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NSO Expansion Pack vs. N64 Expansion Pak

NSO Expansion Pack vs. N64 Expansion Pak

Posted by Kris Randazzo on Oct 20th 2021

There’s a new Nintendo Expansion Pak in town, and this time it’s spelled with a C. Nintendo has added a bevy of new features to its Online service, but these things come at a price.

There’s already a ton of debate about whether or not it’s actually worth the amount they’re asking, but we felt there was a more important question just begging to be answered. How does the new Expansion Pack for Nintendo Switch stack up against the Expansion Pak for Nintendo 64? Let’s find out.

What are they?

The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack is exactly what it says it is. It’s an expansion for the existing Nintendo Switch Online service. As it stands now, the standard service gets you access to online play, cloud saves, exclusive online games like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99, the mostly worthless Nintendo Switch Online mobile app, the ability to purchase certain accessories from the Nintendo store, and arguably most importantly, an ever-expanding library of NES and Super NES games. This can be purchased for a monthly fee or a considerably smaller annual fee.

The Expansion Pack adds a library of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games to the existing lineup, as well as access to the new Animal Crossing expansion.The Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak (spelled without a C) is a small cartridge that you put in the expansion port in the front of your Nintendo 64. It adds an extra 4MB of memory to your console, and grants players enhanced visuals in certain games. It was also required for a small selection of larger titles, and has a snazzy red lid. It originally came packed-in with certain consoles as well as retailed separately, and came with an “ejector tool” to get rid of your existing Jump Pak.

So now that we have introductions out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.

What does it do?

As stated above, Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack allows you to play a selection of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games on your Switch. This is sort of a complex proposition, but if we break it down it may be a bit more enticing than it seems at first glance.

The game libraries that have been announced so far are as follows:

For the Nintendo 64 you get Dr. Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Mario Tennis, Sin & Punishment, Star Fox 64, Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, WIN BACK: COVERT OPERATIONS (not sure why that one’s in all caps, but that’s officially how it’s written), and Yoshi’s Story. Other games such as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, F-Zero X, and Banjo-Kazooie have been announced for future updates as well.

For the Genesis, we have Castlevania: Bloodlines, Contra: Hard Corps, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Ecco the Dolphin, Golden Axe , Gunstar Heroes, M.U.S.H.A., Phantasy Star 4: The End of the Millennium, Ristar, Shining Force, Shinobi 3, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Streets of Rage 2, and Strider.

With the expectation of Super Mario 64, none of the Nintendo 64 games listed above have been previously playable on Switch. Most of them were available on previous Virtual Console services, but with some serious caveats. The Wii Virtual Console library didn’t support suspend states on Nintendo 64 games, so while they ran really well, they didn’t offer much in terms of modernization. They also didn’t display well on HDTVs because the Wii itself didn’t have an HDMI port. The Wii Shop Channel has been closed for some time too, so you can no longer log onto the shop and purchase these titles there anyway.

Many were also on the Wii U Virtual Console, which was in improvement in a lot of ways, including HD support and suspend states, but they were marred by some pretty nasty loading time when using said suspend states, and the games themselves ran terribly with sometimes game-breaking input lag.

SNES and NES games also ran pretty poorly on Wii U, especially NES games which featured some of the worst presentation the console’s library has ever seen, but both of those consoles run amazingly well on the current Switch apps. I personally beat Punch-Out on my HDTV with the Switch, a feat I was previously only capable of doing on a CRT. If Nintendo 64 games follow suit, NSO could actually be one of the best places to play those games.

We also shouldn’t overlook the all-important rewind feature that isn’t present on previous Virtual Console outings. For games like Super Mario 64 that get incredibly frustrating later on, rewind will be invaluable.

This sentiment also extends to controllers. The Original N64 controller is a weird one, but the Switch Pro is one of the best ever made (D-pad notwithstanding), so playing the likes of Star Fox 64 with that controller would be pretty nice. Then there’s the specialty controllers, specifically the SNES controller available on Nintendo’s website to NSO subscribers. The ability to play Dr. Mario 64 with that controller is a very enticing proposition indeed. Of course, there’s also a wireless N64 controller you can get for your Switch if you're so inclined, but it’s $50 which is, well, it’s certainly something...

