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Nintendo Switch Online finally has N64 games, but it’s looking ugly

Monday evening, Nintendo released its latest features bundled into the Nintendo Switch Online subscription: Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games via an “Expansion Pack.”

As soon as players got a chance to throw down another $30 on top of their $20 / year sub, they immediately took to Twitter to share their disdain of the less-than-ideal emulation quality.

A particularly fascinating set of images posted to Twitter by speedrunner ZFG1 comparing the Water Temple on N64, Wii Virtual Console, and Switch was a hot topic today. The Switch version was noticeably lacking fog, revealing terrible-looking textures that represent water.

I launched Mario 64, StarFox 64, and Zelda: Ocarina of Time for a quick test. Input speed for Mario 64 and StarFox 64 seemed OK, but Zelda had a noticeable input lag in movement (portable mode).

Pre-rendered backgrounds and texture maps never translated well to modern displays from their original intended look on old CRT displays.

While the images of the missing fog from the tweet started a wildfire of disappointment towards Nintendo, games producer Jon Riesenbach had posted on Twitter to show that the fog-free look is much more akin to the Japanese version of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. “This likely won’t matter to the people who have already written news articles and make up their minds about this, but that last screenshot is how JP Ocarina’s water has always looked,” he said. Reisenbach would later delete this tweet after ZFG1 confirmed that the two images were, in fact, both Japanese versions of the game running on Wii U and Switch, respectively. While both versions look quite similar — which is to say, not great — the six-year-old Wii U release still runs smoother than the Switch version released today.

Comparison shots of Japanese Zelda Ocarina of Time Wii U vs Switch

Comparison shots of Japanese Zelda Ocarina of Time Wii U (left) vs Switch (right) Tweeted by @moriyoshijon and confirmed by @zfg111

The Nintendo library is among the deepest and most often revisited in the gaming industry, and fans tend to draw comprehensive comparisons of ports from the original releases (down to the scan lines on old CRT TVs). Efforts to bring the purest form of retro gaming exist as a business model for companies such as Analogue, EON Gaming, and MiSTer, where there are options to play classic games in different resolutions on modern displays.

It would seem there is enough demand for the perfect nostalgic experience that Nintendo should do more to fine-tune each game and perhaps even release different region versions of games for a new generation to discover. Perhaps a world without a virtual console or game subscription service would be better for the fans. Being able to buy collections from various game publishers (think Mega Man Legacy Collection) enables a higher level of nostalgic fan service by bundling multiple games, art, and maybe even some fine-tuned emulation (although, perhaps that does not always work out).

To Nintendo’s credit, half of the nostalgic experience of playing classic games is the controller you use. Nintendo released versions of the Nintendo and Super Nintendo controllers starting in 2018, and now Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis controllers are offered (although, currently sold out).

The Nintendo Switch Online subscription service is normally $19.99 a year for an individual or $34.99 for a family and includes Nintendo and Super Nintendo games. To unlock the “expansion pack,” it costs another $30 for an individual or $45 for a family of eight.

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