In last week’s surprise-packed Nintendo Direct, alongside the leg-sweeping announcement that Metroid Prime was finally remastered for Switch, came the fantastic news that the previously paltry Nintendo Switch Online offerings were now boosted by the inclusion of Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color games. Meanwhile, for those paying for the pricier Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack version, Game Boy Advance games would start to appear. And hot-damn, that’s exciting news, because this includes some of the greatest handheld games of all time.
The GBA, according to leading scientists, was the best handheld gaming device ever made, and a huge part of why was the eye-watering standard of so many of its first-party games. And rather than launching it with the its typical “Huh, why that?”-inducing titles, Nintendo has knocked it out of the park with six games you actually want to be playing right now, along with five other classics coming soon.
OK—and look, let’s all whisper for a moment so no one hears us—what about...emulation? How does this compare? Haven’t people who really care about the 22-year-old GBA era already found one of the seventy-billion ways to play those games on crystal-clear handheld screens, or even enlarged and improved on PC? Sure, every single one of them is an Evil Pirate™ and the electric chair’s too good for ‘em, but it’d be silly to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Heck, there’s even the much more legitimate options of things like the Analogue Pocket, that plays the original GBA cartridges. But, as it happens, Nintendo maybe even has the edge here, with Switch emulation that is proving more faithful to the original device’s presentation, along with offering multiplayer connectivity that can be far more of a fiddle on...less official machines.
Nintendo has also enhanced every game with options to create de-facto saves in any game with “Suspend Points,” along with the ability to rewind your play to undo unfortunate errors. (Bring on Metroids Fusion and Zero Mission, for maximum cheeky cheesing.) They’ve even included both US and EU versions of the games, if you want things localized appropriately.
Oh, and there’s one more feature in there that’s a smidge odd. You can toggle on “Classic Feel,” which, well, adds those cruddy lines to the image to make it look as though it’s running on the original GBA hardware. I kind of get why people want CRT lines when playing old console titles, so perhaps there’s a strong contingent who want this effect too? But remember, those lines wouldn’t have been there if they could have helped it at the time!
So let’s take a look at each of the six games available on launch, and see if this might be enough to tempt you to fork out the extra $30 on top of Switch Online’s standard $20 annual fee. I rather suspect it might.