The Nintendo Gods giveth, and the Nintendo Gods taketh away. And apparently the Nintendo Gods hateth money, because a lot of people were enjoying Super Mario 35 and were willing to pay to play. Myself included.
The good news is that Super Mario 35 was just one of Nintendo’s nostalgic offerings, albeit a good one. But there are tons of other retro games on Switch.
Honestly, the main reason I finally broke down and bought a Switch in the first place was the volume of classic games it has available. I like new games every once in a while, but Steam and Game Pass for PC mostly scratch that particular itch. There are only a few franchises that I care for, and not too many new games I’m excited about. So I don’t typically pay for new consoles.
So other than what’s available on PC, I mostly stick to the classics. Castlevania, Mega Man, Mario, Metroid, Zelda… the good ol’ games I grew up with. So when I learned that the Switch is chock-full of retro greatness in handheld form, I jumped all over it.
What retro games are on the Switch?
The number of retro games on the Switch is staggering! And it’s increasing all the time. There are dozens of NES and SNES favorites available through their subscription service, Nintendo Switch Online. But Arcade Archives also has a ton of ports, along with collection releases from Capcom, Konami, and even Nintendo’s old rival Sega. For a retro gamer like me, it’s a freakin’ dream come to life!
And besides re-releasing all these retro classics, there is whole lot more Nintendo has done right since releasing their Switch console. By eliminating the divide between stationary “home” consoles and handheld consoles, they managed to completely remove themselves from the console wars, leaving Sony and Microsoft (and the whiniest portions of their fanbases) to fight among themselves.
Nintendo’s Wii U was a Flop
Before the Switch hit shelves back in 2017 (holy moly, that seems like forever ago!), there was a growing rumble of Nintendo fans that were starting to wonder if leadership at the gaming giant really knew what they were doing.
Their Wii U, despite being an excellent console, was not the commercial hit Nintendo needed. The innovative controller mattered very little in a market that didn’t quite understand what the Wii U was. Was it a Wii? Was it an upgrade? Was it just a controller? At least in the U.S., the marketing did a poor job of explaining just what was happening there, and relatively few Americans bought it.
The Wii U’s predecessor, the Wii (see how confusing that naming is? Why didn’t XBox OneX ex(?) didn’t take note?), was an absolute runaway success. But not because of hardcore gamers or longtime fans. The success of the Wii was due in large part to its accessibility and wide appeal to younger gamers, older gamers, families, and yes: die-hard Nintendo fans that will buy anything Nintendo makes just for the Zelda and Mario offerings.
But the Wii was released a long, long, long time ago in ye olden tymes of 2006. And while Nintendo was busy making new fans, they were losing the mature-yet-casual gamer crowd to the other big two console makers with their God of Wars and Gears of Wars and all them wars thingses.
(It’s worth noting that the Wii U’s short lifespan also makes it a prime target for collectors. But the fact that pretty much every Wii U game has been ported to the Switch might cancel it out! If you’re interested in collecting retro games, go check out my Wii U collecting post.)
But if you think about it, Nintendo’s “plan” was kind of brilliant.
Nintendo Started Banking on Our Nostalgia – and We Loved it!
They released the Wii 14 years ago, with a lineup of games and features that appealed to the Rated E for Everyone crowd in a pointed way that the other consoles didn’t bother with. Let Sony and Micro do what Nintendwouldn’t.
Fast forward to today and all those 10 year olds that grew up playing Mario and Zelda games on the Wii are now in the workforce, fully nerded-out with jobs and money and totally ready for some M-for-Mature action!
Boom! Here comes the Switch with a whole roster of mature games: DOOM, Skyrim, The Witcher III, all that stuff. The release of the Switch was a perfect storm of young gamers coming of age, aging gamers ready to share Nintendo with their kids, and Nintendo’s enthusiastic embrace of their retro-ness.
The Best Retro Games of the Nintendo Switch
It’s hard to exaggerate the sheer volume of retro games on the Switch. Seems like all the classic hens are coming home to roost, with Capcom and Konami releasing multiple compilations with physical copies you can score.
It was looking like it would be very difficult to narrow down some of my top favorite retro games on the Switch, so I just figured… why bother? I can’t catch ‘em all–this list is just the tip of the iceberg–but I can certainly provide an exhaustive list for my fellow retro fans to see what retro games are on the Nintendo Switch.
1. Mega Man
Capcom has provided fans with at least 5 Mega Man collections so far. That’s Mega Man Legacy Collection, Mega Man Legacy Collection Vol. 2, Mega Man X Legacy Collection, Mega Man X Legacy Collection Vol. 2 (real creative on the names there!), and Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection.
That is a ton of content. And Mega Man is so widely loved by retro gaming fans that they seem to be hitting hard! And unlike Nintendo itself, Capcom seems to enjoy making money. They’ve all been released in physical format for you to find, buy, or sell on eBay. These aren’t remasters, either. These look and feel just the way you remember!
Like Capcom, Konami has released a collection of one of their flagship series (and one of my all-time favorites), Castlevania.
While the Belmont clan wasn’t quite nearly as prolific as Dr. Light and the robot-builders he inspired, the Castlevania franchise still has plenty of games to draw from.
Konami’s Castlevania Anniversary Collection includes the original NES trilogy and the SNES’ Super Castlevania IV as well as the first two Game Boy games, Castlevania Adventure and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge. You’ll find Bloodlines and Kid Dracula and they even threw in a digital book, History of Castlevania.
Fans of the franchise are still eager for a collection of the Metroidvania games like Symphony of the Night, and a collection of Castlevania’s 3D entries like Castlevania 64 and the PS2 games. But for the moment, Konami hasn’t said a word about those.
