I spent my free time last weekend playing Cave Story, a good game that first came out in 2004. The reason I’ve been playing it is simple: It just came out on the Nintendo Switch.
We’re a few months into the Switch’s lifespan, and in that time the console has received a slow, steady stream of games. It already feels like a long time since I reviewed it, back when Zelda: Breath of the Wild was basically the only thing Switch owners had to play. As I’ve expanded my Switch game library, the console has demonstrated how good it is at making me want to play games I wouldn’t otherwise make time for.
Minecraft is my second-most played Switch game after Zelda. I’ve played more than 15 hours and can easily see myself playing another couple dozen over the months to come. I already wrote about how much I liked playing the game on Switch, and my enjoyment has only increased over time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually log more Minecraft hours on Switch than I even did on PC.
Cave Story is similar. I had played several different versions of Pixel’s beloved Metroid-inspired side-scroller over the years, but never stuck with it. I started the Switch port on Friday and have already surpassed my previous attempts. I’m making progress, playing in a more focused way than I ever have. The Switch port of Cave Story feels like the definitive version I didn’t realize I was waiting for. (It could only be definitive-er if it included a toggle for the original graphics. Oh well.)
Other older games also work well on this new console. My colleague Mike Fahey almost has me convinced to try the 2015 tactical role-playing game Disgaea 5 after describing the Switch as “the perfect platform” for it. Jackbox Games’ Jackbox Party Pack 3, which came out in fall of 2016, works well on Switch too, letting me bring a portable game show to a friend’s house (assuming they have WiFi).
Indies like The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + (an upgrade to a game that first came out in 2011) and the upcoming port of 2016’s Stardew Valley are both obvious fits for the Switch, and the latter one is neck and neck with Mario Odyssey for my most anticipated Switch game of 2017. Other early Switch standouts include a spiffed-up version of the 1989 game Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, a collection of the retro-inspired Shovel Knight games from the last couple years, and a tuned-up version of 2014’s Mario Kart 8.
Part of the draw is undeniably the fact that whatever their original release date, those are all new Switch games. Nintendo’s system is young, and its library is small. In a year or two, I’m sure I’ll be less keen to dive back into decade-old games.
But the main draw is the Switch’s hybrid console/handheld nature. A Switch port of a beloved indie or classic game is fundamentally different from any other version on any other system, because I can easily move the game from TV to handheld and back again.
The comment sections of Kotaku’s Switch articles are routinely filled with people dreaming about Switch ports of their favorite games. When a new game is announced, particularly an indie game, you can bet that a Switch version will be one of the first things fans request. We can also dream of how Nintendo’s own classics might fare on the new system. However Nintendo decides to approach the Virtual Console in addition to their two-monthly-game subscription approach, any GameCube, Wii or N64 Switch ports will surely benefit from the Switch’s portability just like the games I’ve talked about here.
Many Nintendo systems are designed around an experimental or interesting central idea. Historically, that idea has rarely been what’s compelled me to use the device, particularly for games I had already played on other systems. Motion controls, glasses-free 3D and controller screens didn’t compel me to play the Wii, 3DS or Wii U versions of games I’d already played on other devices. Switch ports that I can play on my TV and on the go are different. How promising that the Switch’s big central idea is also the thing that makes me want to play games on it.