With the recent release of Nintendo’s paid online service for the Switch, it’s just the PC left with no charges for online play. To sweeten the deal for those now having to pay in order to lose a race in Mario Kart to a blue shell at the last minute however, Nintendo is providing a suite of inclusive classic games.
The service comes as a free gift and allows you to play the games for as long as you remain a subscriber to the service. If you fancy making your Switch look ridiculous then you can even get a set of NES controller Joy-Con. These are essentially wireless NES controllers that you can attach to your Switch, and only use for NES games because they don’t have motion controls or the full set of buttons on regular Joy-Con. The plus side is that they’re set to be about ⅓ cheaper than a set of regular controllers.
There’s a selection of 20 games to start with, arranged in a very attractive grid, with the ability to give individual games their own section. Some of the games aren’t particularly good, but there’s some of the bigger titles like Super Mario Bros, Gradius and Excitebike which make up for it. Nintendo has already announced new games to be added over the coming months too, so it should build up to a decent sized library in time. If that happens, it’d be nice to be able to set categories, but seeing as we can’t even do that on the Switch itself yet, best not to hold your breath.
One thing that irritated me a bit was the lack of instructions. The NES mini omitted instructions too, but all the games have proper manual scans on the Nintendo website. Not so for these games, and for a number of them such as Ice Hockey or River City Ransom the controls require various simultaneous button presses due to the NES’ limited number of controller buttons. Without the manual you have to stumble on these controls by accident, or find a scan of the manual online somewhere. I’d have liked to have seen the manual as an option in the pause menu like so many other retro game re-releases do. There's a "user guide" there, but it just tells you which Switch buttons correspond to which NES controller buttons.
The games are presented exactly as they were on the NES. This means that they have the same limitations, and also they all do that weird thing where a little bit of the left hand side of the screen appears at the far right during scrolling of fast-paced games. This wasn’t as noticeable back in the day on a CRT, but it’s quite jarring now we’re all playing on crisp LCD screen or gigantic, high frame-rate TVs. You can add scanlines to the picture to emulate a CRT, but it’s not hugely effective and makes the picture look worse to me. I found the best way to emulate the old-fashioned fuzzy screens of the 80s was to just take my glasses off before playing.
Just like with other emulators, you get save states for games, meaning that maybe I’ll actually be able to complete Ghosts ‘n Goblins now. There aren’t any tweaking options like you’d get on a standalone emulator like speed adjustment, region encoding or anything like that, but that’s to be expected as this isn’t designed for the more hardcore retro gamers. They will probably be playing on original hardware anyway.
Quite a neat feature is the online multiplayer mode, where you can play two player games with your friends across the internet. Sadly, this is restricted to friends only and you can’t play with a random stranger like modern games, but if you’ve got a friend that’s not nearby and you want to play Balloon Fight, then you can do that.
All in all, I’m a big fan of the NES games on the Switch, and as new titles get added, I’m expecting to enjoy it more. There are a few tweaks that I’d like to see, but given the price of the online service it’s pretty good value for money in my opinion. At the time of writing, it’s possible to get a free seven day trial too, so you can always give it a spin before forking out too.