We’re coming up on the first anniversary of Nintendo Switch Online next month, and with it the anniversary of NES Online. As a perk for Switch Online subscribers, players can jump into this Netflix-esque service and play Nintendo Entertainment System games, complete with display options, online multiplayer, and a recently added rewind feature. This sounds like a decent offer to be sure, at least at face value. Unfortunately NES Online fails to deliver in a very Nintendo-esque fashion.
After a strong start in September 2018, Nintendo has once again rested on its laurels when it comes to delivering legacy content to players. We already have some of the NES’s best selections out of the way. Now, all that’s left is the odd neat surprise here and there, as well as lackluster games that really don’t hold up today. It’s not just me here; a majority of Nintendo’s followers on social media are clamoring that they are done with NES games.
They are done with the same 30-year-old games trickling down piecemeal. Done with NES scraps while they’re left wanting retro games from more recent generations. Done with an underwhelming, online-based subscription service for games that did not age well three decades later. While other publishers deliver on the nostalgia fans are begging for, Nintendo insists on failing at it, long after they once got it so right with the Wii’s Virtual Console.
Tapped out NEStalgia
As my colleague John eloquently put it, we need the Virtual Console back. On the Wii, this service offered a wide selection of NES, Super NES, and Nintendo 64 games from the very beginning of the console’s life, all while the original Wii was already backward compatible with GameCube game discs. In other words, you could play almost every major Nintendo game up to that point on one system — the Wii!
Hell, the Virtual Console wasn’t just Nintendo. NeoGeo, TurboGrafx-16, Commodore 64, and even Sega Master System and Genesis games were available. The Wii U Virtual Console, as slow a start as it had, added Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games to the brand. Then the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console finally introduced original Game Boy and Game Boy Color games.
As the Wii Shop Channel no longer exists, the commercial failure Wii U continues to sink further into obscurity, and the 3DS slowly but surely fades from store shelves, we’re unceremoniously shoved right back to square one on the Switch. On year two for the platform, all Nintendo has to offer is a minuscule selection of two or three new NES games per month that players don’t even get to purchase. They can only peruse them so long as they remain subscribed to a ho-hum online subscription and connect to the internet once a week.
Seeing how poorly Nintendo is supporting NES games on the Switch, this doesn’t inspire much confidence for how the incredibly likely Super NES Online app would pan out. From there, will Nintendo be just as slow until they finally get to the Nintendo 64? How much time will that take?
Third-parties get it right
While Nintendo drags its feet on retro games, third-parties on the Switch cut right to the chase. For those whose retro sensibilities aren’t exclusive to Mario, there are already a ton of old games on the Switch. Most of these bear one beautiful little word that sends shivers down my spine, and that is “Collection.”
Since the Switch’s launch, third-parties have taken the initiative in porting over as many of their games as possible. Just recently, Konami compiled Anniversary Collections for their arcade classics, Contra, and Castlevania. Capcom was one of the first, bringing Switch owners up to speed on Mega Man, Mega Man X, and Street Fighter with legacy collections. And then there are Sega Genesis Classics, Atari Flashback, SNK 40th Anniversary, Namco Museum — I can go on and on!
All these collections are available right now on the Nintendo Switch eShop, and that’s without talking about the Switch being the perfect porting machine. Ultimately, there is no shortage of retro third-party games to choose from, especially with legacy titles that Nintendo fans likely missed out on while growing up. Sure, the Nintendo Switch has over 2,400 games and counting, but I can’t even count the number of must-haves for those eager to dive deeper into video games past. Well, video games past barring Nintendo’s own — we just have NES Online.
Right now, Xbox is legacy king
Meanwhile, Microsoft has regularly updated the Xbox One’s backward compatibility feature since offering the service in 2015. True, backward compatibility is different from outright porting, but at heart, the idea of keeping old games alive into the next console generation remains the same.
Within the short span of four years, Microsoft has ensured that 575 Xbox 360 games and 41 original Xbox games have become backward-compatible on Xbox One hardware. You can buy almost all of these directly on the Xbox Games Store and load them up into your system immediately.
Numbers aren’t everything, but communication with your fans and loyal customers is key. With Project Scarlett next year, Microsoft minced no words in confirming that the new system will be backward compatible across four generations of Xbox. While this means no more legacy games for the Xbox One, I appreciate that they were direct about it and inspired hope for the future. Their approach and Nintendo’s leaving us in the dark couldn’t be further apart in consumer care.
Round them up!
Right now, NES Online fails on every level as the true, viable Virtual Console replacement fans are waiting for. Third-parties are stepping up in archiving their games on the Switch, whereas Nintendo mindbogglingly refuses to do the same. Xbox has delivered on legacy games nonstop and is up front about the future, while Nintendo lags behind.
With all of that said, however, simply bringing the Virtual Console back will no longer do. The Switch’s hypothetical Virtual Console successor has to deliver what NES Online doesn’t — quality games at a faster rate. Here’s the rub though: I still expect Nintendo to take things slow with that kind of initiative. That’s a given, as porting over old games takes work to get them running right. In this case, what this new Virtual Console needs is a strong head start.
Once upon a time, just like third-parties on the Switch, Nintendo also released their own game compilations. Super Mario All-Stars, The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition, Kirby’s Dream Collection, and Metroid Prime Trilogy all come to mind. At the hardware level, Nintendo also manufactured the NES Classic Edition and the SNES Classic; these compiled each system’s best games in one convenient plug-and-play package.
Thus, I’m in favor of Nintendo ditching NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, original Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and DS Virtual Consoles altogether. In exchange, they should go back to basics and release their own game compilations for the Switch. Whether divided by series or by system, such compilations will see the usual Virtual Console suspects dealt with from the beginning. Nintendo catches up to where they left off with Virtual Consoles on systems past, and fans don’t have to wait another million years just for Nintendo to reach the NES’s Wrecking Crew for the third time. Win-win!
From there, Nintendo can finally work on expanding their archive on the eShop the way fans have wanted for years. We could finally skip straight ahead to GameCube and Wii games on the Switch, systems we are actually nostalgic for! Something to that effect already exists in China; Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Punch-Out!! Wii among others got HD ports for the NVIDIA Shield. Given the similar hardware between the Shield and the Switch, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see these games on the eShop in the future.
Add all of these with ongoing Arcade Archives and Wii U ports to the Switch, and boom! Barring 3DS games, the Nintendo Switch could become the definitive — no — ultimate catch-all Nintendo console, just like the Wii before it.
Alas, that would be the case in a perfect world, but a perfect world this is not. Unfortunately, we’ve got to put up with the meager offerings of NES Online for now. I’m not confident that things will change so drastically in the near future. Nonetheless, my fingers remain crossed that Nintendo will surprise me and deliver the goods they’ve hoarded for so long. Scrolling through eBay and seeing $200 used copies of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance just doesn’t sit well with me.
Sincerely, with love
Point being, I write all of this from a place of love for Nintendo, their games, and the memories I made in playing them while growing up. I just wish they weren’t so darn slow on the uptake compared to everyone else on bringing back older games. Community contempt towards NES Online remains consistent; Nintendo must surely know that, given their videos on new NES Online titles weigh real heavily on dislikes.
We’re done with NES games, Nintendo. Please, just cut the fluff and bring back literally everything else, via Virtual Console or collections. In other words:
“GET ON WITH IT!”