Last week, Nintendo launched its latest addition to its Nintendo Switch Online service. The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack brings some new goodies to those who choose to subscribe to it, but those things don’t come free. Individual Nintendo Switch Online subscribers are looking at moving from $19.99 per year to $49.99, while Family Plan subscribers will have to move from their $34.99 per year plan to a $79.99 per year one instead. That’s a substantial increase in price, and with no monthly plans on offer for the Expansion Pack you have to make a serious upfront commitment. So hey, why not take a detailed look at what it has to offer and give you my opinion on it all?
We’re going to take this piece by piece, as each of the three components of the Switch Online Expansion Pack have their own pluses and minuses, and will probably mean different things to different people. Let’s start with the most controversial part.
Nintendo 64 – Nintendo Switch Online
Following in the line of Nintendo’s Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System apps, Nintendo 64 – Nintendo Switch Online gives you access to a selection of games from Nintendo’s third home console. Its library wasn’t as big or robust as its predecessors, but the system certainly holds a special place in the memories of many. Its best games are often considered some of the finest in gaming history, so the inherent value in such an app should be obvious.
The initial line-up isn’t very big, but it’s certainly strong. You get nine titles, among them some of the system’s biggest hits like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Only one true third-party title is available at launch, Koei Tecmo’s cult classic Win Back: Covert Operations, but it is a title heretofore unseen on Nintendo’s Virtual Console efforts on other platforms. With some big games already promised in future updates, I certainly can’t complain about the initial selection.
Unfortunately, this is where my unreserved praise comes to an end. Let’s move on to the mixed aspects. The games have had their resolution increased, and that’s a good thing. You can use save states, and that is also a useful feature. There is proper support for Rumble in games that featured it back in the day. You can even choose to play the European PAL versions of select games in case you want to explore more languages and see how our friends overseas viewed these games. Well, that’s alright.
Oh, and you can play online all the way up to four players in addition to the local multiplayer mode. You can even play single-player games online, with others serving as viewers who can point things out or just enjoy the show. All of that would be fantastic, but unlike Nintendo’s other Switch retro efforts, the Nintendo 64 app doesn’t use rollback net code. Your mileage is going to vary severely with this aspect, with some games rather smooth and others a stuttering mess. Sadly, the only way to know how your connection will fare is by picking up that one-year subscription. Not optimal.
While I am on about features, I should mention that the rewind and scanline features available in Nintendo’s other retro apps are not available here. The former likely due to technical reasons, the latter presumably because it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for games that have already gone through a resolution increase. Not a huge deal, honestly. I’m less thrilled about the lack of button remapping options. The Nintendo 64 had a rather unique controller, and while you can buy the appropriate replica from Nintendo, those playing with standard controllers will be stuck with Nintendo’s mapping.
The C-buttons are mapped to the right stick, with a couple of them placed on the X and Y buttons. B and A are mapped to B and A, which doesn’t line up with their positions on the Nintendo 64 controller. The shoulder buttons are mapped as you would expect, but the Z-button is on ZL with no option to move it to ZR. This layout works better for some games than others, but having situations like an item slot in Zelda only accessible by flicking the right stick can be annoying. And obviously if you have muscle memory on the B/A layout, you’re going to struggle for a bit. There’s no optimal way to deal with this but it would be nice if Nintendo allowed us to pick our poison. Even the system-level remapping feature can’t help with the C-buttons.
Then there’s the quality of the emulation itself. I want to stress that I don’t think the games are unplayable by any means. I’ve been enjoying them well enough. But there are some clear and obvious flaws here that I hope Nintendo will fix. These range from tough nuts (varying degrees of input lag) to things I’m surprised are in a public release (weird emulation glitches in games like Yoshi’s Story and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). There appear to be framerate issues in some games, but that isn’t my wheelhouse so I won’t comment too much on it. I will say that the level of quality we saw in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars version of Super Mario 64 is absent here, and that isn’t the outcome I was hoping for.
The bottom line is that Nintendo 64 – Nintendo Switch Online is a disappointment. It’s passable enough, but if you are even a little picky about emulation quality and features, you’re likely going to be at least a little dissatisfied. Again, it’s going to be playable enough for most people, and you may feel that it works as part of the overall package, but I think Nintendo could and should do better with this app.
SEGA Genesis – Nintendo Switch Online
At first blush, it might seem funny that the SEGA Genesis app is so much better than the one offered up for one of Nintendo’s own consoles. But emulating the Genesis is generally an easier matter than emulating the Nintendo 64, and it appears that the top folks at M2 were put on the job. That said, this isn’t your only option for playing SEGA Genesis games on the Switch. SEGA has its own value-priced collection of Genesis games with around fifty games on offer, plus a few enhanced versions in the SEGA AGES line. Some third parties have also released some of their Genesis games via other collections. The casual player might not see why we need another way to play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Ristar.
