Nintendo Switch Online: Who's Greenlighting this stuff?
The bottom of the barrel
Look. I’ve been a pretty big supporter of Nintendo Switch Online since the get go. Heck, I still think it’s a tremendous value for $20 a year. The game selection that’s available for NES and SNES includes some of the very best games on those platforms. Other stuff like Castlevania and Mega Man are readily available in collections on the eShop, so their omission from NSO is understandable, but have you seen what they’ve been offering lately?
That’s why when Nintendo announced the new games coming to the service for July 2021, I had finally hit my limit. While they’ve been lambasted pretty thoroughly for months now, this month was the first lineup that even I couldn’t defend. Who’s coming up with this stuff?
Content is King
This most recent drop makes much more sense in Japan, where it also includes Shin Megami Tensei If… That game holds some clout, and makes the whole thing seem at least like a worthwhile effort. But since that game was never localized for the US, it isn’t getting a release over here. That leaves Bombuzal, Claymates, and Jelly Boy. Let's break that down a bit.
You’d be forgiven for never having heard of Bombuzal. That’s because when it was released here in the US it was called Ka-Blooey. This game isn’t bad by any stretch. It’s actually pretty okay, but that’s about as far as I’d be willing to go with it. It even has a sort of under-the-radar sequel on Nintendo 64 called Charlie Blast’s Territory, which itself has a bit of a fanbase, but that’s about all that’s noteworthy about this one. It’s fine, but ultimately unremarkable.
Then we have Claymates. Following the success of Clay Fighter, Interplay started making a platformer that also starred clay-related characters. And again, this game is… fine. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with it, but it isn’t exactly a forgotten masterpiece either. It’s somewhat clever, but again, this isn't a game that most people are going to get much enjoyment out of today. If you grew up playing this game, you probably remember it fondly, but without that nostalgia factor, it isn’t a very attractive option.
Finally we have Jelly Boy. Here we have a somewhat interesting release because this game never came out in the US. From what I can tell online, it’s actually a pretty solid platformer, and as a game that was never previously released outside of Europe, it makes a great addition to the service. However, it isn’t exactly a pretty game, and watching gameplay doesn't really instill a sense of enticement.
How do you fix this?
What’s missing here is context. There’s clearly value here, but Nintendo hasn’t done anything to make people actually want to try these games out. The trailers they put together are little more than someone playing through some random segment of the game, which in the case of this month’s releases in particular just makes people think Nintendo is scraping the bottom of the barrel for new games to put on their service. I’ve seen it said many times online that these games look like Nintendo is offering us the stuff that’s left over at the rental store when all the good stuff was already rented out, and I can’t think of a more apt description.
That’s not to say these games don’t have value, but if they could at least make an effort to tell people why they should care about the games being added, it might go a long way.
Tell us that Bombuzal is a puzzle game, and maybe mention other games that if people have played previously maybe they’ll like Bombuzal too. Mention Clay Fighter or other releases from Interplay that give Claymates a bit of a pedigree that might convince people it’s worth giving a go. Mention that Jelly boy is a cult favorite game that’s never been released outside of Europe. It would only take slightly more effort than they put in already, and would mitigate the tidal wave of negative comments every time they announce new additions to the NSO roster.
An easier pill to swallow.
But more than that, these games need anchor releases. This weird stuff is great, but like making a kid eat their vegetables, you have to bribe them with something they actually want to go with it. I understand that licensing is difficult, but Nintendo is still sleeping on a treasure trove of THEIR OWN GAMES! Off the top of my head, for NES they still haven’t given us Pinball, StarTropics II: Zoda’s Revenge, or the ever-requested EarthBound Beginnings. Over on SNES we’re still waiting on Super Mario RPG, the SNES version of Wario’s Woods, and of course EarthBound. And that doesn’t even touch the stuff they published for other companies that they probably wouldn’t have to do much to get their hands on, like Rad Racer, Kung-Fu, Sim City, Illusion of Gaia, or Arkanoid: Doh it Again. And oh, how exciting would it be to see some Sateliview stuff like BS Excitebike or BS Zelda?
And of course, then there’s the question of platforms. Nintendo 64 would be huge, but I get it. That’s a platform full of 3D games that would probably require a degree of effort, but what about the Game Boy? Between the original B&W games, Color, and Advance, there’s a metric ton of games people would flip over having access to on their Switch.
Or what about doing something with light gun or mouse compatible games? They put Duck Hunt on Wii U for crying out loud, why not get that stuff working on Switch? Give us Super Scope games like BattleClash, or Mouse games like Mario Paint or TinStar.
Instead, this is what we’ve gotten in 2021. Joe & Mac, Magical Drop II, Spanky's Quest, Super Baseball Simulator 1.000, Ninja JaJaMaru-kun, Fire n Ice, Doomsday Warrior, Prehistorik Man, Psycho Dream.
Most of these are at least interesting for one reason or another, but these aren’t anyone’s favorite games, nor are they landing on any lists of most under-appreciated hidden gems on their relative platforms. Except maybe Fire n Ice. That game rules.
The point is, Nintendo is doing the Switch a huge disservice with this service, and the tragedy is that they really aren’t that far off from being great. Heck, even just the small amount of effort it would take to cut together some short historical video about why people should try the games on NSO would go a long way in making folks less salty about not getting EarthBound month after month. These games absolutely deserve to be preserved. Just because they aren't the big AAA releases doesn't mean they should be forgotten completely. But for now, at least we can all continue to enjoy Pro Wrestling for NES. Seriously, that game being re-released for modern audiences was way overdue.