Nintendo's Netflix-like service for classic games is still far from perfect, but it's so inexpensive that you should get it anyway

NintendoIf Nintendo is the Disney of video games, then consider Super Mario to be Nintendo’s Mickey Mouse.
  • Nintendo has a Netflix-style subscription service for classic NES and Super NES games.
  • The service, named “Nintendo Switch Online,” costs $US20 per year.
  • Though Nintendo Switch Online is light on features, it’s worth the incredibly low cost of entry – and it just got a huge addition with a library of 20 Super Nintendo games.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Nintendo is the Disney of video games.

There are plenty of arguments for why this is the case, but the most obvious parallel is Nintendo’s vast library of classic games. Starting with the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the early ’80s and going all the way up to the Nintendo DS and Wii in the early 2000s, Nintendo has a wealth of classic games that people still want to play.

And, for years, people have clamored for a way to access that library. “Why not offer a Netflix-style subscription service?” they shouted, while throwing money in the general direction of Nintendo’s Kyoto, Japan headquarters.

In fall 2018, Nintendo finally offered just such a service … sort of.

Behold: Nintendo Switch Online!

Nintendo Switch OnlineNintendoThe menu screen for Nintendo Switch Online’s classic games list.

After nearly a year of using Nintendo’s Netflix-like subscription service, I’m left wanting more than what’s currently available. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad – you should still check it out anyway!

Allow me to explain.

1. The list of games has grown considerably since launch in September 2018.

NintendoUnbelievably, over 30 years after it was first released in 1985, ‘Super Mario Bros.’ is still shockingly fun to play.

There are somewhere in the realm of 700 NES games. Starting with just 20 in September 2018, the service was underwhelming to say the least.

That said, in the year since, Nintendo has added several games to the service every month at no additional charge. That initial list of 20 NES games has expanded to 46 already, and it just got a huge boost with the addition of Super Nintendo games – another 20 games – on September 5.

2. The addition of online functionality to games is extremely limited.


More than just putting classic games on the Switch, Nintendo Switch Online adds online multiplayer functionality. In two-player games, you can compete with a friend. In single-player games, you can switch off with a friend. In co-op games, you can play together with a friend.

The language I’m using there – “with a friend” – is crucial, as you’re only able to play with people you’ve previously added to your Nintendo Switch Friend List. There’s no way to find an online game of, say, “Super Mari Kart” with a stranger. You’re only able to play with people on your Friend List.

It’s something many Nintendo fans are used to dealing with. It’s also ridiculous in 2019 that the most iconic video game company in the world isn’t providing online matchmaking services – especially in the context of this being a paid online service.

3. There’s an awkward online sign-in requirement.

NintendoSorry Mario!

Part of the promise of Nintendo Switch Online’s classic games library is being able to take those games with you anywhere. “Super Mario World” on the subway! “River City Ransom” at Aunt Linda’s house!

But the Nintendo Switch requires an online “handshake” with Nintendo’s servers once every seven days to verify you’re still a paying subscriber. “These games can be played offline for up to 7 days as long as you have an active Nintendo Switch Online membership,” Nintendo says in an FAQ. If you’re going away for longer than one week with your Switch, and you don’t have access to WiFi, say goodbye to those gaming classics.

Admittedly, it’s not that big of a deal – but it’s an awkward requirement that reflects Nintendo’s insecurity about piracy.

4. The service otherwise operates almost exactly like Nintendo’s “Classic Edition” consoles do — for better and worse.


Each game in the Nintendo Switch Online classic games library has four “save state” slots. What that means in human speak is that you’re able to save at any spot in any of the games, with four different saves per game, and return to that same spot later on exactly as you left it.

Think of it as a way to save a paused game. It’s very useful!

Nintendo’s first use of the save state concept was in its miniaturized “Classic Edition” consoles, starting with NES Classic Edition. In fact, much of the Nintendo Switch Online classic gaming library operates exactly like the Classic Edition consoles do.

As you can see above, there are options to select different display resolutions for the games – since these games are from a time where TVs weren’t high-definition, ultra-wide affairs, it has a few different display options. It’s a nice inclusion alongside the save states.

What would be even nicer would be some nod to the “classic” nature of these games – original instruction manuals, access to their soundtracks, and original artwork to name a few things.

This is all the information you get:

Balloon Fight, Nintendo Switch Online

None of that stuff is required, but just imagine if Nintendo treated this service like an interactive museum for classic games!

6. Something especially cool: Nintendo is offering new versions of gaming classics on Nintendo Switch Online.


The original “Legend of Zelda” is a difficult game with little guidance. It’s been decades since it launched, and time has not been kind.

Nintendo clearly knows this, as the company released a far easier version of the game through the Nintendo Switch Online classic games section. It’s named, “The Legend of Zelda: Living the life of luxury!”

Why the silly name? Because it’s essentially the same game from the ’80s, but with a bunch of items given to you up front (which makes it far less difficult).

“You’ll start with a ton of rupees and items! You’ll begin with all equipment, including the White Sword, the Magical Shield, the Blue Ring, and even the Power Bracelet,” a description from Nintendo’s eShop said. For anyone not familiar, that means that the game’s main character, Link, will start the game with a load of in-game money (rupees) and powerful weapons. It’s kind of like playing the game with a cheat code that grants you a bunch of free stuff.

All that said, if you own a Switch, you obviously should pay for this service for one reason: It’s incredibly inexpensive.

NintendoDon’t believe their lies: ‘Mario Bros.’ hasn’t aged well.

At just $US20 for a full year, Nintendo Switch Online is a no-brainer. If it were just $US10 more, it would be a much harder sell.

But, at $US20 annually, and with a 7-day free trial, it’s hard to say no.

That’s less than $US0.50 per game, and that’s before Nintendo adds more games to the service. What about Game Boy games? Perhaps Nintendo 64? None of that has been announced thus far. Nintendo is certainly capable of releasing digital versions of those platforms – the company previously sold classic games à la carte through its “Virtual Console” service on several different Nintendo platforms. Whether or not it will is another question – it remains to be seen.

What about the other stuff you get with Nintendo Switch Online?


For $US20 per year, Nintendo Switch Online offers a few different things:

1. Online multiplayer access.

2. The NES and SNES classic games service.

3. The ability to upload game saves to Nintendo’s cloud.

4. A smartphone app for voice chat.

5. Access to “special offers” like the ability to buy these wireless NES gamepads.

If you’re big into playing “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” online, or are worried about losing save data if your Switch breaks, it’s worth it to pay for Nintendo Switch Online. That stuff works exactly as you’d expect.

But, realistically speaking, most people are going to pay for this to access the instant library of classic Nintendo games. And at this point, even if the classic gaming service is all you’re after, Nintendo’s service is worth absolutely worth the money.

Get a closer look at Nintendo Switch Online from Nintendo directly in this brief video:

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