Every time Nintendo posts a YouTube video about its NES games for Switch Online, it gets more thumbs down than thumbs up. Some Switch owners are clearly unhappy with how the paid online service is going so far, but they’re not all in agreement about what it is they’re complaining about. That’ll make it a difficult problem to solve.
It’s not that Nintendo’s fans are trolling every single one of its YouTube videos. Most of them get tens of thousands of upvotes and only a couple hundred downvotes. But the Switch Online videos, particularly the ones introducing the new NES games that will be added to the service’s all-you-can-play library, are racking up thousands more negative reactions than positive ones.
If you pay the $20 yearly fee to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, you get access to a library of NES games with added features like online play. The games are included in a single app that you download to your Switch, and it has to ping the online server at least once a week to verify that you are a member in good standing. The app launched in September with 20 games, and Nintendo has been adding three more every month since.
This month, Nintendo will add the fondly-remembered classics Blaster Master and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. It’ll also release the Japan-only fighting game Joy Mecha Fight, but that’ll only be available on the Japanese app. (That said, if you have a paid U.S. account, you can create a free Japanese account on your Switch, log in to the Japan eShop, download the Famicom app, and play Joy Mecha Fight, plus the Japanese versions of the other games, as much as you want.)
This service is what Nintendo is doing on Switch in lieu of the Virtual Console approach it took on previous platforms, in which games were released as separate downloads that cost $5 each. Which approach you like more appears to be a matter of taste. You might like “owning” the games outside of a subscription. I, who spent a thousand dollars on Virtual Console over the years, no longer feel like I need to “own” digital content that’s tied to a single platform that will go obsolete in five years. If I want to play Super Mario Bros., I don’t want to plug in my Wii U to do it even though I “own” it there. It’s odd to think about it now, but soon enough my Switch will go into a drawer with the Game Boy Micro and the Nintendo DSi, and I’ll want to play Super Mario Bros. on whatever Nintendo’s next machine is, instead.
All this is to say that, personally, I don’t feel so bad about renting NES games from Nintendo for $20 per year instead of paying $5 each. But others feel differently. The thing is, if you look at the comments on these YouTube videos, they all seem to be thumbs-downing them for different reasons. Here are the types of complaints that seem to pop up the most.
Many commenters seem to be disappointed with Switch Online in general, and are using this opportunity to sound off about problems that don’t have specific YouTube videos of their own. Commenters want Switch Online to be more of a fully-featured service up to the standards of 2019, with integrated voice chat, party chat, messaging, more dedicated servers, cloud saves for more games, etc. These people have a point, but it’s unlikely that anything Nintendo does with the NES game library will make them happy.
These commenters also have a point. Why do we have to wait and hope and pray for our favorite games to be released in this drip-feed fashion, again? It benefits Nintendo to have a few new games to release every month for another news hit that it can share on YouTube, but there’s no such tangible benefit to Switch owners.
To be fair, Nintendo is actually exceeding Virtual Console’s NES release pace. Five months into Virtual Console on Wii, there were 22 NES games on the service in the U.S. Five months into Switch Online’s lifecycle, it will have 31. There’s also a limit to the number of games Nintendo can feasibly release. Yes, there were over 1000 games released on the Famicom and NES, but today, only a portion of those aren’t tied up in licensing restrictions or other legal entanglements. And some of those might end up in standard collections, like the six games in the Mega Man collection on Switch or the nine NES games in the SNK 40th Anniversary collection, which I imagine are unlikely to come to Switch Online.
Check the replies on any of Nintendo’s posts about the NES library on Twitter, and it won’t be long until you see this meme:
Wii’s Virtual Console launched with games from NES, SNES, and N64, and many are wondering why the same isn’t true for Switch. Nintendo has said in no uncertain terms that we should expect exactly this from Switch Online in the future, but many are wondering why not now. I think that Nintendo may be overestimating Switch buyers’ desire for NES nostalgia.
Something I’ve noticed as a classic game collector is that NES game cartridge prices are starting to come down considerably, which is an indication that the market is moving past NES nostalgia in the same way that it moved past Atari a few years back. NES nostalgia is still strong, but it’s past its peak, and it’s been supplanted in popularity by SNES nostalgia and even N64 nostalgia. It might have made sense in a purely chronological way to start with the oldest console, but it’s not what the audience wants the most right now.
The silver lining here is that when Nintendo does put more consoles on this service, it’ll likely do it in a way that isn’t just a straightforward ROM dump. Online play in Super Mario Kart? Special save data that starts you right at the end of Super Metroid with the best ending? Custom wireless SNES controllers? All quite likely, even if Nintendo’s going to take its sweet time doing it. (I don’t think it’ll ever put GameCube games on the service, though. There’s far too much money to be made doing “HD remasters” of those games and selling them for full price.)
Another group of commenters wants Nintendo to sell them individual games again, and/or let them transfer the games they own from the Wii U. Nintendo has been clear that this isn’t going to happen, although I do think that it should look at releasing cartridge-based collections of the best games.
Granted, this is only one or two people per video, but I just plain admire their moxie.
To recap: Some people are giving thumbs-down because they want more NES games, and some people are giving thumbs-down because they want Nintendo to stop releasing NES games and start improving other facets of the service. Some are disliking the videos because they want games from other consoles on the subscription service, and some are disliking the videos because they want the subscription service to end and be replaced with Virtual Console.
In other words, if you ask four different people why they smashed that dislike button, they’re likely to give you four different answers. So if Nintendo did want to make changes to Switch Online to satisfy the crowd—and there’s no indication at this point that it does—it would take a lot of changes before everyone is pleased.