It’s an interesting time to be a fan of NES games. The nostalgia train that’s been hovering around that particular generation is slowly starting to leave the station, hanging out in the 16, 32, and 64-bit arenas. The NES Classic Edition was a big win for Nintendo, but the SNES Classic Edition seems to have the longer legs. A general feeling going around the internets lately is that NES games just don’t hold up quite as well as generations beyond, and nowhere is that sentiment more apparent than in comment sections related to the Nintendo Switch NES Online stuff. Every month for the past year, Nintendo has been adding 2-3 games to their online service, and every month they got absolutely lambasted with people complaining that they don’t want NES games, asking where Super NES and Nintendo 64 games are, and complaining that the games Nintendo was adding to the service are worthless. But in reality, at least from my perspective, nothing could be further than the truth.
Nintendo seems to be creating the Netflix-style gaming service folks have been clamoring for for years now. Yeah, it’s taking longer to get its feet under it than many would have hoped, but the selection of NES games available on that app, which only costs a measly $20 a YEAR by the way, is really quite nice. Yes, there are games like Donkey Kong 3 and Kung Fu Heroes that don’t really provide much in the way of attention retention these days, but the approach to which games get put up on this service has been at the very least interesting, if not always 100% on point. There’s always a place for simple fun games that you don’t need to sink dozens of hours into to get enjoyment out of. Wrecking Crew, Excitebike, and Solomon’s Key are great ways to kill a couple of minutes, create a save state, and come back to the next time you have a few minutes. Multiplayer greats like Tecmo Bowl, Dr. Mario, Ice Hockey, Pro Wrestling, and Double Dragon II: The Revenge are still a blast to play locally, and the addition of online play makes for a great thing to do with your friends you don’t see much anymore. And as for the games that you can actually sink your teeth into, Ninja Gaiden, Kirby’s Adventure, Blaster Master, Kid Icarus, StarTropics, are all well worth the extremely low price of admission, and the handy rewind feature makes them much less frustrating. Ain’t technology grand?
Also, whenwas the last time you tried to actually sit down and beat Super Mario Bros. and its sequels? How about the original two Zelda games? Or Punch-Out!!? Metroid? They’re still really great games, albeit in the case of Metroid a little on the aged side, but they’re classics for a reason, and having a way to play them that doesn’t require blowing into your old cartridges and writing down unwieldy passwords has always pretty great (except on Wii U where NES games looked and played like utter garbage).
There’s also the weird stuff that’s been super hard to actually play for a long time. The Japanese version of the Switch app (which is completely and very easily accessible in the US) brings stuff like Joy Mech Fight and the Famicom Disk System versions of Zelda and Metroid to US gamers for the first time. Vice: Project Doom and City Connection are perpetually overlooked gems that while aren’t holy crap amazing tier releases, are still neat little games to dive into for a bit. And the NES’s library has barely had its surface scratched.
The argument here is that the NES library still has a ton of value. The NES Online app for Switch is probably the best way to play them on your HDTV right now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that there do exist some other great options, especially if original hardware is your jam. Flash carts like the EverDrive N8 are a fantastic way to get your NES games up and running without the hassle of switching 30 year old carts in and out of your system, and when it comes to these classics, as good as the NSOnline stuff is, there’s really nothing quite like playing the classics as they were meant to be played, warts and all.
But if you are more into playing games on your Switch, things could potentially start getting pretty interesting on the service. Now that they’ve added Super NES games, it’s possible that the addition of NES games could slow down considerably, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. They updated the NES app the same day the SNES one released, and they specifically made mention that they will keep adding NES games to the list, which is great because there are a TON of great games still missing from the service. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to take a look at some of the games still missing from the service that actually have a good chance of showing up. We already know licensed stuff like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or DuckTales is unlikely to surface because of the nature of licensed properties. So if you’re looking to play Sunsoft’s Batman or Konami’s Top Gun, an EverDrive is probably still your best bet. It’s also safe to assume that stuff already available on Switch via other means isn’t going to find its way to the service, so that means your Mega Mans, Castlevanias, SNK titles, and most sadly Contra (that online feature would have been GREAT with Contra) are likely a no go. So what does that leave? Quite a lot.
Today, let’s focus on the basics. These are the big names that people generally associate with the Nintendo Entertainment System that haven’t landed on the Switch in any form, meaning they’ve got a chance of showing up on the service. Here we go!
