Hands-on: Nintendo Switch Online Expansion (Nintendo 64/SEGA Genesis)

Let’s be honest, Nintendo’s price-reveal for the Expansion Pack for their Switch Online service wasn’t exactly met with universal praise. I’ll be the first to admit that jumping from R262 to R629 (for an individual membership) just seemed like too much, particularly if you were not interested in the included AC:NH Happy Home Paradise. The fact that Nintendo’s online services had been a bit iffy (especially locally) only made the prospect of paying so much more even less attractive. That being said, I’m a huge fan of Nintendo’s classic titles. And, probably like many other South Africans, I missed out on several games (and even a whole console generation or two) because, growing up, they were so hard to come by. The N64 library is definitely one of my blind spots. The SEGA Genesis (or Mega Drive as I remember it) on the other hand, was a big part of my childhood. My strongest memory is how Ecco the Dolphin introduced my younger cousin to video games and how obsessed she became with the game. It was fantastic. I also spent way too many hours playing Lion King and Aladdin on that console (for the former mostly just the Wildebeest stampede level over and over again). So, anyway, when we were offered the opportunity to try out the Expansion Pass, I was more than willing to give it a go. And, while not much has changed my opinion regarding the price or the online functionality – much like the early NES/SNES games available on the Switch Online service it was definitely fun playing these nostalgic titles on my Switch.

Not much has changed my opinion regarding the price or the online functionality… However, it was definitely fun playing these nostalgic titles on my Switch.

Nintendo 64

If you’re a fan of Nintendo’s flagship titles, the good news on the included game front is: pretty much all the big hitters (particularly if you’re a Mario fan) are included in the opening selection of games. Considered by some to be one of the greatest (or at least most important) games of all time, the 1996 N64 launch game Super Mario 64 is likely the headliner. Of course, the fact that I had relatively recently played this game in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection did make this one feel a little odd, especially considering the backlash over its ‘limited-time-on-sale’ decision. However, the inclusion of the hugely popular The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as well as Star Fox 64, Mario Kart 64, Dr. Mario 64, and Yoshi’s Story means there’s something to tick all the big franchise and genre boxes. Of course, if you’re a more ‘discerning connoisseur’ and prefer to dabble in less popular titles, the inclusion of Win Back and 2007’s (!) Sin & Punishment not only tells you something about the lifespan of the N64, but also hints that Nintendo will be continuing to add lesser-known titles to the library (as they have been doing for NES/SNES).

I loved hearing Mario call out the score in Mario Tennis and it was pretty incredible to try to comprehend how groundbreaking something like Starfox 64 must’ve felt back in the late nineties

In terms of how the games feel – I can’t really compare them to the original because unfortunately, I never really played them. However, I did really enjoy trying some of these games for the first time. I’ve heard that some people have been really unhappy with the emulation, button layouts and I have even seen some videos showing what seems to be some pretty terrible button delay. I’ve got to say that some of these complaints are probably more of an issue if you got used to using the N64 controller. However, because I never used that controller, button layouts and emulation in this edition weren’t something that particularly irked me. I’ll admit that Ocarina of Time felt unwieldy and Mario Tennis was a little slower than modern-day reaction times – but again, for the average player, I really don’t think this is noticeable. We are talking about games that are 20 or more years old. It is ridiculous that Nintendo doesn’t allow you to remap buttons more easily and I can see how it could be viewed as a ploy to try and force you to buy their new N64 Switch-compatible controller. However, that seems a little over the top to me and I’m hoping Nintendo will make this a little easier in a future update. As a newcomer, I loved hearing Mario call out the score in Mario Tennis and it was pretty incredible comprehending how groundbreaking something like Starfox 64 must’ve felt back in the late nineties. The only noticeable issue I ran into is that, for some reason, the volume (across the board) seemed a little low in handheld mode.

SEGA Genesis

There were rumours that including the SEGA Genesis games was part of the reason the Expansion’s price was a little higher than expected. And there is no doubt that if you’re a fan of the system, the fourteen Genesis games (including some pretty iconic titles like Sonic 2, Gunstar Heroes, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Street of Rage 2 and Ecco the Dolphin) is rather impressive. Plus, we know more titles will slowly be added and we can expect some oddballs in the future. However, there are already quite a variety of genres so there will probably be something for all tastes. This time around, I did have the muscle memory to compare – especially with the games I was more familiar with like Ristar, Sonic and Ecco. And once more, I think most players will be more than happy with the presentation and feel of the gameplay although, I could’ve used a bit more volume here as well.

I think most players will be more than happy with the presentation and feel of the gameplay.

Unfortunately, a little like my discomfort with playing Mario 64 in this package after the All-Stars collection, as I played these games I couldn’t help but think of the SEGA Mega Drive Classics collection already available on the Switch which I reviewed back in early 2019. I loved that collection. It was made with love and included something like 51 games. Sure, that collection didn’t include Ecco, but other than that, if you’re a big Mega Drive fan and have the Switch, you’ve already got said collection and I’m doubtful that the adorable yet plucky dolphin would be enough of a motivation to make this purchase.

Nonline Nemesis

As you can tell, I’m a little conflicted with this package. I do love having all Nintendo Classics (particularly those that I missed out on) in this format. Not only do I enjoy playing them as a big retro game fan, but the inclusion of even the basic save states and rewind feature makes these games so much more accessible to everyone. There is undeniable appeal in having several NES, SNES, N64 and SEGA games all on this great hybrid console. Unfortunately, there are also some big caveats. Online play is largely a disappointment. When we’re talking about actual online play within the paid-for online service – baring Super Mario Bros. 35 and Tetris 99, which worked surprisingly well – I am yet to find a game with non-friends. As an example, just yesterday, I created a lobby hoping to play some polygon-shaped Mario Tennis online. I chose that game in particular from the new Expansion Pack package assuming that as a game that begs to be played by two players it would be the most likely to work… and yet after waiting ages, I couldn’t find a single opponent – and I know that’s a largely an SA-centric issue (or at least much worse here) but that’s our reality.

Online play is largely a disappointment.

Plus, while in my opinion, a video game’s quality is not directly related to how much money you spend – the jump in price for the add-on is substantial – particularly for retro gaming fans like myself that likely already own most of the SEGA titles and arguably the most significant N64 game too. And so it’s a tough one to outright recommend based on these facts alone. That being said, I do think that if you are looking to purchase this using the family plan – and several members of those included in the plan will also be interested in the Animal Crossing expansion -then the economics do look rather less daunting. Sharing the costs and remembering that it covers a full 12 months of play, really seems like the way to do it. And I’m sure that there are people out there (like me to some degree) who don’t care too much about the online limitations and are simply keen to get access to these games. If that’s you, then the only other possible items that may change your mind are possible issues with a few technical aspects. Some have said, for example, that because of the way the games are presented (with static dotted grey patterns making up the empty spaces on the sides) there is a concern regarding display burn-in on the OLED screen in particular in those sections. However, having looked his up – apparently, the screen would need to be on for many, many days 24/7 for this to be a real worry. And while those more versed in the intricate details may be able to justifiably find issue with the quality of the emulation etc. I strongly suspect that for most of us those things will not be a big issue; they probably won’t even be noticed. So, ultimately if you’re in that camp, I suspect you’ll probably actually enjoy the experience overall.

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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