The Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is now available, bringing support for a handful of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games to the Nintendo Switch, alongside some big Animal Crossing: New Horizons DLC called Happy Homes Paradise next week. A lot of these games are some of the most iconic titles to grace those consoles, meaning that on paper, this is a huge step up for Nintendo Switch users that grants an instant library of older games for a slightly higher price.
Unfortunately, a variety of strange choices and shortcomings in the implementation leave this feeling like an overly expensive afterthought instead of a proper expansion to Nintendo Switch Online. Instead of expanding the list of the best Nintendo Switch games available with a retro catalog, Nintendo is asking a lot while giving less than the bare minimum.
Is there a good variety of games?
One of the best things about the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is the number of games available. While far from comprehensive, there are several key games available at launch, including The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Castlevania: Bloodlines. More games are also coming in the future, with The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask and even the Microsoft-owned Banjo-Kazooie among the upcoming titles.
The pack also grants access to the $25 Happy Homes Paradise DLC for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This DLC brings a whole new style of play to Animal Crossing: New Horizons and given the pricetag, it definitely makes this service a more tempting offer for anyone that already intends to play the new DLC.
While Nintendo hasn't made any hard promises, the potential for even more games and even DLC to be added in the months or years ahead is certainly tantalizing.
How do the games play?
Unfortunately, Nintendo has made it difficult to even play these games. First off, it has chosen to remap the controls from the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis in a questionable fashion. If you manage to grab a dedicated Nintendo 64 controller or Sega Genesis controller then you'll have a better experience, but for most users, it's an awkward setup at absolute best.
The problem stems from the N64 controller itself, which features buttons that aren't present on the Switch's Joy-Cons. If you're playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, for example, you can only map two of three quick-use items without holding down ZR or using the right stick. Holding down ZR on the N64 controller to bring up the three quick-use items means that in a frenetic fight, it's hard to use your sword and quick swap to an item. I found myself wasting many a stick before getting used to this control scheme.
Mario Kart 64 is another example. It won't let players save ghost data, which equires an N64 Controller Pak that isn't being emulated and isn't present on the N64 controller, assuming players are able to pick one up. Sin and Punishment might be the worst-faring of the games since it's now impossible to move right and shoot at the same time.
This entire problem would be a minor annoyance if players could simply remap the controls as they see fit but they can't. There's no way to remap anything on the Joy-Cons or Nintendo Switch Pro controller. If you want a half-decent experience, you'll need to pick up one of the official licensed controllers, but even that isn't going to solve every problem here since they're tough to find and expensive.
Diving into the games on an individual level, it's clear there are even more issues as some of the games seem to suffer from heavy input lag. While some games like Starfox 64 are mostly fine, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has practically a full half-second of extra lag, making it jarring to watch Link continue moving after your thumb leaves the thumbstick or jump well after your thumb leaves the button.
I spent several hours with different games, Ocarina of Time in particular, but my enjoyment at revisiting such an influential game was constantly undercut by how difficult it felt to control. Setting out on Link's iconic adventure doesn't feel as good when you're falling off a bridge for the third time because of input lag.
While far from the biggest grievance present, players should also know there's no real visual enhancements or frame rate increases with any of these games. A handful of games in the emulator appear to look even worse than past versions, though how exactly this was accomplished isn't clear. The audio mix hasn't been cleaned up either, so even if you're using a great soundbar on your TV or a quality wired headset, the audio quality will range from mediocre to awful, depending on the game.
Bottom line: Is it worth the price?
Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is $50 if you're a lone person signing up for a year, or $80 for a year-long family pack that can be split between several people. Given all the aforementioned issues, unless you're truly desperate to play the games on this service and want to save money not buying the Happy Homes DLC, this version of the subscription simply isn't worth buying. Obviously, it's a little different if you have six or seven other people to split a family membership with, meaning you're just paying around $10 a year for Nintendo Switch Online and access to all these games.
I previously wrote about how the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack didn't seem like it was worth the price, and several hours with these games only reinforces that initial impression. Having more games to play with the extensive back catalogs of Nintendo and Sega is certainly nice but the haphazard method by which these games were put on the service doesn't just question Nintendo's committment to its history but denies it entirely.
Being able to play these older games should be exciting, not exhausting. I hope that in the future Nintendo takes feedback, introduces controller remapping on a game or system level, and makes an effort to improve its Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games library. For the time being, it's not worth the price for most players.
With a Nintendo Switch eShop gift card, you can stay ready for anything you want to buy, be it a new game, some DLC or a subscription to the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.
Stick with this subscription
Basic Nintendo Switch Online doesn't have a lot of features but it also doesn't cost much. Most players will be better off paying $20 for a year to access multiplayer features on Nintendo Switch.
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Samuel Tolbert is a freelance gaming writer who started working for iMore and its sister sites Windows Central and Android Central in July 2019. He handles news, previews, reviews, and exclusive original reporting, and has also been featured on TechRadar.
With a background studying engineering before he shifted his focus to gaming journalism, he's skilled at identifying technical advantages and disadvantages provided by different hardware. If he’s not writing something, he’s off playing video games, spending time with his pets, exercising, or reading. He's also fond of trying to draw things with his iPad.