On Tuesday night, at roughly 11pm ET, Nintendo finally did it: it put a bunch of classic NES games on the Switch.
(No, the December 2017 launch of . doesn’t count, because that’s a Switch port of an arcade game. We win on a technicality.)
After signing up for the new paid Nintendo Switch Online service, we were able to load 20 first- and third-party NES games on a Switch, all via one 54MB app full of pre-loaded ROMs.
Only paying subscribers get access to this app, which makes this—a subscription-based classic-gaming service—as close as Nintendo has ever gotten to resembling Netflix. (NES-flix?)
Having played all of these games religiously, and having played emulated games on official Nintendo consoles before, we didn’t expect a ton in the way of surprises (though a wild Easter egg will surely emerge before long). As it turns out, Nintendo is being quite Nintendo-like by introducing a few quirks, which we document below—along with a peek at what exactly getting this NES app working looks like.
Once you become a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber (with a free seven-day trial on launch day, though this requires registering a credit card or PayPal account), you can access the NES app, and it works as expected. Pick a game, play a game, tap a “suspend” to return to the menu, and repeat.
20 NES games ship in the app at launch, and they all boot nearly instantaneously with painfully accurate emulation—right down to the artifacts that dot the left- and rightmost edges of NES games while they struggled to render sprites. Between gameplay sessions, you’ll land in the app’s crisp interface, whose giant, bold box art makes picking through classic games pretty easy. What’s more, you can freely move these boxes around—pack a row with up to 10 games or dedicate a single row to one super-sized game—and the game boxes will shrink or grow in handsome fashion. (I was tempted to give the whole-row honor, then opted instead to build a somewhat autobiographical shelf.)
As the gallery shows, however, Nintendo has made some weird choices with the app. Weirdest of all is the lack of button reassignments. Until Nintendo says otherwise, we’re stuck with the B and A button placements it has chosen, which are themselves pretty peculiar. Nintendo’s first Super Nintendo game, , introduced a twist to the “B and A” archetype of NES Mario games by shifting the “run” command to the new Y button, then moving jumps to the B button—so that a right-hand thumb can rest on both vital buttons simultaneously. That game added a new “spin jump” move to the A button and left X unassigned.
If your brain is tuned to —or, heck, , which is barely three years old and uses the same button spread—then you’ll hate how Switch’s NES app leaves Y unassigned. We can only hope this gets a patch, and soon.
That’s not the only thing we’d like to see patched, honestly. The “CRT filter” is as hard to look at in motion as it looks in the above screenshot gallery, while the “info” screens pale compared to our favorite instruction manuals of old. For more on the Switch’s new NES app, flip through the above gallery. It also includes a tease about how the app’s new online, two-player support works (though we couldn’t test it, owing to colleagues being asleep on the East Coast when this launched.)