The Nintendo Switch is the Swiss army knife of game consoles. It’s a portable handheld, as well as a home box. It caters to kid-friendly platformers and heart-pounding shoot ’em ups as well as turn-based strategy games.
For me, one of the Nintendo Switch’s greatest triumphs was introducing me to all the games that came before it. I was not born for the classic era of Nintendo. The original Metroid, Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong Country, and all the other iconic games that Nintendo superfans talk about to this day always felt old to me. I can understand that they have a place in the history of the game, but I’ve never played them with my own hands.
The switch changed that. Nintendo Switch Online comes with a library of NES and SNES classics. The original Mario games are here, early Zeldas, Star Fox, Ninja Gaiden, EarthBound, F-Zero, and more. It’s one of Nintendo’s greatest hits that got me into the world of 8 and 16 bit games.
It’s so easy to start playing these Nintendo classics. There’s no tedious (and probably illegal) emulator to install, no hardware to buy. If I have a sudden need for 2D platforming, I can load the already installed SNES app onto my Switch’s home screen and start Super Metroid in seconds. With games ready and waiting, I have no excuse to skip them, or cumbersome installation work to do just to get them running on modern hardware.
They are cheap too. As long as you keep your Nintendo Switch Online membership, which is more affordable than its competitors, you’ll have access to it for as long as you want. They may not be free, but they’re pretty close.
Along with ease of access, the Switch’s portability has kept me coming back again and again for more SNES goodness. The ability to pick up and drop games whenever I want means I’m engrossed in them. When Draygon pinches me to death for the fifth time in Super Metroid, I don’t need to throw my controller across the room in disgust. I can walk away from Samus’ troubles to pick up the game later, when it’s a good time to cook dinner or sit lazily on the couch. The easier a game is for me to access, the more likely I am to dive into it.
No better alternative
The Switch isn’t the only way to play older Nintendo games. The popular SNES and NES microconsoles launched in 2016 both come with a collection of built-in games, covering most of the classics and some that haven’t yet been ported to the Switch. The lovely replica models have been praised for bringing the games to a modern audience and faithfully emulating them for new players to experience for the first time.
But this ship sailed. Nintendo stopped production of both mini consoles in December 2018, meaning you have to pay a pretty penny on the second-hand market, or pay through your nose at a retailer to pick them up now. Even if they were still affordable, I’m not sure they would be my platform of choice. I want to play the classic Nintendo games I missed, not discover all the consoles’ dated design flaws. I’d much rather use the Switch’s Joy Cons than the NES’s stiff, oblong controller to dab Goombas.
A better way to play
For the most part, the Switch ports are faithful adaptations, but they introduce an essential feature that I couldn’t live without. In a nod to the emulators I denigrated above, each includes an overlay save state system that allows you to save your progress wherever you are. This means you won’t lose hours of progress after a pesky Bobo drops you to zero health in Kirby’s Dream Land, or you’re forced to replay an entire level because some honest little platforming mistake will get you there. returned to start.
While certainly a product of contemporary gaming, which is, for the most part, more forgiving than older NES and SNES games, I am a deliberate user and abuser of save states. We’ve moved on from finite lives and painfully unforgiving level design. Even games like Elden Ring, which put their brutality at the heart of their appeal, are meticulously crafted to never feel unfair. Use as many save states as you want, I say. I wouldn’t play older games without them.
As much as the Switch encouraged me to explore Nintendo’s back catalog, the publisher is no hero of game preservation. His decision to close the Wii U and 3DS eShops by next March will effectively remove access to many older games that aren’t available elsewhere. Hundreds of NES and SNES games are currently available on digital storefronts, many of which are not listed in Switch’s relatively meager collection of classic titles. When eShops go away next year, these games, along with many other download-only indie gems, will go in.
I may never have had time to play them, but I will be sad to see them go. The Nintendo Switch opened the door to 8 and 16 bit gaming for me by lowering the barrier to entry. Here’s hoping Nintendo continues to port classics to the Switch and sees the value in historic accessibility.