N64 on Switch: read the tea leaves on future gaming prospects

Enlarge / Get N (S) or exit.

Nintendo Direct’s latest presentation on Thursday confirmed something most Nintendo fans had suspected, hoped for, or predicted (based on recent FCC “controller” advice): The N64 is finally back. Instead of a miniaturized N64, however, the company’s first dedicated 3D rendering console is returning as a software suite on Nintendo Switch.

And in classic Nintendo fashion, Thursday’s announcement only told part of the story.

So far we know that the initial selection of the Nintendo Switch Online “Expansion Pack” will include nine N64 games, ranging from classics like Super Mario 64 and Mario kart 64 niche surprises like Reconquest: covert operations. These games will require additional fees over NSO’s standard $ 20 / year price tag, although Nintendo has yet to announce a price for this tier. The company has also confirmed plans to roll out seven more N64 games at any given time, especially Rare. Banjo-Kazooie, which has not been seen on a Nintendo console since Microsoft bought the developer in 2002.

What we don’t know, and what I’d like to estimate, ahead of the N64 tier rollout in October, is how many or how often new N64 games might be added to the NSO service in the coming months. I’d also like to know what third-party hits can join their current list of proprietary titles. Without another word from the big N itself, we can look at the company’s track record so far.

Crunch the numbers

Exploring Nintendo’s track record of current NSO games for NES and SNES, as well as N64-specific offerings from Wii and Wii U virtual console stores, yields interesting results. To date, NSO’s standard service level gives Switch owners access to 58 NES and 49 SNES titles, dating from 2018 and 2019 respectively. (Note: These numbers do not include the ‘SP’ versions of some games that Nintendo has added periodically.These are special editions of “cheat codes” of titles like Zelda Where Metroid that start players with all unlocked gear, maximum rupees, and other perks.)

Nintendo opened quite strong with its NES support on NSO in September 2018, dropping 31 games in NSO’s first six months. From there, the output of each 4-6 month calendar window decreases.

  • Feb-July 2019: 15 additional NES games
  • Aug-Dec 2019: 4
  • Feb-July 2020: 4
  • Sept 2020-July 2021: 4

Of the 673 games released during the life of the NES in North America, this brings the total available through NSO to 8.6%.

A year after NSO launched on NES, Nintendo added Super Nintendo games without increasing service costs. The company launched its SNES support with 20 games in September 2019. Its update rate from there is more erratic than with NES, but overall the numbers are still relatively low.

  • Sept 2019-Feb 2020: 6 additional SNES games
  • May-Sep 2020: 9
  • Dec 2020-May 2021: 11
  • July 2021: 3

All told, that puts the number of SNES games on NSO at around seven percent of the 717 North American console titles released.

And the virtual console?

As for Nintendo’s record of N64 Released on the old Wii U and Wii Virtual Console showcases, the numbers are paltry: only 21 games have been made available for each. Of these, the lineup is almost exactly the same, mostly taken from Nintendo’s catalog of first-party hits like Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Mario Kart 64, Kirby 64, Star Fox 64, and other classics expected.

The small amount of N64 retail releases in North America in total – just 296 games – may be partly to blame for the lower number here. This still only places Nintendo’s VC offerings at 7% of the full lineup in the US, which is lower than the NES and SNES choices that Switch owners can currently access through NSO.

Judging by Nintendo’s already confirmed titles, there isn’t much commitment (yet) to offering much more for N64 than the company has done in the past, at least not publicly. Of the 16 North American titles announced during yesterday’s airing, only three have not seen a post-N64 digital release in the United States: Dr Mario 64, reconquest, and Banjo-Kazooie. The latter is arguably the biggest surprise with the biggest implications, given Microsoft’s ownership of Rare. This means that MS owns one of Rare’s N64 games that doesn’t feature licensed characters like Donkey Kong or Mickey Mouse, which is why many of Rare’s N64 games have appeared on Microsoft’s 2015 anthology. Rare Replay.

If Nintendo plans to release a similar number of N64 games for the service over the next two to three years, Switch owners could consider getting a further boost of four to six new additions every five to six months. On the flip side, if Nintendo decides to dig deeper into the console’s back catalog, there’s no way of knowing what might be pulled. With a general pattern of reducing gaming drops on NES, SNES, and N64, however, it’s a little less likely that the company intends to pull back many of N64’s deeper cuts.

Third party assistance

This brings us to third parties. Unlike NES and SNES, classic third-party games on N64 are significantly fewer. With Banjo-Kazooie reverting to a Nintendo console, NSO could possibly see other rare entries added from Xbox Rare proofreading collection, with Jet Force Gemini, Blast Corps, Banjo-Tooie and potentially even the original uncensored version of Conker’s Bad Fur Day (during the twist-and-beep Conker: live and reloaded for the original Xbox) all seemingly potential candidates. And if the stars align, we may see the return of a certain FPS featuring a secret agent.

NSO’s list of third-party studios on NES and SNES also highlights some historical models, namely the inclusion of Japanese developers with a reputation for power in the 8 and 16-bit eras. Konami, Capcom, Koei Tecmo, Natsume, and Arc System Works appear a lot in NSO’s NES and SNES libraries, alongside developers who no longer exist or have been absorbed by parent entities. But removing more than a few N64 entries in known quantity is not that easy.

But as you may remember, Nintendo’s rock-solid support from Japanese studios has waned in the face of fierce competition from PlayStation, leaving fewer contenders to choose from across the board. To win backThe inclusion of, while welcome, comes from Koei Tecmo, so it doesn’t add a new third party to Nintendo’s NSO partner list. Potential Konami titles may include Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (probably the most likely choice compared to its very different vanilla version Castlevania 64) or, if someone wanted to get wacky, the Goemon games or a sports title specific to the year such as International Athletics 2000. Capcom has only released three games for the console: the ports of the PS1 Mega Man Legends and Resident Evil 2, as good as Magic Tetris Challenge (which featured cartoon characters from Disney, so that’s a long shot). Natsume only released one N64 game, Harvest Moon 64.

Besides, none of this says how Nintendo might handle future launches for the Japanese side of NSO. If we’re lucky, we might see the untranslated N64 weirdness coming in that region’s NSO package – and getting these games as region-free download, the same way western gamers can access the Famicom and Super Famicom libraries. on Switch via a Nintendo eShop trick. Shortly after the launch of NSO’s N64 service, its Japanese equivalent will get two games only in Japan in the Custom robot series, which will provide a good test case for possible regionless entertainment from the 64-bit generation.

Ultimately, with fewer N64 games to choose from in all regions, especially compared to the PS1 explosion around the same time, our expectations are slim. And Nintendo’s reluctance to launch some N64 exclusives on older Virtual Console platforms, including Pilot wings 64 and Malice makers, doesn’t give confidence that the company has gone deeper into licensing deals this time around, especially since the N64 exclusives don’t come packaged in an attractive, miniaturized set-top box. It’s probably best to prepare for a glaring lack of tipping the boat here beyond what has been made available on Virtual Console and the total number of games, owner or otherwise, that the company might consider worthy enough. to be reissued.

At least Nintendo is on the right track with this authentic controller – and we’ll come back in a future follow-up to report on how well this controller is built and how well it works with the upcoming NSO pack of N64 games.

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