Nintendo 64 games finally became officially playable on Nintendo Switch Online last night and they run...less than stellar. Almost immediately, social media started filling up with examples of technical shortcomings, emulation woes, and button layouts that prove there is no god. It once again calls into question what exactly people are getting in exchange for Switch Online’s new premium price tier.
To recap, Nintendo announced the Expansion Pack for its existing $20 a year Switch Online subscription service back in September, quietly revealing the price only recently during the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct. In exchange for upgrading to $50 a year, players get access to nine N64 games, 14 Sega Genesis games, and the upcoming Happy Home Paradise DLC for New Horizons. More than doubling the price of the subscription seemed a bit ridiculous, but at the same time, people really wanted to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on their portable Switches.
Fast-forward to a little over a week after that price reveal, and it looks like Ocarina of Time and other late ‘90s games are running less than perfectly on the modern hardware. Speedrunner ZFG1 shared a collection of screenshots, comparing the game’s infamous Water Temple across the original N64, the Wii U virtual console, and the latest version of the game. Fog, draw distances, and water textures are all worse on the Switch version. “It might actually be worse than WiiU VC,” ZFG1 wrote on Twitter.
Other speedrunners have also been taking the Expansion Pack version of Ocarina to task. A clip going around from MutantAura shows the game chugging while running around Kakariko Village until it crashes altogether. Another clip by Toufool shows a bunch of input lag while using the unwired Switch Pro controller. Based on a video by GameXplain, it takes several extra frames for Link to swing his sword after pressing the button than in previous versions.
Ocarina of Time isn’t the only game running into issues. Seemingly sluggish framerates on startup have also led to spooky intros for the likes of Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64. The latter is also missing a bunch of fog that had previously masked some of the uglier aspects of the game.
One of the draws of the Expansion Pack isn’t just the ability to play classic N64 games on Switch. It’s also the chance to play them online, something that wasn’t an option before. But players have similarly been encountering a bunch of frame rate and latency issues while trying to race against friends.
This could be an issue with those people’s internet connections, though as anyone with a Switch knows, it’s incredibly hard to get a perfect connection unless you’re sitting right next to your router. According to homebrew expert OatmealDome, it also looks like the Switch N64 emulation is using “perfect sync” netcode, which pauses the game until others catch up.
That’s all on the tech side. But there are some extremely questionable choices elsewhere in the Expansion Pack as well. For example, Mario Kart 64 required a Controller Pak to save time trial data so players could race against their ghosts. The Switch version thinks it does as well. Directions to “insert N64 Controller Pak into controller 1” pop up on screen, even though there are no Controller Paks for the Switch Online Expansion Pack, meaning ghost trials haven’t been carried over.
Button layouts are a whole other weird fiasco. The original N64 controller had six buttons on the right side: B, A, and four directional C buttons. Since the Switch only has four, the B and A buttons remain the same, while the Y and X are mapped to two of the C buttons. This creates issues, because the B and A placement on the Switch is perpendicular to the placement on the original N64 controller. The result is an unintuitive combination that can’t be remapped, forcing long time fans especially to have to adapt to a completely different layout. Or buy one of Nintendo’s currently out-of-stock (Update: 10/26/21, 12:01 p.m. ET: temporarily back-in-stock) N64 controller replicas for another $50.
This poses a special challenge in at least one game: the cult-classic rail shooter Sin and Punishment. In it, players move side-to-side while shooting with the trigger buttons. But as Eurogamer reports, the way the buttons are mapped means you can’t actually shoot and move right at the same time. In Super Mario 64, meanwhile, you can make use of the Joy-Con rumble feature, but only if you play the Japanese version.
I messed around with a handful of games last night, and while I encountered some of these issues and not others, the thing that bothered me the most was the bright grey borders on either side of the N64 games, there to maintain the original 4:3 aspect ratio. I just upgraded to the Switch OLED, which has incredibly vibrant colors and extremely dark blacks. Instead of making use of a straight black border or a colorful wallpaper, however, the Expansion Pack games make it look like my Switch is suffering burn-in on either side of the screen.
Hopefully these are things Nintendo can fix, although given its track record I’m not sure anyone should be holding their breath. The Expansion Pack’s meager launch library is supposed to grow in the future, adding games like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Paper Mario. In the meantime, I can confirm that Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine played just fine.