Ranking the Switch Online NES Launch Line-up Part 1
Alongside the Switch’s online service arrives the snappily titled “Nintendo Entertainment System™ Nintendo Switch Online” service. This gives you the ability to play classic Nintendo titles on your Switch. With 20 NES titles at launch and more to come over time, it might take a little while to sort out the classics from the classless. Fear not though, dear reader. I’ve played all the games so that you don’t have to. Here’s the first part of a two-part series ranking them all. Today I bring you numbers 20 to 10:
20 Pro Wrestling
This game looks quite nice, but it’s probably one of the worst games to be released on the NES. It built up something of a cult following thanks to the odd “A winner is you” end screen, but the memes aren’t celebrating what a good game it is. It also gained a bit of popularity at the time on account of being the only wrestling game that wasn’t dreadful, but that’s not particularly high praise. Essentially being the best wrestling game on the NES is very much like being the smartest member of the Only Way is Essex cast.
The main problem is that with only two controller buttons, the NES couldn’t provide that many moves, and the ones that it could were odd combinations of buttons. You end up spamming the same spinning kick until you win, then repeat that until the infamous win screen comes up. Why this was included I have no idea.
I hadn’t actually heard of this game before it came to the Switch. Turns out I was missing out on precisely nothing. It’s a dreadfully slow puzzle game with very limited replayability. Playing a little bit like a cut down version of Klax, you collect various baddies from the Super Mario universe on trays, trying to stack two of them on top of each other. Sometimes, the bottom or top half of an egg drops. Trapping enemies of any kind between egg halves results in them getting squished and turning into a Yoshi. Biology was apparently not Nintendo’s best subject at school.
The tiny playfield a limited number of enemies to match makes for a very repetitive experience. There’s a much better Mario themed puzzle game in the collection in the form of Dr Mario so there’s no reason for this to be here at all.
In 1986, Japan was not a world force in association football. In fact, there wasn’t even a professional league in the country until 1993. As a result, Intelligent Systems wasn’t fully au fait with the sport. The fact that one of the teams is “Great Britain”, when the British nations play separately outside of the Olympic Games, gives you an idea of the level of knowledge. Teams don’t switch ends at half time, but cheerleaders do pop out on the pitch: something that would have been unheard of in 80s football.
Nonetheless, this is a pretty competent simulation for the time. It’s fluid and moves fast, and the shooting mechanic is quite advanced with the ability to place your shot relatively precisely, something that was rare in football games of the time. While it certainly doesn’t stand up to the level of simulation found nowadays, it’s still a quick blast of fun, just not one you’ll return back to that often.
17 Ice Climber
I’m constantly amazed by the popularity of this game. It’s kind of like Lode Runner but with aubergines. You have to make your way up a mountain and try and get back your stolen vegetable, but the only way to do so if by headbutting platforms from below to make a hole to jump up through.
If you like Ice Climber, you’ll already know this and play it regardless of my opinions, so you go and have fun. I found it to be dull and repetitive and just not that fun. This was in the early days of videogames when we were still working out what a platformer was. Sadly, with two Super Mario games included, there’s no point to playing this.
Although it’s a title that will appeal more to those in North America, Baseball is a great depiction of the noble art of playing rounders as an adult. You only control the batter and pitcher, with fielding dealt with by the computer, so it’s a bit more simple than later incarnations.
Much like Wii Sports Baseball, you will probably play this a couple of times and then not bother. There are quite a few sports titles in this initial batch that just feel like shelf fillers rather than anything to get excited about, and this is no exception.
15 Ice Hockey
This feels an awful lot like Soccer but with a bit more momentum to the controls. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that this is just the same game with some minor sprite and movement tweaks. It’s quite ugly, there are certainly prettier Ice Hockey simulators on the NES like Blades of Steel, but it plays well.
Initially very tricky to get into, there’s a surprising amount of depth to this title. You can adjust your team line-up to choose between average players, heavier burly players, and svelte speedy ones. There’s also a few fancy tricks you can play such as shot faking. As with the other sports titles though, it’s not aged well and there are plenty of better Ice Hockey games out there.
14 Mario Bros.
There were two versions of this game released for the NES, one in 1988 and one in 1993. This is the 1988 version, which is a shame because it’s not as good. It’s a faithful recreation of the original arcade game, just with slightly lower resolution graphics, but that’s essentially the problem; it wasn’t that great a game in the first place. With only one mechanic and little variation in environments as well as limited movement and an overly harsh difficulty, it will get old quickly.
The reason I mentioned the 1993 version is that added a few enhancements that made it a better game than in the arcades. The jump height is no longer fixed in that version, so you can jump different heights like in the Super Mario Bros. games. The other thing that was added was the ability, again like in the later titles, to change direction mid-jump. It seems like such a small thing, but we’re so used to the SMB jump mechanics now that going back to the original mechanics in this game is frustrating.
13 Tecmo Bowl
Being British, I don’t fully understand American football, but I appreciate that it’s a fairly complex sport with quite intricate tactics from set-pieces. Not entirely unlike what I think of as football, but with far more of those set-pieces. Also, they rarely use their feet, which we all think of as weird over here. Whilst I couldn’t make head-nor-tail of how to do well at Tecmo Bowl, I did appreciate how well it recreated the sport on such limited hardware.
If you ask many North American gamers about this title, they will sing its praises hugely. Whilst it might not have the fancy graphics and full roster of licensed NFL teams that we’re used to these days, it’s still a solid game with a lot of fun to be had if you like the sport. Thing is, if you do, they you will likely own plenty of games that simulate it better already.
12 Double Dragon
This is a pretty smooth conversion of one of the classics of the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre, but it’s not perfect. Memory limitations meant the two-player co-op mode that gave the game its title had to be abandoned, and most of the levels are noticeably squashed down. There’s also this weird thing where you have to unlock moves, so at the start you only have the option of punch, kick, and jump, with more powerful moves coming throughout the game.
With the excellent Arcade Archives version being available on the eShop already, this seems like an unnecessary inclusion. The NES version was a great technical achievement at the time, but there’s no reason to play this version nowadays other than curiosity.
11 The Legend of Zelda
I’m going to let you into a secret here readers: I don’t really like The Legend of Zelda very much. I enjoyed the later games, but this debut title never really got my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the achievement to get such a huge game world on one cart, but I’ve never really found it to be fun in the way the later games were.
There’s no character development or interaction and for me, that’s what a good adventure title should bring to the table. With so many great RPGs available on the NES like StarTropics, Mother and the early Final Fantasy games, I genuinely can’t understand why so many people rave about this this. I fully expect to be slated in the comments for this, but I don’t recommend spending much time playing this one.
So that’s part one of the launch line-up for the Switch’s NES games. This was the bottom 20 titles, so the next part will have some much better games now we’ve got the fluff out of the way. Stay tuned to GameGrin to see how the remaining 10 stack up.