One of the selling points here is that this app will include both SEGA’s first-party games and a selection of third-party titles. We’ve seen most of SEGA’s games often enough that there isn’t much novelty in them anymore, but third-party Genesis games don’t pop up nearly as frequently. The initial line-up includes fourteen games, eleven of which are first-party SEGA titles and three of which come from third-party publishers. Of those eleven first-party games, two are arriving on the Switch for the first time: the ultra-rare M.U.S.H.A. and the hit adventure Ecco the Dolphin.
Two of the third-party games come from Konami, who have contributed Castlevania Bloodlines and Contra Hard Corps, previously seen on their respective Anniversary Collections on Switch. The last is Capcom’s Strider, which is coming to Switch in its Genesis form for the first time. Even the repeating first-party titles include such games as Streets of Rage 2, Phantasy Star IV, and Gunstar Heroes. It’s an excellent starting line-up with plenty of room to grow and fill out gaps in SEGA’s own collection.
Even where the titles overlap with that collection, the SEGA Genesis app has some clear advantages. The emulation quality is top-tier here, particularly with regards to sound emulation and input lag. I didn’t hate the SEGA Genesis Classics Collection, and I feel it offers a solid bang for the buck if you aren’t too picky about emulation quality, but playing games there and here is like night and day. After diving into Streets of Rage 2 and Gunstar Heroes here, I simply cannot go back to the Genesis Classics versions of the games. Similar extra features are on offer here as the previous Nintendo retro apps. You can make save states, use the rewind feature, and pick a display mode. Multiplayer is supported both online and offline, with online making use of rollback net code for the smoothest possible experience.
One criticism I have here is one that is common across all of these apps. You can’t remap your buttons except by doing it via the Switch’s system level option. While relatively few Genesis games used the six-button controller introduced late in the system’s life, its layout doesn’t make for a natural mapping to modern controllers. Nintendo has used the usual mapping that most Genesis collections offer, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to let people assign them as they see fit. Apart from that, however, I really can’t find much fault with SEGA Genesis – Nintendo Switch Online. Its initial line-up already shows that we aren’t going to see just the same bunch of games we usually do, and the emulation is excellent. Perhaps the difference isn’t big enough for the layperson to care about, but at the very least I can’t see anyone being less happy with this way to play Genesis games on Switch.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise DLC
While this isn’t available yet, I think we can already speak to its relative value as part of this package. Happy Home Paradise basically adds an entire Happy Home Designer-style extra game on to New Horizons. You’ll travel to a new location where animals will make certain requests for a house. You’ll then have to design it in the way you think will best fit their requests. It’s largely self-contained, but some of the features you use in this DLC can be brought back to the main game. If you enjoy the decoration aspects of Animal Crossing, you’ll probably get into this.
There are two ways to get access to this DLC. You can buy it like you would any other expansion content, in this case for $24.99. It will be added to your game, and you will presumably own for as long as any of us own any digital purchase. The other method is through subscribing to the Switch Online Expansion Pack. By this means, you will only have access to the DLC for as long as you are subscribed, but certain unlocked features in the main game will remain unlocked for you even if you unsubscribe at some point. As already mentioned, the Nintendo Switch Expansion Pack costs $49.99 per year for individual accounts, and $79.99 per year for family plans. That means $30.00 extra on top of the standard yearly Switch Online subscription for individuals, and $45.00 more for the standard yearly family plan.
Obviously, if you are an individual who is only interested in the Animal Crossing DLC and nothing else from the Expansion Pack, it doesn’t make sense to do anything other than buy it outright. It’s $24.99 to own it, or $30.00 to rent it. But if you don’t fit those conditions, things get more difficult. Perhaps the retro game apps have additional value to you, and you only anticipate playing the DLC for whatever period you choose to subscribe for. Perhaps, like me, you have multiple family members who want the DLC. While $45.00 is not a small amount of money, it’s a lot cheaper than paying $24.99 each for four people. You’ll have to do the math for your personal situation, but I don’t think it would be odd to find playing this DLC via the Expansion Pack more economical than the alternative.
Naturally, not everyone has Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Statistically speaking, a lot of Switch owners do. Almost half. But that means more than half do not, and if you don’t own the base game then this will have little value to you. Will Nintendo add more expansions and DLC to the Expansion Pack? Maybe, but never subscribe on a “maybe”. Still, for many Switch owners the ability to get access to a brand-new, somewhat pricy piece of DLC for a major game is a nice value add.
At least in its launch form, the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack‘s contents are straightforward and condensed enough that the value it offers each person should be relatively clear. As far as the SEGA Genesis app and Animal Crossing DLC goes, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Though do keep in mind that you won’t get to keep that DLC if you unsubscribe. The Nintendo 64 app, on the other hand, has some flaws that you should be aware of if it is a point of interest for you.
For me, my general love of retro gaming and the fact that multiple members of my family want the Animal Crossing DLC made this an easy decision. I realize that will not be the case for others. The value is heavily contingent on the Animal Crossing DLC, especially with the Nintendo 64 app dropping the ball in a few ways. It would have been nice if Nintendo had been able to bring this in at a more competitive price or with more features. In the end, what Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack offers is likely only worthwhile for a certain subsection of Nintendo Switch owners.