Tecmo has already provided some great support to the NES Online app in the form of Ninja Gaiden, Solomon’s Key, Mighty Bomb Jack, etc. They’re still sitting on a pretty big name though in the form of Rygar. Rygar stands as one of the earliest examples of how to properly port an arcade game to the NES by expanding on it in nearly every way. Rygar still looks great, sounds great, and while it’s extremely weird, still has a lot to offer.
2. Metal Gear and Snake’s Revenge
Konami has also put up some good stuff already, what with Gradius and its glorious silver label being on the service since day one and Twinbee gracing US audiences there for the first time. They recently put out some classic compilations, so that stuff isn’t likely to hit the service, and a lot of their best Ultra Games stuff (TMNT, Skate or Die, etc) was licensed. What does that leave? Metal Gear! These games may have been written off by Kojima for not really adhering to his original vision, but one of the few good points about Kojima and Konami splitting up is that there really isn’t anything stopping Konami from letting people play these games again. For many, these two are why Metal Gear is as loved as it is, and while they aren’t perfect, they’re still worth giving some time to.
3. Adventure Island I-III
Speaking of Konami, there’s a lot of great Hudson-Soft stuff for the NES just begging to be played by modern audiences, and at the top of that list is the original three Adventure Island titles for NES. There isn’t nearly enough chubby guys rolling around islands in grass skirts on skateboards these days. Adventure Island II and III are pretty pricey cartridges to find too, so getting them on Switch would provide an excellent opportunity for new players to experience something they’ve likely never seen before.
Yes, the Game Boy game is the real classic. And yes, Tetris 99 exists as part of the Nintendo Switch Online service. BUT, nostalgia is a heck of a thing, and there’s a lot of people out there who don’t want to play Tetris competitively. They want to sit with the version they grew up with and play it solo.
5. EarthBound Beginnings
Okay, this isn’t necessarily a big name that a lot of people played in their youth, but it IS a big name. When Nintendo finally brought EarthBound Beginnings to the US on the Wii U Virtual Console, it was a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, the EarthBound series has a very devoted fan base here in America, regardless of the fact that there had only been one official release Stateside, which was the sequel to this game. On the other hand, NES emulation on the Wii U was atrocious at best, and playing EarthBound Beginnings on that platform was just about the worst possible way to do it. NES games on Switch look and play amazingly, and EarthBound Beginnings should be able to be appreciated on that level by everyone.
Here in America, Spelunker is just another random old NES game that nobody’s played. In Japan though, Spelunker was pretty huge. So much so, in fact, that it’s managed to get a handful of sequels over the years, and it’s looked back on as an all-time classic. It’s a fun little game, and its omission from the service thus far is quite surprising, really.
7. Bionic Commando
Capcom has also given the NES Online app some great love with Ghosts n Goblins, and they still have a ton of great stuff to offer that isn’t called Mega Man. Take Bionic Commando, for example. Like Rygar, the NES port of this game is quite different from its arcade counterpart, and is widely well regarded by fans. Speaking of which…
Same thing here. Strider for NES is WAY different from Strider in arcades, and it’s a pretty darn cool action game. These are recognizable names that would be really great additions to the library.
9. Rad Racer
Rad Racer is one of those games that’s always there as part of the conversation when talking about NES classics. Everyone had or knew someone who had Rad Racer. It’s about as classic as 8-bit racing gets. But it’s never been re-released. Ever. And I have no idea why. It’s one of three silver label NES games (the other two being Metroid and Kid Icarus) and it’s owned by Square, who has a great relationship with Nintendo. With Nintendo pulling out long overlooked classics like Pro Wrestling and Ice Hockey, the chances of this game showing up are pretty good. At least, they should be.
10. Final Fantasy & Dragon Warrior
And while we’re speaking of Square-Enix, where the heck are Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior? Square has been all over re-releasing their old Final Fantasy catalog on Switch, but the earliest game they’ve hit up so far has been VII. The original NES version of the first Final Fantasy doesn’t hold up all that well, so putting it on this service where they aren’t trying to sell it for $5 would be a great fit. On the Dragon Warrior front, I was pretty sure this was going to be a no-go since they’re releasing that collection of Dragon Quest I-III, but those aren’t the original NES versions of those games, and the original flavors still have value (especially considering how ugly the new versions are). It’s possible they won’t show because Square would want to find a way to sell them separately, but I think it’s equally possible they could land in the service.
So that’s the essentials, but there’s a lot more where that came from. Come back next week when we’ll look at the remaining black box games missing from the service, as well as some arcade classics that would be right at home.