Nintendo is finally getting with the times. Sort of. On September 18, they threw open the gates to the Nintendo Switch Online service, ushering gamers in to many of the modern conveniences we’ve come to expect on video game platforms. This includes cloud saves (at least for some games) and online play (which was previously available for free before the launch of the service). Beyond that, the most exciting aspect for long-time Nintendo fans is the launch of NES classics for the Switch. These games have been updated with online play, and Nintendo is also releasing a package of stylish NES wireless controllers so you can play just like you used to — hand cramps and all. And best of all, these games are included with your membership, which at just $20 a year is significantly cheaper than competitors’ programs.
To celebrate the launch, let’s take a look at the five(-ish) best games in the Switch’s NES catalog launch lineup.
Super Mario Bros./Super Mario Bros. 3
Right off the bat, let’s cheat a little and group these two together. Super Mario Bros. perfected the 2D platformer genre with its tight controls, catchy music, and reasonably tough challenge. Every platformer that came after was better for the original Super Mario Bros. having existed. Super Mario Bros. 3, then, had a lot to live up to; and it not only did so, but it elevated our standards for 2D platforming to new heights. The same tight controls and creative level designs were present, but even more so, with the exciting addition of tons of new powerups for Mario beyond the mushroom, fire flower, and star of the original. Now Mario could transform into a raccoon (who could fly, for some reason), a frog, and more. With a range of visually distinct worlds filled with challenging levels, and boss battles against the devious Koopa Kids, there was always something new to look forward to right up until the very end. Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered one of Nintendo’s biggest early success stories for a reason.
The Legend of Zelda
Just like they did with the 2D platformer, Nintendo revolutionized the adventure genre on their first major attempt. Link’s quest to save the princess Zelda and reunite the pieces of the Triforce wasn’t the first top-down adventure game — games like Hydlide technically beat it to market — but it was the first to get it right. Stabbing your sword felt great, there were a wealth of secondary weapons to choose from, and the sense of wonder in exploring its giant, open world was palpable. It might seem a bit opaque by today’s standards, but in many ways, the latest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, was looking back to the original Zelda at the way it presented its world to the player. It seems to say, “Here’s a mysterious new land. Go and discover something cool.” Even if The Legend of Zelda doesn’t tickle your nostalgia bone, it’s worth checking out for the contributions it’s made to game design in the years since.
They’ve fallen a bit out of favor in recent years, but there was a time when horizontal space shooters were everybody’s favorite arcade pastime. For home console gamers in the early days of the NES, we were limited in our options when it came to spaceship shoot-em-ups. Fortunately, one of our options was Gradius. Most shooters to this point had done much of the same stuff — shoot bad guys, collect icons to change your weapon, shoot more bad guys. Gradius changed things up with its innovative upgrade system. In Gradius, enemies drop generic powerup modules, which cause your upgrade meter to increase. At any point along the way, you can activate a powerup that is most pertinent to you. For example, your ship starts out moving at a crawl, making it difficult to dodge enemy fire. Simply grab an powerup module, and you’ll see SPEED UP is highlighted on your upgrade meter. Hit a button, and voila! You’re a veritable bullet train. Its fast-paced action and catchy tunes will keep you entertained through the relatively short campaign. But with Gradius, it’s quality, not quantity, and this game has quality in spades.
This might be a bit controversial, but I’m including Ghosts’n Goblins because it is the sort of old-school challenge that games intentionally (and rightly) steer clear of nowadays, and the sort that colored many people’s early experiences with the NES. This 2D action platformer sees you taking control of a knight named Arthur as you battle the hordes of hell to rescue the princess. While many NES games were difficult, Ghosts’n Goblins was punishingly so. Enemies move erratically, and Arthur’s move-set isn’t particularly suited to the task in front of him. I realize this description makes the game sound like a drag, but it’s really not. Completing Ghosts’n Goblins gives you the sort of street cred that few games can offer. Only the truly skilled and committed need apply, but for those who are up to it, playing Ghosts’n Goblins is a blast.
It’s not clear when Mario earned his M.D. — you’d think he’d be too busy fixing pipes and saving mushroom princesses — but regardless, he’s ready and willing to prescribe colorful pills to fix your ills. Dr. Mario is an incredibly addictive puzzle game that takes the general concept of falling blocks, as popularized by Tetris, and rethinks the whole game from the ground up. The arena is a vial filled with viruses. Dr. Mario stands just outside, hurling different-colored pills inside, and it’s your job to guide them so they connect with viruses of the same color. Line up three of the same color on a virus and it’s eliminated. The action gets frantic fast, and with two players it gets downright insane, as your successes cause additional pieces to drop on your opponent. It’s the ultimate in couch competition, and if you subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, it’s yours for no extra charge.
Of course, there are 14 other games to choose from in this initial launch, and Nintendo promises a handful more each month. Maybe your favorite in the lineup didn’t make my list (it was hard to choose — a strong argument could be made for many of these games’ inclusion in the top five, for sure). But either way, Switch owners have a lot of classic gaming to look forward to.
Switch – Nintendo Entertainment System launch titles
- Donkey Kong
- Mario Bros.
- Super Mario Bros.
- Balloon Fight
- Ice Climber
- Dr. Mario
- The Legend of Zelda
- Super Mario Bros. 3
- Double Dragon
- River City Ransom
- Ghosts’n Goblins
- Tecmo Bowl
- Pro Wrestling
- Ice Hockey