Just as a side note: We are also really wondering where Silent Hill has gone. That series also needs Switch ports like yesterday!
Since we’re already on the topic of Konami, it’s worth pointing out that they also put out a Contra Anniversary Collection that features a whopping ten titles from the Contra line. These include the original arcade game, the NES port, along with Super C, Operation C, Contra III: The Alien Wars and even more Contra games you may never have even heard of.
It’s really a comprehensive collection. And given the difficulty of the series, it ought to keep you busy for a good, long time!
If I’m being honest, I’ve gotten more play time from #collectionofmana‘s music player than the actual games. Secret of Mana is one of the great gaming soundtracks.#NintendoSwitch pic.twitter.com/52HzDepfJU
— Gelatinous ‘The Stache’ Gamer (@longie_long) August 31, 2019
4. Collection of Mana
If you’re a fan of classic Squaresoft games, then you’ll totally appreciate the Collection of Mana! This collection includes Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy Adventure and the first-ever official English-language port of Trials of Mana!
Along with the games, they included a jukebox feature that lets you jam out to all of the surreal symphonies of Secret of Mana. And… the other ones too, I guess. But come on, Secret of Mana has one of the greatest soundtracks of the entire SNES library.
All of this is included in a beautifully-packaged physical cartridge you can pick up on eBay for really cheap!
5. Sega Genesis Classics
We might be discussing a Nintendo console, but we’d be remiss not to talk about Sega’s considerable contribution to the Switch retro game library.
Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Classics is a massive collection of Sega classics. There are more than 50 games on the cartridge, including pretty much every heavy hitter I can think of: Sonic 1 and 2, Sonic 3D Blast and even Spinball. There’s Phantasy Star I-IV, Ristar, Shining Force I and II, Space Harrier, Toejam & Earl, Streets of Rage 1-3, Comix Zone, Altered Beast (Wise fwom your grave!), Alex Kidd, Kid Chameleon… and a crap-ton more!
When I was a kid, we had one console in the house per generation. We were a Nintendo family, so I missed out on a lot of great Genesis games. This collection pretty much fills in the blanks and makes it easy to catch up on Sega’s classics.
Now if they’d just put out a Dreamcast collection…
6. Nintendo Switch Online – SNES and NES Collections
This one ought to be pretty obvious. Good ‘ol Nintendo recognized the potential profit in banking on your nostalgia and has made an armload of classic NES and Super NES games available through Nintendo Switch Online.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Nintendo Switch Online is Nintendo’s own subscription program that grants players access to a few cool things. Most relevant to this article is their pretty impressive library of old retro games you can play on the Switch. They’ve made dozens of classics available to subscribers, including classic Mario, Metroid and Zelda games.
Beyond the totally obvious Nintendo first-party titles, there is an impressive array of third-party titles. This includes games like Gradius, Ninja Gaiden, Crystalis, Blaster Master, Demon’s Crest, Breath of Fire I & II, Rygar, and a lot more.
There are dozens and dozens of retro games to play on Nintendo Switch Online. It’s almost “all you need” and for an impressively low price of $19.99 per year.
I say Nintendo Switch Online is almost all you need because, well, while they do have a lock on first-party franchises and a whooooole lot of great third-party games, there are a lot more games that aren’t available. As we’ve already seen, Capcom and Konami keep their big-money franchises close and don’t have any intention of letting Nintendo make all the money off of them.
But besides being able to play NES and SNES retro games on Switch, there are also plenty of arcade games you can get for the platform.
7. Classic Arcade Games
In addition to their Contra and Castlevania collections, Konami also released an Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection.
This collection gathers some of Konami’s greatest arcade games and puts them all right into the palm of your hand. Now you’re playing with Konami power!
Konami’s Arcade Classics includes such jams as Nemesis (AKA Gradius), Salamander (AKA Life Force), Haunted Castle (AKA arcade Castlevania), and a few others. Like their other collections, Konami has made a save feature available and included some additional content. It’s really a great deal if you can catch it during a sale!
8. Arcade Archives
The Arcade Archives is a series of arcade ports that have made their way onto the Switch.
While a lot of the really big hits have been released separately by publishers that still have a buck to make (looking at you, Konami), Arcade Archives has managed to release some of those arcade ports separately. They’ve also managed to breathe new life into some less-popular arcade hits by porting them to the Switch.
With copyright laws being so harsh, and with Nintendo seeming to give a rat’s ass about game preservation, it’s really nice to see a publisher that will actually stick up for these old games and make them publicly available for relatively cheap.
Along with a lot of arcade B-sides, Arcade Archives has also released ports of more popular arcade games like Bad Dudes, Guerilla War, Rush’n Attack, Burger Time, Sunsetriders and dozens more.
Arcade Archives is fighting the good fight to make sure these games are preserved for future generations and allowing players to experience them legally. And their selections go on and on!
9. Retro “Style” Games
And I can’t close this article without shouting out some of the many really excellent “retro-style” games for the Nintendo Switch. These are games that are not retro at all, but represent the style and spirit of those classics with brand new content and concepts.
This phenomenon has been going on for a long time, and it seems like the style is being continually refined. Games like Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Shovel Knight, Blazing Chrome and Cyber Shadow all scratch that retro itch while still maintaining a modern approach to modern preferences for gameplay.
The games are still bloody difficult (in the old style), but newer concepts like auto-save make the difficulty more about physical gameplay and design, and less about the technical limitations we faced back in the old days. No more recreating long passwords with Greek letters!
It’s also interesting (though it’s beyond the scope of this article) how many indie developers are embracing the older hardware. Game Boy in particular has been enjoying a swath of new physical releases. Most exciting among these (because I’m designing it, ha) is Gelatinous: Humanity Lost. Definitely check it out!