You will recall that a couple of years back, Nintendo opened up a new front on its constant IP wars by going after ROM and emulation sites. That caused plenty of sites to simply shut themselves down, but Nintendo also made a point of getting some scalps to hang on its belt, most famously in the form of RomUniverse. That site, which very clearly had infringing material not only on the site but promoted by the site’s ownership, got slapped around in the courts to the tune of a huge judgement against, which the site owners simply cannot pay.
But all of those are details and don’t answer the real question: why did Nintendo do this? Well, as many expected from the beginning, it did this because the company was planning to release a series of classic consoles, namely the NES mini and SNES mini. But, of course, what about later consoles? Such as the Nintendo 64?
Well, the answer to that is that Nintendo has offered a Nintendo Switch Online service uplift that includes some N64 games that you can play there instead.
After years of “N64 mini” rumors (which have yet to come to fruition), Nintendo announced plans to honor its first fully 3D gaming system late last month in the form of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack. Pay a bit extra, the company said, and you’d get a select library of N64 classics, emulated by the company that made them, on Switch consoles as part of an active NSO subscription.
One month later, however, Nintendo’s sales proposition grew more sour. That “bit extra” ballooned to $30 more per year, on top of the existing $20/year fee—a 150 percent jump in annual price. Never mind that the price also included an Animal Crossing expansion pack (which retro gaming fans may not want) and Sega Genesis games (which have been mostly released ad nauseam on every gaming system of the past decade). For many interested fans, that price jump was about the N64 collection.
So, a bit of a big price tag and a bunch of extras that are mostly besides the point from the perspective of the buyer. Buy, hey, at least Nintendo fans will finally get some N64 games to play on their Switch consoles, right?
Well, it turns out that Nintendo’s offering cannot come close to matching the quality of the very emulators and ROMs that Nintendo has worked so hard to disappear. The Ars Technica post linked above goes into excruciating details, some of which we’ll discuss for the purpose of giving examples, but here are the categories that Nintendo’s product does worse than an emulator on a PC.
- Game options, such as visual settings for resolution to fit modern screens
- Visuals, such as N64’s famous blur settings, and visual changes that expose outdated graphical sprites
- Controller input lag
- Controller configuration options
- Multiplayer lag/stutter
If that seems like a lot of problems compared with emulators that have been around for quite a while, well, ding ding ding! We’ll get into some examples briefly below, but I’ll stipulate that none of the issues in the categories above are incredibly bad. But there are so many of them that they all add up to bad!