Soapbox: Nintendo Switch Online’s Library Is A Snapshot Of ’90s Gaming Shelves

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Another trio of classic games have just been announced for Nintendo’s subscriber-only Virtual Console replacement, this time Claymates, Jelly Boy, and Bombuzal. They all have one very special thing in common: They’re all games nobody asked for, and nobody wanted.

Nintendo could have released anything at all — like… let’s say Earthbound, just to pull one random and definitely not loaded name out of a hat — and instead they gave us a selection of titles a lot of people had to go to the trouble of looking up just so they could work out what they needed to get angry on social media about in the first place.

I’ll say it loud and proud, though: Nintendo made the right choice, and I hope more Nintendo Switch Online releases contain games like these.

Up there with Super Mario World? Of course not, but that doesn't make it valueless
Up there with Super Mario World? Of course not, but that doesn’t make it valueless

Between understandably hazy memories and the internet providing an endless font of “Best of” articles to peruse the very best of the SNES’ library at our leisure (to which we happily and enthusiastically contribute, of course), the fact is that those games we judge to stand the test of time only reflect a very tiny portion of all the titles available for Nintendo’s 16-bit wonder.

We’ve become stuck in a highly curated rut of overly-familiar classics alongside a sprinkling of rarities nobody bought at the time, weird and misunderstood games that were rebranded as innovative and experimental decades later (now that nobody had to actually pay for them), import games most people couldn’t buy back then, let alone read, and titles that — depending on your region — may not have ever existed at all. Chrono Trigger is officially a DS game for European Nintendo fans, to give one notable example.

And the unfortunate side-effect of all this is that the best of the best has become our expected baseline; genre-molding leading lights oh-so-very-ordinary; the impossibly rare never more than a few casual mouse clicks away. The latter example is an incredible boon, but it has skewed our thinking of not only what the SNES was but what it could be, too.

The Nintendo Switch Online library is infused with an honesty we’ve lost over the years as we’ve busily expanded our palettes and tantalised our gaming tastebuds with retro obscurities

The Super Nintendo was always more than Squaresoft’s RPG plaything or Rare’s pre-rendered powerhouse, more than something to be revered or appreciated, everyone nodding in quiet, uniform awe at the “right” games and not even glancing at the rest. It was a machine for everyone; for people who played FIFA, for kids enthralled with the latest cartoon tie-in (which at the time would’ve been something like Animaniacs or Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose), for teens desperate to play Doom no matter what their parents said. Bedroom shelves weren’t bowing under the weight of worthy Super Famicom imports or Europe-only translation oddities like Pop’n TwinBee and The Firemen in the Nineties, and Nintendo’s “unusual” choice of NSO offerings reflect the broader reality in a way our own retro discussions rarely do.

The Nintendo Switch Online library is infused with an honesty we’ve lost over the years as we’ve busily expanded our palettes and tantalised our gaming tastebuds with retro obscurities with all the speed and eagerness we once displayed when picking up a new console and willingly leaving previous generations behind. Bombuzal didn’t set the world alight on its SNES release in 1990 and it’s fair to say it won’t do now either, but it is something different, something unusual, something a sibling or a school friend would have bought secondhand and placed next to their copy of Wing Commander or Jurassic Park.

That game’s new lease of life on the Switch is a chance for us to reset and readjust, to not play the same best SNES games of all time again — the games that everyone knew were the best of all time last year, and the year before that, and the decade(s) before that — but to play a broader, ‘truer’ selection of SNES games. To play games we’ve never heard of, games we always meant to try out but never quite got around to, games that can offer the most precious retro experience of all: a new experience connected to something old and familiar, something that makes us stop and think, a game we haven’t already formed an opinion on before it’s finished downloading.

You don’t have to like any of the SNES games in Nintendo’s latest NSO offering or pretend these are previously hidden gems. They aren’t awful, but they aren’t all that great, and I’m not claiming otherwise. But maybe, if you give them a go, you’ll find they’re a fun way to kill an afternoon. Or a new awful experience to moan to a friend about the next time you talk to them. Or a happy reminder of just how special and how far ahead of the pack your favourite classic has always been. These releases at the very least provide context for all the legends already on there and the others you always hope they’ll add later; a chance to see the highs, lows, and more honest examples of “ordinary” available on the hardware.

EarthBound SNES
Image: Nintendo

This article would take a very different tone if Nintendo’s retro Switch selection was offered on a rotating basis, swapping out treasured favourites such as Yoshi’s Island or Donkey Kong Country for relative unknowns, but as it stands there are now over a hundred games to choose from on the service, including some of the biggest and best Nintendo games of the era, games that commanded premium prices when new or were so hard to find at the time those that were lucky enough to do so still tell stories of long car rides or unbelievably lucky swaps with friends. These games are still there and ready to play anywhere and anywhen for as long as your subscription lasts.

And those that aren’t? You can still buy Earthbound directly from Nintendo for 3DS and Wii U right now if you really want to, and for far less than even the tattiest eBay-acquired loose cart will cost you, too. If that’s too much of a hurdle to overcome for whatever reason, other less legitimate avenues exist — and Jelly Boy will still be ready and waiting for you when you’re done.




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