Nintendo fans have been waiting for Nintendo 64 games to hit the Switch ever since the console-handheld hybrid came out, and they’ve finally gotten their wish—only in that monkey’s paw kind of way.
Nine Nintendo 64 games and 14 Sega Genesis games are now available on the Switch as part of the absurdly named Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership. This is a beefed-up version of the Switch’s online subscription plan, which not only lets people play against each other online, but also grants access to dozens of classic NES and SNES games, as well as new competitive games like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99. Since it launched Nintendo Switch Online has cost $4 a month or $20 for a year, which is significantly cheaper than online subscriptions for other consoles, and not a bad deal for a growing library of old games that were being sold by Nintendo for $5 a piece through the Virtual Console as recently as a few years ago.
The new Expansion Pack add-on more than doubles that price—and it’s the only way to get those Nintendo 64 and Genesis games. The new plan is $50 a year, and doesn’t have a monthly option. That’s still cheaper than what Xbox and PlayStation players pay annually for online gaming, although the Switch’s online infrastructure isn’t nearly as feature-rich or efficient as those services. Still, it gets you instant access to some of the greatest games of the ‘90s, including Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Streets of Rage 2, Gunstar Heroes, and more. Many of the Genesis games were already available on the Switch through the Sega Genesis Classics collection, but this is the first time Nintendo’s late ‘90s library has made it onto the Switch.
There’s a catch, though. The emulation of some of those Nintendo 64 games is pretty rough. Also, the Nintendo 64’s unique controller layout is hard to replicate on a traditional controller, making some of these games very awkward to play. The controller issues can be addressed by buying a special Nintendo 64 controller made for the Switch, but that’s a limited edition release that’s sold out everywhere and selling on secondary markets for far more than its recommended price of $50—making it really impractical to buy the thing. And the emulation issues can’t be fixed unless Nintendo itself issues a patch; given these games are over 20 years old, and mostly made by Nintendo itself, it’s just weird that they were released with these problems to begin with.
Two of the biggest games in the entire package are the most impacted by these emulation issues. Ocarina of Time, a perennial short-list contender for the title of “greatest game of all time” since it was first released in 1998, suffers from input lag that makes it frustrating to play and graphical downgrades that undermine the original game’s atmosphere. Mario Kart 64, meanwhile, simply won’t let you save ghost data, which lets you race against your previous runs; this same issue popped up with Mario Kart 64 when it was released for the Virtual Console on both the Wii and Wii U, so we’ve now seen over a decade of Nintendo failing to address this problem. And the heavily hyped ability to play all of these old games online for the first time (officially, at least) suffers from the same connection issues that regularly dog the Switch, which has the least reliable online service of the major consoles.
Some of the common complaints people have had about the Expansion Pack upgrade aren’t especially reasonable. There’s a mentality that because these games can be emulated freely (and illegally) on computers, Nintendo shouldn’t expect people to pay for them today—ignoring that many (perhaps even most) people who’d love to play these games on a Switch don’t have the interest or ability to figure out how to emulate them on a computer. Given that Nintendo 64 games cost at least $10 on the Wii U’s Virtual Console (they were $15 on the Wii), an Expansion Pack membership counts as a big price drop from Nintendo—and that’s before you consider how a subscription lets you play online and also comes with hundreds of other games from the NES and SNES. On paper, $50 a year for online play and classic NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, and Genesis games is entirely reasonable.
That doesn’t factor in the lackluster quality of the Nintendo 64 emulation, though, or the issues with the controller. It also doesn’t take into consideration that $50 is more than double what the basic plan has cost since it was first introduced. Switch owners are looking at a $30 increase—250% more than it has cost them—with these Nintendo 64 games as the primary draw, and as such those games should probably work the way people expect them to. The NES, SNES, and Genesis emulation is pretty smooth and issue-free, for the most part, but 14 Genesis games that many retro-minded players will already own on the Switch and nine imperfectly emulated Nintendo 64 games can’t really justify the huge price increase that the Expansion Pack brings to Nintendo Switch Online.
If you play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and want access to these older games, the Expansion Pack is worth it. That subscription also gets you access to the Happy Home Paradise DLC for New Horizons when it comes out on Nov. 5, which costs $24.99 on its own. So if you already subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online at $20 a year, and plan on buying that Animal Crossing DLC for $25, you’re effectively paying $5 for a year’s access to 25 games from the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis—the latter of which don’t seem to have any major emulation issues. I don’t know your money situation or what you have budgeted for games, but if you did plan on getting that DLC, it makes this whole deal seem more like a bargain.
Still, that doesn’t address the flaws with the package’s Nintendo 64 games. Nintendo’s third generation console has always been weirdly tricky to emulate, and its (frankly, poorly considered) controller has also presented problems with keeping these games alive on subsequent systems. It’s well past time for Nintendo to get serious about resolving these issues, and disappointing to see that they didn’t before releasing the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.