As for the Genesis games, it’s a bit more nuanced. Castlevania Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps are both available on the excellent Konami Anniversary Collections right now, but they don’t feature the aforementioned rewind function. As for the rest of them, most are on the already existing Sega Genesis collection that’s available for purchase on the eShop right now, but that collection is abysmal. Games feature unreasonably insane lag, they look and run terribly, it’s an absolute mess that surprises me every day it exists without a proper patch to fix it. Chances are if you’ve been around video games for a while you have a ton of different options to play these classics, but again, between rewind, low lag, and great controller options, Switch Online may be the best place to play these games.

Then there’s the Animal Crossing expansion. It’s a whole thing, but if you aren't into Animal Crossing, it isn’t going to matter to you, and if you are, it adds value, but only if this new Island Designer thing looks like fun to you.

Meanwhile, the extra memory provided by the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak made some really cool stuff possible. It made Star Wars Rogue Squadron look and run even better than without it, and it made games like Majora’s Mask, Donkey Kong 64, and Perfect Dark playable in the first place. In the end it worked with over 50 titles to varying degrees. Sure, many of them were sports games that chances are you never want to touch again, but classic stuff like Road Rash 64, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Excitebike 64, and more are made all the better for having the thing.

Advantage: Expansion Pack. While making your N64 more powerful is cool, in terms of just doing stuff it’s hard to beat allowing two separate new game libraries on your Switch console. Yes, you can’t play Majora’s Mask without an Expansion Pak, but purchasing the Expansion Pack for Switch is still cheaper than trying to find an original cart these days.

Value

The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack costs an additional $30 per year. That’s more than double the price of the standard membership. So from the position of directly comparing it to what’s available now, it doesn’t look too great. On its own, it’s… okay? It’s not an amazing deal or anything, and the basic Nintendo Switch Online service itself is nowhere near on par with what Microsoft and Sony offer, but it does more or less funcion, and those game libraries are pretty nice to have. The value is definitely there, but it’s a hard sell to anyone who doesn’t care about Nintendo 64 or Animal Crossing.

The Expansion Pak for Nintendo 64 originally retailed for about $20-25 depending on who you ask. That’s a pretty small price to pay to enhance all those great games. Plus, it was actually included with certain copies of the games that required it, like Majora’s Mask and Donkey Kong 64.

Advantage: Expansion Pak. While the new Expansion Pack for Switch isn’t exactly a bad deal, it isn’t a fantastic value either. Meanwhile, the low barrier for entry, the fact that you only have to pay for it once instead of monthly or annually, make the Expansion Pak the clear winner here.

Physical appearance

The Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak is a neat looking little thing. It’s just a small black cart, but it’s got this super cool red lip on top that’s full of holes for some reason. Yes, it can look a bit silly in the Funtastic consoles when you can see it through the translucent lids, but all in all it’s a nice looking thing.

On the other hand, the Expansion Pack doesn't physically exist. So...

Advantage: Expansion Pak. I mean, one physically exists, while the other doesn’t. This one was no contest.

Presentation

The Expansion Pack for Switch has a decent presentation, but it’s got one major problem: A lack of uniformity. The app itself for the Nintendo 64 games matches the existing NES and SNES apps, but the Sega Genesis one looks completely different. I know it’s Sega and all, but what the heck guys?

The inside of the apps themselves are rather nice though, with all the organization options of the previous apps, and in the case of Nintendo 64, brand new box art for Sin & Punishment, a game that was never released in the US. So that’s really cool.

But oh, then there’s this lovely box. 

That's a very nice looking package. It even matches regular Nintendo 64 game boxes in style and size. So if you wanted to line this thing up on your shelf, you absolutely could.

It was also later made available in a spiffy looking clamshell case. The packaging there was a bit on the overkill side, but there’s no arguing it was rather eye-catching in its day.

Advantage: Expansion Pak

With a classy and clean sense of style that not only matches all other Nintendo 64 packaging quite nicely, but also looks pretty great on its own in a box or a clamshell, the Expansion Pak is the clear winner.

Overall

It’s time to tally up those scores. And the final count is:

Expansion Pack: 1 vs Expansion Pak: 3

Sweeping three of our four categories comes the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak handily defeating Nintendo’s new somewhat insane Online addition.

In the end, it looks like the new Expansion Pack may be a bit of a dud for Nintendo. Time will tell just how many people actually subscribe to the service, but without offering some major improvements to the existing service (particularly in the realm of online play) and a whole lot more content than a handful of Nintendo 64 and Genesis games, $50 a year is probably going to continue to be too steep of an ask for your average Switch owner.

What do you think? Will you be purchasing the Expansion Pack? Do you love your Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak?