How much are the Nintendo Switch Online NES games worth to modern gamers? What value do they actually add to Nintendo’s $20 subscription service? Well, if you’re a nostalgic 30-something, there might be some hidden benefits. At least, that’s exactly what I’ve discovered over the past couple of weeks.
When Nintendo announced that a proper Virtual Console was not planned as part of the Nintendo Switch ecosystem, I was a bit flabbergasted. Selling SNES, NES and Game Boy games for the umpteenth time would basically print money at very little cost or effort to Nintendo and, on top of that, it seemed like the most requested feature that’s not currently available on the system. Despite that fact, Nintendo has held firm on its decision to do away with the Virtual Console and, instead, has pitched the NES games bundled with the Nintendo Switch Online service as an alternative.
At present, that service offers 23 classic Nintendo games such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight and River City Ransom. Also on the roster is a remixed version of the original The Legend of Zelda, letting players basically mod the classic title by starting with upgraded equipment. Nintendo has announced another three games will arrive in November and December, and it’s probably safe to expect additional games will be added in 2019. More remixed games have also been promised.
If you want to consider things based on dollars and cents alone, that means that the launch lineup for the NES library gave subscribers to Nintendo Switch Online the ability to rent 20 games (the size of the original roster) for a buck each per year. That would mean that the service’s other features — including online multiplayer, cloud saves, access to Nintendo’s mobile app and “special offers” — could be considered icing on the cake. Still, some would argue that the service needs time to evolve before it’s “worth it,” and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. Even though Nintendo Switch Online only costs a third of competing programs such as PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold, it’s not really an appealing investment unless you love playing Nintendo games online or adore classic NES games.
I’m not saying I currently disagree with that notion. The only game I’ve played online since the launch of the Switch’s premium service is Splatoon 2, though I’m sure that will change once Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launches in December. Still, I’m not exactly taking full advantage of the service with such minimal online play. As for the NES library, I was originally disinterested; though I’ll admit that a big part of my reasoning had less to do with a lack of desire to play NES games and more to do with the fact that I’m still just frustrated with the lack of a proper Virtual Console.
But if you’ve been paying attention to video games, movies, television shows, comics and the like in recent years, you’ll know that nostalgia is currently king. From reboots to remakes, everything old is new again. And while I absolutely appreciate the argument that cashing in on nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is kind of gross, I can’t deny that I’m typically a huge, unapologetic mark for anything that reminds me of the simpler days of being a kid. I’m the kind of guy who reads a Goosebumps book every Halloween season and subscribed to VRV the moment they announced a lineup of ’90s Nickelodeon shows.
Despite all of that, I wasn’t too keen to fire up the Switch Online NES games. I barely have time to cram in all of the modern games I want to play and, yeah, part of my reservations were out of spite for the lack of a Virtual Console.
Once I started pecking around at the collection, though, I found they were basically the gaming equivalent of therapy. There were a lot of fringe benefits I was not expecting to discover, with nostalgia only being one piece of the puzzle.
For starters, a lot can be said about returning to a simpler time in gaming. Sure, it reminds me of that “simpler time” in my real life as well, but it’s also kind of nice to step away from the insane graphics, piles of gameplay systems and diverse mechanics in exchange for some catchy tunes, simplistic visuals and controls that amount to just a D-pad and two buttons.
And while I would actually prefer that Nintendo make digital versions of each game’s instruction manual available from within the app, I’m currently being treated to an experience I can only compare to renting games back in the ’80s and ’90s. Growing up, my local rental store only passed out the game cartridges when you were making a rental. If I had never played the game before, that meant that a decent chunk of time had to be put into figuring out what the game was actually about, what the buttons did, etc.
For example, I fired up Solomon’s Key last night and found myself in this exact same situation. NES games didn’t have tutorials and you couldn’t turn to the internet to have things explained. But rather than take advantage of modern technology, I got a kick out of just poking around, experimenting and figuring things out on my own. Sure, that meant I had to bumble around quite a bit, but there’s a certain sense of accomplishment that comes from beating your head against a wall until you figure out how a game works.
That also translates over to games I actually played 25-odd years ago but have barely picked up in the years since. I played the hell out of Double Dragon as a kid, for instance, which led to some fun “Ah-ha!” moments all these years later when I finally remembered how to do things like leap into the air or perform a diving kick.
The biggest nostalgia trip, though, came courtesy of NES Open Tournament Golf. I couldn’t even make a guess as to how many hours I poured into that game while sitting on the foot of a twin bed, squished between my dad and brother as we all battled to card the lowest score. It was one of the handful of games the three of us really bonded over and, like many of these NES games on the Switch, I haven’t played since we moved on to Tiger Wood Golf on the original PlayStation.
Just hearing the game’s title music did a number on the ole heartstrings, and I immediately took a picture of the menu and texted it to my dad. The next time I’m visiting, I plan to bring the Switch for a long overdue rematch.
So, no, the Nintendo Switch Online service might not be worth it for everyone just yet, but I’m definitely finding some unexpected value in these arguably priceless trips down memory lane.