that Nintendo Switch Online’s catalog of classic games is superior to the Wii and Wii U’s virtual consoles in every way. In fact, in many places, it’s a far cry from the previous official way of playing these classic games on modern Nintendo hardware. On the one hand, I think in today’s world of Netflix and Spotify, we underestimate content ownership. Yes, the services are great value for money, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started Netflix to watch a particular piece of content only to find that the show or movie is no longer available. At least for movies, TV shows, music, and most gaming subscription services, I have the option to buy content digitally on modern hardware, and for retro Nintendo games, my only official option on modern hardware is the non-proprietary route through this subscription Serve.

On top of that, some games (especially the Nintendo 64) feature poor quality emulations in the Switch Online library. While this can happen whether it’s Switch Online or Virtual Console, unfortunately, some games don’t play as well as they did 25 years ago, when the Nintendo 64 library was one of the main selling points of pricier expansion packs. Thankfully, Nintendo has improved its N64 emulation since the catalog was released.

I still very much wish I had my favorite retro games, but the breadth offered by the Nintendo Switch Online catalog of classic games has won me over as a former Virtual Console loyalist. Of course, there are still ways to improve Nintendo Switch Online’s approach to retro gaming offerings, but I’m already grappling with the days of virtual consoles. Just as I sacrificed ownership of music and movies in the name of value, convenience, and unprecedented access to a wide range of content, I’m happy (to an extent) with Game Pass, PlayStation Plus, and Nintendo Switch Online.

Now, it would be nice if we could reduce a lot of subscription services, but that’s another topic.


For more Nintendo talk from Brian, be sure to subscribe to All Things Nintendo, his weekly podcast covering the biggest news and games in the Nintendo world. To learn about the variety of games available on Nintendo Switch Online, head here.